If this baby's tag had said 'heterosexual', I might have believed it.

This image comes from an ad campaign mounted by the regional government of Tuscany in Italy. People sometimes accuse me of exaggerating when I say lots of people erroneously believe sexual orientation is fixed, unchangeable, and biologically determined from birth. Here is some proof that I am not just arguing against an exaggerated straw man.

The copy in Italian says, “sexual orientation is not a choice,” which I don’t disagree with. But sexual behavior in humans certainly is a choice.

There is an idea I just touched on in passing before that I wanted to return to specifically here, spurred by Tito’s post of an article about the fluidity of sexuality. That article touches on some interesting concepts but doesn’t explore some of the science behind it (which wasn’t its purpose. It was, after all, an advice column). And that is, if you look at the biological basis of sexual orientation, something curious emerges. That is, the biological contribution to homosexuality is pretty weak, but the biological contribution to heterosexuality is pretty strong. In other words, people may not be born gay, but they do appear to be born straight.

How can this be? Whenever data don’t make sense, there is a good chance there’s a problem with our mental categories. A lot of people have talked about how sexual behavior and orientation is socially constructed, or culturally influenced. I’m not sure that’s entirely true, but I think it’s undeniable that the modern conception of homosexuality would be unrecognizable to the Greeks, the Persians, Arabs, or the Sambia of New Guinea. All of those societies had relatively prevalent homosexual activity, but their ideas about what homosexuality was (as an ‘orientation’–if that made any sense at all) differ markedly from our own.

Is our conception correct, or more correct than theirs? The social constructionists would reject the question out of hand. There is no such thing as correct, or more correct. There is no “truth” but what we create and attach credence to. I have more sympathy with the enlightenment idea that there are fixed, unchangeable laws which are discoverable, testable and repeatable.

If you’re a social constructionist, you can stop reading now, since there’s no point in further inquiry. But if you sympathize with me, then before we continue I need to pause to define two scientific terms.

The first scientific concept is reliability. This means, “Does what you measure give the same result the next time you measure it?” For instance, I can come up with a very reliable IQ test. I count all your fingers. If I count 10 fingers this year, in ten years, if I count your fingers again, I’ll probably come up with 10 again. Very reliable. If you had 10 fingers when you were born, it is overwhelmingly likely you still have 10 fingers today, and will for your entire life. (If you have a problem with me using fingers to measure IQ, then you’re complaining about the validity of my test. Good catch! We’ll talk about that problem next.) I could also measure IQ by measuring height. This wouldn’t be a very reliable scale, however, because until we got to adulthood it would keep changing. (Still not a very valid measure of IQ, though you might be surprised to learn that IQ is slightly correlated with height.)

The second important concept is validity. In science, this basically means, “are you measuring what you think you’re measuring?” Or, “have you carefully defined your terms and what you’re measuring, so that people coming after you are sure to measure the same thing?” If we were doing a drug study measuring a particular drug’s effect on depression, it would be important that we correctly diagnose depression. If one of us measured depression as the number of frowny-faces a person showed, and another of us measured serontonin levels in the urine, the same person might not be diagnosed with depression in both cases. The drug might work better on serontinin-deprived people and less well on frowny-faced ones. The harder you think about it, the more you can wonder, do we really know what depression is? Does it really exist, and how do we tell it from other things, like just being sad? Can we always clearly diagnose depression, or are there borderline cases? A lot of concepts in psychology in particular end up being really hard to define. Fortunately, there are ways to test if a concept is valid in the scientific sense. But when comparing results across different studies, you have to pay especially careful attention to how the study’s authors define what they are measuring, because they aren’t always the same. We have been talking a lot about twins studies, for example, but each of them define and measure the prevalence of homosexuality in slightly different ways. And in a relatively rare trait like homosexuality, those slight differences can result in very large differences in the results. (Those who want to study the idea further can also investigate internal validity, external validity, construct validity–which is what I’m really talking about here, predictive validity, concurrent validity, and convergent validity. Turns out there’s a lot of kinds of validity!)

The problem comes with measuring things that naturally change. It’s a problem because you need reliability before you can know for sure if you have validity. If we are measuring depression, but the same people get depressed, then un-depressed, and later re-depressed, we won’t know for sure how much we’re measuring is depression and how much it’s a problem with how we’re measuring depression.

So when we talk about validity in the context of homosexuality, we have to ask, does something like ‘homosexual orientation’ make sense? Does it really exist, or could it be defined more precisely? The Greeks, for instance, would not consider the receptive partner in a homosexual coupling to be in the same category as the dominant partner. Modern gay culture is aware of this distinction, but I think they would both still be considered ‘gay’. The Sambia consider certain homosexual acts to be appropriate during certain ages, but they are not considered appropriate later. Homosexual behavior for them would be a phase, it wouldn’t make sense to talk about a homosexual orientation that stays throughout life for them. Some partso of Black American culture have men having sex with other men on the “downlow.” These men don’t consider themselves gay, but heterosexual men who enjoy the occasional sex with a man. Most of us laugh at this idea would probably label a man like that a confused closet case. But it would make a great deal of sense to the Ancient Greeks, I think. Add to these the other ideas surrounding homosexuality, whose validity we often do not question but which are also strongly bound up in our culture. What is normal, what is deviant, the notion of diversity, moral categories of right and wrong, virtue and vice. The concept of disease and health. If we say homosexuality is a disease, many cultures don’t recognize disease the way we do. I’m not saying ours is necessarily wrong on any of these points, only that we have to step outside of our culture to really be able to examine the question objectively and get at a more timeless truth. And also examine how we define homosexuality, and how we judge it may not be the most correct way to think of it.

So, is sexual orientation a valid and reliable concept? When it comes to heterosexuality, the answer appears to be largely yes. About 80% of the population exhibits lifetime-exclusive heterosexuality. They have always and forever been heterosexual. This lifetime-exclusive heterosexuality also appears to have a strong genetic and biological component.

So what about homosexuality? If heterosexuality is stable and valid, then its opposite, homosexuality, should be as well, right? That may make logical sense, but it’s wrong. Cohort studies like Kinsey or the NORC study show that the older you get, the less likely you are to both consider yourself, and behave, homosexual. And while the biological basis of heterosexuality, though not very well understood at all, does show a very strong biological basis, the biological basis of homosexuality is much weaker. And homosexuality is not just slightly unstable, either. The number of people who at one point considered themselves homosexual, and/or participated in homosexual activity, but who now aren’t, is larger (by about 50%) than those who continue to consider themselves and/or continue to participate in homosexual activity.

We always hear about cases in our culture where heterosexually married gay men can’t take it anymore and leave their wives and children and now are pursuing a homosexual relationship. We hear these stories so commonly that most people think they’re inevitable. Any woman would be crazy to marry a gay man because he’s going to cheat on her and leave her. I don’t want to rehash those arguments here, though let’s stipulate that this is an important decision not to be taken lightly or naively by either party. And certainly not as a solution to your homosexual problem. A woman is never, ever, going to “make you straight.”

Men leaving their wives for another man certain happens. It’s a real phenomenon. But let’s put it in perspective. What is the big picture? The population studies (the kind of study least vulnerable to sample bias though they are also prohibitively expensive) actually show the arrow overwhelmingly goes in the other direction. If you are a man living with a man, it is more likely that your man will leave you for a woman than a man living with a woman will leave that woman for a man! I’m waiting for Oprah to do an episode on that. (Jerry Springer, to his (dis)credit, already has.)

I admit this doesn’t at first make sense. How can lifetime-exclusive heterosexuality be stable, but homosexuality not be? If the one is true, shouldn’t the opposite also be true? You’ll be confused by this result until you wrap your head around an important, and not very intuitive (at least in our current culture) idea. Homosexuality is not the opposite of lifetime-exclusive heterosexuality. The opposite of lifetime-exclusive heterosexuality is best described, for lack of a better word, as non-heterosexuality. Non-heterosexuality would include homosexuality, but also bisexuality, transexuality, as well as various other paraphilias. And what we see is that these categories are somewhat fluid. People move among them more than they stay within any of them. At least half of them, probably more, become heterosexual and maintain a fair amount of functioning in that role. It is always possible to question those who change from one identity to the other, how sincere they are, their motives, and the durability of the switch. But to be fair, we ought to question equally the once-heterosexual who now identifies as homosexual as the once-homosexual who now identifies as heterosexual. Yet in today’s world the suspicion is all one and never on the other.

So if homosexuality isn’t biologically based, is non-heterosexuality? Maybe a little, but not a lot. But doesn’t it have to be? If lifetime-exclusive heterosexuality is stable and biologically based, shouldn’t non-lifetime exclusive heterosexuality be as well? Not necessarily. Let’s go back to my finger-counting example. If we looked at the state of having 10 fingers, we would find it has a strong biological component. But what about those with fewer than 10 fingers? There would be a slight contribution due to diabetes, heart disease, as these are genetically-linked disorders that often cause circulatory problems that might force amputations. But most people with 9 or less fingers are the result of accidents. Ten fingers can be genetic while less than that isn’t, for the most part. This is what Whitehead is trying to say when he says homosexuality is an accident.

Sharp-eyed readers will also realize I’m cheating a little bit. Notice how I keep sticking “lifetime-stable” in front of heterosexuality? I’m confining the notion of heterosexuality in such a way that it has to be reliable. By definition, lifetime-exclusive heterosexuals stay heterosexual. My definition ensures a reliable result. Fair enough. But a reliable result also allows us to test validity, and the model I am proposing (though I didn’t invent it) comports with the data in a more valid way than the traditional cultural model.

Could there be something we could call lifetime-exclusive homosexuality? And could that have a basis in biology so strong that we could slap a label on that baby in the picture above and be justified? I think that’s quite possible, but this would require a different diagnostic test (or label) for homosexuality than ones heretofore used, because of all the people we’ve ever labeled as homosexual at one point or another in their lives don’t stay that way. I can be confident in this because if there were such a thing as biologically-based lifetime-exclusive homosexuality and it comprised the majority of homosexuality (the way lifetime-exclusive heterosexuality comprises the majority of heterosexuality), we’d see stronger signals in the biological and genetic data than we have so far. It would look more like the biological evidence we have underpinning lifetime-exclusive heterosexuality.

When I describe all this, I’m not saying I understand it or it makes very much sense to me either. Blog posts are supposed to be freewheeling and speculative, and this one is certainly both of those. More than trying to advocate any point of view, I’m trying to encourage people to look at fundamental, but usually unquestioned, assumptions around notions of sexual orientation.

I do believe a careful look at all the hard data, and what it really shows, and worked deductively and inductively back from that, we would generate more interesting and useful knowledge and research areas than the currently politically-driven and culturally mandated concepts around sexual orientation. Right now, most people formulate what they think homosexuality and heterosexuality should be, and study that. They need to see what categories shake out from the data and statistics. I am thinking of something like Hans Eysenck did with factor analysis. Eysenck used psychometrics to design and administer personality tests and then applied statistical tests to them to see what factors shook out. Only then did he attempt to label them, reasoning inductively as to what they would be. But he always cautioned that though the statistical data were solid, the labels themselves were always suspect. There was always a possibility the label described more or less than the underlying trait you had discovered. Yet it was a clever way to solve the construct validity problem–Eysenck basically avoided it altogether. He tried to find reliable measures of certain unnamed traits and then studied them in a variety of ways. He didn’t try to understand what to call what personality trait he had discovered, at least as first, but he found a way to reliably discover people who exhibited those traits and then he could work backwards and see what they did. Only then did he attempt to label them. Others dispute the labels and came up with different frameworks, but he pioneered a whole new way to study personality. Factor analysis was very hard when he first started doing it in 1947 but now with computers it’s very easy.

My suggestion in this long-winded blog post is that lifetime-exclusive heterosexuality and non-lifetime-exclusive heterosexuality are better categories to study than gay and straight.

From a gospel perspective, there is a final point I’d make that is perhaps the most important one of all. I say this to the lifetime-exclusive heterosexuals. Don’t pat yourself on the back because you’re straight. You didn’t choose it and can’t take any credit for it through your life choices. You were born that way, and it doesn’t look like there’s any way you could change, even if you wanted to. We earn blessings when we resist our natural man. Those born heterosexual don’t need to resist any homosexual impulses. You aren’t necessarily better than him, and certainly not solely on the basis of not having homosexual attractions, even if he isn’t always successful in his strivings to keep his covenants. Every day he lives his covenants and surrenders his desires to what he knows and loves even more is a further day he’s ahead of you, if allow yourself to be deceived by the dominant culture which encourages or excuses heterosexual lust. God, I believe, rewards our choices, not our inclinations.

UPDATE: I have some graphs which illustrate some of what I am saying more clearly. A commenter asked for some references below, so I have attached them here. These graphs are from Neil Whitehead’s My Genes Made Me Do It! and the chapter these graphs came from is available here.

Men-Kinsey 1944

Women by Kinsey scale, 1953

men-laumann-1994.JPG

Women - Laumann (1994)

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21 comments

  1. avatar

    Borealis,

    Lots of good food for thought in this post. This is the one thing that I find hardest to accept:

    Men leaving their wives for another man certain happens. It?s a real phenomenon. But let?s put it in perspective. What is the big picture? The population studies (the kind of study least vulnerable to sample bias though they are also prohibitively expensive) actually show the arrow overwhelmingly goes in the other direction. If you are a man living with a man, it is more likely that your man will leave you for a woman than a man living with a woman will leave that woman for a man!

    Do have any references to actual studies for this?

    Anecdotally, it seems that those who move from homosexual identification/relationships to heterosexual identification/relationship tend to be women. I can think of a few examples off hand. I can’t thik of any men. But, again, these are just anecdotes, not data.

  2. avatar

    Borealis

    Good questions Chris. Let me first say that even the idea of people being born heterosexual is controversial and by no means the consensus.

    I’ll start from your last and go to the beginning, because that’ll be the longest answer. There is some data that support your anecdotal observations about comparatively more women leaving their same-sex partners for men. See D.J. West’s Homosexuality Reexamined (1977) and M. Nichols “Bisexuality in Women. Myths, Realities, and Implications for Therapy” in Women and Therapy, 1988, 7 2:235-252 where she talks about the spontaneous emergence of lesbianism after apparently happy heterosexual functioning in a marriage.

    I was being a bit dramatic when I said men were leaving their male partners to hook up with a woman. More likely these things happen after a same-sex relationship ends, rather than it being a cause of them, though I do know of a couple of cases of this with acquaintances of mine.

    I don’t know how to insert pictures into the comments, so I’m going to update my main post with pictures from the Kinsey report and the NORC study I mentioned above. A picture is worth a thousand words. Refer to those pictures up there as I continue the discussion here.

    Kinsey’s data have huge sampling problems, but I include it because it’s two generations removed from Laumann’s data and so is an interesting data point to compare. Kinsey is from the 1948 Sexual Behavior in the Human Male and the 1953 Sexual Behavior in the Human Female. Laumann is really the National Opinion Research Council’s publication in 1994 The Social Organization of Homosexuality. Note that Kinsey and Laumann have different definitions of homosexuality, and Laumann’s criteria for homosexual activity are unusually strict (basically homosexual activity in the past year only), so the numbers might be a bit lower than they should be. But that wouldn’t apply to the other two lines, attraction and identity.

    Note in the Laumann graph for same sex attraction in men, those in their twenties (and it’s too bad they couldn’t study earlier; other less well-sampled studies indicate this percentage would be even higher in teenagers) almost 7% of them are homosexually-attracted. But those in their 50s are only about 2% homosexually-attracted. These are cohort samples, not longitudinal, so Laumann was interviewing people in their 50s and people in their 20s at the same time, and that’s important to keep in mind. This is basically the source of my contention that more people were gay at one time than are gay now.

    But the numbers in other studies aren’t quite as dramatic. If we normalize the incidence of homosexuality to about 4%, then about 2% of men who now describe themselves as exclusively homosexual were at one time bisexual or heterosexual. And about the same percentage who were once exclusively homosexual are now either bisexual or heterosexual. So if we say that there are 6% of men who were/are at some point in their lives homosexual, then a third of them no longer are, a third of them used to be heterosexual and are now homosexual, and a third have been and still are. Also, about half of this percentage is bisexual. But if we believe Laumann and Kinsey, the older you get, the less likely you are to currently describe yourself as homosexual.

    A 2003 longitudinal study in New Zealand of 1000 children followed from birth by Dickson, Paul, and Herbison published in Social Science and Medicine 56 1607-1615 found that among 21-26 year olds, 1.9% moved into exclusive homosexuality and another 1% moved from homosexuality into exclusive heterosexuality. I suspect that follow-up studies will follow the NORC studies and show larger percentages of men leaving homosexuality than coming in as this cohort gets older than 26.

    You can also refer to Bell, A.P., Weinberg, M.S. and Hammersmith, S.K. (1981) Sexual Preference: Its Development In Men and Women, Bloomington, Indiana: Indiana University Press. And Cameron, P., Proctor, K., Coburn, K. and Forde, N. (1985) Sexual orientation and sexually transmitted disease. Nebraska Medical Journal 70 292-299. Both Bell and Cameron found the 2% number changing. Rosario, M., Meyer-Bahlburg, H.F.L., Hunter, J. and Exner, T.M. (1996) The psychosexual development of urban, gay and bisexual youths. Journal of Sex Research 33 11 3-126, and Rosario, M., Schrimshaw, E.W., Hunter, J. and Braun, L. (2006) Sexual identity development among lesbian, and bisexual youths: consistency and change over time. Journal of Sex Research 43 46-58. Rosario’s 1996 work is a longitudinal study of gay youths that said 57% of those sampled remained exclusively homosexual, but that the others had changed to some degree or another along the continuum. But the time scale was quite short, only twelve months. The 2006 paper is available online here. Laumann isn’t online anywhere very convenient, and it’s very expensive to purchase. Sadly, nothing on that scale has been repeated since.

  3. avatar

    Borealis

    As Chris mentions, you suggest some interesting ideas here, but the data on which these ideas are based need a little more clarification.

    Importantly, you preface this whole discussion with a description of reliability and validity. The issue of validity is relevant because there is no “little meter” under the left arm or anywhere that indicates someone’s sexual orientation. Therefore, when you talk about the Kinsey data or population probability data, it is necessary to explain and consider how such data were obtained. Laumann, et al used self identity data, sexual experience data and attraction/appeal data. All are forms of self report. Kinsey used self report as well. This creates all sorts of complications for getting true self reports on homosexuality (which is apt to be hidden or less accurately reported) as compared to heterosexuality which has no stigma attached to it. (And perhaps homosexual self reports are less accurate for older subjects which would contribute to the reliability problem) As a further concern, is the reliability in heterosexuality that you describe largely a function of its large prevalence so that a change of 10% is considered trivial among heterosexuals, but a change of 1% in homosexuals is considered huge? I can explain how this happens in the Kinsey data, as an example.

    Also, is it possible that you are reporting not on the same people followed in a longitudinal fashion when you speak of “life-time exclusive heterosexuals,” but different samples from different decade groups? If so, is it fair to report this as if you have stability data on the same sample of persons over a 20 or 30 year period??

    If we could know precisely the sexual or attraction response of every subject to a variety of desireable same and opposite sex persons and in fact follow the same persons for a long time that would be wonderfully useful and begin to be a valid measure. But even PPG responses cannot precisely measure attraction because sexual arousal is complex.

    So when you draw the conclusions you do, I think you need to be careful to describe your sample and how you are measuring “homosexuality.”

    You say,

    “Cohort studies like Kinsey or the NORC study show that the older you get, the less likely you are to both consider yourself, and behave, homosexual.”

    Maybe you need to insert in this sentence something like,…the older THE SAMPLE the less likely they are to SELF REPORT…behaving homosexual.”

  4. avatar

    Borealis

    I see you have posted some additional data since I began my post above which help with more data related to your initial blog.

    Let me clarify that I recognize that at least the expression and self report of sexual orientation changes for some over time, but I believe the concerns I mention in the post above are still relevant.

    It seems likely that for many individuals (and particularly those who are bisexual and those who have limited sexual experience) it may take them a while through their teens and early 20s, to gain enough experience to get a clear picture of their sexual orientation, even if it is quite stable over an entire lifetime. This again goes back to the difficulty of self report and our not having an “orientation meter” under our left arm.

  5. avatar

    Borealis:

    Thanks very much for the reply and the data you posted.

    When it comes to studies of homosexuality, the problem of self reporting seems to be the biggest obstacle to getting a clear picture of fluidity, percentage of population, etc.

    There was a time in my life not so long ago when the only sexual activity I was engaging in was heterosexual in nature (excluding masturbation). I also self identified as heterosexual. BUt I was still strongly and pretty much exclusively attracted to other men. Was I heterosexual? Bisexual? You could make an argument for either. Now, there’s no question that “homosexual” is the best classification for me. It describes my sexual activity and my attractions. Did I change? Behaviorally, cleary, yes, I did. But my underlying attractions and drive — my “orientation” — has been constant for as long as I can remember.

    Whether you are a social constructionist or a believer in natural law, one thing seems clear: homosexuality has been with us through the ages. Its expression has varied, and there seems to be a great deal of fluidity in individuals, but its presence in the human condition is constant.

  6. avatar

    Borealis

    Ron:

    Good points all and point taken about subsample margins of error being greater than the larger sample they were drawn from. And yes, I should say, “the older the sample” since no one, that I can discover, has followed the same population over the 50 years to really know for sure who’s changing. I guess I would even backpedal from what you characterize as my “conclusion”. One of the fun things about a blog is you don’t have to pretend to have it figured out and give the final word. You can have a playful post or a speculative post or a provocative post but not really be sure about it yourself. That’s what this is. I *think* the data suggest that heterosexuality is more innate and less fluid than homosexuality. But I’m far from sure about that. And I certainly concede there may be a subsample of homosexuals who more stable than others, and it would be really interesting if you could determine which ones were which beforehand. Without a true longitudinal study spanning decades we can’t know for sure. The Rosario study is interesting because it was a true longitudinal study that only lasted a year. But in just a year 43% of their sample show some fluidity in their sexuality. It’s a convenience sample of self-identified homosexuals recruited from LGT centers, so it’s hard to know how generalizable it is. (I think before I’m done here I’ll have taught an entire course on Research Methods!) And of course it’s too short a time period. I don’t think anyone really disputes that youth in particular have fluidity in their sexual identity. I have a different spin than the researchers, however, on why those most stable in their sexual identity are the most well-adjusted.

    Wouldn’t it be great for science if measuring sexual orientation was as easy as putting a picture up of Jesse Metcalfe and Eva Longorria and measuring the galvanic skin response? It would be good for science, but maybe not so good for the world. There is the plethysmograph, but it is far from accepted. Until we get something widely accepted, we’re going to have to live with the different measures and definitions.

    Chris:

    Agreed that homosexual behavior and homosexual love seem to be present everywhere we have looked. (Though I do think it’s ridiculous to claim that it exists in the same proportion everywhere and in every time. I hear that sometimes and I think it’s hilarious that people will say that, when there is no agreement even in the present-day United States as to the actual prevalence of homosexuality. And that’s with living people in a modern society, and yet these people are certain there were the same numbers in Ancient Greece or in the bush in Africa!)

    And as to your classification, I agree that the current classification of you is probably best, based on what you describe. And were you ever heterosexual? I don’t know. All I would say is we should pick a standard and be consistent. If we’re going to use self-reports, we’ll have to trust self reports. If we’re going to say you weren’t really heterosexual before (which seems very likely), then we could always claim there are tons of homosexuals who aren’t really gay now. People seem to accept the former, but not the latter, which is what this post was really trying to challenge–that there might actually be more reason to be suspicious of the latter than the former.

    There was a time when you might have described yourself as heterosexual and have felt that was honest and sincere. Until Ron invents his left arm meter, I don’t think we have any choice but to have taken your word for it had we asked you then, just as we should take your word for it now. Laumann at least tried to measure it three different ways. Which raises perhaps the most important question of all: what if your aspirations are inconsistent with your inclinations? Which one should your behavior follow? That’s a question each must answer for himself, but it is always important to ask, rather than act unthinkingly one way or another. You need a better reason than, “because the culture/my parents/my friends says I have to.”

  7. avatar

    Borealis:

    Intuitively, it makes sense to me that the proportion of homosexuals in the population would be more or less the same across populations, cultures and time. Homosexuals in centries past (and in some cultures present) simply didn’t have language or a frame of reference to express their same-sex attractions, even to themselves. So I tend to take the view that the proportion of people with a homosexual “orientation” is stable as part of the human condition, there is wide variation in the number of people who are willing/able to integrate their orientation as a part of their personal identity.

    As you have suggested, our ideas of sexual identity — particularly homosexual identity — are modern so it really is impossible to know with any certainty.

  8. avatar

    …there is wide variation in the number of people who are willing/able to integrate their orientation as a part of their personal identity.

    Which I think, by the way, fits with your point about conflicting aspirations and inclination and the influence of culture/parents/friends (and, I would add, religion, though that may be an aspect of culture).).

  9. avatar

    Borealis

    Thanks for being open to my input.

    It just occurs to me in your comments to Chris, above, you seem to be suggesting one is either hetero or homo……why not a little of both? Most survey self reports allow a bi or mixed response. If Chris has always been bi, but mostly gay, that would explain both his marriage and his present relationship.

    When someone is bi right in the middle, a 3, they can more easily follow their aspirations or their inclinations.

  10. avatar

    “homosexuality isn?t biologically based”

    don’t simplify what ain’t simple

  11. avatar

    Ron, I agree that a bisexual category would be helpful. Certainly my behavior over my lifetime has been bisexual when considered in aggregate. (However, my sexual inclinations have always been overwhelmingly homosexual. I have been asked from time to time why I don’t consider myself bisexual, and have answered that when I close my eyes, it’s always a man I think aout. My fantasy life is, really, exclusively homosexual and pretty much always has been.)

    I think the behavior/desire distinction is revealing and I would submit that desire often tells us a lot more about one’s fundamental sexual orientation than behavior does.

  12. avatar

    Chris

    When Kinsey and his colleagues developed the HH Scale, they originally weighted the Scale based half on behavior and half on feelings/dreams/fantasies. If that were applied during the time you were married, the behavior part would have been 0 and the feelings/dreams/fantasies, as you indicate would have maybe been a 6. When you average those you get a 3 which is in the middle.

    I agree that the feelings/dreams/fantasies part probably tells more about one’s fundamental orientation.

  13. avatar

    Borealis

    Chris, in your comment #7 above you touch on the fundamental questions I was trying to raise. Do we now have the correct language and frame of reference to really correctly describe homosexuality (and heterosexuality, for that matter)? I don’t think we do, even now. Ron seems to want to say if we average your behavior and your inclinations, we can put you at a Kinsey 3. But then that makes you essentially the same as someone who is attracted to and sexually active with both men and women, which I think you would agree is quite different from how you experience it. Therefore to say you and this other truly bisexual person are both a Kinsey 3 obscures more than it illuminates, in my opinion.

    Another way I have heard it described, and which I have found useful myself, is the distinction between facultative and obligatory homosexuality. Facultative homosexuality is the kind of homosexual behavior you might see a lot of in boarding schools, prisons, the military, where a lot of men are together and participate in homosexual activity simply because it’s available and heterosexual opportunities are very limited. This could also happen in general society that doesn’t have a lot of taboos, since men can be sexually stimulated in a variety of ways. “Any port in a storm,” as the saying goes. Obligatory homosexuals would be those who continue to feel homosexual, no matter how many strictures a society places on homosexual behavior and how little they actually participate in it. These would be a die hard core of homosexuality. So we might think that while the number of facultative homosexuals is quite variable, the number of obligatory homosexuals would be fixed. In this model, you would have been an obligatory homosexual, even though you were heterosexually active.

    Your orientation, in the sense of your homosexual inclination (i.e. when you close your eyes) seems to have been stable as far as you can remember. Therefore you naturally assume this is the same for everyone. So when you say “orientation” you think it is a level of attraction that is more or less fixed. Any variation in behavior we would attribute to trying to conform to social norms or “figuring things out”, not to any underlying change in the orientation. Yet there is evidence that for many people at least, this isn’t the case. Some people sincerely seem to have been obligatory homosexuals, and now sincerely seem to feel like obligatory heterosexuals. And vice versa.

    Note the very different assumptions behind “sexual preference” and “sexual orientation”. There is a great deal of difference in the assumptions underlying each term though, isn’t there? Yet, they are used blithely and interchangeably by many.

    Some people who describe themselves as bisexual will say it’s all about the person, that gender isn’t important to who you fall in love with and become sexually attracted to. I do know of cases where otherwise completely heterosexual men have fallen in love with just one specific man. (This is rare, but it happens.) And the cases of women doing that with other women are legion. In those cases, a lot of times the person will go back to the opposite sex if and when the relationship ends. Yet I’m not sure that applies generally either, even to many bisexuals.

    Your argument rests on the assumption that we know what sexual orientation is and that we finally have the right terms for it, and that as we now understand it it is a universal condition. I don’t think we can say that yet. A counter example (one I’m not sure can be supported empirically, but I mention it here only for illustration purposes) would be if you believe that poor relationship with the father is the primary cause of homosexuality, then a society like Japan that has relatively poor father involvement, particularly in the early years, ought to see a greater level of homosexuality. Societies with relatively strong father involvement, like Orthodox Jews, should see relatively few. This model would assume the opposite of what you do, which is that the prevalence of homosexual orientation would differ in each society according to the dominant family structure in that society.

    Whether you agree with that or not, you can at least see that the very question of cross-cultural prevalence of homosexuality goes to the heart of how we understand homosexuality and its cause(s). That’s why from a scientific standpoint it would be great if we could get a valid definition of homosexuality and a reliable way to measure it across many different cultures, and even time periods. But if we could do that, we’d probably already have the answers to the questions we were trying to ask.

  14. avatar

    Borealis:

    Your orientation, in the sense of your homosexual inclination (i.e. when you close your eyes) seems to have been stable as far as you can remember. Therefore you naturally assume this is the same for everyone.

    I didn’t say that. I was explaining why I reject “bisexual” as a label for myself. I have no way of knowing what kind of experiences others have when they apply the closed eyes test, other than what they report.

    A counter example (one I?m not sure can be supported empirically, but I mention it here only for illustration purposes) would be if you believe that poor relationship with the father is the primary cause of homosexuality, then a society like Japan that has relatively poor father involvement, particularly in the early years, ought to see a greater level of homosexuality. Societies with relatively strong father involvement, like Orthodox Jews, should see relatively few.

    I appreciate the use of this example for illustration purposes, but I think the “weak father” theory (and its corollary, the “overbearing mother” theory) is one of the weakest theories to explain the causes of homosexuality. Were weak or uninvolved fathers and overbearing mothers the cause of homosexuality, there’d be a lot more homosexuals in the world. That said, I do believe that culture greatly influences how we understand homosexuality.

  15. avatar

    Borealis

    Ron, in response to your comment #4, I would point out that the reduction in people feeling and acting homosexual continues to decrease well beyond the volatile and confusing 20s when everyone agrees identities solidify. And yet the declines continue quite dramatically all the way through the 50s, even though you’d think people would have things figured out well before then.

    Some people claim the reason for this is because of the dominant aspects of gay culture value youth and looks almost entirely, and that these people are dropping out of homosexual activity and identification as their stock declines and they become disillusioned with those values. There are plenty of other equally valid or more valid ways to explain the data of course, but the irony here is if that explanation is correct, then it would support the idea that people aren’t really changing their core orientation at all, but responding to cultural pressures. Of course, to really know, we’d have to find these men and women and ask them.

  16. avatar

    Borealis

    At one point I believe you suggested to Chris something along the lines….that he would probably have identified himself as heterosexual while he was married and now identify as gay. And therefore he would have to accept both labels and accept that he had changed. I simply said that it seems feasible to me that someone in a situation like that could be viewed as bisexual, and although predominantly gay, someone like that can function for a time as heterosexual, since there is some limited capacity in that direction. When I talked about a “3” being assigned while a gay man is married, it is not because I want that.

    “Ron seems to want to say if we average your behavior and your inclinations, we can put you at a Kinsey 3.”

    I was simply saying that is how the HH Scale works.

    At this point in time, the original HH researchers would probably assign a 5 because of the more recent developments and how that effects the overall picture.

    Nevertheless, here is, in fact, how I concluded that post and agreed with Chris about his expressed feelings.

    He said….

    “My fantasy life is, really, exclusively homosexual and pretty much always has been.)”

    I said….

    “I agree that the feelings/dreams/fantasies part probably tells more about one?s fundamental orientation.”

    While you (Borealis) have speculated here that sexual orientation changes a good deal and suggested that gay orientation disappears in later life, I question those general conclusions. I have mentioned in earlier comments some of the reasons I question and my reasons go beyond the uncertainties of youth which only begins to address the major difficulties of such conclusions including the major problem of self report accuracy in the case of a stigmatized identity.

    Rather than delving further into the speculations about data, here is one thing I find interesting. Most everyone who comments regularly on their feelings about sexual orientation on this blog and on other blogs linked to this one seems to convey the idea that orientation has remained rather steady in their lives. In fact, I would be hard pressed to remember anyone who has described the disappearance (gradual or otherwise) of their SGA. It seems that anonymity allows honesty without the problems of stigma and that in the presece of this honesty it appears that sexual orientation (in the way of feelings/fantasy/dreams NOT behavior) is rather constant, steady and NOT subject to much change.

    Perhaps there are a few exceptions to what I suggest above and, if so, it would be interesting to hear from anyone like that.

  17. avatar

    I know this is completely tangential, but I actually think I’m a Kinsey 6 these days. At my most “bi” I was probably a 4. So I agree that sexuality is fluid. However, getting to a 4 took great effort on my part. Being a 6 is a breeze. :)

  18. avatar

    Chris

    I assume you mean your Kinsey rating based on behavior AND feelings/dreams/fantasies has moved since you left your marriage. Didn’t you say the feelings/dreams/fantasies have remained pretty steady?

  19. avatar

    Borealis

    Fluidity in both directions was your point here, and I agree that happens. I believe it is easy to see some fluidity which appears when you include behavior in the measurement (as the full HH Scale does). When it comes to data on just feelings and you get reports on the same people over time (not different samples of different ages), to me when someone describes slight movement from a 4 to a 6, for example, or from a 6 to a 4 and they are still reporting some degree of homosexual orientation, I find that amount of movement somewhat inconclusive.

    A case in point is the NARTH data published in 2000 by Nicolosi, Byrd and Potts. They recruited subjects who had been trying to reorient their unwanted feelings for an average of 3.4 years. Of the 869 who reported feelings, 79 were Mormons.

    In the beginning, 90% reported strong feelings which were essentially 4, 5 or 6. In the end, most of this group seemed to have only moved a couple of positions and there were still 84% who reported some level of homosexual feelings. While there was some movement (fluidity) it seems to me that NARTH data are going to put the BEST possible spin on it. To have most only move a couple of positions and only 16% report they no longer have such feelings, suggests to me, that feelings tend to persist, even though the ratings may indicate they move down a bit.

  20. avatar

    Ron, yes, that’s what I meant. A 3 be the right number to assign to me during my marriage if you give action and thought/desire equal weight. But since I think thought/desire is more revealing than behavior, I’m giving it a little extra weight.

  21. avatar

    the kinsey scale carries great historical significance, but as a tool in the current understanding of gay behavior, it really doesn’t help.