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Encyclopedia > Environment, choice, and sexual orientation

There are several different environmental factors which various overlapping schools of thought hypothesize influence the determination of sexual orientation. Sexual orientation is the focus of a persons amorous or erotic desires, fantasies, and feelings, the gender(s) one is primarily oriented towards. ...


One of the most important questions in this area (and in the larger cultural and political debate) is whether sexual orientation is a stable attribute fixed early in life, or can be changed or chosen in adolescence or adulthood. In this case, the primary aspect of sexual orientation which is of interest is whether spontaneous attractions are for members of the same, opposite, or both genders. (For discussion about whether or not there are exactly two genders and what constitutes gender, see the article on sex.) Obviously, for the purposes of sexual behavior, any person may choose to follow or resist their spontaneous feelings, and self-identification is a psychological and social phenomenon distinct from sexual behavior and attraction. Sexual orientation is the focus of a persons amorous or erotic desires, fantasies, and feelings, the gender(s) one is primarily oriented towards. ... Look up Sex in Wiktionary, the free dictionary The members of many species of living things are divided into two or more categories called sexes (or loosely speaking, genders). ... Look up Sex in Wiktionary, the free dictionary The members of many species of living things are divided into two or more categories called sexes (or loosely speaking, genders). ...


Various environmental causes have been proposed by advocates of both the "fixed attribute" and "choice" hypotheses.


Empirical studies which attempt to quantify genetic influence on sexual orientation are discussed in Genetics and sexual orientation. The genetic factors influencing sexual orientation are controversial, and research in this area is ongoing. ...

Contents


Early fixation hypothesis

If sexual orientation is fixed early in life, when exactly does that happen, and how? The following "environmental" mechanisms (as opposed to (genetic mechanisms) have been proposed. The genetic factors influencing sexual orientation are controversial, and research in this area is ongoing. ...


Fetal development

Some have theorized that events in the womb may contribute to some subset of homosexual behavior (though certain individuals may be genetically predisposed to be vulnerable to such events, and the conditions inside the mother's reproductive system are of course influenced by her genetics).


Masculinization/feminization

A popular hypothesis in this vein is that the developing brains of homosexual men are insufficiently masculinized (i.e. they are partially "feminized") and that homosexual females are "masculinized" in some way.


Supporting evidence for this hypothesis includes:

  • Observed differences in three areas of the brain in homosexual vs. heterosexual men (the anterior commisure, the supra-chiasmatic nucleus the interstitial nuclei of the anterior hypothalamus,)
  • Observed differences in cognitive testing showing results for homosexual men typical of heterosexual women and results for homosexual women typical of heterosexual men.
  • Observed differences in the preferences that homosexual men, heterosexual men, and heterosexual women have for the age of their sexual partners.

It is unclear whether the observed anatomical and cognitive differences are signs of a (possibly genetic) mechanism that determines sexual orientation, or symptoms of the formation of an atypical sexual orientation during childhood.


One possible mechanism is differential fetal hormone exposure, especially to testosterone (and a compound it is transformed into, estradiol) and luteinizing hormone (LH) is proposed as the mechanism. The concentrations of these chemicals is thought to be influenced by fetal and maternal immune systems, maternal consumption of certain drugs, maternal stress, and direct injection.


Hormone levels may of course vary over time. Given the semi-sequential nature of fetal development, and because multiple hormones are involved, it is possible for the hypothesized "masculinization" or "feminization" process to affect only some body or brain systems. (This is necessary to explain why someone might be say, born with a male body but with a "feminized" sexual attraction.)


Prenatal hormones have been indicated both in Simon LeVay's study of the anterior hypothalamus in cadavers with homosexual contraction of AIDS as cause of death and Marc Breedlove's study of birth order and finger length ratios in living individuals. LeVay's study suggests that homosexual men are feminized, Breedlove's study suggests that both homosexual men and homosexual women are masculinized. The Red Ribbon symbol is used internationally to represent the fight against AIDS. AIDS (Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome or Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome, rarely written Aids) is a disease characterized by the destruction of the human immune system. ...


Pre-natal hormones in females

(This summary above has not yet been checked against the original scientific journal article, which is cited below.)


Researchers at the University of Texas at Austin, lead by Dennis McFadden, found the response of the inner ear to soft sounds tended to be weaker in homosexual woman than in heterosexual women. The response among men tended to be weaker than either female group. Fetal exposure to androgens is hypothesized to affect this attribute, suggestion that fetal exposure to the same chemicals may also predispose a daughter to a lesbian orientation. However, lifestyle differences between the two female groups may lead to different sound exposures, and this could also explain the correlation. Androgen is the generic term for any natural or synthetic compound, usually a steroid hormone, that stimulates or controls the development and maintenance of masculine characteristics in vertebrates. ...


References
  • [1]
  • [2]
  • D. McFadden and E. G. Pasanen. Comparison of the auditory systems of heterosexuals and homosexuals: Click-evoked otoacoustic emissions. PNAS, March 3, 1998; 95(5): 2709 - 2713. [3]

Pre-natal hormones in males

Researchers in the Breedlove study found evidence correlating prenatal hormones to male homosexuality. Males exposed to high levels of androgens (sexual hormones) as fetuses are pre-dominantly homosexual. Prenatal means before birth (is widely used in biology). ... Androgen is the generic term for any natural or synthetic compound, usually a steroid hormone, that stimulates or controls the development and maintenance of masculine characteristics in vertebrates. ...


Correlations with matriarchal lineage, birth order, and female fertility

Certain observations involving "environmental" factors in the womb have been proposed to explain some instances of homosexual orientation; see Genetics and sexual orientation for an explanation. The genetic factors influencing sexual orientation are controversial, and research in this area is ongoing. ...


Imprinting/Critical period

This type of theory holds that the formation of gender identity occurs in the first few years of life after birth. It argues that individuals can be predisposed to homosexual orientation by biological factors but are triggered in some cases by upbringing. Part of adopting a gender identity involves establishing the gender(s) of sexual attraction. This process is analogous to the "imprinting" process observed in animals. A baby duckling may be genetically programmed to "imprint" on a mother, but what entity it actually imprints upon depends on what objects it sees immediately after hatching. Most importantly, once this process has occurred, it cannot be reversed, any more than the duckling can hatch twice.


A sort of reverse sexual imprinting has been observed in heterosexual humans; see the section on the "Westermarck effect" in Behavioral imprinting. This article is about the psychological term. ...


Several different triggers for imprinting upon a particular sexual orientation have been proposed.


A common hypothesis, especially among non-scientists, is that something about what young children see in the gender-roles behavior of adults, or some differences (possibly unconscious) in the way adults treat young children, somehow influence or determine a child's eventual sexual orientation.


Another such theory is described in the following section. This theory has been denounced by the American Psychological Association in research findings that children of homosexuals are just as likely to be heterosexual as the general population and in reverse for children of heterosexuals in prevalence of homosexuality.


Exotic becomes erotic

Daryl Bem, a social psychologist at Cornell University, has theorized that the influence of biological factors on sexual orientation may be mediated by experiences in childhood. A child's temperament predisposes the child to prefer certain activities over others. Because of their temperament, which is influenced by biological variables such as genetic factors, some children will be attracted to activities that are commonly enjoyed by other children of the same gender. Others will prefer activities that are typical of the other gender. This will make a gender-conforming child feel different from opposite-gender children, while gender-nonconforming children will feel different from children of their own gender. According to Bem, this feeling of difference will evoke physiological arousal when the child is near members of the gender which it considers as being 'different'. Bem theorizes that this physiological arousal will later be transformed into sexual arousal: children will become sexually attracted to the gender which they see as different ("exotic"). This theory is known as Exotic Becomes Erotic (EBE) theory. Daryl J. Bem is a noted social psychologist at Cornell University, USA, and the originator of the self-perception theory of attitude change. ... For other uses of the name Cornell, see Cornell (disambiguation). ...


Chance events

The human brain is a complex organ in a complex organism, and sexual attraction is a difficult feature to construct reliably each time. It is possible that more or less random events in the internal development of the brain sometimes result in atypical structures which correspond to atypical sexual orientations.


A simple analogy is the growth patterns of trees. Even genetically identical trees will have differently-shaped branches. Many factors contribute to these differences - accidents in the formation of the seed, the randomness of Brownian motion, slightly different soil, wind, water, and lighting conditions, etc. As a result, one tree may end up with 49 apples, the one next to it, with 51. An example of 1000 simulated steps of Brownian motion in two dimensions. ...


Other arguments

Certain schools of thought have been introduced that postulate the improbability of any deviation from heterosexual genetic instruction. These arguments include th Either Or Argument and the Reduced Gene Pool Argument. This article is being considered for deletion in accordance with Wikipedias deletion policy. ... This article is being considered for deletion in accordance with Wikipedias deletion policy. ...


Choice hypothesis

If sexual orientation is (completely or almost completely) a conscious choice, then social and culture influences no doubt play a large role, as they do in "lifestyle" choices like what foods to eat or how to throw a birthday party. This hypothesis predicts that in societies where (for example) homosexuality is widely discussed or accepted as "normal", more people will adopt a homosexual lifestyle. For those who believe homosexuality is immoral, this theory provokes concern that positive portrayals of homosexuality will harm children by influencing them in that direction. Homosexuality may refer to: A sexual orientation characterized by aesthetic attraction, romantic love, and sexual desire exclusively or almost exclusively for members of the same sex or gender identity. ...


Some advocates of the choice hypothesis believe that sexual orientation is not a choice which is necessarily made casually or easily changed. Most choice advocates also have a negative view of non-heterosexual orientations. So they might, for instance, consider homosexuality to be a personal problem not unlike a drug or alcohol addiction (including the addictive aspects). A person might not be able to change without help, but in the end, their own choices and behaviors are an integral part of their problem.


Not all people who believe that homosexual behavior is wrong believe that (for example) a homosexual orientation is a choice. (If something is not a choice, then it usually cannot be right or wrong, it just exists). This often leads to the conclusion that people who are non-heterosexuals should be treated with respect or compassion, but that they should be discouraged from acting on their immoral spontaneous erotic desires.


It is an important point to realize that almost everyone agrees that whether or not to engage in a particular sexual behavior (whether driven by a spontaneous erotic desire, external suggestion, or any other influence) is in normal circumstances a conscious choice. The main disagreements are over whether a.) there is an underlying orientation which controls emotional desires and responses to events, and whether and b.) acting on same-sex or other sexual attractions is moral, immoral, or orthogonal to moral considerations.


Most gay, lesbian, and bisexual people, and many straight people, believe that sexual orientation is not a choice. Many surveys and plentiful anecdotal evidence seem to show that the gender(s) toward which most people have had spontaneous erotic desires (whether heterosexual, homosexual, both, or otherwise) has not changed since the feelings began in adolescence. However, some gay, lesbian, and bisexual people do believe they've chosen their sexual orientations, as shown by books such as Vera Whisman's Queer by Choice: Lesbians, Gay Men, and the Politics of Identity (1996) and websites such as QueerByChoice.com. In the 1970s, the view that homosexuality can be chosen even became a fundamental precept of the lesbian feminist movement. 1996 is a leap year starting on Monday of the Gregorian calendar, and was designated the International Year for the Eradication of Poverty. ... Lesbian feminism is a feminist ideology, popular in the 1970s and 1980s, that advocated the view that feminism and lesbianism were linked. ...


Changing sexual orientation through therapy

Most contemporary mental health professionals consider reparative therapy - trying to actually change a patient's sexual orientation from, say, homosexual to heterosexual, through therapeutic means - to be ineffective, if not psychologically harmful. Reparative therapy, or conversion therapy, is any of several controversial religious or secular techniques that are aimed at changing a persons sexual orientation from homosexuality to heterosexuality (or ex-gay). ...


However, there is also a modern ex-gay movement that claims that homosexuals can become heterosexual or otherwise "leave homosexuality behind" through counseling, prayer, aversion, or other therapies if they choose to do so. The ex-gay or exodus movement claims that homosexuals can become heterosexual or otherwise leave homosexuality behind through counselling, prayer, and other therapies if they choose to do so. ...


See Homosexuality and psychology. Homosexuality and psychology have a closely intertwined history. ...


Moral and religious considerations

Religious authorities regarding homosexuality as wrong or "sinful" often distinguish between immoral sexual acts and non-heterosexual feelings. Adherents to these codes of conduct are often advised to abstain from sexual acts in general, or to attempt to foster opposite-sex relationships; celibacy is an acceptable or sometimes even admirable alternative to heterosexuality. (For example, the Roman Catholic Church.) Some religions hold heterosexual marriage to be morally superior to celibacy, or mandatory for entry into a desirable form of the afterlife. (For example, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.) Saint Peters Basilica in Rome. ... The Salt Lake City temple of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is the largest attraction in the citys Temple Square. ...


Not all religious sects regard non-heterosexual orientations as wrong, nor do all adherents of organized churches that do hold that view. See religion and homosexuality for a more complete discussion. // Overview Religious views of homosexuality have varied widely. ...


Proponents of the "choice about behavior" position point to taboo or illegal sexual acts, such as pedophilia or incest where society requires individuals not to act out their desires, as examples where choices are expected to be made whether or not orientation is a matter of choice. Pedophilia (American English) or pædophilia/paedophilia (British English) is the condition of being sexually attracted primarily to prepubescent children. ... Incest among humans is sexual activity between close family members. ...


External links

On the "exotic becomes erotic" theory

  • Articles by Dr. Daryl Bem, including several on the EBE theory

On the issue of choice

  • Is homosexuality a choice? -- Paper on Dr Paul Kenyon's Home Page, University of Plymouth, Department of Psychology
  • Position paper - Catherine L. Harris, PhD., Psychology Department, Boston University
  • Review of Queer By Choice - Julia Jones, Bay Area News and Letters Committees
  • Will A Gay Gene Get Us Anywhere? by Nicholas Yee
  • QueerByChoice.com

  Results from FactBites:
 
choice and sexual orientation: Information from Answers.com (1735 words)
If sexual orientation is (completely or almost completely) a conscious choice, then social and cultural influences probably play a large role, as they do in "lifestyle" choices such as what foods to eat or how to throw a birthday party.
Proponents of the "choice about behavior" position point to taboo or illegal sexual acts, such as pedophilia or incest, where society requires individuals not to act out their desires, as examples where choices are expected to be made whether orientation is a matter of choice or not.
For the purposes of sexual behavior, some people may choose to be celibate or sexually active, and self-identification (consistent with their values) is a psychological and social phenomenon distinct from sexual behavior and attraction.
Answers to Your Questions About Sexual Orientation and Homosexuality (1591 words)
Sexual orientation exists along a continuum that ranges from exclusive homosexuality to exclusive heterosexuality and includes various forms of bisexuality.
Sexual orientation is different from sexual behavior because it refers to feelings and self-concept.
It is also important to realize that a parent's sexual orientation does not dictate his or her children's.
  More results at FactBites »

 
 

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