Homosexuality: Inborn or Learnt Behavior?

A person may have a craving for alcohol so strong that he feels powerless to resist it, yet people are free to choose to seek treatment for this addiction with drugs, therapy, or support groups. Psychiatrists often concede that spirituality provides the most effective cure for those who are willing to try it. Whereas alcohol addiction is generally regarded as a disease and/or a moral failing, homosexuality in recent decades has come to be seen as normal. It is clear to the vast majority of people that overindulging in alcohol hurts the individual as well as society. For example, drunk driving contributes to auto accidents by increasing reaction time and reducing alertness. Alcoholism is closely related to absenteeism and domestic violence. But a political decision was made in the mid-1970s to drop homosexuality from the official list of mental disorders. In fact, the chief “scientific” reason given to deny a link between homosexuality and choice is that major American mental health organizations deny the link. In other words, scientists have voted on it, and they disapprove.

In addition, a distinction is made between choosing to have homosexual desires and choosing to engage in homosexual sex acts. And there are other aspects of choice to homosexuality. One can decide the following aspects: whether or not to believe that homosexual acts are detrimental to one’s immortal soul, emotional well-being or physical health and one can also obviously choose whether to enter into a homosexual relationship or not. The Bible also condemns homosexuality and sound Bible exegesis reveals this matter.

A 2003 poll done by Ellison Research of Phoenix, Arizona stated that 82% of all American Protestant ministers agreed with the statement “homosexuality is a choice people make.” The Russian Orthodox Church view is that homosexuality is a choice. The Roman Catholic Church‘s position is that having homosexual desires can be a choice in individuals but having homosexual desires is not a choice in respect to all individuals. However, according to the Vatican individuals should not engage in homosexual acts as they are acts of serious depravity.

Proponents of the homosexual agenda often claim that homosexuality is unchangeable and has a genetic basis. However, this does not prove that homosexuals do not choose to behave this way. By definition, a consenting homosexual relationship must be made by choice, even if there is a latent homosexual desire. People with homosexual tendencies in their genetics can still resist the temptation to commit sin, and remain faithful to the teachings of the Bible.

The causes of homosexuality are attributable to man’s sinful nature, nurture and environment, and personal choice. How important each factor is, though, is an issue that is debated. Those from the most liberal school usually assume a philosophy of determinism, treating homosexuality as an identity or orientation which one has no choice over, and which cannot be changed. This belief is then used to justify acting it out. The contrasting and warranted position is that homosexuality is a choice, that of yielding to ultimately harmful desires, and which choice is partly affected by nurture and environment.

Those who emphasize nurture, sometimes known as the psychoanalytical theory, see powerful psychological forces at work, shaping and molding children from their birth, while those who emphasize nature contend that early homosexual traits attest to a biological cause.   Despite many psychological studies which indicate that the parent-child relationship, early childhood development, early homosexual experiences, and childhood abuse foster homosexuality, liberals tend to reject the environmental aspect, and favor a biological influence. This is then used to render homosexuals to be slaves to genes, and justified in acting it out.

In his 1980 work Overcoming Homosexuality, Robert Kronemeyer writes: “With rare exceptions, homosexuality is neither inherited nor the result of some glandular disturbance or the scrambling of genes or chromosomes. Homosexuals are made, not born ‘that way.’ I firmly believe that homosexuality is a learned response to early painful experiences and that it can be unlearned. For those homosexuals who are unhappy with their life and find effective therapy, it is ‘curable.’ Similarly, in a 1989 USA Today article, San Francisco State University professor of psychology John DeCecco, and the former editor of the 25-volume, Journal of Homosexuality, stated, “The idea that people are born into one type of sexual behavior is entirely foolish”. Homosexuality is “a behavior, not a condition,” and something that some people can and do change, just like they sometimes change other tastes and personality traits.

So let us go on to the next argument which says being gay is an inborn factor. First off, almost all of the data shows that being gay is not a choice. Most people discover they are gay rather than choosing it. As such, it is very difficult to “convert” to heterosexuality. It requires going against who you are. There has been no reliable data on the conversion of homosexuals. Or on how well it works, how happy the recently “converted” are, how long they stay “converted”, or any other statistics.

One reason why conversion might be so difficult is that the brains of gays may be different from their straight counterparts. For example, a couple of studies have been done that show that the brains of gay people are different than those of straight people. And that gay people respond to pheromones differently than straight people.  This isn’t surprising, sexual attraction resides in the brain. But where do these changes come from? Are they destined by genes, is it something in the environment or a combination of the two?

The best evidence points to the environment and genes both playing a role.
To try to sort out environment and genes, scientists often do a twin study. In a twin study, identical twins are compared to fraternal twins. If something happens more often in identical twins, then that something is influenced by genes.  How does a twin study show something runs in a family? Remember, identical twins have exactly the same genes. Fraternal twins share only as many genes as any brother or sister. Because twins are born at the same time, the environment is as same as possible for them. So if something happens more often in identical than in fraternal twins, then it is most likely because they share the same genes.

A number of studies have looked at homosexuality in twins, all with similar results. For example, in one study, if one identical twin was gay, the other was also gay 50% of the time. If they were fraternal twins, they were both gay 22% of the time. And if one was adopted, the chances fell to 11%. Now these numbers are from one study. Other studies have different percentages but the same trend — identical twins are more likely to both be gay as compared to fraternal twins. This strongly suggests that there is a genetic component – there is something in their genes that makes them more likely to be gay. Genetics, though, isn’t everything.

If it were, then identical twins would both be gay 100% of the time. And this clearly isn’t the case. And if it were all environment, then identical twins would both be gay as often as fraternal twins. Again, this isn’t the situation. So the interplay of environment and genes probably results in homosexuality. By environment, it does not mean how someone is raised (although that is sometimes part of it). It is the effect the environment can have on how the brain is hardwired very early on. In the womb, things happen that can affect how we develop. A surge of hormones here, a viral infection there, and we are not the same as we would be without these environmental factors. Handedness is an example of this. Some people have genes that make them more likely to be left-handed. Not all of these folks end up lefties, though. Something else has to happen while they are developing. Scientists haven’t pinpointed what this something is but it is the combination of genes and environment that makes someone left-handed. Maybe something similar happens with gay people. And since the brain continues to develop after we’re born, the environment can affect how our brain develops even after we are born.

How would genes work in all of this? What genes would do is either make the fetus more or less sensitive to these hormones or, perhaps, affect how or whether the mother reacts.             The key here, though, is that this all affects how our brains are hardwired. It isn’t a choice or something like that, a brain has been configured to be attracted to the same sex.

Is there any evidence of this happening? There is some evidence that increased steroids in the womb may increase the chances that a girl will be a lesbian. Some studies show that the more older brothers you have, the more likely it is for you to be gay. Also, gay people tend to be left handed much more often. The animal evidence is also pretty strong that what happens in the womb can affect the eventual sexual orientation of the fetus. For example, exposure to differing amounts of testosterone or estrogen in the womb can affect whether an animal is hetero- or homosexual.

So, for example, a surge of hormones may change one fetus’ brain but not another’s. Or the mother might respond to stress with more hormones causing a change whereas a different mother wouldn’t release as much hormone. Whatever the cause, it is very unlikely that just one gene will cause someone to be gay, at least in people. But it is a different story in the fruit fly.
A single DNA mutation can turn a straight male fruit fly into a gay one. A similar mutation in a female fly makes her more interested in the girls than the boys. But it is pretty unlikely that anything so simple is happening in people. Something so complex most likely involves lots of genes. So there you have it. Being gay is not being mentally ill (at least according to the American Psychiatric Association). There appear to be real changes in the brain that correlate with being gay. And from the twin studies, it looks like genes play a role. So can you convert? There isn’t any good data on this but most health professionals think that most homosexuals cannot. Whether or not you can convert is really only something you, not your family or friends, can decide.

Either homosexuality is a choice or else it is genetic.  There is no middle ground. A lot of people make this assumption without even realizing it.  Many people debate the origins question back and forth as if there were only two possibilities: “born that way” and “chose to be that way.”  But there are two major problems with this idea. First of all, this myth ignores a third possibility – that homosexual feelings may originate from factors in a child’s development.  Some psychologists, for instance, believe that areas of the brain controlling sexual desire may be affected by hormone irregularities while the child is still in the womb.  Other psychologists believe that a homosexual orientation may result from failing to identify properly with other members of the same sex or with the parent of the same sex.  Almost all of these theories agree that a person’s sexual orientation is set by an early age (about 3 or 4). It is possible, then, that a person could be gay because of something that is neither genetic nor a choice.

Secondly, it is important to recognize that this is not an “either/or” issue; multiple factors may be involved.  Many psychologists now use the term “Homosexualities” to mean that different situations and combinations of factors may all lead to the same conclusion (feelings of attraction towards the same sex) but in different ways.  Genetic factors, developmental factors, and personal choices may each play a part in a person’s developing sexuality, and for some people, certain factors may have more weight than others.  Of course, this is only a theory and may not be true at all.  Still, it is worth considering.  Before leaving this point, I want to emphasize that these theories seek to explain why a person would feel attracted to members of the same sex.  A person’s sexual acts are always within the realm of choice, except for cases of being raped or molested.

A Christian who believes that homosexual behavior is sinful must logically believe that no one is born gay. We hear this a lot: “I believe homosexuality is a sin, and I don’t believe God would make anyone sin, so you can’t have been born gay.”  At first glance, this may seem perfectly reasonable.  But take a closer look at what this person is saying. “I believe homosexuality is a sin,” usually means, “I believe homosexual behavior is sinful.”  The Church has traditionally held that homosexual behavior is wrong while homosexual attraction is a temptation. I’m not saying whether this position is right or wrong, but it is the traditional Christian position.  Merely “being gay,” then, would not be a sin unless the individual engages in some sort of sexual behavior.

Is it reasonable to assume that some people might be born with certain temptations and that other people would be born with different temptations? It seems reasonable. We have evidence to indicate that certain people may be born with a predisposition towards alcoholism or with a “shorter fuse” making them more likely to become violent when angry.  This does not make such people engage in these behaviors, nor does it excuse them from the sinfulness of their actions.  But a person with a genetic predisposition towards alcoholism (if it indeed exists) would have to fight harder to stay sober than a person without that predisposition.

We all have an inborn tendency to sin, according to Christian thought.  Ever since Adam and Eve, every human being is born with a sinful nature.  However, we each have free will, and we make the decisions to fight our temptations or to give in to them.  A heterosexual male has a biological drive to desire sexual relations with more than one woman; however, Christianity says that he must control that desire and remain faithful to his wife.  Similarly, it is possible that a homosexual male would have a biological drive to desire sexual relations with men, but if such behavior is sinful then he would have to control himself.

If homosexuality is genetic, then gays deserve legal minority status.  Otherwise, they don’t. Unfortunately, a lot of the information we get on this subject is biased.  Political action groups know that this myth is widespread, so groups that oppose gay rights measures work hard to convince us that homosexuality is not genetically determined, and groups that support gay rights measures work hard to convince us that it is. The thing is, political debates are not very good at helping us find the truth.  We need to know what the evidence really says, not just what we want it to say.  Unfortunately, we are going to be flooded with misinformation and propaganda as long as we hold to this myth.

So what is the truth?  Genetics have nothing at all to do with determining whether a group of people needs to be protected from discrimination in employment, housing, etc.  Eye color is genetic, for example, but there are no laws against discriminating based on eye color.  On the other hand, there are laws against discriminating based on religious affiliation, which is a choice. How should we decide what groups get legal protection?  I believe there are two questions we need to ask ourselves in making this decision:

  1. Is this group of people likely to experience widespread discrimination (being denied jobs or housing solely based on the one characteristic that sets this group apart)?
  2. Is this discrimination unreasonable?

People with blue eyes do not get legal protection because there is no widespread discrimination against people with blue eyes.  There is widespread job discrimination against drug addicts, but they are not protected under the law because that discrimination is reasonable (drug addiction is likely to affect one’s job performance.)  Discrimination against African-Americans is both widespread and unreasonable, so we offer legal protection based on race.  It has nothing to do with whether the characteristic is genetic or can be changed.

What if the origin or “cause” of homosexuality has been proven? This is a myth, pure and simple.  Although studies have turned up evidence that certain factors might play a role, nothing at this point has been even remotely conclusive.  In fact, every major theory to date has at least some pretty substantial evidence against it.  At this point, the most we can say is that we simply do not know.  We do not know what causes heterosexual attraction or homosexual attraction, and it is not likely that we will have an answer to the question any time soon.

Some people interpret “there isn’t any conclusive evidence” to mean “biology has nothing to do with it; it’s all development or choice.”  That is not true at all.  In fact, the evidence weighs very heavily in favor of a biological component, but it does not look like biology can explain it alone.  The evidence for non-biological theories (such as the theories put forth by Moberly and Nicolosi and promoted by conservative groups like Focus on the Family) is no better than that for the biological theories.  The best evidence indicates that there is a combination of biological and environmental factors working to shape a person’s sexuality in the formative years, but at this point we just do not know how it works.

So going back to the original question, is it a choice?  Can a person choose whether he or she is going to be attracted to men or to women? No, it isn’t a choice. This doesn’t contradict the Bible and it doesn’t have any political implications.  It is merely the experience of many millions of gay people all over the world.  In fact, as long as we are talking about attractions and not behaviors, it should not surprise us at all to learn that gay people do not choose to be physically attracted to members of their own sex.  After all, who among us can turn his/her physical attractions off or on at will?

When a heterosexual man gets married, he has to work hard to keep from lusting after women other than his wife.  It would be nice if he could get married and then flip some mental switch that would suddenly make other women unattractive to him.  Unfortunately, that is not the case, and he will have to battle his own feelings for the rest of his life.  On the other hand, he does not have to battle a desire to lust after men, because he simply does not find other men attractive. The very idea may be somewhat gross to him.

The reverse is true for a homosexual man.  He might not want to be gay, but there isn’t any magic switch to turn off his attraction to other men (just as there isn’t a switch to turn off the other man’s attraction to women).  It will be a daily struggle for him, just as it is for the heterosexual man.  But the homosexual man does not have a daily struggle to keep from lusting after women, because he simply does not find them attractive.

In fact, some people have been so desperate to “turn off” their attraction to the same sex and to “turn on” an attraction to the opposite sex that they have done some pretty desperate things.  In the 50s and 60s, many gay men and women volunteered to undergo hormone therapy, shock treatments, injections with nausea-producing drugs (“aversion therapy”), and other painful or uncomfortable treatments in order to become straight.  None of them were successful. Sadly, many teens commit suicide after trying unsuccessfully to become attracted to the opposite sex rather than the same sex.  They feel alone in the world, and don’t know how to handle the pressure.  We need to stop this from happening. Being gay is only one part of a person’s life, and you’d be surprised to learn how many different ways there are to deal with it.

In my personal point of view, like all complex behavioral and mental states, homosexuality is neither exclusively biological nor exclusively psychological, but results from an as-yet-difficult-to-quantitate mixture of genetic factors, intrauterine influences, postnatal environment (such as parent, sibling and cultural behavior), and a complex series of repeatedly reinforced choices occurring at critical phases of development. So, how should we and the society in general, treat and respond to the ever-increasing gay communities around us? Are we tolerant of gay people? It really depends on you and your outlook on life. Even if you are not perfectly willing to embrace the differences, do not let yourself become a bigot. You do not have to be gay-friendly, yet homophobia is an unreasonable fear. Just because they are different from us does not mean we have all the rights to judge those people. This is very inhumane. Needless to say, we all are born with some kind of infirmities. So, why waste time hating and judging people? Instead, we should try to love each other despite the differences amongst us, wholeheartedly accepting people as who they really are. After all, this is the most important law that Jesus instructed us to obey.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.