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I Don't Think That Word Means What You Think It Means:

A commenter writes:

[H]omosexuality is not natural in that it clearly functions against the survival of the species.

I've heard versions of this article before, so I thought I'd pass along a few reactions.

1. To begin with, I take it that the commenter isn't asserting that tolerating homosexuality (or recognizing same-sex marriage) actually jeopardizes the survival of the species. The overwhelming majority of people seem hardwired to be heterosexual, at least when opposite-sex partners are available. There's some malleability of sexual practices -- bisexuals, for instance, might be movable towards focusing more on heterosexual relationships or towards focusing more on homosexual relationships. But there seems little reason to think that even total equal treatment of homosexuals and heterosexuals would actually cause the species to die out.

2. The claim must therefore be that homosexuality is not natural in that (a) it diminishes the birth rate, or (b) if everyone were homosexual, the species would die out (the theory being, I take it, that artificial insemination would be cumbersome and rare enough that it wouldn't compensate for the problem).

Yet this is very far from any normal definition of "natural." Infertility is natural, even though it satisfies both (a) and (b). People's desire for some time free of the burdens of childrearing is, as best I can tell, quite natural (as is the desire for pleasure more broadly). Yet it too satisfies both (a) and (b); in fact, I suspect that this is responsible for declining birth rates far more than is the toleration of homosexuality.

3. More broadly, I agree that the natural world has created, through the process of natural selection, organisms that tend to be successful at reproducing themselves. But this doesn't mean that any behavior traits that reduce reproduction (or that, if universal, would eliminate reproduction) are unnatural.

4. Finally, to my knowledge it's not clear that the incidence of some amount of homosexuality diminishes the overall societal birth rate -- in fact, if strongly homosexual orientation is genetically linked, that's reason to think that those genes carry some reproductive advantage to gene carriers, or at least have little reproductive cost. I'm told that there's a hot scientific debate about this, and I'd be delighted if those who know something about the debate can speak to this in the comments. But my point is simply that observable conditions (whether sickle-cell anemia, menopause, or homosexuality) that seem to decrease people's aggregate reproductive fitness may through indirect channels actually increase aggregate reproductive fitness; and we should be careful about just assuming otherwise, especially when the condition seems to be genetically linked.

Steve:
Why are vasectomies legal? They clearly "work against the survival of the species."
7.7.2006 6:32pm
steveh2:
I think the commentor intended to say that on an individual level, homosexuality is inconsistent with the natural function of sexual desire, which is to propagate the species.

Kind of hard to argue against that point, though in my view, that point has absolutely no bearing on the question of what legal rights should be denied or extended to homosexuals.
7.7.2006 6:40pm
anonyomousss (mail):
"natural" can be part of several distinctions:

natural vs. unnatural
natural vs. artificial
natural vs. supernatural
natural vs. non-natural

while the latter three distinctions are meaningful, the first distinction is pretty much empty. "unnatural" is little more than another word for "bad."
7.7.2006 6:41pm
bob montgomery:
When you define infertility as "natural" is probably where you are diverging from your commenter.
7.7.2006 6:48pm
Joel B. (mail):
I think anonyomousss is right, natural vs. unnatural is not the meaning "found in nature" vs. "not found in nature" and since Eugene you seem to not be a language prescriptivist should not be too troubled by this, instead natural vs. unnatural is more likely referring to that which is what we consider to be generally preferable.
7.7.2006 6:49pm
Wombat:
What exactly is the evidence for a genetic component to homosexuality? The big studies I've seen so far are the usual twin studies - male homosexuality is only rate X%, but when one male twin is gay, the other one significantly more likely than X% to also be gay, therefore it's probably genetic in nature.

The problem with this reasoning, which I have not seen addressed anywhere, occurs with the study from last week that said that each male child a woman has had increases the chances the next male child will be gay. There was a report of this a couple years ago, but that data was based solely on the number of male brothers living with you (i.e. the cause could be psychological (although damned if I can think of a reason) or physiological (each male child does something to the mother's womb)). All last week's report did was clarify that the cause was physiological - it didn't matter whether the other males lived with the new male or not, the homosexuality rate increased, therefore the cause was either one or more of the parents' genetic code changing after each male child (unlikely, to say the least), or that the mother's womb was altered by each male child.

So therefore the question is:
Are the original twin studies invalid because they did not take this womb altering into account? Their result was based on only the genetic code being the same - but the womb condition was also the same!
To know whether those twin studies were valid or not, you'd have to factor in the number of male children before the twins occured. Or, I suppose, implant the second child into a new womb (one that preferably has had no male children) and check out the double gay rates, although getting that test done seems a bit challenging.
7.7.2006 6:52pm
Shangui (mail):
is inconsistent with the natural function of sexual desire, which is to propagate the species.

But this begs the question in that you assume that propagating the species is the "natural function" of sexual desire. As has been noted on the previous thread, this assumes that there is a specific purpose built into sexual desire. There's not. Reproduction is a common result of sexual desire, not its purpose. Organisms that have a desire for the actions that lead to producing more organisms are likely to produce more organisms. We have sexual desires because our ancestors who did passed on their genes to us. This does not mean that the "natural function" of sexual desire is reproduction, but those whose sexual desires lead to reproduction are going to pass on more genes than those whose sexual desires don't (as with EV, not taking into account artificial insemination, etc.).
7.7.2006 6:56pm
Huggy (mail):
If God really had a problem with homosexuals then that choice wouldn't exist. We would never even think of it. No matter how anyone feels. Homosexual behavior is a gift from God just like everything else.

The guy who wrote "The selfish gene" has some good stuff on why a funny uncle might help species survival. Sorry don't have the link. Something like he would add some good to the nest while the manly men were off hunting. Some element of bisexual would have to be present to get the genes carried along.
7.7.2006 7:04pm
Brett Bellmore:

or that the mother's womb was altered by each male child.


Far more likely, IMO, the mother's immune system. You might have the mother gradually developing an immune response to some factor present at a critical developmental point in male fetuses. Similar to the development of RH disease.

Which raises an interesting point, in that RH disease can be prevented quite easily...
7.7.2006 7:05pm
bornyesterday (mail) (www):

If God really had a problem with homosexuals then that choice wouldn't exist. We would never even think of it. No matter how anyone feels. Homosexual behavior is a gift from God just like everything else.


If got really had a problem with murder, then that choice wouldn't exist.

I think we have a problem with this logic.
7.7.2006 7:24pm
Paddy O. (mail):
"If God really had a problem with homosexuals then that choice wouldn't exist."

Agree or not with the naturalness of homosexuality, this is a really poor argument, as every religion accepts the fact that humanity does in fact do many things which are bad choices.

People think of killing each other. Of raping each other. People choose to steal and lie and feel overly proud of themselves. Some folks feel overwhelmingly attracted to young children. Some folks love the feeling of inflicting pain on others.

This isn't to say homosexuality can be compared with any of those things. But, it is clear that people make lots of choices that are not right. These choices exist because God, if you believe in him, has given humanity the choice to choose wrong if they so desire. Humans have indeed thought of absolutely horrific things to do to other humans.

That's basically the entire definition of immorality, making wrong choices that are before us.

Whether homosexuality fits into the category of immoral depends on differing perspectives, but the idea that its mere existence proves its inherent good flies in the face of human history's tendency towards the utterly depraved.

Religion exists, one could say, precisely to guide people away from making the wrong choices from the many options folks have thought up over the centuries, wrong choices that seemed to those committing them to be hardwired into their psyches.

Again, this isn't to say homosexuality definitely fits into that category.
7.7.2006 7:26pm
lucia (mail) (www):
Joel B suggested:

instead natural vs. unnatural is more likely referring to that which is what we consider to be generally preferable


If so, are we to interpret this quote

[H]omosexuality is not natural in that it clearly functions against the survival of the species.


to mean:

"Many people don't prefer homosexuality because it clearly functions against survival of the species."

The person EV quoted may mean that, but I doubt it.
7.7.2006 7:32pm
Ship Erect (mail) (www):
If God really had a problem with homosexuals then that choice wouldn't exist.

Given the murder example used above, isn't this more of an argument that God doesn't exist?
7.7.2006 7:32pm
Simon Elliott (mail):
The cited quote is an example of a very common error of confusing the individual with the society. People often believe that because expression of a genetically linked phenotype reduces reproductive fitness (the ability to have more children) in an individual then it is, per se, a bad thing for the species. This is logically and empirically incorrect.

A few examples:
In sickle cell anemia the red blood cells are altered, leading to a painful disease with a great increase in the death rate. However, this gene is really quite common in peoples whose ancestors come from the malaria prone regions of Africa and mediterranian Europe. If the gene had NO benefit, then it would be exceedingly rare. It has since been found that people who are carriers of the gene (have only a single copy of the gene, unlike those with two copies, who get the disease) have SOME sickle cell features in their red blood that makes them resistant to malaria. This benefit to the carrier must be weighed against the risk that they will have children with sickle cell disease who will die without reproducing. Clearly, because the gene is so common, the benefit to the society of the sickle cell gene far outweighs the harm that it causes in those with sickle cell disease.

The same arguments have been put forward for Cystic fibrosis (resistance to Typhoid and cholera) and, more recently, Tay sachs (greater intelligence).

Now, if we look at human reproduction, the same story emerges, but with a few extra nuances.
The first thing to note is that humans, in general, are not particularly fertile. We do not breed like rabbits, because we are not rabbits. We tend to have one child per pregnancy (not a litter of 6-12). Human females are only fertile at very narrow windows in the month, and do not give particularly good signs of fertility, unlike (say) dogs and cats who go into heat and get all horny and strange for a period of some time. And, women stop becoming fertile at least a decade before they die, and men also decline in fertility. If you follow the logic of the person you cite, human reproductive biology is "not natural." However, humans dont have fangs and claws and have to survive on their intelligence. Thus, they need to be trained. When you consider that we humans put a lot of effort into child rearing, it makes evolutionary sense not to be TOO fertile or you will produce a lot of children, too many to care for, and that these will not ultimately survive.

The same goes for homosexuality. Lets say I am born into a family with four siblings, one of whom is homosexual. The "homosexuality is unnatural" crowd would say that the homosexual, who does not reproduce is, from the perspective of continuing the family line, a waste: in other words, because he will not have children, it is as if he never lived or died early. However, from the perspective of the family, its great to have one sibling who will not reproduce but who is willing to help out with providing food, protection and child care for his neices and nephews. The gay uncle is actually a boon for survival of the family. From the gay brother's perspective, he is helping his genes by ensuring that his neices and nephews have a greater chance of survival. Further examples could be the gay child who joins the church and becomes a repository of learning and service to the community. Data suggesting that homosexuals are more likely to be born during periods of maternal stress (eg during a war) and the latest findings that homosexual in boys increases later in the birth order are consistent with the theory that being gay may be adaptive to the human race.
7.7.2006 7:37pm
marghlar:
Are the original twin studies invalid because they did not take this womb altering into account? Their result was based on only the genetic code being the same - but the womb condition was also the same!

Well, no, because they found a higher rate of homosexuality among monozygotic twins (identical twins, sharing 100% of DNA) than among dizygotic (fraternal twins, sharing no more DNA than normal siblings). This effect can't be explained by the womb environment, because both MZ and DZ twins share the same womb. Likewise, both are raised in highly similar environments.

So, if the result of the studies are valid, there is at least some genetic component in sexual orientation.

Likewise, it's worth noting that there is a lot of research showing phenotypic variation in the brain morphology of heterosexual v. homosexual men. Likewise, they seem to have different biochemical responses to certain pheromones. So there is some reason to think that there is a fairly strong biological determinant at work in sexual orientation.
7.7.2006 7:44pm
Mike BUSL07 (mail) (www):
The likelihood of an individual to breed doesn't say much about his contribution to society. Don't bees have members of the hive who can't breed at all, but they are necessary because they work and provide, etc.? Also, what of soldiers who join the military, significantly increasing the probability that they will be unable to reproduce as a result? Do we consider their behavior also inimical to our ideas of socially worthwhile behavior? (Umm, by "we," I mean homophobes).
7.7.2006 8:10pm
Kieran Jadiker-Smith (mail):
There's an interesting hypothesis that male homosexuality may (in part) be the result of women with an unusually strong attraction to men passing that trait onto male children. It's easy to see how a strong attraction to men would increase the fecundity of women. While homosexuality would obviously decrease the likelihood that a particular woman's sons would reproduce, this may matter less, from an evolutionary perspective, than the increased fecundity of her daughters, since there are always some heterosexual men around with whom to reproduce, especially in a setting where monogamy isn't the norm.

Italian geneticists found that mothers of gay men produced an average of 2.7 babies, whereas mothers of straight men produced an average of 2.3 babies. A news article about the study and the hypothesis is here, and it includes a reference to the study's publication in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences.

I am not suggesting this theory has been proved dispositively, but it does suggest a plausible explanation, with some evidence, as to why male homosexuality persists in each human generation, even though many male homosexuals are genetic cul-de-sacs.
7.7.2006 8:13pm
Mike BUSL07 (mail) (www):
Also, I think the same commenter said something like:


Homosexuals don't live very long. This indicates that homosexuality is unnatural. Therefore, we shouldn't validate homosexuality, by letting gays marry, etc.

Isn't that kind of like saying (say, in 1840): Blacks are slaves. This indicates that they are inferior. Therefore they should remain enslaved.
7.7.2006 8:14pm
Evolution (mail):
Most of the other commentators have responded very well to your question about evolution, birth rates, and homosexuality.

One of the comments mentioned "The guy who wrote the Selfish Gene" - who is Richard Dawkins and one of my favorite authors. He would be one of the first people to tell you that:

- The people who pointed out the "gay uncle = good thing" argument are right on in their reasoning. Having gay people around can (at least in a naturalistic sense) increase the number of children that become mature functional adults.

- He would then tell you that reasoning based on genetics is extremely dangerous. Environment and learning affects the human brain more than any other animal, so we are more able to separate ourselves from out "programming." Plus, humans are neither a very old species nor a very fecund one. This means that many, many of our "bad" and "good" genes have not been worked out of our system by evolution, an extremely slow process.

I believe that Dawkins is a BIG opponent of using genetic arguments to drive political theory in any way, shape, or form. Considering that he is the leading scientific voice for the power of evolution, it's a point to listen to.
7.7.2006 8:17pm
David M. Nieporent (www):
I think anonyomousss is right, natural vs. unnatural is not the meaning "found in nature" vs. "not found in nature" and since Eugene you seem to not be a language prescriptivist should not be too troubled by this, instead natural vs. unnatural is more likely referring to that which is what we consider to be generally preferable.
Probably -- but in that case, the statement that it's unnatural is completely devoid of content. At best, it's circular. "It's bad because I don't prefer it."
7.7.2006 8:52pm
Hans Gruber (www):
I don't find the gay uncle theory plausible at all. It may be, however, that homosexuality is caused by the confluence of several genes which by themselves promote reproductive fitness but in the right combination promote homosexual preference.

Another possible explanation is that homosexuality isn't genetic at all, and is in fact caused by a virus or other environmental stressor and/or selector (Gregory Cochran has done some work on this). Recent research has suggested that birth order may play a role. And not a social one either (adopted siblings had no effect).

Mickey Kaus asked a provocative (yet obvious) question on his video blog in a discussion with Robert Wright. He simply asked: If homosexuality is genetic, why couldn't homophobia be genetic too? At least the latter has a plausible Darwinian explanation.
7.7.2006 9:09pm
Michael Hall:
Hans Gruber definitely wins the title for best handle. Yippee kay yah mother...
7.7.2006 9:18pm
r4d20 (mail):
I guess Down Syndrome isn't "natural" for the same reason.

How many times must it be said: "It is not the fittest species that survives, but the one most adaptable to change".


"in fact, if strongly homosexual orientation is genetically linked, that's reason to think that those genes carry some reproductive advantage to gene carriers, or at least have little reproductive cost."

1) The idea that "it exists so it must be beneficial" is a popular fallacy. You can ONLY say is that it doesn't have much cost, and even that is dependent on environmental factors.

2) Gene: "The functional and physical unit of heredity passed from parent to offspring. Genes are pieces of DNA, and most genes contain the information for making a specific protein.". Some traits hinge on the presence or absense of a specific protein, or combination of proteins, in your system - they can be traced back to a specific gene or combination of genes. However, many of our traits are determined by incredibly complicated interactions of a huge number of proteins. Pinning down these traits to a single "gene" is impossible, but that doesn't mean that they are not genetic.

3) Even if it's not genetic, there is a third possibility that is often ignored - it could be that it is a product of something that occurs, or fails to occur, during in utero development. Your development from embryo to fetus to child is dependent on a precise sequence of hormonal changes in the uterus. For instance, if a male fetus (XY) does not receive enough testosterone at a particular point in development, it will continue to develop into a child with female sex characterstics, and apart from being sterile, will be almost indistinquishable from a "normal" (XX) girl. I would not be suprised if such a thng might effect sexuality as well. Furthermore, the chance of such a mix-up occuring would be genetically linked to the hetero mother and not the gay child and therefore would be able to be passed on in any "normal" children (females and males who developed correctly) that she did bear.
7.7.2006 9:36pm
Brooks Lyman (mail):
I've said this before in a different context, but:

Homosexuality is natural, in the sense that it is (in most cases) not a matter of choice - one feels attracted to the same sex as a fact of one's nature; one did not decide to suddenly become homosexual.

On the other hand, Homosexuality is not normal, if normal means a behavior or orientation shared by the majority of people. The most reliable studies and surveys suggest that somewhere between 2 and 4 percent of the population is homosexual. This doesn't necessarily mean that homosexuality is "wrong", but it does mean 1) that homosexuals are bucking a pretty big trend - 96% of the population and 2) that when 4% of the population tries to turn the culture of the other 96% upside down, they need to recognize that they have a fight on their hands - possibly a losing one, and that the more obnoxious they are, the greater their chances of losing.

As for the comment that homosexuals don't live very long, well it's apparently not a happy lifestyle, and the homosexual suicide rate is said to be much higher than that of the heterosexual community. In addition, AIDS and other STDs tend to increase mortality among homosexuals. I read somewhere - sorry, no reference available, but perhaps the CDC will have data - that current male homosexual life expectancy is somewhere around 40 years. If true, you'd think that fact would be the world's biggest cold shower; that it isn't says something about humanity's priorities where sex is concerned....
7.7.2006 9:36pm
Paul M (mail):
I don't understand why the idea that something is not natural is an independent reason to dislike it. Sometimes natural phenomena are good, and sometimes they're bad. Diseases are natural, and cures are not.
7.7.2006 10:12pm
Elais:
Brooks Lyman

Do you think the suicide rated is tied to the discrimination and outright hatred of homosexuality and violence towards homosexuals? If homosexuals were welcomed with open arms and given support, would the suicide rate go down? Is there a genetic cause for homosexuals to have a high rate of suicide?
7.7.2006 10:25pm
r4d20 (mail):

"If homosexuality is genetic, why couldn't homophobia be genetic too? At least the latter has a plausible Darwinian explanation."


Assuming widespread homophobia maybe beneficial, you still have to explain how it became widespread - you will have to explain how it gave homopbobes a reproductive advantage over non-homophobic heteros. If a trait only produces benefit once it spreads to enough people it will rarely ever get a chance to show itself. Evolution like short-term solutions. It does not think ahead.
7.7.2006 10:27pm
r4d20 (mail):

"As for the comment that homosexuals don't live very long, well it's apparently not a happy lifestyle, and the homosexual suicide rate is said to be much higher than that of the heterosexual community."



I'm sure accused witches used to hang themselves more frequently than the population average, but I don't think it proves witchcraft is an unhappy lifestyle.

I think it proves that being hounded by an entire community is.


when 4% of the population tries to turn the culture of the other 96% upside down, they need to recognize that they have a fight on their hands - possibly a losing one, and that the more obnoxious they are, the greater their chances of losing.


What part of your culture, apart from homophobia being an accepted norm, are gays trying turning upside down? Seriously? The only people Gays threaten are the closet-dwellers who are tempted to leave their wives and join them.
7.7.2006 10:35pm
Michael Hall:
r4d20 said "The only people Gays threaten are the closet-dwellers who are tempted to leave their wives and join them." As should be clear by now, I believe gays SHOULD have the right to marry and have children, but r4d20's statement is silly. There are non-crazy people who think gays should not be allowed to marry -- a belief with which I disagree -- but silly, over-the-top rhetoric doesn't advance the cause.
7.7.2006 10:48pm
Bob Van Burkleo (mail):
Brooks, being over 6 feet tall isn't normal, or having red hair, being left handed or anything else that isn't the majority characteristic of a population if you are using the term in that sense. But being gay is totally 'normal' if you are talking about it in the context of a naturally occurring feature of the species.

As to the median life expectancy it is within a handful of years of the general male population even when HIV disease was factored in back when there was no really effective treatment - if you factor out HIV disease the difference in median ages is statistically insignificant.

The 40 year number was a fabrication of Paul Cameron, a discredited psychologist who is infamous for creating statistical data that denigrates gay people. In this case he looked through gay newspapers and averaged the obituary ages he saw there. Of course the vast majority of gay people don't have obits in gay papers, and most of those that did had died from AIDS related causes back then.

The commentator's opinion about homosexuality being 'unnatural' presupposes he knows what all the purposes of sex are for in the human animal. Similar to the kind of presumption that had them putting the earth at the center of the universe because it was 'obviously' the way it should be.

If sex were only about procreation we wouldn't want it when the female wasn't fertile as in most mammalian species. Sex has many other features important to society as a whole whether it is procreative or not. Note the recent glut of findings about how oxytocin makes us more social, more relaxed and trusting around our fellow humans, and better society members with one of the major release mechanism is full on sexual intercourse. The old observation that you could tell when someone had 'got some' actually has a basis in fact.

So saying that homosexuality is 'unnatural' because it doesn't lead to breeding is just a simplistic and shortsighted observation that ignores all the other things that sex does for the individual and society that have nothing to do with mere breeding.
7.7.2006 10:49pm
Cornellian (mail):
The big studies I've seen so far are the usual twin studies - male homosexuality is only rate X%, but when one male twin is gay, the other one significantly more likely than X% to also be gay, therefore it's probably genetic in nature.


The study was more sophisticated than that, it compared the rate of homosexuality between identical twins (who have identical DNA) and fraternal twins (who do not have identical DNA). Where one twin was gay, the identical twin was far more likely also to be gay than was the fraternal twin. Hard to explain as anything other than genetics.

Also, "unnatural" is just a short hand way of saying "I don't like it", and the same term used to describe interracial marriages back in the 1950's. It can't realistically be used in any meaningful sense to describe something that exists not only in every human society, but also throughout the animal kingdom as well.

Furthermore, the "if everyone was gay humanity would die out therefore being gay is wrong" argument is particularly inane. On that logic it would be wrong to become a law professor or a doctor, as we'd all die of starvation if everyone did that, leaving no one to grow and deliver food to our tables.

This brings to mind an article I saw a while back in the Economist in which some researches asked the question of why grandparents exist. After all, once they've had children and those children are grown, people do not produce more children, nor do they need to look after their own children anymore, so why do people live for so long after their own children have reached adulthood? After all, they're now useless since they aren't going to be producing any more children. If people live for so long presumably there's some evolutionary advantage to the species for that happening even if we haven't yet figured out what that is. One might say the same thing about homosexuality. The fact that it exists in small percentages and has always existed and continues to exist suggest there's some evoluntary advantage to having a small percentage of one's population be homosexual, even if we haven't yet figured out what that advantage might be.
7.7.2006 10:50pm
cw (mail):
There is plenty of evidence that social animals abhor pack members that are too "different" (think junior high). I guess you could explain this by the need, back in the olden days, for every member of the pack to pull it's weight if the pack was going to survive. Packs that were able to cold-heartedly stone their cripples may have had better long term outcomes than more sentimental packs. And if this fear of the diffferent is genetic, it might not be a super sensitive instict. Any difference might set off the alarm, even if it was a beneficial difference, as homosexuality may be (I think it is).

But even homophbia is genetic, that dosen't mean that it is OK (not that I think anyone here is saying that, though I wouldn't be so sure about Micky Kaus). There are lots of instincts we developed as spooky little chimp-things living on the veldt that are no longer useful or appropriate now that our context has changed. The one reason we have done so well on this planet is that we are able to use our brains to figure out intellectually what side our bread is buttered on context-wise and adapt our social structures, rather than just continually rely on the hard-wired instincts laid down millions of years ago.

We are (as a whole) reasoning creatures.
7.7.2006 10:53pm
randal (mail):
I think the commentor intended to say that on an individual level, homosexuality is inconsistent with the natural function of sexual desire, which is to propagate the species.

Of course that's what the commentor intended. The point is, concentrating on the individual is daft. If you concentrate solely on the individual, then anyone who isn't Brad Pitt or Angelina Jolie is unnatural. For societies and families to prosper, there has to be variation. Homosexuality is clearly one of those natural variations.

The same goes for homosexuality. Lets say I am born into a family with four siblings, one of whom is homosexual. The "homosexuality is unnatural" crowd would say that the homosexual, who does not reproduce is, from the perspective of continuing the family line, a waste: in other words, because he will not have children, it is as if he never lived or died early. However, from the perspective of the family, its great to have one sibling who will not reproduce but who is willing to help out with providing food, protection and child care for his neices and nephews. The gay uncle is actually a boon for survival of the family. From the gay brother's perspective, he is helping his genes by ensuring that his neices and nephews have a greater chance of survival. Further examples could be the gay child who joins the church and becomes a repository of learning and service to the community. Data suggesting that homosexuals are more likely to be born during periods of maternal stress (eg during a war) and the latest findings that homosexual in boys increases later in the birth order are consistent with the theory that being gay may be adaptive to the human race.

I had to repost this paragraph from Simon. I mean, duh. He's exactly right. If homosexuals weren't critical to society, there wouldn't be any! They'd have died out long ago. Put on your thinking caps, people.

Of course, this says nothing about gay marriage. In fact it probably argues against it. If gay people go off and get married, their contributions will be diminished.
7.7.2006 10:56pm
triticale (mail) (www):
A proclivity toward phobia - a maladaption of anxiety-fear coping mechanisms could be genetic. The "visual cliff" experiments decades back suggest that acrophobia could have a genetic component (Mine probably doesn't, it is specific and I know how it got imprinted).

I do not believe that the psychological diagnosis most often misapplied by people unqualified to diagnose psychological conditions has any natural basis. I don't even believe that such a phobia is the basis for any significant percentage of the behavior and additudes attributed to it.
7.7.2006 11:02pm
Anono (mail):
Finally, to my knowledge it's not clear that the incidence of some amount of homosexuality diminishes the overall societal birth rate -- in fact, if strongly homosexual orientation is genetically linked, that's reason to think that those genes carry some reproductive advantage to gene carriers, or at least have little reproductive cost.

Well, that's the question. Given the very nature of homosexuality, and given that natural selection is supposed to be able to select for all sorts of things that ever so minutely decrease the individual's chance of survival/reproduction (down to the color of the peacock's tail or the length of the giraffe's neck), why wouldn't natural selection tend to eliminate any genetic characteristic that eliminated one's desire to engage in the act that leads to reproduction?

If natural selection can't eliminate something that is so obviously "unfit" (in the sense that it obviously inhibits reproduction), then it can't affect anything. Conversely, if natural selection can do anything at all -- particularly if it can select for the animal that has just a wee bit larger flap of skin that might in a billion years turn into a wing -- it can surely select against something like homosexuality.

All of which is to say, this is why one of two things is true: 1) If Darwinism is true, then any theory of genetic homosexuality has a lot of explaining to do; or 2) If homosexuality is genetic, then Darwinists have a lot of explaining to do.
7.7.2006 11:23pm
Truth Seeker:
Huggy said:
Homosexual behavior is a gift from God just like everything else.

randal said:
If homosexuals weren't critical to society, there wouldn't be any! They'd have died out long ago. Put on your thinking caps, people.

Huh? What about spina bifida, autism, leprosy, cancer, etc. Are these gifts from God and so critical they would have died out?

What if homosexuality, spina bifida, etc are just genetic or hormonal defects that happen to occur in an impefect life form?
7.7.2006 11:26pm
Bob Van Burkleo (mail):
If natural selection can't eliminate something that is so obviously "unfit" (in the sense that it obviously inhibits reproduction), then it can't affect anything. Conversely, if natural selection can do anything at all -- particularly if it can select for the animal that has just a wee bit larger flap of skin that might in a billion years turn into a wing -- it can surely select against something like homosexuality.

You aren't considering the more probably answer - that since homosexuality DOES survive then it ISN'T unfit, that it does have an evolutionary benefit even more valuable than any negative hypothesised.

Go with the empirical data - the fact that it does survive as a trait means it does have darwinian benefit, just figure out what it is... (only have to look at the disproportionate number of gay people in the arts and sciences to get a hint as to what that might be)
7.7.2006 11:35pm
Jon Rowe (mail) (www):

I read somewhere - sorry, no reference available, but perhaps the CDC will have data - that current male homosexual life expectancy is somewhere around 40 years.


Let me assure you that the CDC most certainly does not hold that the average homosexual life expectancy is 40 years old. This is a fraudulent figure concocted by "researcher" Paul Cameron.
7.7.2006 11:40pm
Fuz (mail) (www):
Perhaps homosexuality emerges when selective pressures are at an ebb. If heterosexual couples---prosperous, able to pursue other endeavors with little or no consequences---decline to bear children, the tendency towards homosexuality that may be a "constant" among humans is more visible and more openly expressed. Those humans whose tendency is less urgent more easily suppress it, and condemn that tendency in others more stridently.

Only a minor change in selective pressure could change all of it.
7.7.2006 11:41pm
plunge (mail):
At this point, the gay uncle theory is an evolutionary "just so" story without a whole lot of evidential support. However, just raising it as a _possible_ explanation is good enough to knock down the argument that homosexuality can't possibly be natural.

And in evolutionary terms, there's no real expectation that every single trait must ITSELF contribute to reproductive fitness. Sometimes things that don't do so exist and persist in part because they an unavoidably linked as side-effects to something that is important. For instance, it might be that whatever causes homosexuality is part and parcel of some other system or need or drive, and there is no easy path to have both that latter thing AND no homosexuality. Evolution, unlike intelligent design, can only move in the paths available nearby: it can't redesign entire systems to correct or change a core design element.

And Volokh, you forgot #5, which is that whatever you want to say about homosexuality in humans, it's pretty clear that homosexuality is "natural" in that its found throughout the animal kingdom in a diverse array of forms. Heck, one of our closest relatives, the bonobo's practically use homosexual sex as a means of saying "hi, nice to meet you!" in their society.
7.7.2006 11:51pm
Bob Loblaw (www):

But this begs the question in that you assume that propagating the species is the "natural function" of sexual desire.
But what is the actual question that is begged to be asked?
7.8.2006 1:02am
mr. meade (mail):
Reproduction is natural. Anything that gets in the way is not. I'm sure my boss will be very understanding when I take the rest of my career off to sow my seed. And any woman who doesn't want to lay down for me must be a lesbian.

Spread 'em! We got a species to maintain!
7.8.2006 1:43am
randal (mail):
What about spina bifida, autism, leprosy, cancer, etc. Are these gifts from God and so critical they would have died out?

I don't know what bifidas are or whatnot, but to answer your question generally:

It would be really easy for evolution to have created effectively immortal beings (i.e. immortal sans accidental death). We have susceptibility to old age built in, and e.g. cancer is part of that system. We're not supposed to live too long, because, surprise again, getting rid of the old people is also a critical part of survival for a society, for lots of reasons that I won't go into but you can read some biology for yourself.

Both effective societies and effective genetics require variation. True, genetics can go overboard and produce undesirable mutations, which is maybe what a bifida is. It's possible that's what homosexuality is, but that seems unlikely for several reasons:

1. There are plausible benefits to societies that have gay members.

2. The rate of homosexuality seems to be strangely consistent across history and race, which is an indicator that there is in fact an ideal rate. This doesn't hold for undesirable genetic mutations, even relatively common ones.

3. Homosexuality appears to be very complicated. There's no obvious gene for it, it correlates somewhat but not particularly well among identical twins, and it appears to have some interesting predictors like birth order.

It verges on inconceivable that homosexuality is an "unnatural genetic mutation" given those three facts. It would have to be an incredibly complex mutation, yet one that appears very regularly (and relatively frequently).

Looking at the dynamics of homosexuality, it seems to follow the pattern of "uncommon traits" such as being a genius, not the pattern of "mutations".

The main point though is, you can't look at genetics from the perspective of the individual and say, whatever individual traits are best for procreation are selected for, and the rest aren't. It's the species that requires survival, not the individual.
7.8.2006 2:37am
bellisaurius (mail):
Other, smarter readers commented on the advantage to the species of a small population of nonbreeders helping everyone else along, but it's possible as well that if homosexulaity were to function a bit like the sickle cell gene: Where if you've got only half the sckle cell gene you have resistance, but both gives you a different effect, that may not be as good.

In this case, having a small amount of homosexuality may make one a more attractive partner to a woman because it makes it easier to be cuckolded. Now, a cuckolded man may be cheated on, but hell if he's not going to get at least a few breeding attempts in there. (the offspring lyric "I may be dumb, but I'm not a dweeb" comes to mind.

Also, I'm a bit surprised no ones mentioned female homosexuality in here. I would imagine it would turn several of the arguments currently made completely on their head. Although, my experiences with lesbians tend to have a substansial proportion of them eventually wanting children (sorry, no statistics). All you darn phallocentrisits should be ashamed of yourself :)
7.8.2006 4:03am
Bruce Hayden (mail) (www):
My impression is that there is that there is at least as much evidence, if not more, of in utero causes of at least male homosexuality. One possible cause being maternal stress at certain stages of development (apparently reproducable in rats). Also, a recent study showing that the incidence of male homosexuality increases with birth order, esp. with the number of older womb brothers (i.e. adopted boys showed the indicidence of their womb order, and not their family order). Interestingly, this would seem to fit into the family size study above - where the larger the family size, the more likely that one of the boys is homosexual - since family size also means more boys in the family (on average).

Apparently, there are also (on average) distinct brain differences between male homosexuals and heterosexuals, with the male homosexual brains being somewhat closer to female brains - which I suspect is the basis of many of our stereotypes. And, indeed, it is apparently fairly easy to tell a male homosexual from a heterosexual by wiring both up and seeing whether a guy is most turned on by naked guys or gals (and, yes, some don't react that much to either).

Finally, a mention was made of homophobia. My view right now, as politically incorrect as it can be, is that true homophobia is as natural, if not more so, than is homosexuality. The problem is that primates, esp. some of our closest ape relatives, utilize copulatory behavior as a dominence display. (And this can be seen in human prison populations). In other social primate communities, males attempting to mount males of similar or higher status/dominence sometimes turn quite violent, sometimes turning fatal.

In other words, male homosexuality seems to trigger this basic male dominence reaction, which can, and does, lead to violence. Human males thus appear to have million years of hard wiring in favor of homophobia.
7.8.2006 4:40am
Bruce Hayden (mail) (www):
My guess at why there has been a lot more study of male homosexuality is that, at least until recently, the vast majority of scientists and researchers have been male. Female homosexuality is not really a challenge for guys, whereas male homosexuality can be (if, for no other reason than my suggestion about homophobia above).
7.8.2006 4:44am
logicnazi (mail) (www):
C'mon people this argument is obviously one which would only be made by someone already convinced that homosexuality was bad. If you were genuinely undecided about the moral status of homosexuality and felt its status as natural or not would make the difference then presumably you would be deeply interested in research on possible evolutionary functions of homosexuality rather than having already made up your mind.

There are tons of evolved characteristics that advantage the species or group when they are possesed in some percent of the species but would be disastorous if the entire population had them. Being male and female are the two clearest examples but there are plenty that are possessed in smaller parts of the population. For instance having a lower sex drive that might incline one to be a priest or monk more than other people. Alternatively being very timid or very bold. If everyone was either the tribe would likely have died out and our society would have a much lower chance of survival. Yet this is hardly good grounds to believe that these inclinations are not genetic.

More concretely I remember some research suggesting that left handedness persists because it gives an advantage when fighting right handers. This certainly appears to be the case in some crabs and is likely the case in humans. Thus while having half of society left handed would just makes people less fit (there seem to be brain advantages to standardizing on one dominant hemisphere and matching handedness up) there are good natural reasons for a small segment to be left handed.


In short there are lots of reasons why a genetic or otherwise innate disposition to homosexuality might be evolutinarily favored. For instance having another male son might create more competition for your other sons/relatives or cause incest if her male children are too succesfull at breeding. Hence it might be a reasonable evolutionary strategy for women who already have many sons to 'make' their next son gay. Alternatively it might benefit the tribe as a whole to have more men around but more competition for women would be harmful.

woman's evolutionary interest are not served by another male offspring so since she can't alter the other chromosome she alters her hormonal balance.

In short there are tons of cases in evolution where an activity which seems to hurt your evolutionary chances is actually beneficial because it aids your kin. Plenty of other features we have seem to be total accidents and some are even clearly harmful to our 'fitness'. For instance the appendix.

The fact that the people worried about the 'naturalness' don't even consider all these issues and aren't deeply buried in this research is proof that this is just an after the fact justification. There really is no point discussing it because it doesn't have much to do with why people really disapprove.

Note if you think it is a real choice rather than a genetic/fetal hormone induced disposition the argument is even worse. Unless you are prepared to condemn monks, committed bachelors or others who willfully override their biological desieres your just not being consistant.
7.8.2006 4:45am
logicnazi (mail) (www):
Ultimately we can debate forever about whether homosexuality really provides an evolutionary benefit (in our current society or in evolutionary times?) but it just doesn't matter. Clearly the critics of homosexuality are far more convinced it is wrong than the evidence gives us reason to believe homosexuality has any particular evolutionary function/cause. Since I don't hear anyone saying, "Hmm, I'm not sure if homosexuality is bad it depends on how it evolutionarily arose" we can be sure this is only an after the fact justification.

Besides, we should all know the naturalistic fallacy is a fallacy. Until someone can give me a statement of what it means for something to be unnatural in this bad way and show a willingness to accept all the consequences of this principle, e.g., if it turns out to be 'unnatural' to be a celibate priest they will accept that this is wrong, then there is no point in even pretending this is a plausible argument.

As bad as they are I think the 'God said so' argument or even the 'but I feel it's wrong' argument are better than this one.
7.8.2006 4:54am
David Friedman (mail) (www):
Perhaps I missed it, but you seem to have not noticed--indeed, gone along with--the big scientific error in the quoted passage. Evolution doesn't select for the survival of the species. It selects for extended reproductive success of the individual. It's perfectly possible for a characteristic that makes the species less successful to be selected for, hence "natural"--because it makes the individual carrying the characteristic more successful. The peacock's tail is the standard example.
7.8.2006 5:44am
giggleburst (mail):
natural aberration is more appropriate 'epithet' - like color blindness without the cultural baggage. Any normative qualifications espoused after allowing for aberration would essentially be subjective but not therefore irrelevant. Deciding which subjective qualification carries with it the most significant relevance is the trick when allowing for 'abnormal' behaviour.
7.8.2006 9:23am
C. Owen Johnson (mail):
I didn't see this mentioned previously in these comments -- perhaps I missed it -- but hasn't it occurred to anyone yet that the whole question is based on the false premise that homosexuals don't breed? I live on SF and I can assure everyone that gay couples do indeed have children. Some of them inseminate [turkey basters used to be popular] and some of them party, often with a gay member of the opposite sex. So it's simply not true to assert that sexual preference determines whether one wants to have children or not, nor does having children automatically render one "straight" or even "bi".

I would be very interested to see some data -- does anyone know of any reputable studies? -- of the relative rates of child bearing between straight and gay couples. My gut feel, based on the people I know, is that the rates aren't as nearly far apart as seems to be commonly thought.
7.8.2006 9:46am
Mr L (mail):
I would be very interested to see some data -- does anyone know of any reputable studies? -- of the relative rates of child bearing between straight and gay couples. My gut feel, based on the people I know, is that the rates aren't as nearly far apart as seems to be commonly thought.

Especially since a lot of 'gay' individuals seem to have children from heterosexual relationships. There's a host of examples, from New Jersey's gay ex-Governor Jim McGreevey (by two different women, no less) to American Taliban's dad.

To be honest, I always wondered why the 'research' never bothered to make more hay of that, as it tends to handily explain correllations with birth order -- after all, the first (or only) child is going to be under pressure to 'continue to family line' (act and procreate straight) while later children may not be.
7.8.2006 11:30am
Kenneth Young (mail) (www):
On the theory of genetic benefit if homosexuality:
It's been awhile since I read Dawkins, but if I remember correctly his unit of analysis wasn't the species, or the individual, but the gene. From this perspective we don't care as much about a particular individual breeding successfully or unsuccessfully, as we do about the frequency of particular genes in the population.

Let's say uncle Ken is less likely to reproduce due to a genetic predisposition of some kind. And let's say that I have two siblings (each of whom share ~50% of my genetic material). Despite the fact that I don't directly reproduce my genes, if my behavior supports the well-being, fecundity, etc. of my siblings, some of the genes I carry will be more likely to be passed on by their own children.

And some percentage of these genes may be ones that contribute to my non-reproductive behavior.

So if the assumption that even though a given individual doesn't reproduce their genes directly will behave in ways which tend to support the indirect reporduction of their genetic material holds true, the question then becomes what's the equilibrium rate for such indirectly reproductive individuals in a given environment.
7.8.2006 12:46pm
Evolution (mail):
As a way of closing this, anyone who hasn't read "The Selfish Gene" by Richard Dawkins should do so. It's incredibly good, and I think it's written in layman's English. It's also not about the Supreme Court, which might be a refreshing change.

If you like The Selfish Gene as much as I did, The Extended Phenotype is a great sequal.
7.8.2006 1:12pm
Hans Gruber (www):
"And Volokh, you forgot #5, which is that whatever you want to say about homosexuality in humans, it's pretty clear that homosexuality is "natural" in that its found throughout the animal kingdom in a diverse array of forms. Heck, one of our closest relatives, the bonobo's practically use homosexual sex as a means of saying "hi, nice to meet you!" in their society."

This is a oft-repeated talking point that is deceptive. When we speak of homosexuality in humanity we are talking about homosexual preference. When we talk about "homosexual sex" in the animal kingdom we are talking about the presence of some sex or sexual behavior with the same sex. They are VERY different things. The evidence for widespread preferential homosexuality in the animal kingdom simply doesn't exist; though there are anectodal "gay penguin at the zoo" stories one reads in the news here or there.
7.8.2006 1:46pm
Hamilton Lovecraft (mail):
[H]omosexuality is not natural in that it clearly functions against the survival of the species.

why wouldn't natural selection tend to eliminate any genetic characteristic that eliminated one's desire to engage in the act that leads to reproduction?

The recent studies linking increased incidence of male homosexuality in later-birth-order children may answer this.

Your own children carry 50% of your genetic code. Your nieces and nephews carry 25% of your genetic code. If your older siblings have already invested scarce energy in making babies in a subsistence environment, having children of your own is a riskier play than investing energy in the nieces and nephews -- albiet one with a higher payoff.

Note in particular that having your own children in a large family puts your children in competition for resources with your nieces and nephews, potentially reducing all their chances for survival.
7.8.2006 2:51pm
Bob Van Burkleo (mail):
I would be very interested to see some data -- does anyone know of any reputable studies? -- of the relative rates of child bearing between straight and gay couples.

The Urban Institute has done a number of metastudies on the 2000 census data. 20% of gay couples are raising minor children, 33% of lesbian couples, and 40% of lesbian couples married in Massachusetts, contrasted with 44% of national heterosexual married couples.
7.8.2006 2:53pm
Bob Van Burkleo (mail):
A proclivity toward phobia - a maladaption of anxiety-fear coping mechanisms could be genetic.

I've come to that conclusion myself - I call it the 'mental moire effect'. Just as perfectly good visual data can be systematically perceived erroneously by the wiring of our brain, so mental efforts can reach wrong conclusions in the same way. There are probably a number of such areas where we reach wrong conclusions because the answer just feels so right - religion, gambling, and love being some obvious examples. I do think that some homophobia fits in there too, I've just run into too many otherwise logical sensible people who will toss that all aside to clumsily rationalize their prejudice against gay people - and not really gay people, gay males, and not just gay males, but anal sex (how many homophobes have you run into that seem to think about anal sex more than even gay men?) Just as some male dogs take GREAT exception to being mounted by other male dogs, there are probably human males who are the same. And since humans can conceptualize, that means every time they have a reason to think about homosexuality their aversion to being mounted kicks in as if they actually were. That would be a strong reinforcement for homophobic ideation.

Explains a few things to me at any rate.
7.8.2006 3:10pm
randal (mail):
Feeling like anal sex is gross doesn't make you homophobic. Not wanting to be "mounted" by another guy doesn't make you homophobic. Extending those preferences into a fear &hatred of others makes you homophobic.

Is homophobia "natural"? Sure, in exactly the same way as racism is natural. People automatically fear difference. That doesn't make homophobia excusable, just like racism isn't.
7.8.2006 4:37pm
American Psikhushka (mail) (www):
From the main post-

There's some malleability of sexual practices -- bisexuals, for instance, might be movable towards focusing more on heterosexual relationships or towards focusing more on homosexual relationships.

Of course trying to force bisexuals (or those you chose to classify as bisexual in contradiction to self-identification) toward homosexuality would be genocide and a number of other human rights abuses, and trying to force them toward heterosexuality would be a number of human rights abuses too. I don't think that was implied by the above statement, but I thought I would point the point out nonetheless.

bellisaurius-

In this case, having a small amount of homosexuality may make one a more attractive partner to a woman because it makes it easier to be cuckolded. Now, a cuckolded man may be cheated on, but hell if he's not going to get at least a few breeding attempts in there. (the offspring lyric "I may be dumb, but I'm not a dweeb" comes to mind.

I think you're caught up in stereotypes and homophobia there. There's plenty of evidence in the animal kingdom of "subordinate" or "effeminate" males cuckholding more "dominant" ones. Ditto for the world of humans. This is anecdotal evidence (though informed anecdotal evidence), but I recently heard an experienced private investigator state that in his experience no one was really immune to adultery - regardless of wealth, class, looks, etc. So your "guys that seem semi-gay are easy marks for promiscuous women" has some flaws in it.
7.8.2006 4:57pm
randal (mail):
So your "guys that seem semi-gay are easy marks for promiscuous women" has some flaws in it.

Not the least of which is: in my experience, seeming gay and being gay have ~0 correlation (except in as much as gay people intentionally try to act to the stereotype).
7.8.2006 5:45pm
John Herbison (mail):
If I may repeat a query I made in response to an earlier post, do those, who regard homosexual acts as "unnatural", regard an act of heterosexual fellatio as natural or as unnatural? If the latter, should heterosexuals who practice fellatio be forbidden by law to marry?
7.8.2006 6:05pm
BobN (mail):
Nothing brings out convoluted "reasoning" like a discussion of homosexuality.

Several posters have discussed the "naturalness" of homophobia. Homosexuality has been found in every single human culture. Homophobia comes and goes.
7.8.2006 6:34pm
triticale (mail) (www):
The natural aberration color blindness is actually uptrending as populations become more urban and it becomes less relevant to survival. If homosexuality remains constant across populations there is less evolutionary pressure against it.

As for the question do those, "who regard homosexual acts as "unnatural", regard an act of heterosexual fellatio as natural or as unnatural?" I encountered a somewhat relevant sentiment regarding heterosexual cunnilingus. The exact words on the subject were "He who sucks the hairy hole also sucks the hairy pole."
7.8.2006 9:45pm
Ship Erect (mail) (www):
People automatically fear difference. That doesn't make homophobia excusable, just like racism isn't.

A fear of difference isn't "automatic." Some do, some don't; just as many find the exotic beautiful and intriguing as find it simply strange or weird. This might explain why humans have different skin colors: though we originally all had black skin, white skin was novel, and thus attractive, to people who were used to seeing the same skin color in everyone.

The natural aberration color blindness is actually uptrending as populations become more urban and it becomes less relevant to survival.

Thank God--as someone with "red-green" color blindness, I won't be asked questions about how I can drive when I can't see green lights properly (they look white to me). No one ever remembers that green lights are on the bottom, red lights are on top!
7.8.2006 11:56pm
Truth Seeker:
Ship Erect said:
we originally all had black skin

Do you have a source for this claim? As monkeys and apes have white skin, it doesn't seem logical. Seems more like an adaptation by naked apes hanging in the sun all day.
7.9.2006 1:36am
Truth Seeker:
John Herbison said:

If I may repeat a query I made in response to an earlier post, do those, who regard homosexual acts as "unnatural", regard an act of heterosexual fellatio as natural or as unnatural? If the latter, should heterosexuals who practice fellatio be forbidden by law to marry?

Are there hererosexual couples who ONLY practice fellatio? If not then your question is irrelevant to the discussion. Occasional fellatio in a procreative relationship would most likely be normal.
7.9.2006 1:44am
Ship Erect (mail) (www):
Do you have a source for this claim? As monkeys and apes have white skin, it doesn't seem logical. Seems more like an adaptation by naked apes hanging in the sun all day.

I used "originally" loosely, and your point is valid. However, we evolved dark skin relatively quickly. From "The evolution of human skin coloration" (PDF):

The earliest members of the hominid lineage probably had a mostly unpigmented or lightly pigmented integument covered with dark black hair, similar to that of the modern chimpanzee. The evolution of a naked, darkly pigmented integument occurred early in the evolution of the genus Homo. A dark epidermis protected sweat glands from UV-induced injury, thus insuring the integrity of somatic thermoregulation. Of greater significance to individual reproductive success was that highly melanized skin protected against UV-induced photolysis of folate, a metabolite essential for normal development of the embryonic neural tube and spermatogenesis.
7.9.2006 2:44am
Hans Gruber (www):
"Several posters have discussed the "naturalness" of homophobia. Homosexuality has been found in every single human culture. Homophobia comes and goes."

I think mild to moderate disgust/revulsion with homosexual behavior is almost universal among heterosexual males. But yes, today an increasing number of men feel this disgust while refraining from discriminatory or abusive behavior. That's a sign of civilzied society tolerating differences, not necessarily acceptance or approval. I guess we need to define what we mean by "homophobia." If, for example, the average Joe expressed his disgust at seeing two gay males kiss and fondle each other in public, I think most people would characterize this as "homophobic."

Just for the record: I'm not one to ascribe virtue to anything "natural," which is why I think it's irrelevant whether or not homosexuality is genetic or not. A lot of terrible things humanity does have firm rooting in our biology. But it's fun to watch the sophists squirm when the argument is turned on its head--if we must accept homosexuality because it's genetic must we also accept homophobia?
7.9.2006 12:49pm
Allison (mail):


Article is pertinent to this discussion:

The Gay Animal Kingdom - Seed Magazine
7.9.2006 1:21pm
SLS 1L (mail):
Are there hererosexual couples who ONLY practice fellatio? If not then your question is irrelevant to the discussion. Occasional fellatio in a procreative relationship would most likely be normal.
Simply based on numbers, there are surely at least some heterosexual couples on Earth who only engage in fellatio, probably because the woman's genitals are nonfunctional or nonexistent due to disease or injury. There are surely lots more who completely abstain from PIV intercourse while engaging in various kinds of "sodomy," whether to maintain "virginity," to have a near-100% certainty of avoiding pregnancy, because the woman finds PIV painful, or for some other reason.

In any case, what about fellatio within a non-procreative heterosexual relationship?
7.9.2006 1:28pm
Randy R. (mail):
Actually, although most hetero men would CLAIM disgust at homosexual acts, the evidence is quite the opposite. According to Kinsey (based on 1950s data), about 40% of all men engaged in at least one homosexual act by the age of 21.

As a gay man, I can certainly tell you that there are quite a few 'straight' boys out there who conveniently get drunk, and then wake up the next morning to pretend nothing happened with their male buddy.

All these guys claim disgust because that's part of the general locker-room etiquette. If you believe what straight men tell you regarding sex in any circumstances, you are quite naive.

Regarding the argument of whether homophobia is genetic: Just look at the evidence. There are many, many stories of people who were homophobic, and at some point in their lives, they change. Item: A good friend of mine writes novels geared towards teenagers about gay boys. A reader, a teenage girl wrote him that he hated homosexuality and all that, and read the book to write a book report on how bad homosexuality is. After reading his sensitive book (he was a former counselor on sexuality), she became convinced that homophobia is bad, and has completely changed her opinion of gays, and includes many gay men as her friends.

Query: If homophobia is genetic, how could it be changed on the basis of something as simple as reading a book?
7.9.2006 2:15pm
Anono (mail):
Two points:

1. I'm not sure what the relevance is of claiming that homosexuality is present in the rest of the animal kingdom. I've seen dogs that would hump your leg. That doesn't mean that there are dogs with a sexual preference for human legs. It just means that some dogs arestupid and will hump anything in sight. Isn't that what's probably going on with animal "homosexuality"?

2. People above have alluded to the theory that if homosexual uncles (aunts) invest in the survival of their relatives, then at least some of their genes would be propagated. What a bunch of baloney. Is there any evidence whatsoever that homosexual uncles (aunts) are ANY MORE invested in their relatives than any childless heterosexual uncles (aunts)? If not -- and I can't even imagine that there exists such evidence -- then there would be no reason that children with childless homosexual uncles would be more likely to survive than children with childless heterosexual uncles. In which case, there would be no selective pressure whatsoever for the homosexual uncle's genes. Right?
7.9.2006 2:58pm
American Psikhushka (mail) (www):
Randy R.-

Actually, although most hetero men would CLAIM disgust at homosexual acts, the evidence is quite the opposite. According to Kinsey (based on 1950s data), about 40% of all men engaged in at least one homosexual act by the age of 21.

As a gay man, I can certainly tell you that there are quite a few 'straight' boys out there who conveniently get drunk, and then wake up the next morning to pretend nothing happened with their male buddy.

All these guys claim disgust because that's part of the general locker-room etiquette. If you believe what straight men tell you regarding sex in any circumstances, you are quite naive.


That's pretty biased. There are also a lot of gay men that think everyone is like them, but just "in denial". There are also some gay men that wouldn't have a problem smearing someone straight. And of course there are straight women and gay men that want to punish men who reject them and straight women who change their tune when their family or significant other find out about consensual sex. Etc, etc, etc...... do you think its honest or appropriate to always make straight men the bad guy?
7.9.2006 6:29pm
John Herbison (mail):

Are there heterosexual couples who ONLY practice fellatio?


Yes, "Truth Seeker", I suppose there are. As a matter of fact, half of one of those couples was impeached and acquitted because Newt Gingrich, Tom Delay and their ilk obsessed over who stuck what into whom.

Did anyone else note how assiduously "Truth Seeker" avoided my question about who should be forbidden by law to marry? Under that view of sexuality, should county clerks inquire into the bedroom practices of male/female couples who apply for marriage licenses? What about the mythical applicants who are both virgins?

The Rethuglican Party, fundamentalist Christianity and militant Islamism will each be better off when the fundamentalists of each religion realize that God is not such a weenie that He needs Caeser's help.
7.9.2006 7:31pm
hjgu (mail):
7.9.2006 9:51pm
Truth Seeker:
John Herbison said:

Did anyone else note how assiduously "Truth Seeker" avoided my question about who should be forbidden by law to marry?

You didn't say who should be forbidden to marry, you merely asked if hetersexual couples who practiced only fellatio should be forbidden. I'd say that would violate privacy so it would not be permissible to inquire into heterosexuals' bedroom practices.

Now that you did ask who should be forbidden, I'd say that since marriage has since time immemoral meant a man and a woman, it should not be changed unless a majority of society feels that such change is in the best interests of society. Not because a couple of judges think so and not because 4% of the population will feel more normal. And it should not be changed unless you are also going to allow polygamous marriages, incestuous marriages, and many other artificially-forbidden marriages.
7.9.2006 11:50pm
Clayton E. Cramer (mail) (www):
"Natural" isn't much of a basis for organizing a civilized society or writing laws. Nature is indeed red in tooth and claw. I've watched two male ducks fight over mounting rights to a female duck so vigorously that they drowned the female. That can't be good for passing on their genes, can it?

In the natural state, females often don't get much of a say in whether they have sex or not.

In the natural state, when a zebra stallion takes over an existing harem, he will often kick any pregnant mares until they abort.

In the natural state, a male lion taking over an existing pride will often kill the existing cubs sired by the previous head of the pride.

There are some strong arguments against homosexuality, but the question of its "naturalness" isn't one of them.

This recent study claiming that male birth order influences homosexuality suggests that there's some increasing hormonal response by the mother that causes homosexuality. If so, and if this was the primary determinant of adult sexual orientation, you would expect male monozygotic twins to have perfect concordance on sexual orientation, and only a very slightly lower rate of concordance in male dizygotic twins--after all, they are both awash in the same hormones.

The fact is that the various twins studies show that while MZ twins have higher concordance than DZ twins, and in turn, higher concordance than non-twin siblings, the rates are still low enough to suggest that genetics can be at most a part of adult sexual orientation.

I am also troubled by the fact that these various studies fail to properly include the possibility that the environment in which these MZ twins, DZ twins, and non-twin siblings are raised could be a factor in sexual orientation as well. I doubt that there is a single factor that causes homosexuality, but if child sexual abuse is a cause of some adult homosexuality (as statistical evidence would suggest) then multiple children raised in the same family are probably all at higher risk. I've talked to too many people who grew up in families where the same adult man who abused one sibling, abused another one as well.

Similarly, the male birth order causes homosexuality argument might reflect that sexual abuse of small children is sometimes done by older siblings. There's a criminal case going on right now here in the Boise area where the teenaged boys were sexually abusing the prepubescent siblings, and the parents simply refused to intervene. I've talked to a homosexual whose earliest memory is being forced, at age 3, to orally service a 14 year old cousin.

The Twins Raised Separately studies would be a good place to check the question of environmental influence vs. genetics, but the number of homosexuals in that study is just too small to be useful.
7.10.2006 2:50am
Randy R. (mail):
American:

How many married men brag about all the affairs they have? Virtually none? And so that would mean that virtually no men cheat on their wives, right?

My apologies. I should have said that if you believe anything ANY man tells you about his sex life or proclivities, you are naive. Straight men are not the 'bad guys' (I wasn't making them out to be), but there are plenty of straight guys who have sex with other men, but deride people who are gay and gay sex acts. Or haven't you read about being on the 'down low?'

My point is to refute the other person's assumption that because most men condemn gay sex it means that they do not engage in gay sex, or have a desire for it. That, research tells us, is simply not true.
7.10.2006 10:13am
Jamesaust (mail):
"And in evolutionary terms, there's no real expectation that every single trait must ITSELF contribute to reproductive fitness."

This is related to point #3 but I believe there is some confusion here. There is a difference between an organism reproducing and that organism's genes reproducing. For "evolutionary" purposes, only the genes matter.

Since each organism shares every gene (less any 'error'), an organism's genes survive and reproduce if the larger "family" survives and reproduces. This approach also has the benefit of explaining a predisposition to clannishness among people. A homosexual aunt or uncle may be an evolutionary survival strategy.
7.10.2006 5:01pm
Pat conolly (mail):
"Homosexuality is not natural in that it clearly functions against the survival of the species"

If you replaced the word "homosexuality" with the word "chastity", would the statement be equally true?
7.10.2006 6:34pm
Clayton E. Cramer (mail) (www):

"Homosexuality is not natural in that it clearly functions against the survival of the species"

If you replaced the word "homosexuality" with the word "chastity", would the statement be equally true?
Yup. I don't buy "naturalness" as being a good argument for or against a law, but I think it is a good assumption that if there was a gene for chastity, it would breed itself out fo the population unless that trait was tied to some trait shared by siblings that was beneficial.

Schizophrenia is pretty clearly genetic. It also is not beneficial to reproduction. So why does it persist? I've read that female siblings of schizophrenics have a larger than average number of children.
7.10.2006 10:11pm
American Psikhushka (mail) (www):
Randy R.-

I think substituting "ANY person" for "ANY man" in your above statement would be the most accurate. After all, women don't tend to broadcast their infidelity either. And they tend to ratchet down the total number of past sexual partners as well. Then you have those interesting paternity statistics, etc, etc, etc,.....you get the point.
7.11.2006 3:55am
American Psikhushka (mail) (www):
Clayton R. Cramer-

There is some contention about schizophrenia's genetic basis. Plus false diagnoses of it have been used for oppression and social control in the past.
7.11.2006 4:06am
Pat conolly (mail):
Clayton R. Cramer-
Thanks for your comment. It hadn't occurred to me before that the original statement might have been meant to say "if this behavior is contrary to the survival of the species, then it therefore wouldn't be likely to be a genetic trait".

But of course thousands of people every year are born with various attributes that are (or could be considered as) contrary to survival of the species.
7.11.2006 3:19pm
Chimaxx (mail):
Brooks Lyman:

The most reliable studies and surveys suggest that somewhere between 2 and 4 percent of the population is homosexual. ...[And] when 4% of the population tries to turn the culture of the other 96% upside down, they need to recognize that they have a fight on their hands...


Who's trying to turn the culture upside down? I haven't heard of even the most radical gay activists advocating compulsory same-sex marriage for all.
7.12.2006 1:36am
Hans Gruber (www):
Cramer,

It's important to look at the incidence here. Around 4% of the population is gay. If we were talking about schizophrenia the incidence rate is around .5%. Moreover, because schizophrenia occurs late in life, the evolutionary cost is much lower than homosexuality--which exists in most cases from puberty on.

Also, it's probably incorrect to say that schizophrenia is "genetic." Only about 50% of monozygotic twins share the condition. Clearly genetics plays a role, but it might only be one of susceptibility.
7.12.2006 12:15pm