Environment and sexual orientation

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The relationship between the environment and sexual orientation is a subject of research. In the study of sexual orientation, some researchers distinguish environmental influences from hormonal influences,[1] while other researchers include biological influences such as prenatal hormones as part of environmental influences.[2]

Scientists do not know the exact cause of sexual orientation, but they theorize that it is the result of a complex interplay of genetic, hormonal, and environmental influences.[1][3][4] Unlike sexual orientation identity, they do not view sexual orientation as a choice.[1][3][5]

Hypotheses for the impact of the post-natal social environment on sexual orientation are weak, especially for males.[6] There is no substantial evidence which suggests parenting or early childhood experiences influence sexual orientation,[7][8] but research has linked childhood gender nonconformity and homosexuality.[9][10][11]

Sexual orientation compared with sexual orientation identity[edit]

Often, sexual orientation and sexual orientation identity are not distinguished, which can impact accurately assessing sexual identity and whether or not sexual orientation is able to change; sexual orientation identity can change throughout an individual's life, and may or may not align with biological sex, sexual behavior or actual sexual orientation.[12][13][14] Sexual orientation is stable and unlikely to change for the vast majority of people, but some research indicates that some people may experience change in their sexual orientation, and this is more likely for women than for men.[15] The American Psychological Association distinguishes between sexual orientation (an innate attraction) and sexual orientation identity (which may change at any point in a person's life).[16] Scientists and mental health professionals generally do not believe that sexual orientation is a choice.[1][5]

The American Psychological Association states that "sexual orientation is not a choice that can be changed at will, and that sexual orientation is most likely the result of a complex interaction of environmental, cognitive and biological factors...is shaped at an early age...[and evidence suggests] biological, including genetic or inborn hormonal factors, play a significant role in a person's sexuality".[3] They say that "sexual orientation identity—not sexual orientation—appears to change via psychotherapy, support groups, and life events".[16] The American Psychiatric Association says that individuals may "become aware at different points in their lives that they are heterosexual, gay, lesbian, or bisexual" and "opposes any psychiatric treatment, such as 'reparative' or 'conversion' therapy, which is based upon the assumption that homosexuality per se is a mental disorder, or based upon a prior assumption that the patient should change his/her homosexual orientation". They do, however, encourage gay affirmative psychotherapy.[17]

Childhood gender nonconformity[edit]

Researchers have found childhood gender nonconformity (CGN) to be the largest predictor of homosexuality in adulthood.[9][10][11][18] Gay men often report being feminine boys, and lesbian women often report being masculine girls. In men, CGN is a strong predictor of sexual orientation in adulthood, but this relationship is not as well understood in women.[19][20][21] Women with CAH reported more male typical play behaviours and showed less heterosexual interest.[22]

Daryl Bem proposed the "exotic becomes erotic" theory (EBE). Bem argues that biological factors, such as prenatal hormones, genes and neuroanatomy, predispose children to behave in ways that do not conform to their sex assigned at birth. Gender nonconforming children will often prefer opposite-sex playmates and activities. These become alienated from their same-sex peer group. As children enter adolescence "the exotic becomes erotic" where dissimilar and unfamiliar same-sex peers produces arousal, and the general arousal become eroticized over time.[23] However, Bem's theory was criticized in the Psychological Review journal, for relying on a non-random sample of gay men from the 1970's and for drawing conclusions that appear to contradict the original data.[24] An "examination of the original data showed virtually all respondents were familiar with children of both sexes", and that only 9% of gay men said that "none or only a few" of their friends were male, and most gay men (74%) reported having "an especially close friend of the same sex" during grade school.[24] It is also noted that "71% of gay men reported feeling different from other boys, but so did 38% of heterosexual men. The difference for gay men is larger, but still indicates that feeling different from same-sex peers was common for heterosexual men." Bem also acknowledged that gay men were more likely to have older brothers, which appeared to contradict an unfamiliarity with males, and was criticized for citing cross-cultural studies which also "appear to contradict the EBE theory assertion".[24]

Bearman and Bruckner showed that males with a female twin are twice as likely to report same-sex attractions, unless there was an older brother. They say that their findings can be explained by the hypothesis that less gendered socialization in early childhood and preadolescence shapes subsequent same-sex romantic preferences. They suggest that parents of opposite-sex twins are more likely to give them unisex treatment, but that an older brother establishes gender-socializing mechanisms for the younger brother to follow.[9] However, Bearman and Bruckner found no direct evidence for the effect of gender socialization on sexual orientation.[25] In fact, no evidence has ever been found linking the gender socialization of parents to the sexual orientation of their children[25] while several twin studies have suggested that almost all of the familial resemblance that is observed for sexual orientation is attributable to genes, not family environment.[25][26] The proportion of adolescents reporting same-sex attraction is significantly higher than the proportion reporting same-sex sexual experience. In addition to attraction, opportunity has to present itself. Since opportunity is socially structured, the expectation is that social influences should be stronger for behavior than attraction.[9]

Scholar Lorene Gottschalk suggests that there may be a reporting bias that has influenced the results linking childhood gender nonconformity to homosexuality. Many of the studies on the link between CGN and sexual orientation are conducted retrospectively, meaning that adults are asked to reflect on their behaviors as children. Adults will often reinterpret their childhood behaviors in terms of their present conceptualizations of their gender identity and sexual orientation. Gay men and lesbian women who endorsed a biological perspective on gender and sexual orientation tended to report more instances of childhood gender nonconformity and explain these behaviors as early genetic or biological manifestations of their sexual orientation. Lesbian women who endorse a social constructionist perspective on gender identity often interpret their childhood GNC as an awareness of patriarchal norms and rejection of gender roles. Heterosexual men are more likely to downplay GNC, attributing their behaviors to being sensitive or artistic. Retrospective reinterpretation does not invalidate studies linking GNC and sexual orientation, but awareness of how present conceptualization of gender identity and sexual orientation can affect perceptions of childhood may be considered.[27]

Family influences[edit]


Researchers have provided evidence that gay men report having had less loving and more rejecting fathers, and closer relationships with their mothers, than non-gay men. Some researchers think this may indicate that childhood family experiences are important determinants to homosexuality,[28] or that parents behave this way in response to gender-variant traits in a child.[29][30] Michael Ruse suggests that both possibilities might be true in different cases.[31]

From their research on 275 men in the Taiwanese military, Shu and Lung concluded that "paternal protection and maternal care were determined to be the main vulnerability factors in the development of homosexual males". Key factors in the development of homosexuals were "paternal attachment, introversion, and neurotic characteristics".[32] One study reported that homosexual males reported more positive early relationships with mothers than did homosexual females.[33] A 2000 American twin study showed that familial factors, which may be at least partly genetic, influence (but do not determine) sexual orientation.[26]

Research also indicates that homosexual men have significantly more older male siblings than the homosexual women, who, in turn, have significantly more siblings than heterosexual men.[34] A 2006 Danish study compared people who had a heterosexual marriage versus people who had a same-sex marriage. Heterosexual marriage was significantly linked to having young parents, small age differences between parents, stable parental relationships, large numbers of siblings, and late birth order. Children who experience parental divorce are less likely to marry heterosexually than those growing up in intact families. For men, same-sex marriage was associated with having older mothers, divorced parents, absent fathers, and being the youngest child. For women, maternal death during adolescence and being the only or youngest child or the only girl in the family increased the likelihood of same-sex marriage.[28]

Results from a 2008 twin study were consistent with moderate, primarily genetic, familial effects, and moderate to large effects of the nonshared environment (social and biological) on same-sex sexual behavior; the study concluded that, for same-sex sexual behavior, shared or familial environment plays no role for men and minor role for women.[2] By contrast, in a study doing genetic analysis of 409 pairs of homosexual brothers, including twins, strong evidence was found that some homosexual men are born homosexual. The study, including approximately three times as many people as the previous largest study on this subject, indicates that it is significantly more statistically reliable. It links sexual orientation in men with two regions of the human genome that have been implicated before.[35] Lead author of the study, Alan Sanders, however, states that "complex traits such as sexual orientation depend on multiple factors, both environmental and genetic".[36] A region on the X chromosome called Xq28, was originally identified in 1993 by Dean Hamer of the US National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland. Another region in the twist of chromosome 8, known as 8q12, was first identified in 2005.[37][38]

Fraternal birth order[edit]

According to several studies, each additional older brother increases a man's odds of developing a homosexual orientation by 28–48%. Most researchers attribute this to prenatal environmental factors, such as prenatal hormones.[39][40][41][42] McConaghy (2006) found no relationship between the strength of the effect and degree of homosexual feelings, and argued the influence of fraternal birth order was not due to a biological, but a social process.[43]

Urban setting[edit]

In their landmark study of sexual behavior in the United States—reported in the Social Organization of Sexuality—the University of Chicago sociologist Edward Laumann and his colleagues found that homosexuality was positively correlated with urbanization of the place of residence at age 14. The correlation was more substantial among men than women. The authors hypothesized that "Large cities may provide a congenial environment for the development and expression of same-gender interest."[44][45] This idea was further elaborated in Laumann's later book, The Sexual Organization of the City, which showed that expression of sexual orientation is contingent on the existence of "sex marketplaces," or venues where people with specific sexual orientations can congregate and meet.[46]

In Denmark, people born in the capital area were significantly less likely to marry heterosexually, and more likely to marry homosexually, than their rural-born peers.[28]

History of sexual abuse[edit]

The American Psychiatric Association states: "...no specific psychosocial or family dynamic cause for homosexuality has been identified, including histories of childhood sexual abuse. Sexual abuse does not appear to be more prevalent in children who grow up to identify as gay, lesbian, or bisexual, than in children who identify as heterosexual".[7]

One study in the Journal of the American Medical Association reported that "Abused adolescents, particularly those victimized by males, were up to 7 times more likely to self-identify as gay or bisexual than peers who had not been abused". However, the study went on to state that victims may self-identify as gay or bisexual before the abuse occurs, implying that their non-heterosexual orientation and identity is not caused by the abuse, and reported that no longitudinal study had determined a causal relationship between sexual abuse and sexual orientation.[47]

Another study found that "Forty-six percent of the homosexual men in contrast to 7% of the heterosexual men reported homosexual molestation. Twenty-two percent of lesbian women in contrast to 1% of heterosexual women reported homosexual molestation".[48] However, the study has been criticized[49][50] for being non-clinical, for using un-representative samples of homosexuals and heterosexuals drawn from a single gay pride event, for not reporting how homosexual participants were recruited,[51] for contradictions between the results and their interpretation in the dissertation, for contradictions in the original study and the conclusions drawn in the dissertation and journal, and for implying that the frequency of homosexual self-identification was a consequence of the abuse even though it reports that 68% of men and 62% of women identified as homosexual before their molestation experience.[49] The study is also criticized as some people are aware of their same-sex attraction at very early ages and people usually become aware of their same-sex attractions before they start self-identifying as homosexual; however, the study asked participants about the age at which they regarded themselves as homosexual, not the age at which they became aware of their same-sex attraction, thus rendering it impossible "to be certain about when the abuse occurred – before or after awareness of same-sex attraction".[49] Causation between sexual abuse and homosexuality cannot be inferred by this study.[49] The study itself states that its "homosexual participants may not be representative of [all] homosexual persons"[52] and that molestation "may not, however, be a causal factor [of non-heterosexual orientation] in either gender".[48] The study has been further criticized for not mentioning the word "molestation" in the questionnaires distributed to participants, using the subjective term "sexual contact" instead, and then switching to using the word "molestation" in the analysis of the data."[53] The study has also come under criticism for relying on the work of Paul Cameron, who was expelled by the American Psychological Association and has been condemned by the American Sociological Association, Canadian Psychological Association and the Nebraska Psychological Association for consistently misinterpreting and misrepresenting scientific research on sexuality, male homosexuality and lesbianism.[54][55]

In a 30-year longitudinal study published in the Archives of Sexual Behavior, although the authors found that men with histories of childhood sexual abuse were more likely to report ever having had same-sex sexual partners, they did not find any "significant relationships between childhood physical abuse or neglect and same-sex sexual orientation in adulthood"; neither men nor women with histories of childhood physical abuse, sexual abuse, or neglect reported more same-sex sexual partners in the previous year or same-sex romantic cohabitation compared to men and women without such histories.[56] Authors of the study speculated that "sexual abuse may result in uncertainty regarding sexual orientation and greater experimentation with both same- and opposite-sex relationships", but may not affect ultimate sexual orientation.[56]

See also[edit]


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  51. ^ Dantone G. "Anti-gay Activism and the Misuse of Science" (PDF). centerforinquiry.net. Center for Inquiry. Retrieved 12 November 2015. it was a non-clinical study and the data concerning homosexuals was gathered by setting up an interview booth at a “Gay Pride” parade while the data for heterosexuals was gathered at a college. Did the signage attracting participants at the Gay Pride parade booth ask specifically for victims of abuse who were willing to tell their story? The study does not say anything on this point – we do not know how participants were attracted. How likely is it that all the persons who took the questionnaire at the booth just happened to be gay, as it is claimed in this study? [...] Meanwhile, the data on heterosexuals was obtained at colleges; is this a group that one could then compare to persons attracted by unknown means to a booth at a gay pride parade? Can one then ethically extrapolate the findings to the general public? [...] A non-clinical and flawed study with a much skewed sample that even the authors suggest may not be representative.
  52. ^ Tomeo ME, Templer DI, Anderson S, Kotler D (October 2001). "Comparative data of childhood and adolescence molestation in heterosexual and homosexual persons". Archives of Sexual Behavior. 30 (5): 535–41. doi:10.1023/A:1010243318426. PMID 11501300. It must also be borne in mind that the present homosexual participants may not be representative of homosexual persons. The overwhelming preponderance of homosexual participants was in the gay pride group. There were only three homosexual men and seven homosexual women in the college group.
  53. ^ Dantone G. "Anti-gay Activism and the Misuse of Science" (PDF). centerforinquiry.net. Center for Inquiry. Archived (PDF) from the original on 21 March 2019. Retrieved 12 November 2015. Another interesting aspect of this study is the use of the word “molestation.” In the questionnaire given to participants, the word “molestation” is never used; “sexual contact” is used. What does this phrase mean to the various participants? Does it mean one thing to those participating in a festive Gay Pride Parade and something quite different to a student at a perhaps more subdued or introspective University setting? Since 84% of gay men and 95% of women considered themselves gay before the “sexual contact” according to the study, could it be something less nefarious than, for example, forcible rape they were recounting? Could it be that the college students were only counting more disturbing experiences, such as forcible rape? Of course it is possible the two groups were defining “sexual contact” in precisely the same manner, but we really should not have to assume such a thing; our doubts are due to the absence of pertinent info from the researchers – this should have been made clear. The study does not even attempt to quantify these probably relevant differences in these two groups. And, instead of continuing to use the phrase “sexual contact” in their closing discussions, the authors of the study switch to “molestation” in their analysis of the data
  54. ^ Dantone G. "Anti-gay Activism and the Misuse of Science" (PDF). centerforinquiry.net. Center for Inquiry. Retrieved 12 November 2015. Also cited in the Tomeo, et al. report are studies conducted by Paul Cameron that supported the contention that gays are more likely to have been molested and to molest others [...] The American Sociological Association has criticized Dr. Cameron, stating that "Cameron has consistently misinterpreted and misrepresented sociological research on sexuality, homosexuality, and lesbianism" and that he was kicked out of the American Psychological Association. Further, in a court case in 1985, a judge saw fit to characterize Paul Cameron’s “expert” testimony thusly: Second, this Court reaffirms its findings that Dr. Simon and Dr. Marmor were very credible witnesses and that their qualifications were impeccable. In contrast, Dr. Paul Cameron--the basis of the claim that Drs. Simon and Marmor committed fraud in their testimony--has himself made misrepresentations to this Court. For example: (i) his sworn statement that "homosexuals are approximately 43 times more apt to commit crimes than is the general population" is a total distortion of the Kinsey data upon which he relies--which, as is obvious to anyone who reads the report, concerns data from a non-representative sample of delinquent homosexuals (and Dr. Cameron compares this group to college and non-college heterosexuals); (ii) his sworn statement that "homosexuals abuse children at a proportionately greater incident than do heterosexuals" is based upon the same distorted data--and, the Court notes, is directly contrary to other evidence presented at trial besides the testimony of Dr. Simon and Dr. Marmour. (553 F. Supp. 1121 at 1130 n.18.) n309 Yes, this study used data from this same researcher without commenting on his questionable credibility and the possible fraudulence of his data.
  55. ^ "Paul Cameron Bio and Fact Sheet". UC Davis. Retrieved 2013-05-13.
  56. ^ a b Wilson HW, Widom CS (February 2010). "Does physical abuse, sexual abuse, or neglect in childhood increase the likelihood of same-sex sexual relationships and cohabitation? A prospective 30-year follow-up". Archives of Sexual Behavior. 39 (1): 63–74. doi:10.1007/s10508-008-9449-3. PMID 19130206.