Gay, Straight, and the Reason Why: Introduction and Chapter One

gay-straight-and-the-reason-why

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.

Introduction

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 WhyLeVay 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.

See also:

Gay, Straight, and the Reason Why Series:

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15 thoughts on “Gay, Straight, and the Reason Why: Introduction and Chapter One

  1. “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.”

    this is interesting. one of my dad’s lifelong friends who was married with children became gay & began to cross-dress several years ago. his only son & one of his daughters ended all communication with him. my father, after trying to remain a good friend also ended contact. i believe that my father just couldn’t deal with the cross-dressing. i asked my father one time (because i really missed my “uncle”) if he would dump my brothers if one of them was gay & he said that he just couldn’t be around my uncle when he’s wearing a dress.

    also, it seems to be a little more acceptable for women to change their sexuality from hetero to lesbian, probably because the society is hyper-masculine.

  2. Hi temple,

    “one of my dad’s lifelong friends who was married with children became gay & began to cross-dress several years ago. his only son & one of his daughters ended all communication with him.”

    An online friend of mine went through a similar experience when she transitioned from male to female. Her ex-wife barely speak, and she doesn’t see her children as often because they are still trying to come to terms with it all. I think it’s even tougher when a guy comes out and also starts cross-dressing or becomes transexual.

    I agree that it seems to be a bit more acceptable for women to have a sexual orientation other than heterosexual. But even then, things can get tricky, especially if they are not the “femme” type of lesbian, but “butch”.

  3. hey lofty alee–

    yeah, it’s just a tiny bit more acceptable for women &, as you say, only if they remain somewhat feminine in dress & behavior.

  4. I’m on the “it’s not a choice, it’s biological” train, but what do you call it when a guy who prefers women goes to prison for years and ends up engaging is homosexuality out of a sexual necessity, and ends up considering themselves flipped into a homosexual? Or in ancient Greece when straight soldiers having gay sex was a norm?

    I think we have a built in 1st preference to start with, but sexuality is apparently fluid enough for some to adapt to odd situations, all while keeping the same brain chemistry.

  5. AJ,

    “what do you call it when a guy who prefers women goes to prison for years and ends up engaging is homosexuality out of a sexual necessity, and ends up considering themselves flipped into a homosexual?”

    That was covered in the first Chapter; I should have added a bit about that, but I wanted to keep the post simple.

    Basically, that falls under homosexual behavior. In the post, you’ll note that behavior is not necessarily tied to attraction — yes, sometimes people engage in behavior that contradicts their preferences out of necessity. A person is not necessarily homosexual if they have sexual contact with a person of the same sex under dire conditions. They are only homosexual if they prefer their sex and experience attraction to their sex when given a choice of opposite sex partners.

    “I think we have a built in 1st preference to start with, but sexuality is apparently fluid enough for some to adapt to odd situations, all while keeping the same brain chemistry.”

    This is covered in following chapters. Stay tuned. 😉

  6. yes, about sexual behavior in a situation where there’s no one of the opposite sex & the individual is hetero (like jail & such). i would imagine that if i were stranded somewhere with just people of my same sex– like we were on same-sex “Lost” (i know, cliche!), i would still have the urge for intimacy, companionship & sexual gratification.

    i’ll wait for lofty’s future chapters on this.

  7. temple,

    Lol @ same-sex “Lost”.

    “i’ll wait for lofty’s future chapters on this.”

    You can call me Alee. It’s one letter shorter. 🙂

  8. Temple & Alee,

    I think Cross-dressing tends to be a sticky spot because it gets conflated with homosexuality so often. Last year, my professor invited Marjorie Garber, a famous Shakespeare scholar who has also written books on cross-dressing and bisexuality, to speak to our class (an Almodóvar film class). She talked about how people don’t know/tend to forget that most crossdressers are heterosexual married males (I think most of them are White too), and Dr. Garber mentioned it was pretty heartbreaking to see their families (these men stayed married) try to come to terms with it.

  9. Jasmin, interesting. The book seems to take the view that cross-dressing is part of a broader category of gender-nonconformity on the same line as homosexuality, but is lower on the scale.

  10. I do believe sexual orientation is, in large percent, biological. However, the whole idea of “sexual orientation” is cultural, so we must never forget about this aspect.

    What I’m saying is, the mere idea that there are people who are heterosexual, homosexual, bisexual, etc. is cultural. Other cultures might have different ideas about it.

    AJ, you mentioned Ancient Greece. It’s a good example of what I’m talking about: their culture had different ideas about sexual behavior. In this sense, people having sex with those of the same sex wasn’t homosexual behavior in today’s sense of the word (same goes for sexual orientation).

    Greeks beliefs on sexuality are not always clear, but they fell within what we might call bisexuality- general sexual attraction. I am not saying they treated all humans as bisexual, but they didn’t differentiate between what we would call heterosexuals and bisexuals. In short, you were expected to get married and have kids. No questions asked. You could also do whatever you want on the side (that you can afford)- if you are male. Some women had certain sexual freedom, but not the married ones.

  11. Mira,

    You’re right about the whole idea of sexual orientation being a social construct. Yet it does seem that most people could be classified as mostly attracted to the opposite sex, mostly attracted to the same sex, or attracted to both on a roughly even basis.

  12. Alee,

    I think the general consensus (from a Psych standpoint) is that expressions of gender and sex are two different concepts, so cross-dressing doesn’t make it more likely that you will be homosexual, and vice versa. But I think that separation runs into a problem when you think about individuals who cross-dress and come out as gay, but aren’t transsexuals. They are self-identified men that are attracted to men and like to dress as women, and that’s different than a man who identifies as a woman and is attracted to men, and thereby straight. All of this is confusing me. 🙂

  13. Jasmin, in one of the chapters on childhood behavior they cited several studies which found that children who were gender-nonconformist (i.e. behaved like the opposite gender) were more likely to grow into gay adults than children who more typical in behavior.

  14. @Jasmine–i’ve read/heard before that people who cross-dress aren’t necessarily gay. but my uncle is def a gay cross-dresser & i wonder how rare he is. i see by Alee’s comment that he’s maybe not so rare.

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