Sexual orientation is neither nature nor nurture, but culture?

I think that’s what this blog post (that someone approvingly linked to online) is saying.

It’s definitely arguing that sexual orientation is most likely not inborn, yet that it’s also not a choice.


Well, in this context, “culture” is the same as “nurture.” Something in one’s upbringing would be the cause. It might be the parents, or a tv role-model, or whatever.

I think they’re full of crap, and that the science has been fairly well established that sexual orientation is (largely) genetic. We’re born with it.

If it is “cultural” then why don’t rates vary much more according to cultural differences? If it’s cultural, then what exact specific differences cause different sexual orientation, among people who have extremely similar cultural upbringing?

Does it involve some remarkably trivial experiential turning point, like one guy sees a picture of a big beefy surfer dude at exactly the instant in his life that sexual orientation is formed…while the next guy sees a picture of a bikini babe, and thus is cemented into a different sexual orientation? The explanation would have to be something of this sort, something incredibly elusive and not visible to any meaningful statistical analysis.

Well, yeah, but the post in question claims pretty much the opposite. How do I, as a layman, decide?

I’d point out that the article seems to offer no evidence beyond the author strongly believes in her opinion. That’s not really a solid foundation to build on.

I was just saying that if I’m reading it right, the post does directly address the science behind a genetic component to sexuality, and dismisses/argues against it for various reasons. Not knowing much about the extant studies, I don’t know how to evaluate these claims.

Born with it, yes; genetic, has not been established. Something that’s inborn may be genetic or not. If you’ll allow an example that’s pretty beastly but most people understand, talidomide babies didn’t have a genetic problem - it was a developmental one.

This linked has addressed the point pretty well for a few years and 3 million views:

Do you have any sort of cite for that, from the actual scientific literature?

There is Simon LeVay’s work on the “gay brain”, but from what I can recall at the time (and Wikipedia confirms), although some gay rights advocates greeted his claims to have found differences between the brains of gay and straight people with enthusiasm, few other neuroscientists were much impressed , and even LeVay himself said:

Do you have anything else?

That sexual orientation is innate is very much the politically correct view these days, but AFAIK the scientific evidence for it is extremely tenuous, at best. (Not that the evidence for the contrary view is any stronger.) It has been popular in recent years amogst defenders of gay rights because it provides a strong rhetorical counter to waht has recently been one of teh favorite tactics of the homophobes, their pushing of the idea that gay people canand should be “reeducated” into being straight.

I am old enough, however, and have been around leftists long enough, to be able to remember when the notion that sexual orientation is innate was the view of the traditionalist heterosexists and the homophobic bigots. Back in the day, progressives and gay rights advocates were adamant that sexual orientation was a life choice (and that choosing a gay, or otherwise non-traditional sexuality was a positive choice that right-thinking people ought to support and applaud as an exercise of existential freedom and a subversive, revolutionary act). Of course, back then the homophobes were not advocating re-education:

I agree with you, however, that, in this context, nurture and culture amount to pretty much the same thing.

It is a glib and superficial case against the notion that sexual orientation is a choice. It implies orientation is determined, beyond the individual’s control (which, I dare say, is at least a half-truth). It says nothing however, about whether orientation is determined by genes or by early life experiences: nature or nurture.

Defending gayness on the grounds that “they can’t help it” is really pretty craven. It is a way of chickening out of making a moral argument. How about actually taking a stand and defending it on the grounds that it is not wrong?

I should mention that one of the commenters in the place I found this piece made the argument (I’m not sure whether this is completely identical to the linked piece or not) that there is no such thing as inborn sexual orientation — that it comes completely or mostly from social forces, based on concepts of gender.

That’s one reason I found the idea kind of interesting, and bothered to start this thread.

I thought the implicit argument was straight people can’t help it because they were ‘born that way’.

But “one of the commentators” is quite simply stupid. I’m pretty sure your own experience tells you its inborn, and I just added a few more voices via Youtube - we all know how we arrived at our own sexuality, and it wasn’t as “the commentator” asserts.

Yeah, well, I’m probably not doing justice to either that person nor the linked blog. The former was part of a multi-paragraph explanation of why she liked the post in the OP, with a lot of discussion of biological vs. cultural gender/sex, and how there’s no firm line between the two (she’s apparently studying this kind of thing academically).

I suppose I could ask for permission to copy/paste it or something. But that would get a second author into the equation, and I’m not sure if there are differences between the two POVs that would just complicate matters. I think there’s a lot already there without bringing in what may be a second set of opinions.

I’m going to throw out an insane, off the wall idea here: Sexual orientation may be due to different things. Sometimes it’s genetic, sometimes it’s inborn non-genetic, sometimes it’s cultural, and sometimes it’s choice. I know, I know, it just sounds crazy, because obviously there has to be one, and only one reason for every type of behavior.

Does it really matter? There are plenty of inconclusives out there, this is just one more on the pile. Believe whatever you want, so long as you don’t hurt anybody in the process.

I would love to see an example of this claim dated to the 1970s or even 1980s. I recall a lot of people making the claim that homosexuals should have the right to choose their sexual expression. I do not recall anyone making the claim that the actual orientation was a choice. (That could very well have been a theme batted about among college kids who were not really clear about what they were discussion–although I never heard it–but i do not recall any serious researcher making that claim.)

On topics like these, I’ve always been of the school of thought that it’s roughly half and half. There is 50% of influence from your genetics, and 50% of influence from your upbringing. Which one ends up exerting more influence on all of your behaviors is entirely individual because each has their own experiences and epiphanies in their own time.

To illustrate this statement: If you are young and mistakenly touch the stove, you learn fairly quickly that there is a darn good reason to stay away from the large, metal heat behemoth. After a few years, you then try an explain to a younger sibling that the stove will burn and cause pain.

So, what does the sibling do? Depending on the individual, they may not take to the message you provide. It’s entirely possible for them to have to also touch the stove to find out that hot = pain. But, then, it’s also entirely possible (again: depending on the individual) to understand the notion and give the stove a wide berth for the rest of their childhood. Some may even develop an irrational fear of the stove and avoid them like the plague for a long, long time.

To bring this back to sexual orientation: There ARE genetic influences. There ARE social influence. How those play out in each individual is entirely unique. You have a huge range of sexual identities. Everything from Transgender to transsexual to bisexual to homosexual to straight. And that’s a spectrum, not a hard grouping. On top of that, you have romantic spectrums (do you find flowers romantic? Car engines?) and fetish spectrums (should those flowers have thorns to punish you? Should the car…engine…er…rev nicely?).

I find it hard to believe that this is entirely caused by either genetic or cultural influences.

I didn’t mean to say sexual orientation could be a choice here. My intent was to say that sexual behavior can be a choice. When it’s a choice I don’t think it fits the definition of orientation most people use.

njtt has already addressed the first part of this bogus claim. But it’s worth noting that the second part is equally baseless.

Estimates for the rates of homosexuality vary widely even in open and well studied societies like the US and Western Europe. It’s inconceivable that there could be a known rate of homosexuality in different cultures.

No one knows precisely. As with many aspects of human personality and psychology. Now what?

The overwhelming likelihood is that - along the lines of what TriPolar and Farin are saying - is that it’s mixture of genetics (and/or fetal environment) and culture/environment/nurture.

The reason this is overwhelmingly likely is that pretty much every other aspect of human personality and psychology are products of nature and nurture, and the baseline assumption has to be that sexual orientation is no different.

Stefan Alexander’s blog comment summed up a lot of my feelings.

Guess you forgot: Iran has no gay people.

If sexual orientation is so dependent on societal influence that means we could theoretically reverse the percentages and have 90% gays and 10% straight. Or at least move it significantly. Anyone think that’s theoretically possible?

Since homosexuals have been persecuted for so long in so many countries and the heteroarchy is so dominant it seems odd anyone would be influenced into being gay. Especially since it’s something far outside most kid’s understanding, even if they grow up in a liberal household. They know about mommies and daddies for years before they learn about any other setup. I’d also think this would imply that kids brought up under same sex couples would be way more likely to be gay (the fear of every fundamentalist), but as far as I know this isn’t the case.

Seems to me society and life experience mostly chips around the edges of wherever you start out. Like if you have a hot bossy librarian in middle school then maybe your ideal woman is a dom with short hair and glasses. Or Western men being conditioned to like high heels and office attire.

From the blog article:

Human sexuality is a spectrum and cultures play a role. For some people kissing a strange man on the face would be pretty gay, in others it’s just whatever. I humbly submit that most people would consider fingering another guy’s butt pretty gay.

IME a lot of people think women are naturally more bi than most men. Whether that’s actually true or men are more determined to hold it in I don’t know, but straight women can get away with stuff that if a man did it there’d be a ton of raised eyebrows – like complimenting each other’s bodies, lots of hand/shoulder/leg touching, and light kissing. Interestingly it’s been my experience that tomboys don’t tend to act like that, but probably a big YMMV.