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Gay Brain Science: Homosexuality a Birth Defect?

Gay Parade Photo Some people are right-brained. Others are left-brained. Apparently, some are gay-brained.

What makes people gay? Biologists may never get a complete answer to that question, but researchers in Sweden have found one more sign that the answer lies in the structure of the brain.

Scientists at the Karolinska Institute studied brain scans of 90 gay and straight men and women, and found that the size of the two symmetrical halves of the brains of gay men more closely resembled those of straight women than they did straight men. In heterosexual women, the two halves of the brain are more or less the same size. In heterosexual men, the right hemisphere is slightly larger. Scans of the brains of gay men in the study, however, showed that their hemispheres were relatively symmetrical, like those of straight women, while the brains of homosexual women were asymmetrical like those of straight men. The number of nerves connecting the two sides of the brains of gay men were also more like the number in heterosexual women than in straight men.

This would seem further evidence, as if any were needed, that homosexuality is biological rather than “a lifestyle choice.”

Slate‘s Will Saletin sees a potentially eerie consequence of this: Homosexuality being treated as a birth defect.

[T]he march of science into the gay brain hasn’t stopped. It has continued, seeking to understand not just what doesn’t cause homosexuality—playing with dolls, growing up with a strong mother, watching Will and Grace—but what does. And the more we understand these biological factors, the closer we get to being able to change them.

Going deeper into the study, we see that the differences in brain symmetry is an effect, not a cause. The most likely cause is “hormonal influences.” It turns out, “homosexuality may be caused by ‘under-exposure to prenatal androgens’ in males and ‘over-exposure’ in females.” This strikes me as quite plausible. Recall that there was a study several years back showing that women who took diet pills during pregnancy were much more likely to have gay children.

But, if it’s a mattering of balancing out hormones . . .

Where science leads, technology follows. Two years ago, scientists in Oregon reported an attempt to “interfere with defeminization of adult sexual partner preferences” in sheep. Their method, as they described it, was to alter hormonal inputs in pregnant ewes “during the period of gestation when the sheep brain is maximally sensitive to the behavior-modifying effects of exogenous testosterone.” When the attempt failed, they concluded that the dosage should be increased.

Would hormonal intervention work in humans? Should we try it? Some thinkers are intrigued. Last year, the Rev. Albert Mohler Jr., president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, wrote: “If a biological basis is found, and if a prenatal test is then developed, and if a successful treatment to reverse the sexual orientation to heterosexual is ever developed, we would support its use.” Mohler told the Associated Press that morally, this would be no different from curing fetal blindness or any other “medical problem.” The Rev. Joseph Fessio, editor of the press that publishes the pope’s work, agreed: “Same-sex activity is considered disordered. If there are ways of detecting diseases or disorders of children in the womb … that respected the dignity of the child and mother, it would be a wonderful advancement of science.”

If the idea of chemically suppressing homosexuality in the womb horrifies you, I have bad news: You won’t be in the room when it happens. Parents control medical decisions, and surveys indicate that the vast majority of them would be upset to learn that their child was gay. Already, millions are screening embryos and fetuses to eliminate those of the “wrong” sex. Do you think they won’t screen for the “wrong” sexual orientation, too?

Oddly, this is happening simultaneously with people becoming far, far accepting of homosexuals and homosexuality. Yet, while they may intellectually agree with the now-shopworn Seinfeld catchphrase, “not that there’s anything wrong with that,” most wouldn’t go so far as being indifferent to whether their own kid was gay. Most, I suspect, would indeed take relatively-low-risk medical steps to ensure that their kid is “normal.”

It doesn’t end there. A few years back, Bryan Murley wondred whether the availability of genetic testing for homosexual predisposition would lead to aborting gay fetuses. It almost surely would.

Science that has answered the prayers of gays in demonstrating a biological determinant, proving that they weren’t freaks who made a choice to live a life of sinful disobedience to society’s moral code but merely living “as God made them.” This has helped normalize homosexuality in the eyes of the medical community — it has long since been removed from the list of “mental disorders” — and the minds of most Americans. Yet, we may have come full circle to thinking of homosexuality as something to be cured.

UPDATE: My colleague Alex Knapp notes the large number of homosexuals who have made tremendous contributions to humanity and wonders whether changing “the very structure” of their brains risks might have also taken away their gifts. The snarky retort I generally make to that sort of argument is to note the number of truly rotten people who we might theoretically been saved from. But the real answer is that we’re far from having a sufficient understanding of such things to know what the effects of hormonal “cures” would be. Which is probably as good a reason as any not to attempt them.

Image: Photo.net

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About James Joyner
James Joyner is the publisher of Outside the Beltway, an associate professor of security studies at the Marine Corps Command and Staff College, and a nonresident senior fellow at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. He has a PhD in political science from The University of Alabama. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter.

Comments

  1. Triumph says:

    It turns out, “homosexuality may be caused by ‘under-exposure to prenatal androgens’

    Yeah, I think that’s what Larry Craig said to the Minneapolis airport police!

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 4

  2. Bithead says:

    I said a few years ago:

    Take a little memory trip with me, back when the homosexual extra rights advocates were touting the idea that homosexuality was a natural phenom. Remember? There were some very high-level studies that were released about this time, that showed some very good promise of finding a cause.

    Funny thing, though….

    Once they started getting close… once the question of the cause being similar to something called Tourette’s syndrome, which is treatable, but not yet curable, came up….. well, suddenly, the homosexual extra rights advocates backed off of the argument as one would back off from a Palestinian bomber screaming “Allah is great!”, as if the thought of an actual cure horrified them. As well it might; no more special rights, and homosexuality moves form ‘lifestyle choice’ to ‘illness’.

    Suddenly the bloom was off the rose, as far as the ‘homosexuality is a natural thing’ argument went… and suddenly their argument switched to what we on the right have been saying for decades… it’s a choice. It’s a choice they certainly have the right to make, at least based on our understanding of the issues thus far.

    But for the sake of discussion, let us consider the Tourette’s victim further. The person has a choice; they can either chose to treat the illness as such, or they can say to hell with the rest of the world, label it a lifestyle, and try to get everyone else to accept it as such. Again, something they have the right to do, but I doubt that many will abide that right for long. Behavior has consequences, after all.

    Consider the rather interesting parallels. Just as with the homosexual who claims to have been born into the homosexual role, such a person cannot be said to have entered the situation by choice. Yet, we as the rest of humanity, regard it like we do any other physical/mental malady… an illness to be overcome if possible. Treated with understanding, certainly… but treated. Drugs are able to limit the social consequences of the problem. Should the Tourette’s victim go off his meds, and insist that everyone else put up with the consequences of his illness as his chosen lifestyle? Tourettes is a natural occurrence, after all.

    Now of course you’ll say Tourettes should be treated. And, you’re right. It should. Somehow, though, because we’re dealing with sexuality, suddenly this philosophy of treatment, goes out the window. Why? Put another way; The Tourette’s victim doesn’t stay off his meds, defying cures, and demand that we all accept his behavior as a natural lifestyle choice.

    So, up to today, then, with all of this; The issue of course becomes, are we now, on the basis of this finding, allowed or forced to treat it as we would any other illness, syndrome, or malfunction… something that can be cured, or that requires treatment?

    Kinda negates all the arguments against Repairative therapy that were so much the rage a few years ago, eh?

    I mean, let’s consider this; Why should it NOT be considered a birth defect, based on what we now know? Is it simply because sexual behavior is involved?

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 21 Thumb down 5

  3. John425 says:

    I agree with bithead above. If not a birth defect then a genetic disease?

    Hot debate. What do you think? Thumb up 18 Thumb down 6

  4. Boyd says:

    I don’t think we know enough, or at least are sure enough of what we know, to make that leap and declare homosexuality a birth defect today, Bit. We may be there some day, but I don’t think it’s now.

    And regarding today’s homosexuals, isn’t your discussion of treatment moot? There is no medical regimen to un-gay someone, is there?

    And on top of that, I can understand why someone who is homosexual and has lived as a homosexual for some time would be reluctant to un-gay themselves. That change in mindset could well be too much to overcome.

    And for the record, if I had known before they were born that any of my children were gay, I wouldn’t have aborted them. They’re all my children, and their sexual orientation doesn’t matter one whit. Undoubtedly, there are people who would abort a gay fetus, but IMHO they would be the most self-centered murderers in our society.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 13 Thumb down 6

  5. Bithead says:

    And regarding today’s homosexuals, isn’t your discussion of treatment moot? There is no medical regimen to un-gay someone, is there?

    Well, what I find of interest there is how so many find it abhorrent to even consider looking at such a cure. Almost as bad as doing oil exploration. [/snark]

    Apparently, (given history with the AMA, and the APA for example, as I point out in the older peice) the whole world crashes around some folks when the medical community calls homosexuality something to be cured… even when the facts are on the side of pursuing a such a cure. Ruins the whole day of people who have sepnt their entire lives trying to get the rest of us to believe it’s ‘normal’ only to find the assertion was not true.

    Should we hide from such facts based on hurting someone’s feelings?

    Hot debate. What do you think? Thumb up 11 Thumb down 9

  6. yetanotherjohn says:

    I think there would be one more step in your circle. Gay married couples who would introduce the condition in artificially conceived children to keep the movement alive. Or progressive parents who would want “one of each, straight and gay children’.

    The power to prevent is just a step from the power to cause.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 1

  7. Tim Worstall says:

    ““homosexuality may be caused by ‘under-exposure to prenatal androgens’ in males and ‘over-exposure’ in females.””

    Sounds likely to me. Same cause Simon Baron Cohen uses for his “systemizing” and “empathic” brain types.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  8. Floyd says:

    Good Science, almost as good as Phrenology![lol]
    To Paraphrase Paul Simon….
    Still a “scientist” sees what he wants to see and disregards the rest!

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 4

  9. Steve says:

    proving that they weren’t freaks who made a choice to live a life of sinful disobedience to society’s moral code but merely living “as God made them.”

    James,

    I need to make several statements to qualify my comments that follow.
    1. God is the creator of all matter and is intimately involved with all he has created
    2. God is sovereign over all he has created
    3. The Bible is God’s complete message to man, setting the standard for right and wrong behavior.
    4. The Bible is infallible in the original text
    5. Man is a moral creature that can choose between right and wrong

    I consider it an impossibility for God to make someone a homosexual and then tell them that it is the lowest form of rejection of God, i.e. sin. Either God didn’t make them a homosexual or He doesn’t care that they “abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed indecent acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their perversion.” Rom 1:27

    Thought 1: You can say that nature made one man to sexually want another man and another to want a woman just as it made one man to have blonde hair and another to have brown, but don’t say that God did it.

    Thought 2: It would seem to me that this article brings out how individuals will interpret facts as they are predisposed to do. The article says that men with equal brain halves are like women who also have equal brain halves. Therefore, men with equal brain halves desire men just like women with equal brain halves do. Why don’t we see some of these men with equal brain halves desiring women with unequal brain halves?

    Thought 3: Was the finding 100%? Did every gay man have equal brain halves? Did every straight man have asymmetric halves? If not, what made the unequal brain half man prefer other men? Was it a choice? Hey, maybe some day we’ll have a test of brain halves to determine whether a person gets to be protected by the sexual orientation laws.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 11

  10. rodney dill says:

    There is no medical regimen to un-gay someone, is there?

    You just sic the Termingaytor on ‘em.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 7

  11. Alex Knapp says:

    Steve,

    4. The Bible is infallible in the original text
    5. Man is a moral creature that can choose between right and wrong

    There is a contradiction between these two points of view. Read Romans again.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 5

  12. dutchmarbel says:

    If one of my boys would be inclined to fall in love with men rather than women I’d have no problem what so ever with it. I kind of like guys myself ;). I’d be much more miffed if one of my boys would fall in love with a moron to be honest. The prejudice in other countries would bother me, but you’d have that if they chose a partner with a different colour or a different religion too.

    I don’t know wether how many of you are in a commited relationship, but I am married to my soulmate. All I hope for any of my kids is that they may find the same kind of love and partnership and I don’t really care what gender the partner would be.

    If you belong to one of the many fundamentalistic monotheological streams you’d probabely hate your kid being married to ANY individual that didn’t fit the prescribed mold. But if you are not, why would it matter to YOU with whom your child wants to have sex once they are old enough to take their own decisions?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 13 Thumb down 5

  13. Boyd says:

    Why don’t we see some of these men with equal brain halves desiring women with unequal brain halves?

    That’s an illogical stretch, Steve. I can be sexually attracted to some lesbians, but when I learn that they’re lesbian, I would no longer press the issue since I know they’re not interested in me. We don’t know the details of someone else’s brains, and the attraction the study cites is not related in any way to the “attractor’s” brain.

    There is a contradiction between these two points of view.

    Could you expound on that point, Alex? I’m having problems understanding it.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  14. Boyd says:

    …why would it matter to YOU with whom your child wants to have sex once they are old enough to take their own decisions?

    Easy. Grandchildren.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 10 Thumb down 5

  15. c. wagener says:

    Any heteros out there seriously think that they are making a life style choice? As a young boy I liked looking at girls and women long before I had any idea what to do with them.

    Years back when my boys were 3 and 5 I walked into our family room to see them transfixed on the TV. Women were strutting up and down a walk way wearing thongs. I asked “what are you watching?” and got back “it’s OK dad it’s PBS” (turned out it was about surfers). They weren’t making any life style choices, they just knew what was pleasant.

    And Boyd,

    Easy. Grandchildren.

    Yes, yes indeed. It is surprising this needs to be pointed out.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 8 Thumb down 1

  16. Alex Knapp says:

    Boyd,

    Could you expound on that point, Alex? I’m having problems understanding it.

    Romans is where Paul does most of his writing regarding the nature of sin and salvation, and it is impossible to read him without avoiding the implication that human beings do not have free will as a consequence of Original Sin, save for the one choice to either embrace Christ or not. These points were expounded upon at great length by St. Augustine in his refutation of the Pelagian heresy, a heresy which postulated that Original Sin does not exist and that all human beings have a free moral choice. Augustine’s tracts against Pelagius were lauded by Martin Luther and John Calvin, the theological founders of modern Protestantism. A good, though somewhat critical, overview of this theology can be found in the book “God Owes Us Nothing” by religious philosopher Leszek Kolakowski.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 1

  17. Triumph says:

    I can be sexually attracted to some lesbians, but when I learn that they’re lesbian, I would no longer press the issue

    Dude, you must be gay. If a broad is hot–no matter what her “orientation” is, I’m after her. Normally, I can persuade one of these chicks to drop the lez bit pretty easily. You just have to pour on the charm. Oftentimes you can feed them some “sensitive -male-pro-feminist” lines and bag the lady AND her girlfriend. Work it Hefner style!

    Hot debate. What do you think? Thumb up 4 Thumb down 18

  18. dutchmarbel says:

    Easy. Grandchildren.

    But where I live gay couples have children and lots of heterosexual couples don’t.
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vF9amNcwk4Y

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 7 Thumb down 5

  19. Boyd says:

    Thanks, Alex. I disagree with your interpretation, but I appreciate your response.

    DM, I think you’d be hard-pressed to come up with empirical proof, or even evidence, that homosexual couples have more children than heterosexual couples, regardless of the venue.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 3

  20. dutchmarbel says:

    I didn’t say *more*, I didn’t even say as much ;)
    But heterosexuality is definately not a guarantee and homosexuality doesn’t mean it can’t happen.

    A homosexual couple will face more difficulties, it will be harder. But in my experience the wish to become a parent is not depending on sexual orientation.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 5

  21. Boyd says:

    You’ve strayed from the original point, DM. Your question was:

    …why would it matter to YOU with whom your child wants to have sex once they are old enough to take their own decisions?

    A longer version of my original response is, “It’s much more likely that my heterosexual child will give me grandchildren than my homosexual child.”

    Do you see my point now?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 8 Thumb down 3

  22. dutchmarbel says:

    Do you still remember Carlos and Fernando? Lots of homosexual animal couples steal eggs or adopt newborns. I don’t think humans are less likely to follow their instincts – if they want to have kids.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 4

  23. dutchmarbel says:

    @Boyd: I see your point and I agree that it is easier to get grandchildren with heterosexual kids than with homosexual kids. It just wouldn’t be the defining factor for me.
    “So why did you decide to have a third child?”
    “Oh, we wanted to increase our chance at grandchildren”

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 3

  24. [...] post over at OTB on the finding of a possible cause for homosexuality. this raises all the poits I raised as  far [...]

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  25. c. wagener says:

    A longer version of my original response is, “It’s much more likely that my heterosexual child will give me grandchildren than my homosexual child.”

    At risk of creating a major freak-out, I would add “and my grandchildren would have considerable advantages being raised by heterosexuals”. I really don’t think you can beat the differential skill set that a man and a woman bring to raising children. I realize there are tons of counterexamples.

    On a more primitive level, having your genes passed on is important to most people (in addition to all other living things).

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

  26. Boyd says:

    DM, deciding to have another child is substantially different from deciding that the fetus that will become your child will be heterosexual rather than homosexual.

    I’ll never have to make that decision, and I’ve got no clue how I’d actually decide if I were put in that position. But I’m a debater from way, way back, so I’m just arguing a position. In academic debates, one must be prepared to argue from either position, so I’m not necessarily saying this is what I personally believe (because I’m not sure what I believe), but declaring that it’s a reasonable and supportable position to take.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  27. dutchmarbel says:

    @Boyd: ah, but I don’t think my English is good enough to debate just for the debate. I’m usually sticking to pure facts to stay comprehensible ;)

    *If* one could change sexual orientation through hormonal influence (which is just a theory) I’d have a problem with the female role. It makes the women responsible (and thus blame-able) for the sexual orientation, so a lot of the debate would be about wether *that* is justifiable and if so, under which circumstances. It reminds me of the ‘frigidaire mothers’ who were supposedly the cause of autism.

    *If* one could determine in a very early stage of the pregnancy wether a child would become homosexual (another theory), would it be justifiable to abort or even to not allow implantation?
    In the Netherlands we currently have a discussion because our left-wing christian party (part of the coalition government) wants to prohibit IVF and PGD (pre-implantation genetical diagnostics) to select embryo’s who might carry a gene for inherited breastcancer. Women who carry the gene have 36-85% chance to get breastcancer and many decide to preventively amputate their breasts at a very young age. They feel it is justified for genetic illnesses like Cistic Fybrosis and Duchenne but not for breastcancer since things might chance, cures might be found and life should be protected. Of course the alternative for gene-carrying parents is to abort all female embryo’s in an early stage, comparable with the abortion of all male embryo’s in Duchenne families. All those diseases… eh… birthdefects… are life threatening. Homosexuality isn’t. The main problem so far seems to be that it lowers the chance of parents to have grandchildren. So how far can we go?

    *If* at a certain time we could tinker with things during the pregnancy to determine and chance the sexual orientation, wouldn’t we run the risc of getting something ‘worse’ in return? Like the introduction of rabbits in Australia? Or tinkering with the gene that makes some black people more susceptible to sikkel cell disease but also protects them from malaria?

    And: In a country that doesn’t have a nice pension system it might actually be rather handy to have a son who is married to another guy with a job instead of a daughter without a job and with 4 kids… Homosexual couples usually have more money to spend, so economically it might be nice to have at least one homosexual son ;)

    @ c.wagener: what would those advantages be? Growing up in a non-controversial household with enough income and two loving parents is definately nicest for kids, but studies so far have shown that it doesn’t matter wether the parents have the same gender.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 2

  28. Steve says:

    We don’t know the details of someone else’s brains, and the attraction the study cites is not related in any way to the “attractor’s” brain.

    Boyd,

    The study may not be but the conclusions drawn from it certainly are. Just reread James’ article.

    My point was, according to the conclusion drawn form the study, if man A has Equal Brain Halves (EBH) then it is biologically natural for him to be attracted to another male. An Unequal Brain Halves (UBH) man B would not be attracted to him though so his only choice is to be attracted to another EBH male. But why is that the only choice? What is preventing him from being attracted to a female especially a UBH one?
    Because it’s a choice.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 4

  29. dutchmarbel says:

    Steve: if it is a choice, could heterosexual males choose to be very attracted to EBH men? Is it a choice for you? ‘Cause for me it isn’t.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  30. Steve says:

    Romans is where Paul does most of his writing regarding the nature of sin and salvation, and it is impossible to read him without avoiding the implication that human beings do not have free will as a consequence of Original Sin, save for the one choice to either embrace Christ or not.

    I think I can see where I wasn’t clear.

    It is true that Paul taught that because of Adam’s fall all humans are born with original sin, also called a sin nature. He taught that a consequence of this sin nature is the inability to choose a life that pleases God (Rom 3:23) and a propensity to choose sin, that the result of this sin nature is spiritual death(Rom 6:23), And that the only choice we humans have as far as salvation is faith in Christ’s death on the cross as a substitution for our own(Rom 10:9-10). This is also taught elsewhere (Eph 2:1-10) But this does not negate the teaching that every human also has the free will to choose between right and wrong on an individual action basis. Every human has the ability to choose to do the right thing or the wrong thing in every situation. If a person goes into the bank and thinks, “I need more money. Why don’t I tell the teller to give me all the cash in her drawer?” But then chooses not to do so because it is the wrong thing to do he has exercised his free will. When a person is angry and chooses to hit some other person, he has exercised his free will. A person who sees another in trouble and chooses to help that person exercises his free will.

    The nature of these choices is that with every choice it becomes easier to chose that way the next time and harder to chose the opposite. King Saul is a perfect example of a life of choices that got worse with each choice. This is why Paul uses homosexuality as one example of a person who has chosen over and over to rebel against God. It is the epitome of rejecting God and his sovereignty.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

  31. Alex Knapp says:

    Every human has the ability to choose to do the right thing or the wrong thing in every situation.

    Where’s that in the Bible?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 4

  32. Steve says:

    Every human has the ability to choose to do the right thing or the wrong thing in every situation.

    Where’s that in the Bible?

    Alex,

    I think you will find this teaching throughout Scripture. You find it when God tells Cain “Why are you angry? Why is your face downcast? If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must master it” Gen 4:6-7

    You find it in the account of Noah where God instructs him to build the ark and what to do with it after it was built and “Noah did everything just as God commanded him” Gen 6:22

    You find it with Abram (Abraham), Issac, Jacob (Israel), the 11 sons of Israel and Joseph, Moses, King Saul, David, Peter, Stephen, Saul.

    All of these people had the ability to choose the right or wrong action. Even Pharaoh, whom God hardened his heart made the choice first to harden his heart against God. Every person has the ability to choose to obey God’s rules. It’s just that our sin nature usually leads us toward sin. Some deeper than others e.g. Rom 1-3.

    I think what you were speaking of earlier is that part of Paul’s teaching in Romans is that no matter how many times we choose the right thing it is never enough to reconcile us to God. Only faith in Christ accomplishes that.

    I hope my understanding of Scripture is clearer to you after this.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 1