IS HOMOSEXUALITY DESTINY OR CHOICE?
BY MARK HARTWIG, Ph.D.
Homosexual activists use poor science to “prove” that their sexual preference is biological destiny.
Are homosexuals victims of biological destiny? If you read the newspapers, you might think so.
When neurobiologist and homosexual activist Simon LeVay published a study on the brains of 41 cadavers, the headline in the New York Times read, “Zone of Brain Linked to Men’s Sexual Orientation.” Similarly, when pro-homosexual researchers Michael Bailey and Richard Pillard reported their study of 167 gay men and their brothers, the Washington Post proclaimed, “Genes Tied to Sexual Orientation: Study of Gay Men Bolsters Theory.”
Bailey and Pillard themselves have claimed, in an opinion column they wrote for the New York Times, that “our own research has shown that male sexual orientation is substantially genetic.”‘
Such conclusions are wide of the mark, and more objective observers can easily see that these pronouncements are wrong.
Sex on the Brain?
In August 1991, Simon LeVay of the Salk Institute in San Diego became an instant celebrity when he published a study allegedly linking sexual orientation with the physical structure of the brain.
The focus of LeVay’s study was a tiny region of the hypothalamus, a part of the brain that controls body temperature, blood pressure, pulse rate and hormone production. It is also “the chief coordinator of instincts and drives,” including the sex drive.
The particular region that LeVay studied is called INAH-3 (or the third interstitial nucleus of the anterior hypothalamus). No bigger than a grain of sand, this region seems to be much larger in men than in women. In other animals, a similar region seems to control “male typical” behavior. For example, male monkeys that have been injured in this area become less likely to try to have sex with females-even though their physical arousal levels seem undiminished.
Speculating that INAH-3 controls sexual orientation, LeVay compared the brains of 19 homosexuals with those of 16 “presumed heterosexual men” and six “presumed heterosexual” women. He found that the INAH-3 region in females and homosexuals tended to be only half the size of that in heterosexuals.
At first glance, LeVay’s study seems to support the view that homosexuality is biological destiny. But there are problems.
For starters, INAH-3 is tricky to study. Unlike some other parts of the brain, it has no clear boundaries. Like an object in a badly blurred photo, its edges are fuzzy and indistinct. So it’s hard to tell where INAH-3 ends and the rest of the brain begins.
That makes INAH-3 tough to measure. The measurements will always be somewhat subjective, which means that another study-or another researcher-could produce different results.
Another problem with LeVay’s study is that he gathered very poor background information on his subjects. LeVay determined the sexual orientation of his 19 homosexual subjects solely on the basis of their medical records-which tells us little about their actual sexual practices or life history.
For example, were these subjects exclusively homosexual in their sex practices? Had they been homosexual for their entire lives? The medical records don’t say. In one case, medical records labeled a man as bisexual. But even then, LeVay classed him as a homosexual.
We have even less information on the “heterosexual” group. If a subject was not listed as homosexual in his or her medical records, LeVay simply presumed that the person was heterosexual.
As a result, we don’t really know who’s who. Are we really comparing homosexuals with heterosexuals? Or are we comparing mixed groups? If the latter is true, our results tell us nothing about the differences between homosexuals and heterosexuals-because there are homosexuals and heterosexuals in both groups. The apparent differences would be nothing more than coincidence.
A third problem with the study is the presence of exceptions. If sexual orientation is determined solely by the size of INAH-3, all heterosexual men should have a large INAH-3, and all women and homosexual men should have a small one.
But that was not what LeVay found. Instead, he found some “presumed heterosexual men with small INAH-3 nuclei, and homosexual men with large ones.”
LeVay acknowledges this problem.
“The existence of ‘exceptions’ in the present sample hints at the possibility that sexual orientation, although an important variable, may not be the sole determinant of INAH-3 size,” said LeVay.
Nevertheless, LeVay says that the exceptions may also be a result of “technical shortcomings or to misassignment of subjects to their subject groups.” These are problems we’ve already discussed.
Unfortunately, that defense creates a paradox: In order to defend the conclusion that homosexuality is biological destiny, LeVay has faulted his own procedures. That, in turn, discredits his entire study-along with his conclusions.
Even if LeVay had demonstrated a relationship between sexual INAH-3, we still can’t say that brain structure causes homosexuality. It may be the other way around.
Kenneth Klivington, a neuroscientist at the Salk Institute, points out that the brain is a very “plastic” organ. That is, it can change physically as a result of learning, behavior or experience.
“The more we know about the brain, the more plastic it seems to become,” said Klivington.
LeVay himself admitted this in an interview with Citizen.
“In the case of the hypothalamus, which I studied, there’s no way of telling whether those structural differences are the cause of people’s sex behavior or the consequence-or none of the above,” LeVay said. “It’s possible that it’s a ‘use it or lose it’ phenomenon: If you don’t practice straight sex you lose that part of the brain that’s involved. I don’t favor that explanation, but it’s a possible explanation.”
LeVay defended his work, however, by pointing to a recent study by UCLA researchers Laura Allen and Roger Gorski. Allen and Gorski reported that another region of the brain, the anterior commissure (AC), also differed between homosexuals and heterosexuals.
“It certainly doesn’t directly replicate MY findings,” LeVay told Citizen. “It’s a different part of the brain. But I think it lends support to the general notion that there are biological differences between gay and straight men.”
Moreover, because the AC has nothing to do with sex, said LeVay, “it just seems inconceivable that one’s sex practices could influence this part of the brain. It seems really probable that these differences came about early in the development of the brain.”
That conclusion, however, presumes that homosexuals have only their sex practices in common-a view that many psychologists and psychiatrists would dispute. Other things they hold in common may include early childhood experiences and relationships.
Additionally, Allen and Gorski acknowledge limitations in their study that are very similar to the ones we noted in LeVay’s. Like LeVay, they gathered poor background information on their subjects. Their data also contained several “exceptions.” The only advantage they had is that the AC is easier to measure than INAH-3.
Twins at Risk
J. Michael Bailey is a professor at Northwestern University. Richard Pillard teaches at Boston University School of Medicine. Like LeVay, they hoped to show that homosexuality is biological destiny.
Advertising in gay publications, Bailey and Pillard recruited 161 bisexual or homosexual men who had at least one male sibling. They then interviewed the recruits to see how many of their brothers were also homosexual.
The purpose of the study was to see if sexual orientation is genetic. That is, Bailey and Pillard wanted to know if brothers who were most alike genetically were also most alike in their sexual orientation.
Here’s what they found: 52 percent of identical twins were both homosexual, compared with only 22 percent of fraternal (non-identical) twins and 11 percent of adoptive brothers.
In their column for the New, York Times, Bailey Pillard proclaimed “Science is rapidly closing in on the conclusion that sexual orientation is innate…. If true, a biological explanation is good news for homosexuals and their advocates. Our own research has shown that male sexual orientation is substantially genetic.”
Bailey and Pillard also stated that “research on social factors has been fruitless. Despite many attempts, there has been no clear demonstration that parental behavior, even a parent’s homosexuality, affects children’s sexual orientation.”
As with LeVay’s research, however, Bailey’s and Pillard’s conclusions are seriously flawed. Commenting on the study, clinical psychologist Joseph Nicolosi says that their findings indicate the opposite of what they claim.
“If you are homosexual, then the probability of your identical twin being homosexual is about 50-50 [according to Bailey and Pillard],” said Nicolosi. “That is presented as evidence for a biological or genetic foundation for homosexuality. If anything, it proves to me that it’s not evidence. Because if it was, it should be 100 percent.”
According to Nicolosi, homosexuality is linked to the early family environment.
“My work with over 200 homosexuals points to a poor relationship with the father,” Nicolosi said. “All my men have a deep grievance or a deep hurt in regard to their relationship with their father.”
In his recent book, Reparative Therapy of Male Homosexuality, Nicolosi cites research consistent with that position.
Developmental psychologists believe that studies such as Bailey’s and Pillard’s rest on faulty assumptions. Lois Hoffman, a developmental psychologist at the University of Michigan, argues that “twin studies” wrongly assume that all children in a family are treated the same.
“Whether one is considering parental behavior, family events, or social setting impacts, the objective environment is likely to be somewhat different for each child,” Hoffman says.
For example, a second child may not receive as much attention early in life as the first one. The mother also has more experience the second time around. In addition, family events like divorce or unemployment may be explained differently to older children than younger ones. Children may interact with different peers. And so on.
Hoffman cited studies showing that identical twins are treated more alike by parents than other siblings. She also cited work showing that parents, siblings and peers react differently to differences in physical appearance.
If Hoffman is correct, then Bailey’s and Pillard’s numbers reflect not only genetic factors, but environmental ones as well. Identical twins may act more alike because they are treated more alike-not simply because they have the same genes. So Bailey and Pillard haven’t proven anything.
Readers should note one final point about this study. In their opinion column, Bailey and Pillard neglected to mention an important discrepancy they discovered.
Genetically speaking, fraternal twins are no more alike than normal siblings. Thus, the figures for both should be similar. Yet in Bailey’s and Pillard’s study, only 9 percent of normal siblings were homosexual. This is far less than the figure for fraternal twins (22 percent). It’s even less than the figure for adoptive brothers (11 percent), who are unrelated genetically.
At press time, newspapers were reporting another study by Bailey and Pillard, this one focusing on lesbian siblings. When contacted about the new study, Bailey refused to comment on their findings. He indicated that the media attention was “very premature” and had jeopardized their chances of getting the study published in academic journals. Such journals often will not publish articles that are leaked to the press before passing peer review.
Homosexual activists want the public to think that being homosexual is no different than being intelligent or athletic or black or white. As a result, it seems that they will embrace even flawed evidence for their position.
“Very key to the gay liberation movement is the finding of a biological basis so that they can be considered ‘a people,”‘ Nicolosi said. “So the gay community will celebrate the most fragmentary evidence that they are ‘born that way.’
Gay activists would like to portray their opponents as ignorant fanatics who know nothing about the latest findings of science. But when they rely on bad data and biased interpretations, they leave themselves open to the same charge.
THE ABOVE MATERIAL WAS PUBLISHED BY FOCUS ON THE FAMILY CITIZEN, NOVEMBER 1992, PAGES 12-14. THIS MATERIAL IS COPYRIGHTED AND MAY BY USED FOR STUDY & RESEARCH PURPOSES ONLY.