Are the cause(s) of sexual orientation due to nature or nurture?
Three proofs that homosexual & bisexual sexual
NOT have a genetic
Proof #3, based on
the ability of lesbians,
and bisexuals to "change."
Also: epigenetics: a possible game-changer.
One frequently cited proof that sexual orientation is not genetically caused is based on the ease with which lesbians and gays can "change:"
For decades, large numbers of lesbians, gays and bisexuals (LGBs) went to reparative therapy counselors and/or transformational ministries seeking "change" in their lives. Since the mid 1970's, the largest such group was Exodus International. These organizations tended to be vague when explaining exactly what "change" their clients could expect. Their successful clients are typically described as having left the "gay lifestyle," or having become "ex-gays." Untold tens of thousands in the LGB community linked up with these non-profit groups in the hopes of converting their sexual orientation to heterosexual. The groups often claimed very high success rate.
Many religious and social conservatives believe that if homosexuality had a genetic cause, then few if any lesbians, gays, or bisexuals would be able to make such major lifestyle changes. Therefore, they concluded that a person's genes did not determine their sexual orientation. They became convinced that a homosexual or bisexual orientation was caused by some factor in the environment after birth, such as:
- Being exposed to poor parenting when they were children,
- Having been sexually molested during childhood,
- Making a conscious choice to become lesbian, gay, or bisexual later in life, perhaps about the time of puberty, or
- Experimenting with same-gender sexual behavior and becoming addicted to it.
During the decades that reparative therapy and transformation ministry programs have offered their services, religious and social liberals, professional mental health organizations, and others have expressed skepticism about what changes were achieved by clients attending these programs. They have also expressed concern about about the possibility of the programs having serious negative outcomes. Many former clients were depressed because they had failed to "change." Some developed suicidal ideation; some committed suicide.
In the early years of these programs, they were frequently headed by lesbians and gays who later became disillusioned and left. Some former leaders claimed that they had never observed even one of their clients change their sexual orientation from homosexual to heterosexual.
In mid-2012, Exodus International announced a number of major changes in their beliefs and policies: They began teaching that:
- Reparative therapy is not effective.
- Lesbian and gay adults will always have feelings of attraction to members of the same gender.
- Reparative therapy can be dangerous, and
- Sexually active persons with same-sex attraction can still attain Heaven after death.
This fourth change was remarkable because of a biblical passage written by Paul in 1 Corinthians 6:9. He wrote that those who engaged in "arsenkoitai" will never attain Heaven. Although the meaning of this Greek word has been lost, it has been almost universally interpreted by religious conservatives as referring to gays and lesbians.
A year later:
- The president of Exodus offered a sincere apology for all of the harm that his organization had done to individuals members of the LGB community, and
- The organization announced that it was ceasing business after 37 years of operation. More details.
It appears that Exodus International, and the other groups dedicated to "change" in the LGBT community, had been unsuccessful in actually changing their clients' sexual orientation. Instead, their successes involved:
- Convincing a few of their lesbian and gay clients to not act on their same-gender sexual attraction, but to remain celibate without an intimate partner for the rest of their lives.
- Convincing some of their bisexual clients to make a conscious decision to seek intimate relationships only with members of the opposite gender.
In other words, the clients were to not act upon their same-sex feelings of attraction. They were to change their behavior even though the feelings of attraction -- that is, their sexual orientation -- remained present for the rest of their lives.
Exodus International, and similar groups, were established on the assumption that their clients' sexual orientation was caused by some factor during their childhood, and thus could be reversed. Since their LGBT clients were not able to actually change their sexual orientation, that failure has given major support to the opposite belief: that their sexual orientation has a genetic origin.
A non-profit group called "Parents and Friends of Ex-Gays and Gays appears to be the largest group in the U.S. that still promotes reparative therapy. One of the slogans that appears on their home page is: "Change happens. Ex-gays are everywhere." 1
A possible game-changer on the horizon:
During 2012, researchers at the Working Group on Intragenomic Conflict at the National Institute for Mathematical and Biological Synthesis (NIMBioS) issued a report on epigenetics. They have produced a mathematical model that shows how epi-marks before birth might play a major role in determining both a person's sexual orientation and/or gender identity.
According to a NIMBios article:
"Epi-marks constitute an extra layer of information attached to our genes' backbones that regulates ...[the genes'] expression. While genes hold the instructions, epi-marks direct how those instructions are carried out -- when, where and how much a gene is expressed during development." 2
NIMBioS researcher Sergey Gavrilets suggests that the cause of sexual orientation is:
"... not genetics. It’s not DNA. It’s not pieces of DNA. It’s epigenetics. The hypothesis we put forward is based on epigenetic marks." 3
These epi-marks are normally specific to the gender of the fetus. They are produced early in gestation, during the embryonic stage of development. The speculation is that some epi-marks "... affect the genitals, others sexual identity, and yet others ..." 2 affect the gender(s) to which the individual will be sexually attracted later in life -- their sexual orientation. If this is true, then epi-marks may play a role in intersexuality, gender identity, as well as sexual orientation.
At this time, epi-marks are still an untested theory. However, it neatly fits with many observations and studies including:
- the perseverance of homosexuality in spite of evolutionary forces which would normally tend to eradicate it,
- the 16 or so other studies of homosexuality that all apparently link sexual orientation to pre-birth developments, and
- the inability of researchers to find a gay gene or genes.
If this new discovery pans out, then there would be proof that a person's homosexual or bisexual orientation is determined before birth, and are thus beyond the ability of individuals to change or choose.
More details about epigenetics.
The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above
essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.
- PFOX has its home page at: http://www.pfox.org/
- "Study Finds Epigenetics, Not Genetics, Underlies Homosexuality," NIMBioS, 2012-DEC-11, at: http://www.nimbios.org/
- Laura Blue, "New Insight into the (Epi)Genetic Roots of Homosexuality, Time, 2012-DEC-13, at: http://healthland.time.com/
Copyright © 2014 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Original posting: 2014-DEC-16
Latest update: 2014-DEC-16
Author: B.A. Robinson