For decades, researchers have worked to understand why some people are attracted to the same sex. Is it genetics? Is it the town they grew up in? Is it just some rogue choice? Researchers may have found part of the answer, but it’s not a simple one.
On Aug. 30, Science Magazine published a study detailing the relationship between genetics and same-sex sexual behavior. It found that, yes, genetics do in fact influence whether someone engages in same-sex sexual behavior. The trait can’t be traced to just a single “gay gene” but rather myriad genes functioning together.
But that is, at best, only a partial explanation. Those genes only account for about a third or less of the influences on same-sex sexual behavior. The rest of the impact, the study determined, involves a combination of environmental, biological and social factors.
“I hope that the science can be used to educate people a little bit more about how natural and normal same-sex behavior is,” one of the report’s lead researchers, Dr. Benjamin Neale, told The New York Times. “It’s written into our genes and it’s part of our environment. This is part of our species and it’s part of who we are.”
Some praise the report for helping prove that genetics influence human sexuality. Others, including Neale, worry that the findings might be misconstrued to advance anti-gay agendas.
Religious conservatives can believe what they like, but science has a way of quickly and mercifully putting arguments like this to rest. Ignorance plays a large role in the belief that gay and lesbian attractions can somehow be “fixed” through bogus treatments like conversion therapy.
This report underscores the falsity of such notions. A multitude of genes and social interactions come into play in influencing sexuality.
This study was compiled by world-renowned researchers, featuring half a million subjects, the largest ever on the topic, with both men and women participating. It has been praised, even by critics, for its depth. The study wasn’t an attempt to zero-in on the genetics behind sexual identity. Rather, it set out to identify what drives people to engage in sex with members of their own gender.
Researchers say the study is intended only as a jumping off point. “Many uncertainties remain to be explored,” the study abstract says, “including how socio-cultural influences on sexual preference might interact with genetic influences.” By acknowledging that the report doesn’t have all of the answers, it leaves ample room for future research to fill remaining gaps. As with all science, this is not the final word.
Reports like this one help break down barriers by dispelling myths using science, not conjecture. The more science and concrete information, the better chance that all people, straight or gay, will be universally accepted for who they are.