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2/12/13

Homosexuality: Born or Made?

This paper reflects the research and thoughts of a student at the time the paper was written for a course at Bryn Mawr College. Like other materials on Serendip, it is not intended to be "authoritative" but rather to help others further develop their own explorations. Web links were active as of the time the paper was posted but are not updated. Contribute Thoughts | Search Serendip for Other Papers | Serendip Home Page Biology 202, Spring 2005 Third Web Papers On Serendip

Homosexuality: Born or Made?


Kristin Giamanco
Are we born the way we are? Or are we molded and shaped by environmental factors and our upbringing? This nature versus nurture debate has been one that we have discussed extensively in class. In order to resolve some of the questions that I have concerning this matter, I decided to dedicate this paper to analyzing nature versus nurture in terms of homosexuality. This paper will examine both schools of thought, interjecting my own criticism of the evidence and ideas set forth. Furthermore, at the end, I will decide which body of evidence is most valid and attempt to determine if homosexual individuals are born or made. Some of the earliest studies on homosexuality were performed by Alfred Kinsey of the University of Indiana in the late 1930s. Kinsey wanted to determine how many adult males engaged in same sexual behavior in hopes of understanding why certain individuals were homosexual and while others were straight. Through this survey, he found that 30% of males had experienced at least an orgasm while engaging in a homosexual act. From these results, the Kinsey Scale of Sexuality was born. All individuals were placed on this spectrum ranging from 100% heterosexual to 100% homosexual (1). However, these results hardly seem noteworthy in our present time, because today we know that individuals may exhibit a range of sexual behaviors, but his study helped individuals place themselves on a continuum and define themselves sexually. Karen Hooker created the first psychological tests in hopes of determining if homosexuality was a socially created characteristic. These tests were conducted in 1957 under a grant from the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) and included the Rorschach, Thematic Apperception Test (TAT), and Make-A-Picture-Story Test (MAPS). When psychologists analyzed the results from this battery of examinations, they concluded that there was no correlation between social determinism and homosexuality (1). However, I feel that this test is not necessarily designed to investigate the relationship between social behavior and homosexuality. Personally, I feel that these two groups of individuals most likely will not test differently in terms of perceptions and picture analysis any more than individuals of the same group would test differently. Therefore, how can psychologists control for variation in the heterosexual group and the homosexual groups? Perhaps the individuals who classify themselves
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2/12/13

Homosexuality: Born or Made?

as straight were gay, and vice versa. Hence, I believe these tests really do not disprove the nurture debate in any way. As a result of these executed tests the American Psychological Association (APA) eliminated homosexuality from its Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Psychological Disorders in 1973. Later in 1975, the APA announced that homosexuality was not a mental disorder and in 1994 they acknowledged that it was neither a mental illness nor a moral depravity (1). In 1984 a group of researchers at the State University of New York at Stony Brook corroborated a German study which indicated that male homosexuals differ from their heterosexual counterparts as well as heterosexual females in their response to injections of estrogen (which will be further fleshed out later on in the paper) (2). In 1990, D.F. Swaab of the Netherlands Institute for Brain Research found that homosexual men had a larger suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN) than their counterparts. This structure was found in the hypothalamus, which has been implicated in playing a role in sexual drive and function (1), (2). Laura Allen and Roger Gorski, both scientists of the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA) School of Medicine, also determined another difference in the brain structure within these two groups of individuals. Brains of the individuals during autopsies were examined in these studies. Allen and Gorski found the differences originated in the anterior commissure (AC) of the hypothalamus. More specifically, they concluded that the AC was 34% larger in homosexual males than heterosexual males (3). The SCN and AC do not have a direct role in sexual drive and function. Moreover, the SCN is responsible for the establishment of circadian rhythms and regulates the body over the 24-hour day (4), while the AC is the structure which divides the left and right halves of the brain and is located in the back of the skull (3), (4). Therefore, it would be improbable that these differences arose due to sexual practices. Rather, researchers concluded that these differences were innate (1). As a budding biologist and researcher, this theory seems extremely plausible to me. These differences in brain structure would not have arisen due to sexual practice, instead it seems that these differences were present already and then affected individuals in terms of their sexuality. The results obtained which determined the differences in the AC region for homosexual and heterosexual men were also found by another research group. These scientists published their results in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America (PNAS) and also reported a larger AC structure in women and homosexual men as compared to heterosexual men. The sample population included 34 homosexual men, 75 heterosexual men, and 84 heterosexual women (3). However, these results may not be as valid because the individuals under study were mostly men who died from AIDS. Since the investigators did not take this variable into consideration when making their claims, this may detract from their results. One of the landmark studies performed on autopsied brains was done by Simon LeVay, a neurobiologist for the Salk Institute for Biological Studies in San Diego in 1991. His test involved the examination of 41 brains where 19 were self-declared homosexual men (with a mean age of 38.2), 16 presumed heterosexual men (with a mean age of 42.8), and 6 were presumed heterosexual women (with a mean age of 41.2). LeVay discovered that on average, a cluster of cells within the hypothalamus was half as large in the brains of the homosexual men in comparison to heterosexual men. This conglomeration of cells was identified as the interstitial nuclei of the anterior hypothalamus 3 (INAH3). As stated above, the hypothalamus is the center which directs emotions and sexual drives. Therefore, LeVay believed that this difference in the hypothalamus structure was critical in distinguishing these two disparate groups of individuals, thereby providing ample support for the nature component to this hotly contested topic (2). However, what LeVay failed to account for in his analyses diminished his presented results. LeVays tests were performed on individuals who died of AIDS-related
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Homosexuality: Born or Made?

illnesses. Perhaps the noted structural changes were induced as a result of the illnesses incurred by the individuals (1). While LeVays results seemed promising and exciting, before fully accepting his theories the aforementioned bias must be taken into account. Research has also been done on other organisms, such as sheep. On November 5, 2002, British Broadcasting News (BBC) reported that American researchers found that the preoptic hypothalamus was twice as large in male sheep and male humans in comparison to the females. The cluster of cells was identified to be the sexually dimorphic nucleus. Furthermore, these structures also contained twice the number of cells in the male animals. It was also found that between 6 and 10% of rams were attracted to males rather than females and in these animals the bundle of neurons encapsulated in the sexually dimorphi

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