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Religious Tolerance logo

Are the cause(s) of sexual orientation due to nature or nurture?
Three proofs that homosexual & bisexual sexual orientations
do NOT have a genetic cause, with rebuttals

Part 1: A review of terminology related to
sexual orientation. Results of national polls
showing the public's belief about the causes
of homosexuality.

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Review of terminology:

A individual's "sexual orientation" describes the gender(s) of persons to whom they are sexually attracted. Attraction(s) is to persons of the same sex for gays and lesbians, to the opposite sex for heterosexuals, or to both sexes for bisexuals. Sometimes, a person will have no sexual attraction at all to either gender; they are considered to have a fourth sexual orientation -- asexuality.

A person's sexual orientation exists independently of their sexual behavior. Some people are celibate; others are sexually active.

Unfortunately, it is difficult to obtain precise estimates of the percentages of persons with each orientation. Conventional polling techniques by phone drastically underestimate numbers of sexual minorities for a number of reasons.

  • The high level of gay bashing inhibits accurate responses by lesbians, gays, and bisexuals (LGBs).

  • Most states have no employment protection for sexual minorities. They can be fired simply for being LGB. And so many remain securely "in the closet" and do not reveal their sexual orientation freely to strangers.
  • Many youth and young adults fear being thrown out on the street by their parents if they learn that their daughter or son is LGB. On the order of 40% of youth homelessness involves LGBs who have been discarded by their families of origin.

Meanwhile -- perhaps because same-sex marriage and equal rights for the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender/transsexual community (LGBT) are such hot topics at this time -- the public greatly overestimates the percentage of sexual minorities in the population.

Many social and religious conservatives estimate the percentage of gays and lesbians to be only about 2%; some LGBT groups estimate 10%. The general public estimates 20% or more. The most reliable estimates that we have found are:

  • About 90% of adults are sexually attracted only to members of the opposite-sex. In the medical and human sexuality fields they are called "heterosexuals." The public commonly calls them "straight."

  • About 5% are attracted only to members of the same-sex; they have a homosexual orientation. Females are referred to as lesbians; males as gay.
  • About 5% attracted to both sexes, although often not to the same degree. They have a bisexual orientation. They, alone, can be accurately referred to as having a "sexual preference." They are commonly referred to as bisexual or bi.

Among religious and social conservatives, gays and lesbians are often referred to as homosexuals, homosexualists, or sodomites. The last term in particular is frequently considered an abusive "snarl" word. It was derived from the name of the ancient city of Sodom. God is described in the Bible as having exterminated all the seniors, adults, youths, children, babies and newborns in Sodom with fire and brimstone because the men in the city had unsuccessfully attempted to rape two angelic visitors to the city, in an act of extreme violence and inhospitality. Due to magical powers by the angels, the men were not successful. It was one of many stories in the Bible that describes scapegoating: the transfer of sins from the guilty to the innocent. In this case, innocent youths, children, babies, and newborns were punished by death for the sins of some of the the men in the city.

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The public's beliefs about the cause of homosexual orientation:

Many religious and social conservatives believe that a person's sexual orientation is not determined by genetic factors before birth. Rather, it is caused by factors that affect people after they are born. Various causes have been offered:

  • The parenting styles adopted by parents of their child/children.

  • One or more experiences of sexual molestation during childhood,

  • A child making a choice to be lesbian, gay or bisexual at or after puberty, and/or

  • Sexual experimentation with a member of the same sex that lead to an addiction to this form of sexual expression.

In other words, most conservatives sincerely believe that lesbians, gays and bisexuals are "made" after birth; they are not "born that way."

This belief is very important to religious and social conservatives. If a person's sexual orientation is determined by some event(s) during their life then there is a much higher probability that they could return to heterosexuality through prayer -- as in a "pray the gay away" program, -- and/or by becoming involved in a reparative therapy program, etc. The belief is also important because it solves a difficult question: if God dislikes and disapproves of homosexual behavior, why does God create so many LGBs?

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Public opinion about the cause(s) of a homosexual orientation:

Belief among the public is shifting. There is no longer a majority opinion in favor of factors in the environment causing people to become lesbian, gay, or bisexual. In 2014-MAY, there was a very small 5 percentage point plurality among the public favoring genetic cause(s).

National polls show that between 1978 -- when the first polls were taken by Gallup -- and the year 2,000, there was a gradual increase in the percentage of the public who believed that homosexuality is predetermined before birth -- presumably by one's genes. At about the turn of the millennium, roughly equal numbers of the public believed that homosexuality is something one is born with or is due to other factors in one's life. Since then, there has been little change:

Origins of homosexual orientation 1

The standard question asked by Gallup between 1977 and 2008 was:

"In your view, is homosexuality something a person is born with or is homosexuality due to factors such as upbringing or environment? 2

In more recent polls, Gallup has substituted "being gay or lesbian" for "homosexuality." That is perhaps because the terms "homosexual" and "homosexuality" have become anti-LGBT snarl words among some people and would bias the results if they were used in the polling question.

Results from Gallup's polls are:

Date Genetic Environment Both Neither Don't know
13% 2
17 2
19 2
43 3
31 2
34 2
47 2
42 2

Megan Gannon, writing for Live Science said:

"College grads, whites, females, liberals, Democrats, high-income earners, and people who aren't churchgoers are most likely to think people can be born gay." 1

One finding from an early poll in 1993 demonstrated how important the belief that a person can change their behavior was to the public:

  • Among those who consider it a choice, only 18% viewed same-gender sexual behavior as acceptable -- presumably from a moral perspective.

  • Among those who consider it unchangeable, 57% found such behavior acceptable. 3

If sexual orientation is genetically determined, it would presumably be difficult or impossible to change; if it is a choice, then most would probably consider it changeable, with some effort. One indication that change is impossible, or essentially so, is found in the activities of Exodus International. They were the main promoters of reparative therapy to change their clients sexual orientation to heterosexual. After 35 years of conversion attempts, they finally gave up. They recognized that reparative therapy is ineffective, harmful, and dangerous. They apologized to the lesbians, gays, and bisexuals for the harm and pain that Exodus had cause their clients while unsuccessfully trying to "cure" them. During mid-2013, Exodus International went out of business.

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This topic continues in the next essay

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References used:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. Megan Gannon, "Less Than Half of Americans Think People Are Born Gay, Poll Shows," Live Science, 2014-MAY-29. at:
  2. Darren K Carlson, "Americans Divided on Cause of Homosexuality," Gallup, 2001-MAY-09, at:
  3. Jeffrey Schmalz, "Poll Finds an Even Split on Homosexuality's Cause," The New York Times, 1993-MAR-05, at:

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Site navigation:

Home page > "Hot" religious topics > Homosexuality > Cause > here

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Copyright © 2014 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Original posting: 2014-DEC-13
Latest update: 2014-DEC-27
Author: B.A. Robinson

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