Note: I am currently reading a nonfiction piece by neuroscientist Simon LeVay entitled Gay, Straight, and the Reason Why: The Science of Sexual Orientation. For the next few weeks, at the beginning of each week, I’ll be publishing a summary of a chapter or two of the book.
Simon LeVay, a British-American and openly gay neuroscientist gained media attention in the early ’90s when he published a groundbreaking paper in the journal Science. The article, entitled “A difference in hypothalamic structure between heterosexual and homosexual men”, detailed his study on the brains of late humans which found that a region in the brain known to regulate sexual behavior was considerably smaller on average in gay men than in heterosexual men. This paper and similar papers of the time inspired new biological research into the contentious question: Why are gay people gay?
In Gay, Straight, and the Reason Why, LeVay outlines the research that has taken place since then and lays the foundation of a credible theory for the biological origins of sexual orientation via gender.
Chapter One – What is Sexual Orientation?
Sexual orientation is usually judged on the basis of a person’s sexual attraction to others — opposite sex attraction means heterosexuality, same sex attraction is known as homosexuality, sexual attraction to both sexes equals bisexuality. Sexual orientation, contrary to belief, has little to nothing to do with sexual behavior, i.e. the extent to which a person has sexual contact with men or women. Sexual behavior is influenced by a variety of factors which are not a part of actual attraction, such as availability of sexual partners and a person’s sense of morality. Sexual attraction itself can be divided into two parts — physical attraction; the desire to engage in sexual contact, and romantic/emotional attraction; the desire for non-sexual psychological union.
Sexual orientation in men and women is generally stable throughout life, but moreso for men than for women. Some women but few men have true changes in sexual orientation later on in life.
Heterosexuality is far and away the most common sexual orientation for both men and women. How many people in the world are non-heterosexual (homosexual or bisexual)? Most surveys across the globe have resulted in similar numbers — about 3.5 percent of men and 1.5-2 percent of women in the world have attraction to persons of the same sex. Non-heterosexual men are mostly homosexual, while non-heterosexuality in women is divided close to evenly between homosexual and bisexual.
Gay and bisexual people have existed across time periods and cultures. Studies in large cities in non-Western countries such as the Philippines and Guatemala have shown that gay men exist in around the same numbers as those that live in large Western capitals. Ancient Greek writings suggest that the sexual attraction of some men and women for those of their gender was well-known and tolerated. This evidence suggests that homosexuality has a biological rather than social origin.
Gay, Straight, and the Reason Why Series:
- Chapters Two and Three — Why We Need Biology; Outline of a Theory
- Chapters Four and Five — Childhood; Characteristics of Gay and Straight Adults
- Chapters Six and Seven — The Role of Sex Hormones; The Role of Genes
- Chapters Eight and Nine — The Brain; The Body
- Chapters Ten and Eleven — The Older-Brother Effect; Conclusions