Did You Choose To Be Straight?

When did you choose to be straight?

When did you choose to be straight?

When did you choose to be straight?

That’s a question gays and lesbians pose when they’re asked, “When did you choose to be gay? Or lesbian?”

Is sexual orientation chosen?

Have a look at some research. 

Brain response

Looking at brain response, male perspiration emits chemicals associated with sexual reproduction. These chemicals trigger a response in the hypothalamus of gay men and straight women. No similar response for straight men who sniff male sweat.

Other researchers had men and women, straight and gay, sniff two orderless substances that are closely related to testosterone and estrogen. According to the Chicago Tribune,

A compound known as EST, derived from the female sex hormone estrogen, increased blood flow in part of the hypothalamus in heterosexual men but not in heterosexual women. Conversely, a testosterone-related substance known as AND lit up the brains of women and gay men, but not heterosexual men.

Womb chemistry?

Interestingly, the more older brothers a boy has, the more likely he is to be gay. Not sure why. Women have a different hormone distribution than males, so when a woman holds male chemistry inside her womb for an extended time might her womb chemistry change?

Master sex gene

And then there are fruit flies, whose sexual orientation is controlled by a regulator of synapse strength (don’t ask). Researchers were able to use either drugs or genetic manipulation to turn their homosexual behavior on and off, suggesting a master sex gene. So who knows, humans may have a master sex gene, too.

Identical twin studies

Turning to twin studies, the identical twin brother of a gay man has about a 50% chance of being gay, too. Among fraternal twins that number drops to around 20%. Comparatively, about 5% of the general population is gay.

This suggests a strong genetic component.

Swedish researchers recruited subjects from the entire Swedish Twin Registry (the world’s largest), as explained here:

All 43,808 twins born in Sweden between 1959 and 1985 were invited to participate in a Web-based survey that comprised a wide range of questions about personal behaviors and experiences. The team ended up with a sample of 3826 twin pairs, of which 2320 were identical and 1506 fraternal. 

About 5% of men and 8% of women reported sexual activity with a member of the same sex at least once during their lifetimes. The results:

In men, genetic effects appeared to explain 34% to 39% of the differences between the two twin groups, whereas in women, genetics accounted for only about 18% to 19% of the difference.

So genetics have an effect. But why don’t all identical twins have the same sexual orientation?

Environmental factors, whether social or physical may play a role. And you have to wonder whether sexual activity “at least once” constitutes being gay or lesbian, so I wish they had also considered people who identify as gay and lesbian. I will discuss this question more later.

Boys reassigned as girls

Meanwhile, some boys have undergone sex reassignment surgery as infants, due to ambiguous or malfunctioning genitals. (Surgery performed thru no choice of their own, mind you). When they grew up they were virtually all attracted to women.

Christian men don’t change despite trying

Finally, think about gay Christian men who try desperately to change their orientation, hoping to move into the good graces of God and out of the bad graces of tormenting peers.

Despite undergoing torturous ordeals, their sexual preference does not appear to change.  I have heard from two men who went through this conversion therapy and later went on to sell the techniques to other hopeful gay men, saying that it had worked on them. Both of these men later reneged, saying the therapy had NOT really worked.

And some struggling gay Christians commit suicide.

Doesn’t sound like a choice

That doesn’t sound like a choice.

Looking at the data it seems that there is a biological basis for sexual orientation, though any one factor is not necessarily determinative, and culture or social interaction may even play a role. More later.

A longish article in New York Magazine gets into even more intricacies of the biology of sexual orientation, if you’re interested.

(This is the first of a 3-part series on sexual orientation.)

Related Posts

About BroadBlogs

I have a Ph.D. from UCLA in sociology (emphasis: gender, social psych). I currently teach sociology and women's studies at Foothill College in Los Altos Hills, CA. I have also lectured at San Jose State. And I have blogged for Feminispire, Ms. Magazine, The Good Men Project and Daily Kos. Also been picked up by The Alternet.

Posted on November 13, 2015, in feminism, LGBT+, psychology, sex and sexuality and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 47 Comments.

  1. It is important to debunk the “choice” issue, because that eliminates the issue of sin and of the rightfulness or wrongfulness of orientation. To those (especially those who bang the drum of religiosity) who condemn non-hetero sexual orientations, I simply respond, “God doesn’t make mistakes.”

  2. This is so important as we learn more about being humans. Society has dictated what it believes to be true and some of that has to do with fear. The good news is that science can help dispel myths. For those who believe it is a choice, I doubt they truly know anyone who identifies as gay. If they did, they would see all that one deals with, even at a time in our country and society when we talk about freedom. I think human nature searches for harmony, not personal challenge. Personally, I was born heterosexual. My best friend who I love and adore, was not. This was not a choice, and I can say that first hand because his has not been a simple life over the course of the 35 years we have shared. Trust me I wish it was simple, my life would be very different.

    • When you see the punishments that gay and lesbian to receive, it sure doesn’t make sense that it would be a choice, does it? And then there’s all this scientific research revealing the biological underpinnings.

    • What about bisexual people? They have the ability to “choose” who they want sex with as far as the same and opposite sex. They have more leeway and aren’t confined to one sex that straight and gays are “born with” be attracted to. What about heteroflexible people?, bi curious women, or pansexual people? Pan sexual people have the capacity or orientation that isn’t really stuck on a sex, but more focused on the “person” and their personality so the ability to choose and be attracted to either sex, no on their basis of their sex so much as` their personality and non physical features?

  3. So important to know that sexual orientation whichever it is is biologically choice-less– which means there is nothing wrong with us regardless of who we can/choose to love. Religions may disagree but if God really does make us all in his image, well then…

  4. What about women too? You just had a blog about women’s sexual fluidity, where it seems culture can effect and alter, atleast women’s sexual orientation. Not as far as overall preference but for it to stray slightly away from exclusive heterosexuality as far behavior wise? So it seems less biological for women and more leeway, therefore, more “choice” for women to try something or sway away to the opposite sex for a fling or relationship. To me, born orientation, that has no choice is one that is rigid, 100% straight, which apparently seems more for men.

    • In the article I wrote about the difference between orientation and arousal:

      . Orientation is stable and biologically-based
      . Arousal depends more on society’s ideas of what’s sexy

      What different societies think is sexy can vary quite a bit from culture to culture https://broadblogs.com/2015/10/19/sexual-fluidity-images-biology/#more-8438

      As a result, people can learn to experience arousal to things that aren’t inherently arousing. And it seems that women are more capable of this than men. Some straight women seem to be able to find breasts arousing, but gay men do not.

      You’ve also asked me before why a straight woman could find breasts arousing and yet not want to have sex with the woman. The answer probably lies in this distinction between orientation and arousal. Some women who are straight find breasts arousing, but the idea of having sex with a woman is uninteresting or a turn off.

      • I’m not tallking about a breast fetish like you talked about for yourself personally where you see it and it causes an aroused reaction, but its not toward the woman’s boobs and her body , but just like a pavlov reaction and then you move on. I’m talking about lesbian fantasies, lesbian porn, and being turned on, not because of seeing something taboo like for it did for you, but something that must’ve sparked sexual attraction or to find women sexually attractive and sexy. Women being able to be taught that seems like they are capable of trying the bisexual route, because there’s the key ingredient, sexual attraction which culture seems to be able to turn on or click on for women more so than for men or easier. If one is more rigid, then their orientation is more innate, thus biological, whereas, more fluid, can be altered and swing a little to try a same sex fling or think of it and probably want it, but just never do it.

      • I rarely experience the breast fetish anymore. But when I did the breast was very separated from the woman. It just had nothing to do with her. I didn’t even think about her. Maybe you are thinking about women with a different sexual orientation. But it gets confusing and I don’t know that we even have enough data to figure out what’s going on.

  5. And not related to this blog, but so sad the news tonight. My thoughts and prayers to the innocent people killed in the paris terrorist attacks and it’s just sad and depressing the way this world is going. Civil liberties being punished and where power and control from some men, again showing it’s ugly head trying to take out liberties away.

    • So sad. One of my friends, who is like a sister to me, has family in Paris. And Paris is one of my favorite cities in the world.

      And I don’t even see that the terrorists gain much by this. I guess this is used as a recruiting tool. But if you look at the suicide bombers they don’t even seem to get how disempowered they are — giving their lives so that more powerful men can feel more powerful.

  6. I was always curious about whether sexual orientation was a genetically decided factor or not. I always thought that as it had do with sexual orientation than it must be genetic. I never remembered a moment where I felt like I chose between a selection of sexual orientation options. It just seemed like very much like a natural thing.

    I do however, find the concept of a potential “master sex gene” for humans a bit worrying. People aren’t always very accepting of homosexuality and the potential to test for such a thing is a bit frightening when you consider who might hold that power and what they might do with it. I mean, with the expanding capability of prenatal genetic testing do you think people might consider homosexuality a reason to abort a fetus? That idea always kind of horrified me and made me hope that sexual orientation was more of a subconsciously learned behavior.

  7. So interesting Georgia! Of course we don’t ‘choose’ our sexual orientation…why would you? I’d never heard of the genetic component and the older brothers thing.

  8. I found this topic very interesting and something I tend to think about often. I’m honestly surprised there isn’t more research on this topic. We are influenced by everything that’s happening around us, theres is a reason we end up being similar in traits than the people we grow up around, who’s to say though our environment can or can’t affect if we decide we are gay or straight.

    I think it holds a fair point in a lot of the cases stated that it does seem that a lot of it can be biological. Although it seems like each year it’s more acceptable to be gay and intern it seems like there is more gay people. So it might be that we are just slowly evolving to accept what has always been present biologically, but accepted environmentally (per say) as well.

    I love where this post is going and I’m looking forward to reading the other parts of this series.

  9. I think this blog post conveys some great studies on the biological aspect of the LGBT community. Although there seems to be a definitive biological component towards the way the brain interacts with specific hormones, I do think that cultural social factors have an affect on the fluidity of sexuality we see in both sexes. It’s really interesting to me that there hasn’t been a lot more research on this, not just biologically but culturally. The concept of the “master sex gene” stems a lot of curiosity for me, and makes me wonder what truly dictates sexual orientation? Is it a mix of both biological and environmental factors, or could it be a gene we haven’t yet decoded? It’s a super interesting topic.
    It sucks that religion, which supposedly preaches love and inclusion, could condemn people based on their sexual orientation. Seems a bit backwards. I think the “choice” perception is rooted in ignorance and lack of interest to educate one’s self about these topics and the LGBT community. It’s definitely reassuring to see this civil movement finally making big strides, but we still have a long way to go.

  10. I rarely experience the breast fetish anymore. But when I did the breast was very separated from the woman. It just had nothing to do with her. I didn’t even think about her. Maybe you are thinking about women with a different sexual orientation. But it gets confusing and I don’t know that we even have enough data to figure out what’s going on.”

    Yeah I’m talking about women who get turned on by lesbian porn and sexually fluid like that where they find women sexy and sexually attractive. Not the breast fetish like you feel or others, where you’re not really find women sexually attractive but just responding to a signal, like pavlov and it’s just a reaction and then your mind goes back to something else. To men, if women like you explained are sexually fluid or ones having lesbian fantasies and getting turned on by lesbian porn. Well they may have a preference and will go with what they are mainly attracted to and may never go and want to have sex with women. But because of this latent attraction, it isn’t prohibiting these women or women who are sexually fluid or more likely to be than men as you say.

    They don’t have the “brakes” from stopping them from “choosing” sex with women, since they obviously won’t be or shouldn’t be repulsed with having sex with women or thought of it. A straight man doesn’t have that choice of doing anything gay, because of not finding men sexually attractive and not being sexually attracted to men. This in return is why a straight man “choosing” to have sex and be attracted to men is like you and I decided to drink piss, eat spiders, or doing something very gross. Yes technically you can do it, but you basically would have to be forced or put in an extreme position to do it, because it’s something striaght men would be repulsed by and not do at all, and definitely not enjoy and would only ever do if say like had a gun to their head or a family members head. Other than extreme situations, a straight men will not choose to do anything with, because biologically it’s built in for him to not be interested and not attracted causing him to repulsed with the thought of gay sex.

      • Yeah, I think it depends. I think the majority of people or atleast maybe more men, gay and straight is biological. But remember there is a kinsey scale that refers to orientation and sexulaity and how people can fall somewhere in the middle and probably many women with women being more fluid. This means a great capacity to be “influenced” maybe by culture to still prefer one sex, but be able to ‘choose” sex with the same sex. A completey straight person can’t “choose” to have sex with the same sex or be influenced to do so, because they are completely not attracted to the same in which it would be repulsive and just not sexually attractive. A person not on the far end and somewhere in the middle has more potential to be pursuaded in the right situation and context, because of the underlying, latent or dormant sexual attraction they already have of the same sex even if not realized yet.

      • Sure. That makes sense.

  11. Hard to believe anyone in 2015 would still be saying being gay is a choice. Anyone still saying that now is just ignorant and embarrassing themselves.

  12. I never really understood why people would ask in the first place “When did you become Gay/Lesbian” I think that our job really is to be supportive and understanding not try to pick at a situation that we just happen to be curious about.. I have a Lesbian friend and she happens to be my best friend but not once did I ask her where did the idea of becoming a Lesbian come about.. I just accepted her because to me sexual orientation or preference isn’t important. I look at the personality of the person and put everything else aside.. At the end of the day I am no one to judge and I don’t think I’m anyones psychiatrist to diagnose them or make assumptions.. I know that there are studies but that doesn’t exactly set in stone why that person is the way that they are.. I just don’t think I would be the person to ask, I just accept it. I’m really open minded about things of this nature and thats something that bothers my family sometimes..

  13. To me it is stunning to even hear people say ‘it is a choice’ these days ~ people are who they are. What is even more stunning are the people who are bothered by those who are gay and act as it if in someway affects their lives. You talked about objectification in your latest post, and in a sense it is similar to what is going on here – when the media/politicians force something into the spot light…there is always a group of people who make it into a cause. Not sure if that makes much sense, but the fact that any of this matters really confuses me at times.

    • And I’m not sure which direction it works. Does media Force it into the spotlight and then it gets a reaction? Or is there already a reaction, Some people try to change things, And then it gets into the spotlight? My experience is that more often these things go that second way.

  14. I don’t think its something that ou personally choose i think its something that you can either be born with like you where just like that since the get go or you just meet people and things happen that they might happen to be the one for you even if they might be of the same sex

  15. Sure. That makes sense.”

    This is not me trying to use this “choice” part as something against gays and lesbians or condemn them as people who think so do. Like I said, unlike others, I think just a small part have the ability to ‘choose’ whereas a majority of the population is born, and therefore stuck into their orientation whether it be straight, gay or bisexual. Others who see the choice aspect see it as gays and lesbians choose it, which I don’t belive they do. I believe if anything gays and lesbians don’t choose their orientation and attraction anymore than straight people. The same for bisexual people. It’s one’s like I said that might be the exception are one’s born straight, never had attraction, so no suppressing any latent attraction they’d be born with. But also having an opennes to “same sex’s beauty maybe” nd maybe more influenced and easier affected by culture and sex, regardless of the sex’es body like we have seen about fluidity from some women. That arousal ability from seeing the same sex as sexually attractive and be aroused, opens the door to being able to “choose” to have sex or experimenting or atleast making out with the same sex.

    • I think the fact that some people are in the middle of the continuum and have some flexibility creates confusion. Because the people at the ends don’t have that sort of flexibility.

      • yep. But either way, I don’t think it should matter if some “choose” or can choose because of their sexual fluidity. So like I said, me saying that is not something to use against gays and lesbians, because I don’t think there’s anything wrong with gay men and lesbian women wanting a relationship and ever marriage. I mean I really don’t care. People use that as a way to condemn the lgbt community.

        The ironic thing is that the few who might be the ones who can “choose” are NOT gay or lesbian, though that’s the groups who some conservatives hold it against. It’s actually the people who are otherwise “straight” that might have a little “hint” of choice from some fluidity and not gay men and lesbian women. Gay men and lesbian women are more likely rigid and set in their attraction and orientation, and born that way, than one’s born and who stay mostly straight. This seems to relate to women more than men though as discussed from your previous posts.

  16. Homosexuality is not a special thing in animals include human beings. For example, some zoologists said they found dolphin which has high intelligence quotient, also do homosexuality between males. From that many cases homosexuality was a big issue in biology and other researchers. And Some researchers tried to find a specific gene that occurred homosexuality as already mentioned in the article.. However, yet any scientists could not find and prove the gene which cause homosexuality.
    As the article said at the title ‘boys reassigned as girls,’ boys tend to seek girls when they grow up even he had undergone sex reassignment surgery as infants, due to the ambiguous or malfunctioning genitals. This fact can express that every human has a specific gene or portion which affect to homo or heterosexuality. However, in my personal opinion, I think homosexuality is an acquired trait for human (I do not know about other animals). In fact, many people who were in homosexuality, came out of it and changed to heterosexuality. If a gene is related to homosexuality, they could not run out from their because gene imprints same sex love.

    • i’m aware of some men who actually went on tour saying that the program has changed them, but later recanted. So I’m curious about those you have heard from who said that they had changed, whether they still feel that way. And whether they really have changed. There does seem to be a continual him with some people who are more in the middle able to move one way or another, which confuses things in terms of those who are strong gay or straight.

  17. This was an interesting topic, thanks for exploring it. This is truly a scientific question I am engaging with as well.

    There were some interesting scientific facts that you raised. In regards to the brain response, it is especially curious as I find it just a spectacular organ with it’s capabilities and functions. Our brains have the capability of being rewired in our thoughts and responses by creating new paths of thought. I can’t help but genuinely wonder if this comes in to play, not in the attempt of conversion to a heterosexual identification but as a contributing factor in one identifying as a homosexual?

    Though I’m interested in the scientific component/explanation of heterosexual and homosexual identifications, I have a hard time believing that the answer is found only in one discipline or element- it’s all interconnected. I question if there are not parts of conditioning that do not come into play?

    I look forward to the continuation of this blog series.

    • And even when you look at biology many suspect that it’s not just one thing, either. Some combination of factors coming together — and creating an experience we don’t have control over.

  18. Catalina Becker

    This is very interesting research that I hadn’t yet heard! One day, when I was letting my mind wander, I came to wondering what exactly is human sexuality? Is it really something we are born with where heterosexuality is the true norm or is this something created and subsequently followed religiously? I came up with a theory, though I’m not sure even then how much I believed it: what if we all, the human race, are inherently bisexual but due to unique (unconscious and not chosen) tastes that vary from person to person, we all fall on different spots on the spectrum of opposite sex to same sex attraction? Though maybe improbable and full of holes, it was an interesting idea nonetheless. However, the new research showing brain responses that connect gay men with straight women is really interesting. Perhaps this scraps my pseudo-theory entirely, but asexuality didn’t have much of a place there either. I wonder if there have been similar studies on the brains of those who identify as asexual? I’d like to see that.

  19. We cannot choose who we are whether it is gay, straight, or lesbian. I feel that ya there are religious issues that people may have, but you cannot hide your true self. And I think that everyone should accept this and be fair to one another. Because there is lots of punishments towards these different kind of people.

  20. In regards to other sexual orientations, such as bisexuality, asexuality, pansexuality, etc., has there been any research conducted that can prove not just hetrosexuality and homosexuality are results of genetics instead of choice? If not, could that be based up on the misconceptions towards bisexuality and asexuality. In such scenario, do you think that further research on those sexuality may cause the misconception to eventually go away within the lay population?

    • All I can say is that the research suggests a biological basis for our sexual orientation, But it also suggests that environmental factors and culture may play a role.

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