Sunday, December 11, 2005


Is being gay genetic or learnt or a choice?

Well first the genetic approach - are there any genetically different groups that have a much higher rate of homosexuality? Well the first example would be Bonobo chimpanzees

The bonobo, an African ape closely related to humans, has an even bigger sexual appetite. Studies suggest 75 percent of bonobo sex is nonreproductive and that nearly all bonobos are bisexual. Frans de Waal, author of Bonobo: The Forgotten Ape, calls the species a "make love, not war" primate. He believes bonobos use sex to resolve conflicts between individuals.

The fact that possibly the animal most similar to a human is be "bisexual" makes the question "why are humans NOT bisexual". And low and behold a reasonable proportion if us are. Surely Not ALL the bonobos are "choosing" to be gay that would defy probability. similarly they could have learnt the behaviour but an entire species learning the same thing? Probably not.

Thus we can say being gay is partly genetic. There almost certainly is something one could term a "gay gene" (not that genes work exactly like that) that bonobos have and chimpanzees don’t have - or have less of. This is quite possibly a gene that humans just have "some of".

But is it partly a choice? Well there are many people in the world who abstain from sex entirely, in particular certain monks or so at least some of you can relate - people who have sex only with one partner - either way it involves self denial of urges. A potentially gay person could thus deny their urges in the same manner if they wished and thus still have gay tendencies (genetics) but not gay practices (habits).

Is gayness learnt or environmentally determined? Well it is obvious that environment can change behaviour regarding sex. for example the existence of sexual images in the media has made the public a bit more sexual - similarly people who were abused when children or who had certain experiences do seem to behave differently. Similarly a person surrounded by opportunities to cheat on their partner (with someone of the same sex or different sex) is more likely to do so than someone who is hardly ever surrounded by such opportunities - this explains the relative short life span of a Hollywood marriage.

Obviously society can make being gay less acceptable and many gay people will know about meeting a girl and getting married in an effort to try to be straight. For some people (particularly those who would consider themselves bisexual all things being equal) that might be enough to make them never try homosexuality.

So in conclusion it is a bit of both BUT in a country wide scale I would have to say it is the first effect that is dominant in explaining the percentage of humans that are gay for this not to be the case we would have to see quite large fluctuations in the absolute number of active homosexual people over time. And yet there does appear to be differences in the number of gay people between Asia and the rest of the world (it being lower in much of Asia). this may be cultural but culture creates genetics anyway. Don’t agree/ well they did a study with foxes and showed that they could change behaviour over a few generations.

Studies on foxes selected over 20 generations for tameness by a group of Soviet biologists showed that over successive generations the foxes gradually began to sound more and more like dogs (cited in Coppinger & Feinstein, 1991).
20 generations is about 400 years only a fraction of the time each of the human races have been separated. Now being bisexual is something generally present already in the community so it would be relatively easy to imagine a situation where being bisexual increased your survival chances. Being gay may be an unintended overdose of the same traits rather like occurs with sickle cell anaemia.

The 3rd effects however allow certain cultures (as opposed to races) to have a somewhat higher level of homosexual activity than others ,and the 2nd effect relates to whether bisexual people act straight or gay or if gay people become largely inactive sexually.

Having said all of that it is probably a complex gene combination (as I hinted before genes work in relation to many other genes) - what that means is that a person who is gay need not have "gay" children and may only have a small increace in that likelihood, they also will not always bring up "gay" children (although again I expect a slight increace in the chances).


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