Homosexuality: Nature or Nurture?

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On Christmas day, Elton John and David Furnish were blessed with a son born via a surrogate mother. Many have speculated about the upbringing of the child, especially due to the age of the parents, but is homosexuality a result of upbringing or a result of an individual’s genetic code?

It was originally thought by the American Psychological Association (APA) that homosexuality was a mental disorder, an idea shared by Sigmund Freud and David Halperin. They believe in the planophysical theory, which states that homosexuality is an error or a freak of nature as a result of unresolved oedipal issues. Halperin postulates that a weak father and a strong mother would result in a weak, homosexual son due to the mother having a stronger image. However, other psychologists argue this could also result in a strong son to make compensation for his father’s weakness. Due to the lack of evidence and the ambiguity, this theory is commonly disregarded.

Since the removal of homosexuality from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, the psychologist’s bible, the APA explains that sexual orientation is not a choice, but emerges from individuals in early adolescence prior to any experiences. One issue with sexuality research is that people are often afraid to admit to sexual behaviours and defining them can be subjective or misinterpreted. Alfred Kinsey found that the percentage of participants answering yes doubled when he changed the wording from engaging in homosexual relations to engaging in same-sex relations.

Dick Frans Swaab and Laura Allen both found structural difference between the hypothalamus in the brains of homosexual men and straight men in the 1990’s. This is the part of the brain that is directly related to sexual drive. The issue with this study is that both Swaab and Allen conducted post-mortem examinations of men who died from AIDS-related diseases; therefore it cannot be concluded whether the size difference occurred before or after sexual experience, or indeed as a result of the disease.

In 1957, Karen Hooker designed a study that incorporated a Rorschach test, Thematic Apperception Test and the Make-A-Picture-Story Test, and concluded that no correlation exists between homosexuals and heterosexuals for their psychological development.

Hormones can often play a part in sexual orientation. When adult female rats are given male levels of androgens in early development, they display typical male behaviours. And no, this doesn’t mean drinking beer, eating steak and watching the football. The female rats displayed high levels of aggression and sexual drive towards the other female rats.

Not surprisingly, most social psychologists see childhood and upbringing as the most influential factor. Masculine and feminine stereotypes imposed by those closest to us can often result in sexual differences. However, there is little evidence to suggest homosexuals were raised differently to heterosexuals. These stereotypes are often reinforced by media, which may explain why homosexuals are in the minority.

In evolutionary terms, parents would want to promote heterosexual behaviour to ensure the child has offspring so their genes are passed on to the next generation. This is termed the parental manipulation theory. Other influencing parental factors include number of parental interactions and tolerance of aggression during childhood.

Perhaps there is no single answer, and like most things, homosexuality is probably a combination of both genetics and environmental influences, and is probably shaped from birth right up until later life.

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Discussion2 Comments

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    Nature surely. Homosexual activity has been well documented in over 400 different animal species ranging form giraffes to penguins, they can’t all have unresolved oedipal issues.

    J-Fox
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    The phrase nature or nurture refers definitively to the genetics of the individual verses the environment, whether social or hormonal influences.

    It’s clear to see that it isn’t JUST nature by twin studies. apart from being a twin myself, there are many examples of human twins and animal models where one shows homosexual tendencies whilst the other does not, despite having identical DNA. Therefore, it would seem that nurture would be the answer.

    This has been proven to be wrong too by studying individuals brought up by same sex parents. We can see that both the environment and genetics must be involved in homosexuality. It’s possible that genetics mean that people are more susceptible to hormonal influences during early development which may stimulate different genes to be activated.
    This is the same method with which identical twins can be different heights, or become bald at different times in their lives or suffer from different metabolic diseases.

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