FeaturedScienceSkepticism

Is Sexual Orientation a Biological Sex Trait?

In a recent article on Neurologica, Steven Novella made the following claim:

Biologically there are three aspects of sex – primary sexual characteristics (genitalia and reproductive organs) secondary sexual characteristics (distribution of hair and body fat), and sexual orientation.

This is a claim I have encountered before, so I want to take this opportunity to debunk the notion that sexual orientation is a biological sex trait. To do this, I will deconstruct “sexual orientation,” as I feel that different understandings of this term can lead to misunderstandings and disagreement.

Novella appears to be using “sexual orientation” synonymously with “sexual desire/attraction,” and in that sense it is heavily influenced by biology. However, that is not the only aspect of sexual orientation.  For example, the American Psychological Association defines sexual orientation as

an enduring pattern of emotional, romantic and/or sexual attractions to men, women or both sexes. Sexual orientation also refers to a person’s sense of identity based on those attractions, related behaviors and membership in a community of others who share those attractions.

They go on to state that

Sexual orientation is distinct from other components of sex and gender, including biological sex (the anatomical, physiological and genetic characteristics associated with being male or female), gender identity (the psychological sense of being male or female), and social gender role (the cultural norms that define feminine and masculine behavior).

Setting aside what are probably by now my obvious objections to these definitions, what the APA definition gets right is the incorporation of behavior and identity into its understanding of sexual orientation.

When I teach sex/gender and sexuality to undergrads, I introduce the notion of sexual orientation as being comprised of these three components—identity, desire/attraction, and behavior—but also point to the ways that sexual orientation involves multiple facets, including biology, physiology, psychology, culture, and intellect, among others.

Some people claim that there is scientific consensus that sexual orientation is mostly biological; however, this seems to be to be an overreach. Again, the APA states (emphasis mine):

There is no consensus among scientists about the exact reasons that an individual develops a heterosexual, bisexual, gay, or lesbian orientation. Although much research has examined the possible genetic, hormonal, developmental, social, and cultural influences on sexual orientation, no findings have emerged that permit scientists to conclude that sexual orientation is determined by any particular factor or factors. Many think that nature and nurture both play complex roles; most people experience little or no sense of choice about their sexual orientation.

Another argument I could make against the notion that sexual orientation is a biological sex trait would be that sexual orientation is actually the identity that develops from the presence of certain desires/attractions and the behaviors associated with those desires/attractions. In this way, sexual orientation is not a biological trait, but a psychosocial trait that is influenced by biology (rather than a biological trait that is influenced by sociocultural patterns). But this gets into the sorts of nature/nurture, biology/culture dichotomies that I find troublesome.

As I’ve argued before, we are biocultural animals, and attempts to take complex human traits such as gender or sexual orientation and separate them into strictly (or even “mostly”) biological versus cultural traits is, in the words of Jonathan Marks, a “fool’s errand, the residuum of a pre-modern scientific approach to understanding the human condition.” Sexual orientation is quite obviously influenced by biology, but it is also influenced by other factors, including psychosocial and sociocultural factors. To stake a strictly biological claim to sexual orientation limits our understanding about what sexual orientation is, how it arises, and how it influences people’s lives.

I would be remiss if I failed to mention the political ramifications of a biologically reductionist view of sexual orientation. It may seem that the “born this way” view of sexual orientation is politically useful because it is an appeal to nature in a society that equates “natural” with “normal.” The argument goes that if I am born gay, you should not be able to keep me from being treated equally because it’s not something I can control. I’m not doing anything wrong by being gay because it’s natural, and therefore normal.

On its face, this may seem like a convincing argument; however, the counterargument is that if it is strictly biological, then it can be “fixed” through biomedical intervention (I link to that text as a demonstration of the ways biomedical interventions have been used in other ways to “correct” what are viewed as problematic human bodies). If history is any indication, when certain forces gain social credibility, they can use scientific and pseudoscientific claims to do some pretty horrific things. I would not be at all surprised if beliefs about sexual orientation being biologically determined were used in similar ways that beliefs about race as a biological category have been used (and still are used) against people of color. This is all to say that there are implications behind professing a belief in the strictly biological basis of sexual orientation. Not only is it a belief not based completely in the available evidence, it is also a belief that has the potential to cause serious harm to many people.

Tags

Will

Will is the admin of Queereka, part of the Skepchick network. They are a cultural/medical anthropologist who works at the intersections of sex/gender, sexuality, health, and education. Their other interests include politics, science studies, popular culture, and public perceptions and understandings of anthropology. Follow them on Twitter at @anthrowill and Facebook at facebook.com/anthrowill.

Related Articles

65 Comments

  1. Loved the post, but I think you left out one consequence of viewing sexual orientation as biological that is closely connected with the possibility of “fixing” people through biomedical intervention. If we argue that people shouldn’t be discriminated against based on sexual orientation because it is something they can’t control, we’re assuming that they would change it if they could. It still asserts the idea that there is one “good” or “desirable” sexual orientation and all others are deviations that must be put up with for the simple reason that they can’t be changed. It’s a form of inclusion that is still highly exclusionary and that opens the door for “fixes” or “cures”.

  2. Your comments don’t just apply to sexual identity or sexual orientation. I have a son who is diagnosed with an autistic spectrum disorder (ASD), and what I noticed is that the impairments (to the extent I can understand them at all) are many levels removed from the behaviors people notice. There’s probably something neurological underlying it all, but it’s not easy to figure it out because there are many levels of processing going on before whatever differences there are show up in behavior. Add to that the mental processes themselves develop as a result of interactions with the environment. Also, life experiences have a huge effect on people; it’s hard to imagine that they don’t affect sexual orientation.

    A second issue, which you don’t exactly address, is that (I would argue) the division of people into discrete categories of “heterosexual, bisexual, gay, or lesbian” is artificial. People vary all over the map (and change over time), and to the extent they appear to neatly fall into these categories (and stay in them), it is because society only has these pigeon-holes to put people in, and there are all kinds of subtle and not-so-subtle pressures to fit into some ISO standard category of sexual orientation (preferrably “straight”, of course.)

    The same goes for gender identity. In addition to “cis”, Society (now) has a Standard Model for M2F (or F2M) transsexuality, which it appears a lot of trans* people don’t actually fit into all that well.

  3. “Another argument I could make against the notion that sexual orientation is a biological sex trait would be that sexual orientation is actually the identity that develops from the presence of certain desires/attractions and the behaviors associated with those desires/attractions. In this way, sexual orientation is not a biological trait, but a psychosocial trait that is influenced by biology (rather than a biological trait that is influenced by sociocultural patterns). But this gets into the sorts of nature/nurture, biology/culture dichotomies that I find troublesome.”

    But doesn’t that also mean it could be “treatable” in the way that some people think? I mean, honestly, once you get down to any reason psychological or biological… if you KNOW the reason (and there must be one.. it isn’t like something magical like a soul bequeaths your orientation to you), then it is always possible to treat or mitigate.

    1. Note I did not say psychological, I said psychosocial. Religion is a psychosocial. Economy is a psychosocial. We don’t (necessarily) view those things as a pathology (though I know many atheists will analogize religion to disease). So, the problem as I see it is that non-normative identities are pathologized as “deviant” and “abnormal.” If someone views them as “treatable” it’s because they view them through a biomedical lens as a disease, regardless of whether or not it is psychological, psychosocial, or biological.

      Why do you think there must be one cause to sexual orientation? How do you know it’s not a suite of causes?

      But even if they are viewed as “treatable” through a psychological lens, that still doesn’t mean sexual orientation is a biological sex trait.

        1. Doesn’t the idea that sexual orientation is a biological sex trait that is hardwired in the brain during fetal development give credence to the idea that you can influence the development of a fetus to be gay or straight?

          Why do you keep insisting that there is only one cause, either biological or psychosocial? I’ve repeatedly stated sexual orientation is most likely the result of multiple causes. It is most likely both biological and psychosocial because there are multiple facets to what sexual orientation entails.

          Also, sexual orientation is not just “gay” or “straight” or “homosexual” and “heterosexual.”

  4. I am so tired of so called normal and normative accounts of sexual orientation and a host of other orientations that are locked ironclad into biological arrays of fatalism, fascism. I wish the entire political discussion of SO would reframe to one of choice–have the guts to stand up to theological rhetoric of chosen salvation. Why should people only gain freedom if they have no control of themselves when the premise of democracy is choice?

    When I worked at SI in SV the manufacturing guys were excluded from a restaurant next door because they had gotten rowdy, stupid. Restaurant and company management created a tie policy to keep all of them out–they worked in blue collar clothes. I put on a t-shirt under a leather jacket and went in with some of my staff and was kicked out. Restaurant contacted the company, traced me to my boss, VP of Engineering, who called me in and told me I hadn’t been discriminated against because I could change my clothes while he could be discriminated against because he was a POC and couldn’t change his skin color. Of course they knew the manufacturing guys couldn’t-wouldn’t redress after work. It was basically the end of our relationship and I screwed my slim chance to replace him ever by arguing that choice is often as merited, and is the core of egalitarian freedom. At least I didn’t call him Uncle Tom.

    Later, he sends a women to talk to me with whom he’s presumeably having a work affair and I basically told her she was being taken advantage of and that was it; I made two adversaries. In this case it was his high sexuality that was biologically driven that made his philandering excusable.

    Biocultural questions are going to become far more severe shortly as money, and it will be expensive, buys various chemical and mechanical devices (human enhancements) that redefine and further extend class stratification, calling into ontological question issues of determinism, fatalism, and choice. Soon the culturalisms of science as expressed by Althusser will be updated and shown not only to be true but dominant.

  5. re “On its face, this may seem like a convincing argument; however, the counterargument is that if it is strictly biological, then it can be “fixed” through biomedical intervention”

    Hmmm, I would have thought the reverse might be more problematic. i.e. If sexual orientation is not biological then it can be ‘fixed’ through ‘counselling’.

    I was under the impression that being ‘born one way or the other’ was an argument to shield one from intervention of any kind. A sort of live and let live argument, yes? Or have I got this all wrong?

    1. >>>>>>I was under the impression that being ‘born one way or the other’ was an argument to shield one from intervention of any kind. A sort of live and let live argument, yes? Or have I got this all wrong?>>>>>

      Yes, that was indeed the actual reason often. To make one’s choice seem inevitable, immutable. Not political. Not social. Not a negative theology of being. Also supported by the idea of predestination and salvation by grace in religion. We need to get beyond that just as Calvin is dead, dead, dead–in spite of the baptist churches recent reinvolvement. It is also supported by the Platonic know thyself to find, resolve, the immutable, eternal forms within us which is one reason i dislike Plato so much while still enjoying the saying.

      My personal take on it is I want to know myself not as eternal forms but as an ongoing dialog with all aspects of myself to create-follow my destiny and allow other aspects to flourish–some things are more mutable than others but it’s dynamic and not static. The politics of it is a bigger issue for some which is why I’m a philosopher and not a politician.

      Speaking of knowing myself. I have gout today, bad. I can take it as it is is. Do NSAID medicine. Change possible lifestyle etiosis. Muse it as some sort of punishment for some choices. Revel that I can read, watch videos and not work. Use it to gain sympathy from friends and family or feel bad they do. It helps to determine what’s going on within the context of my biology and culture and then I can also resolve in more ways.

      I could also say I have been attacked by a demon and I need to exorcise it. Oddly enough, if I do nothing it will still go away, or not. With some 20-30 variables it’s way too sticky to just make it polar. I could even cherish it as a way to fixate on myself or revel on my expensive diet many in the world do not have==fetishize it. Or curse my genes that inclined me to it.

      This matrix of my being allows me to resolve my subjective life within the objectivity of an unresolvable reality==what used to be called the subjective experience or the relation of the particular to the universal. For a western doctor the whole thing takes 5 minutes to diagnose and fix.

  6. Will – While I agree with your basic take on the issue, I fear your selective reference to my original article and subsequent “correction” will lead your readers to have a misconception about what I wrote.

    First, you are basically making a semantic argument. It is clear from my post that I was using the term “sexual orientation” in its most common usage, to refer specifically to sexual desire/attraction. The definition you prefer includes aspects of gender and identity, which I agree is largely psychosocial.

    Further, by including sexual desire/attraction as a biological trait, that does not imply that there are no other factors. The evidence suggests, and you seem to agree, that it is dominantly biological. I also wrote, which you did not quote: “This is not to say that culture and society do not affect behavior, but the evidence suggests that basic sexual desires are hardwired into our brains, and can even be considered a secondary sexual characteristic.”

    If you disagree with this, I would be happy to discuss the neuroscience with you.

    One point where I would disagree with you – I think the issue of whether or not sexual orientation can or should be “fixed” is independent of the question of the degree to which aspects of orientation are biological vs psychosocial. I think we can make a solid ethical argument for respecting people’s privacy and choices on such a personal matter so central to our life and identity without reference to ultimate cause. I would caution specifically against hitching an ethical position to an underlying scientific reality. The science is what it is, no matter what our ethical desires.

    In other words, if it turned out, based on evidence, that orientation were largely biological, that would not matter one bit to respecting personal freedom. Further, we should not argue against the science based upon alleged ethical implications or potential for abuse.

    1. Steve,

      First, you are basically making a semantic argument.

      I’m not sure if you say this as if semantics are unimportant or as a way to try to dismiss my criticism of your perspective on sexual orientation. The way we use words matters.

      It is clear from my post that I was using the term “sexual orientation” in its most common usage, to refer specifically to sexual desire/attraction.

      This is an argument from assertion. You need to demonstrate that that is the “most common usage” of the term sexual orientation. I provided a quote from the APA that demonstrates something different than what you’re saying. So, for example, when I say “I’m gay,” I’m not just saying “I’m a man who is attracted to men.” I’m saying a lot more than that. I’m also expressing an identity. I’m expressing my belonging to a certain community, a community that is built on more than just same-sex attraction.

      So, I reject your assertion that that is “the most common usage” of the term. I believe that is a common usage in biomedical culture due to the biologically reductionist nature of biomedical practice. That doesn’t mean that’s how the term is commonly used by everyone.

      The definition you prefer includes aspects of gender and identity, which I agree is largely psychosocial.

      It’s not just the definition that I prefer, as if I’ve made this up or something. It’s the commonly accepted definition for anyone who studies sex/gender and sexuality.

      Further, by including sexual desire/attraction as a biological trait, that does not imply that there are no other factors.

      I agree, and I never made an argument that states otherwise.

      The evidence suggests, and you seem to agree, that it is dominantly biological.

      What is “the evidence?” You keep saying that, but you haven’t actually provided any evidence to support this claim. And I think that it is biocultural, with biology playing an important role, but I wouldn’t use the word “dominant.”

      I also wrote, which you did not quote…

      Well, I was really using your statements as a jumping-off point to discuss the idea that sexual orientation is a biological sex trait. I wasn’t intending to do a full critique of your post.

      If you disagree with this, I would be happy to discuss the neuroscience with you.

      That’s kind of patronizing, and I really don’t appreciate that.

      As far as the last two paragraphs of your comment, I agree we should be weary of hitching ethical positions to scientific findings. My point was that, in reality, it’s done all the time. So, making claims about the “hardwiring” of human identity does influence social policy and the ethical positions that people take. You say that, ” if it turned out, based on evidence, that orientation were largely biological, that would not matter one bit to respecting personal freedom.” I don’t agree. Ideally, it wouldn’t matter, but practically it does matter. I feel that the argument that scientific findings do not influence how people treat other people, both individually and on a societal level, is a bad argument that ignores the history of how science has been utilized in oppressive ways.

      So I guess my question to you is this: You make the claim that sexual orientation is a biological sex trait. It is something we use to categorize bodies as “male” or “female.” How does that work, exactly? When sex is assigned to a body, how does that person’s orientation inform the category they are assigned to? How does “homosexual” assign a body to the “male” or “female” category in the same way that the presence or absence of certain genital morphology or hormones or chromosomes or body features (hair, voice, adiposity, etc.) are used to assign bodies to those categories? Even if I were to grant your argument that sexual orientation is “dominantly biological,” you still haven’t explained how sexual orientation is used to assign a sex category.

      1. Will,
        I am not taking sides in this discussion but I noticed something in your reply.

        First you say that Steven made an assertion that the definition he was using was “common usage”, and that is a fair point, it does seem to be an assertion. But then you said that your definition was “the commonly accepted definition for anyone who studies sex/gender and sexuality”.
        Is that not an assertion as well, and what makes it more valid then Dr. Novella’s definition? Especially given that you concede that his definition might be “common usage” in the bio-medical field.

        I do not know the answer and am not trying to imply one either way, I was wondering about the apparent contradiction.

  7. The only incontrovertible point I see is the APA quote and position and that assumes one accepts their authority which was the topic title. After that for me it was a springboard for my particular rambling without translation to wit:

    Not to play language games but OK I will. Every difference in biology is a class even if the morphology has an extent, member, of one. Additionally, possible nonexistent extents can also count as there is always a black swan aspect to morphology. The entailment of any and all to the morphology is also always tied to extents and possible but unknown extents. Any external relevance within or to a class is constrained by consciousness such that utility is not only predefined but a dialog feed back. Nominal class distinctions can have a different utility, function in that someone somewhere along with some sort of hegemony has determined that a class whether one or a million is relevant, even if only in nomenclature.

    That this is relevant is because it affects how we choose to live life, even if by default. We could also just turn off consciousness and let intuition, autopilot, do all of the work.

    I apologize if I too sidestep the next issue, above biology, having been stated, the cliff from which we all jump, as moot but for the personal as for example even sports could allow women, trans, or gorillas, mice or men. Bathrooms could be all gender, all sexual(s). It could also be the other way where every class has a separatist existence. The entire construct is artificial, political, and devoid of internal meaning which is what I think everyone is really after as without that there can be no meaning added–the destruction of meaning by meaning, violence of being. Perhaps, we can look forward to computers that have such vast analytical, computational, and working memory as to allow them to function with greater extent and scope of variables than we can hope for or desire. In other words I don’t even know how to fully assess which position will work most effectively in achieving future goals I value, desire, know with courage much less the world’s.

    In the meanwhile, aside from the misplaced semantic criticism above from the originating author favoring the reverse of the APA I am in favor of fuzzy boundaries and heuristics, slightly above cognitive biases, such that we can minimize pain and support happiness while still accommodating a class of one–even if only a molecular mutation perhaps unable to do well–add evolution to this and even this meaning becomes irrelevant, solipsistic. It’s just a selfish impulse to desire freedom only because I know no other way but bacterial uniformity has been the most successful in spite of meiosis meeting many adaptation power games.

    But I did really enjoy reading it all. It does seem to me the desire is personal, political and neither science nor philosophy, while insisting on the presumed autonomy, lack of mendaciousness, of personal authenticity invoked or was I et al just misreading because we would all rather write than read, or have no choice but to do so? Aaah, gout, pain med’s, text, and music….

  8. Will,
    You wrote: “I’m not sure if you say this as if semantics are unimportant or as a way to try to dismiss my criticism of your perspective on sexual orientation. The way we use words matters.”

    Neither. I am pointing out that the way you presented my position you used a semantic argument o make it seem as if we disagreed on substance. I understand that using technical terms properly is important. I am not even disagreeing with your technical definition. I am simply pointing out that I was using the term as is commonly colloquially used, and the definition I was using was made clear in my original post.

    If you need me to support that this is a common colloquial definition, every dictionary I consulted gave some variation on this definition: “one’s natural preference in sexual partners; predilection for homosexuality, heterosexuality, or bisexuality,” which is the definition I used. I would also point out that in the medical literature “sexual orientation” is often used to refer to sexual desire/attraction.

    Again – it’s fine to point out the technical definition, just don’t use that to misrepresent my position.

    You wrote: “Well, I was really using your statements as a jumping-off point to discuss the idea that sexual orientation is a biological sex trait. I wasn’t intending to do a full critique of your post.”

    Fair enough – but as I said, your post was crafted in such a way that your readers would likely come away with a misconception about my position.

    You wrote: “That’s kind of patronizing, and I really don’t appreciate that.”

    I apologize. That was honestly not intended to be patronzing. I am simply pointing out that if we disagree on that narrow point (which was not clear from your post) the argument then becomes about the neuroscience.

    You wrote: “You make the claim that sexual orientation is a biological sex trait. It is something we use to categorize bodies as “male” or “female.””

    This is not my position. By saying that sexual desire/attraction is dominantly biologically determined, that does not imply in any way that it is a feature used to categorize bodies. Rather it is simply stating that what an individual finds sexually attractive is dominantly determined by biological factors – some combination of genes and the hormonal environment in the womb. This is multifactorial, I am not saying there is a simple correlation. But the most dominant factors are biological, rather than psychocultural.

    http://archpsyc.jamanetwork.com/article.aspx?articleid=495588
    http://psycnet.apa.org/journals/psp/78/3/524/
    http://psycnet.apa.org/journals/bne/124/2/278/
    http://www.sciencemag.org/content/225/4669/1496.short
    http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v404/n6777/abs/404455a0.html
    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9442354
    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24179069

    Taken together the evidence strongly supports genes and hormones.

    Regarding the final point about political abuse of science, I agree that it happens. It is also fine to point out when a bad argument can be abused. But we have to be careful not to give the impression that a scientific argument is bad because of the potential for abuse.

    1. I am pointing out that the way you presented my position you used a semantic argument o make it seem as if we disagreed on substance.

      I think we do disagree on substance—see below.

      I understand that using technical terms properly is important. I am not even disagreeing with your technical definition. I am simply pointing out that I was using the term as is commonly colloquially used, and the definition I was using was made clear in my original post.

      If you need me to support that this is a common colloquial definition, every dictionary I consulted gave some variation on this definition: “one’s natural preference in sexual partners; predilection for homosexuality, heterosexuality, or bisexuality,” which is the definition I used.

      In a way, this feels like goalpost shifting. You’re able to invoke colloquialism to say that you were not trying to be technical while your entire article was a technical inquiry into sex/gender and the differences between the two. Unless you’re trying to make the claim that your article was a colloquial discussion of sex/gender and the differences between the two and was not meant as a science-based inquiry into those categories??

      Anyway, I’m always weary of dictionary definition wars because, hey, look, I can find a definition that supports my position, too. From the Oxford English Dictionary:
      “a person’s sexual identity in relation to the gender to which they are attracted; the fact of being heterosexual, homosexual, or bisexual.”

      Merriam-Webster defines it as, “the inclination of an individual with respect to heterosexual, homosexual, and bisexual behavior,” which could certainly be interpreted in many different ways, especially considering it does not include the word “natural” or “desire” or “identity.”

      I have a feeling, though, if you were to really examine how people use “sexual orientation” in their everyday speech, you would find that it’s not only about desire or attraction, but that it’s also about gender norms and identities.

      Ultimately, my problem is that you’re using the term “sexual orientation” to be the equivalent of “sexual attraction/desire,” and I think you should be more specific with your claim rather than erasing the behavioral and identity-based aspects of sexual orientation with your claim that “sexual orientation is a biological sex trait.” If you had claimed instead that “sexual desire/attraction is a biological sex trait,” I still might have had issue with it because as I see it it is a bicultural trait that should not be simply reduced to biology (or, on your insistence, brain structure), but I likely wouldn’t have commented on it.

      So it seems to me that your defense against my criticism is, “I was using the term colloquially in a technical discussion of sex/gender, so your critique is misguided.” Wouldn’t the better approach be, “Whoops, I was using the word colloquially when I actually meant sexual desire/attraction,” rather than insisting that your equivocation is okay on colloquial grounds in a technical discussion? Why the resistance?

      I would also point out that in the medical literature “sexual orientation” is often used to refer to sexual desire/attraction.

      Something I already conceded. Also something I heavily critique in my own research. And while it may be that the medical literature uses the term in that way, the way that the definition is operationalized in practice is through a behavior-based view of sexual orientation—“Do you have sex with men, women, or both?” Approaching sexual orientation in that way is one of the reasons there are queer health disparities. It leads to providers who view sexual orientation solely on biological/behavioral terms, and allows them to ignore the sociocultural aspects of sexual orientation such that they are ignorant of (and often reproduce through heteronormativity and trans-/homophobia) the social determinants of queer health disparities. I can give you plenty of examples of how this definition influences the delivery of health care to queer people, based on my own experiences, my conversations with other queer people, my own informants in my research, and the literature on queer health disparities.

      So I get that this is how the term is generally used in medical literature, but that does not mean that it’s the right way to define the term. Much like how race is still defined biologically in medical literature, but that doesn’t make race a biological trait.

      Again – it’s fine to point out the technical definition, just don’t use that to misrepresent my position.

      But I’m not misrepresenting your position. Your position is that sexual orientation is a biological sex trait, is it not? I am arguing that sexual orientation is not a biological sex trait because there are factors other than biology involved in sexual orientation. You call that a semantic argument, as opposed to a substantive argument. I call it being precise with language, especially when you’re engaged in a technical discussion of the differences between sex/gender. I mean, do you think that people colloquially distinguish between sex and gender? Why do you feel it is appropriate to make the argument that you can use a particular colloquial definition of sexual orientation while trying to correct the colloquial use of sex/gender? It just doesn’t make any sense to me.

      That was honestly not intended to be patronzing. I am simply pointing out that if we disagree on that narrow point (which was not clear from your post) the argument then becomes about the neuroscience.

      Neuroscience is not the be-all-end-all of sex/gender/sexuality research. Have you read outside of the neuroscience, or even biomedical, literature on sex/gender/sexuality?

      By saying that sexual desire/attraction is dominantly biologically determined, that does not imply in any way that it is a feature used to categorize bodies. Rather it is simply stating that what an individual finds sexually attractive is dominantly determined by biological factors – some combination of genes and the hormonal environment in the womb.

      …What do you think “sex” is? It is an ontological category we use to categorize bodies based on biological characteristics. I think this is where the substance of our disagreement is. It appears to me that you are confusing the representation (the category of sex) for the thing (material bodies). And again, I take issue with your imprecise use of language—“what an individual finds sexually attractive” is a broad statement. People find all sorts of things like clothing (or the lack of clothing), other types of body adornments, hair styles, sounds, etc., sexually attractive. Are you telling me that finding those very cultural things attractive is determined by genes and hormones? Or, do you mean to say that what kinds of bodies individuals desire or find attractive are determined by biology? Please, be precise. It matters.

      As for the studies you link, I am familiar with most of them, and there are problems with many of them. For example, some of those studies are quite old and outdated (1971, 1984, 1991), a few (especially the older ones) only looked at heterosexual people and gay men, and some of them are animal studies that look at behavior (how do you measure “sexual desire” in a rat, exactly?) and not at sexual orientation in humans.

      Here is a critique of the finger-length study, mostly focused on the ways it reproduces heteronormativity but it also includes some criticisms of the statistics and methods of the study. You will note that in the meta-analysis you linked to that they indicate there is no statistically significant difference in finger length between heterosexual and homosexual men, and people who are not hetero- or homosexual (e.g., bisexual, pansexual, asexual, etc.) are not represented in either study.

      Here is a population-based twin study from Sweden that finds something a little bit different than the Australian twin study you link to.

      Here is a study that looks at the ways that hormone therapy can change brain structure in adults. And here is a study that looks at stability and change in sexual orientation in adulthood—they find there is some fluidity in some people’s sexual orientation. So much for “hardwired”?

      There’s also other important critiques (here, here, and here) of the science behind sex differences, including the neuroscience.

      I guess this is all to say that it’s not as straightforward and “strongly supported” as you make it out to be. There is still a lot we don’t know, and a lot of the research is contested on various grounds, including the ways that gender norms and beliefs about sex/gender and sexuality make their way into studies that bias the outcomes (as is evident in the finger study).

      Regarding the final point about political abuse of science, I agree that it happens. It is also fine to point out when a bad argument can be abused. But we have to be careful not to give the impression that a scientific argument is bad because of the potential for abuse.

      Well, it’s a good thing I never advocated for the view that science is bad because of the potential for abuse. I pointed out that a biologically reductionist view of sexual orientation (one that ignores the sociocultural aspects of sexual orientation) has very real effects on the lives of sexual minorities and people who are gender non-conforming. The paper from Hegarty (linked above that critiques the finger-length study) demonstrates how biologically reductionist arguments about sex/gender and sexuality work into popular imaginings, which influences how sexual minorities and people who are gender non-conforming are treated on multiple levels, from their everyday experiences to interactions with institutionalized heteronormativity, as is rampant in the biomedical profession.

  9. Well I’m confused. The title of this thread is “Is Sexual Orientation a Biological Sex Trait?” Steve says >>>> “Further, by including sexual desire/attraction as a biological trait, that does not imply that there are no other factors.” <<<<
    I take this to mean that there is most likely a biological underpinning (percentage debatable), and then, depending on environmental influences later in life, the individual expresses his sexual orientation within the limits the biology allows.

    After re-reading Will's replies and article more than once, I must admit I am now complete confused about what your position or point of contention with Steve is any more.

    Will, I humbly request could you please give us lay persons (well ok maybe its just me) an dumbed down version of where you disagree. Please keep it simple.

    1. My point is that sexual orientation is not a biological sex trait. I used his post as a means of exploring one example of how the term “sexual orientation” was used incorrectly. He is trying to have it both ways, setting up technical distinctions between the terms sex and gender while claiming to use the term sexual orientation colloquially. My contention with his defense of his post is that if he’s going to try to set up that technical dichotomy, he should be precise in his use of language.

      Look, this:

      “Further, by including sexual orientation as a biological trait, that does not imply that there are no other factors.”

      and this:

      “Further, by including sexual desire/attraction as a biological trait, that does not imply that there are no other factors.”

      Do not mean the same thing. Like I already explained, if he had said the latter the first time, I most likely wouldn’t have commented on it. Even if I wouldn’t have commented on that particular claim, I still disagree that sexual desire/attraction is a biological sex trait. It is influenced by biology, that’s certainly not a point I’m contesting, but sexuality is not a biological sex trait in the same sense that chromosomes or genitals or hormone levels or body hair or adiposity are. Sex is a concept we use to categorize bodies according to biological traits. Sexual orientation and sexual desire/attraction are not part of that categorization process in the same way that those primary and secondary sex characteristics are. I reject the clumping of both sexual orientation and desire/attraction with those traits.

      This is not just some critique I made up or invented, by the way. There’s a ton of literature on this, some of which I linked to in a previous comment (especially the three books) and also discussed at length in my post and its subsequent comments last week.

      1. 4tune8chance>>> Thanks so much for taking the time to respond, I hope you will indulge me in a couple of more questions.

        Will (November 3)>>> My point is that sexual orientation is not a biological sex trait. I used his post as a means of exploring one example of how the term “sexual orientation” was used incorrectly. He is trying to have it both ways, setting up technical distinctions between the terms sex and gender while claiming to use the term sexual orientation colloquially. My contention with his defense of his post is that if he’s going to try to set up that technical dichotomy, he should be precise in his use of language.
        Look, this:
        “Further, by including sexual orientation as a biological trait, that does not imply that there are no other factors.”
        and this:
        “Further, by including sexual desire/attraction as a biological trait, that does not imply that there are no other factors.”
        Do not mean the same thing. Like I already explained, if he had said the latter the first time, I most likely wouldn’t have commented on it. Even if I wouldn’t have commented on that particular claim.

        4tune8chance>>> At this point I think a clarification of my understanding would help me.
        If I express the following thought “I am physically attracted to person X, but not person Y” is that expression an example of my sexual orientation?
        If I express the following thought “I am physically aroused by situation X, but not situation Y” is that expression an example of my sexual orientation?
        If they are not examples of sexual orientation what should they be called?
        Could you provide an couple of examples of what you mean by sexual desire/attraction and orientation please.

        Will (November 3)>>> I still disagree that sexual desire/attraction [4tune8chance – did you mean orientation at this point?] is a biological sex trait. It is influenced by biology, that’s certainly not a point I’m contesting, but sexuality is not a biological sex trait in the same sense that chromosomes or genitals or hormone levels or body hair or adiposity are.
        I agree that the genetics and body parts are a far simpler concepts to deal with to the point that it hardly need be addressed.
        But I would have thought that the biology is what we act upon and environment modifies, suppresses, or enhances it from that basic starting position. Its not like we have to learn what is attractive to us. If it is not a biology driven trait then what is driving it? Do you imply that we are ‘clean slates’ and can learn and unlearn desires and attractions? The reason I am somewhat a bit nervous with this is, that I can see the headlines now “Gays choose there life style, and a bit of counselling will set them straight”.

        Will (November 3)>>> Sex is a concept we use to categorize bodies according to biological traits. Sexual orientation and sexual desire/attraction are not part of that categorization process in the same way that those primary and secondary sex characteristics are. I reject the clumping of both sexual orientation and desire/attraction with those traits.
        This is not just some critique I made up or invented, by the way. There’s a ton of literature on this, some of which I linked to in a previous comment (especially the three books) and also discussed at length in my post and its subsequent comments last week.

        Regarding language I make this comment – If there is is some contention on what is ‘orientation’ as opposed to a ‘desire’ (or any words for that matter) then we need to consider who our audience is and will they understand. Its all well and good claiming one should be the other, but at what point do we have to concede that “a rose by any other name……..” and that if the majority of the population use a word one way, is that wrong? Well thats my ‘theory’.

        1. At this point I think a clarification of my understanding would help me.
          If I express the following thought “I am physically attracted to person X, but not person Y” is that expression an example of my sexual orientation?
          If I express the following thought “I am physically aroused by situation X, but not situation Y” is that expression an example of my sexual orientation?
          If they are not examples of sexual orientation what should they be called?

          So this is a great example of how you’re not incorporating other aspects of sexual orientation or sexual desire/attraction into your questions. You frame the question around “physical attraction” after I have already said that attraction is necessary but not sufficient to define sexual orientation. Why “physical” attraction? Why not “emotional” attraction or “intellectual” attraction? You’re privileging the biology in an attempt to reduce the definition of sexual orientation to its biology. Of course those statements could be an expression of sexual orientation, but they do not express the entirety of someone’s sexual orientation. My swishy walk and limp wrist can also be read as expressions of my sexual orientation. The fact that I call myself “queer” or “gay” is an expression of my sexual orientation. The fact that I’m a member of the LGBT community is an expression of my sexual orientation. I could go on, but I think you get my point.

          Could you provide an couple of examples of what you mean by sexual desire/attraction and orientation please.

          The more I’m engaged in this conversation, the more I want to separate out desire from attraction, because I don’t think they’re the same thing (despite the fact that we have been conflating them).

          Sexual desire could be yearning or longing for a particular kind of trait or traits exhibited by or within a person. Sexual attraction could be feeling drawn to a particular kind of trait or traits exhibited by or within a person. Sexual orientation is a suite of traits, including at least identity, behavior, and attraction, and is constituted through multiple axes including biology, culture, intellect, emotion, psychological, aesthetic, etc.

          I still disagree that sexual desire/attraction [4tune8chance – did you mean orientation at this point?] is a biological sex trait.

          No, I meant’ sexual desire/attraction.

          But I would have thought that the biology is what we act upon and environment modifies, suppresses, or enhances it from that basic starting position.

          I’ve provided evidence both in the post and in other comments that shows how this is not entirely accurate.

          Its not like we have to learn what is attractive to us. If it is not a biology driven trait then what is driving it?

          It is a biocultural trait, both biology and culture are driving it. Are you denying that there are any cultural aspects to attraction? Why might an American heterosexual man find a woman in a slinky black dress showing cleavage attractive but not find a Yanomamo woman with reeds through her nose and ears attractive? Of course he might still be attracted to her body, but that attraction is mediated by how her body is adorned. In this sense, we do learn what is attractive and what is not attractive, even though there may be some biological drive towards certain kinds of bodies going on as well. My point is not that there is no biology going on, but that there is an interplay of biology and culture going on, and it is difficult (if not impossible) to tease the two apart.

          Regarding language I make this comment – If there is is some contention on what is ‘orientation’ as opposed to a ‘desire’ (or any words for that matter) then we need to consider who our audience is and will they understand.

          Are you saying I should dumb it down just to let some biological reductionism slide by because it’s more appealing to skeptics?

          Its all well and good claiming one should be the other, but at what point do we have to concede that “a rose by any other name……..” and that if the majority of the population use a word one way, is that wrong?

          Neither you nor Steven Novella have demonstrated that “a majority of the population” uses “sexual orientation” to mean exactly the same thing as “sexual attraction.”

          I’m really rather annoyed by these insistences that we should not use language precisely when it comes to sexual orientation. Do you use the same argument in response to creationists who would like to make “evolution” mean something different? I’m pretty sure many skeptics (including Steven Novella? I seem to remember hearing this argument from him but I could certainly be misremembering) argue that we should be calling people “global warming denialists” rather than “global warming skeptics.” At what point–and perhaps more importantly, for what reasons–do you insist upon a precise use of terminology?

          1. 4tune8chance>>>> At this point I think a clarification of my understanding would help me.?If I express the following thought “I am physically attracted to person X, but not person Y” is that expression an example of my sexual orientation??If I express the following thought “I am physically aroused by situation X, but not situation Y” is that expression an example of my sexual orientation??If they are not examples of sexual orientation what should they be called?

            Will (November 4)>>>> So this is a great example of how you’re not incorporating other aspects of sexual orientation or sexual desire/attraction into your questions. You frame the question around “physical attraction” after I have already said that attraction is necessary but not sufficient to define sexual orientation. Why “physical” attraction? Why not “emotional” attraction or “intellectual” attraction? You’re privileging the biology in an attempt to reduce the definition of sexual orientation to its biology. Of course those statements could be an expression of sexual orientation, but they do not express the entirety of someone’s sexual orientation.

            Ah I see, so sexual desire is a sub-set of sexual orientation.

            Will>>>> My swishy walk and limp wrist can also be read as expressions of my sexual orientation. The fact that I call myself “queer” or “gay” is an expression of my sexual orientation. The fact that I’m a member of the LGBT community is an expression of my sexual orientation. I could go on, but I think you get my point.

            Thats interesting your saying that there is whole gambit of,…. (not sure what is the right language here) ‘gay tells’ and social preferences that should be included in Sexual Orientation. If am now understanding the terminology correctly the sexual part of sexual orientation is not specifically referring to sexuality, is that right?

            Will>>>> Sexual orientation is a suite of traits, including at least identity, behavior, and attraction, and is constituted through multiple axes including biology, culture, intellect, emotion, psychological, aesthetic, etc.

            I should have read further before commenting.

            will>>>> I still disagree that sexual desire/attraction is a biological sex trait.

            4tune8chance>>>>> But I would have thought that the biology is what we act upon and environment modifies, suppresses, or enhances it from that basic starting position.

            will>>>> I’ve provided evidence both in the post and in other comments that shows how this is not entirely accurate.
            Its not like we have to learn what is attractive to us. If it is not a biology driven trait then what is driving it?
            It is a biocultural trait, both biology and culture are driving it. Are you denying that there are any cultural aspects to attraction? My point is not that there is no biology going on, but that there is an interplay of biology and culture going on, and it is difficult (if not impossible) to tease the two apart.

            Oh no I’m not denying cultural influences, rather I was thinking in a chicken and egg scenario, as in, which comes first. The other idea I was contemplating was what we would feel if we were brought up in isolation by wolves and then all dumped together,… boy meets girl, and what would happen. How much do we have to learn and is there a basic core instinct.
            re interplay – Consider the plight of a Gay muslim in say Saudi Arabia. I would imagine there would be little to no ‘gay’ culture and active suppression preventing the orientation part of sexual orientation developing. Yet I would think such a person would still be gay and would still want to be gay. This I would think supports a strong biology component.

            Will>>>> Are you saying I should dumb it down just to let some biological reductionism slide by because it’s more appealing to skeptics?
            Neither you nor Steven Novella have demonstrated that “a majority of the population” uses “sexual orientation” to mean exactly the same thing as “sexual attraction.”
            I’m really rather annoyed by these insistences that we should not use language precisely when it comes to sexual orientation. Do you use the same argument in response to creationists who would like to make “evolution” mean something different? I’m pretty sure many skeptics (including Steven Novella? I seem to remember hearing this argument from him but I could certainly be misremembering) argue that we should be calling people “global warming denialists” rather than “global warming skeptics.” At what point–and perhaps more importantly, for what reasons–do you insist upon a precise use of terminology?

            Ok here is my take on this issue on the precise use of language – I am in two minds on it as there is a case to be made on both sides i.e. ‘accuracy’ on one side opposed by ‘evolving’ on the other.
            But after giving this some thought, I think it comes down to “what are the stakes?” To allow creationists to hijack terms to further their agenda has consequences felt in law, education, truth, science funding, and if taken to extremes the fall of civilisation and a return to the dark ages (ok that may be a bridge to far). On global warming if science is suppressed as a consequence of misrepresentation of terms, then preventative measures are delayed, and we are all doomed (well more that we are now anyhow).

            What would you consider are ‘the stakes’ regarding the misunderstanding of Sexual Attraction being confused with Sexual Orientation. (I am assuming there is no deliberate attempts at misrepresentation).

          2. The other idea I was contemplating was what we would feel if we were brought up in isolation by wolves and then all dumped together,… boy meets girl, and what would happen. How much do we have to learn and is there a basic core instinct.

            You need to go read the Jonathan Marks article I’ve linked to repeatedly. You cannot try to look at human beings separate from their culture because that would not be looking at human beings. In your imaginary scenario, you are trying to strip humans of culture to try to look only at biology, as if biology precedes culture. But it does not. They arise in human beings in tandem.

            Consider the plight of a Gay muslim in say Saudi Arabia. I would imagine there would be little to no ‘gay’ culture and active suppression preventing the orientation part of sexual orientation developing. Yet I would think such a person would still be gay and would still want to be gay. This I would think supports a strong biology component.

            Well, the argument goes that if there are “gay” people in Saudi Arabia, they are “gay” because of the influence of Euroamerican societies. This is not to say that there are not people who are attracted or desire same-sex sexual interactions before those influences; rather, the term “gay” connotes more than just attraction (as I’ve been arguing all along). The “gay” identity arose in “the West.” There is lots of literature that demonstrates how that identity has migrated around the world (for example, I can think of the ways this has been documented by anthropologists in Indonesia, see here and here.)

            So, like I’ve been saying all along, of course there is a biological component to attraction and desire, but there is more to that in the word “sexual orientation” and to equate the two obscures entire aspects of people’s lives.

            Ok here is my take on this issue on the precise use of language – I am in two minds on it as there is a case to be made on both sides i.e. ‘accuracy’ on one side opposed by ‘evolving’ on the other.
            But after giving this some thought, I think it comes down to “what are the stakes?” … What would you consider are ‘the stakes’ regarding the misunderstanding of Sexual Attraction being confused with Sexual Orientation. (I am assuming there is no deliberate attempts at misrepresentation).

            I’ve already addressed this in other comments. Look for my comments on health disparities.

          3. Thanks Will, for all your replies, you have given me much to think about. I will certainly do my best to use the language as you have described it, as I feel you have made some important points. But it is difficult to change and I suspect I will occasionally relapse out of habit.

            I should conclude that this has been an enjoyable and stimulating debate in which I have learned much, I especially thank your patients in taking the time for answering what must be the thousandth time you have explained all this before I’m sure.

  10. Will,
    Why are you still arguing with Steven after he made it clear that what he meant by “sexual orientation” was “sexual attraction/desire”? Your entire post is about the first, “sexual orientation”, while Steven is talking about the latter. So how can you debunk his claim (as you said were going to do), if you’re not even talking about the same thing?

    Furthermore, I haven’t learned anything more about your position in the post; I’m still confused. Can there be a discussion about these topics without endless arguments about why one definition is really more helpful than the other? If the argument for a particular definition is that it will somehow preclude negative connotations or social stigmatization, we’re really getting away from the meaning of words. It’s also very unhelpful to take a term like “sexual orientation”, and just start shoving in every possible connotation and related topic into the same definition. In your quote from the APA, it says “Sexual orientation also refers to…” Also. It also refers to. Meaning the term can be used in different contexts, to mean different things. Why write an article about one thing where you disagree with what someone said about some other thing, without ever making it clear that you appreciate the difference? I’m certainly not learning anything about the problems with the original claim when you’re not actually addressing them.

    That’s what your argument is, that sexual orientation cannot possibly be a biological trait because you define it to be due to a combination of factors. Well then of course, you win. If you take an argument about one concept and change the concept without changing the argument, it will be wrong. At this point, I’m not even sure what you mean by sexual orientation. What are we arguing about? Basically, Steven said A = something, and you said, A cannot equal something, because B is a combination of C and D. Do these kinds of arguments happen constantly in anthropology or only when there is discussion between fields? Is this a toes-stepping thing?

    Okay, I’m really not trying to be unpleasant, I’m just trying to point out all the problems with what’s going on here. Any reader is going to see a lot of conflict between your post and the statements you make in the comments. Here are the logical problems with your reasons why Steven (or other scientists making the biological determination claim, let’s deflect that one right here) is wrong. You say, “Another argument I could make against the notion that sexual orientation is a biological sex trait would be that sexual orientation is actually the identity that develops from the presence of certain desires/attractions and the behaviors associated with those desires/attractions.” Okay, right there, you’re redefining it to be an identity. As in, a good chunk of who a person is, right? Of course that involves tons of factors. Biologists and neurologists are talking about the aspect of sexual preference, the “presence of certain desires/attractions”. I’m not saying you’re wrong that sexual orientation leads to an identity, or even the highly debatable point that that’s what a person means when they say “sexual orientation”. If we did, then no two people could share a sexual orientation; my sexual orientation could only be described by a detailed analysis of my socioeconomic background, my difficulties during puberty, my first encounter with an R-rated movie. Anyway, your rebuttal does not work because it just isn’t sufficient. Your argument and evidence is, “That can’t be that, because that isn’t that”, or maybe the other way around. What is the background for your belief? Can you demonstrate its veracity? I am super interested in a well supported argument against a biological origin for sexual orientation, but you haven’t mentioned one single specific factor that has been shown to lead to one outcome or another. If there aren’t any, or at least none that you’ve seen, how can you conclude that it’s a combination of factors? For all you’ve shown us, it could be one or ten thousand factors. Which are they, and how do we know?

    That seems to be it for your evidence, which I will readily concede may exist. I know when people blog about science, they don’t include whole research papers and analysis every time they mention electricity. However, you had room for it, because in the next paragraph you round out your argument with a quote that should really convince us of your correctness. It basically says Steven has to be wrong because it’s wrong to use biology to explain humans. Well, where’s the solid, testable, explanation that doesn’t involve biology, or that shows the balance between the two? I don’t get it. If we’re “biocultural animals”, how come we can’t look at the bio part? Why do you feel compelled to say, hey hey hey, hold on, there’s still a lot of cultural influence. Show me. Show me the cultural influence that can dominate the biological factor. I really, really want to hear about that. Why didn’t you write that article instead? I don’t know chemistry very well, so I could not be more sincere when I say that I want to read about these other factors.

    To wrap it up, you absolutely did imply that the argument was wrong because of political and social implications. When Steven said, “we have to be careful not to give the impression that a scientific argument is bad because of the potential for abuse”, you knew he was referring to the last paragraph of your post. When you say, “Well, it’s a good thing I never advocated for the view that science is bad because of the potential for abuse”, that comes off as really petty. A person with two non-heteronormative neurons (that was just fun to write) to rub together can see you made a total straw-man out of his statement. We all know he was politely telling you that your final statement about his claim, that “not only is it a belief not based completely in the available evidence, it is also a belief that has the potential to cause serious harm to many people” was nonsense. How could a reader possibly not think that your last two paragraphs had something to do with why we shouldn’t believe the claim? Two whole paragraphs about what happens when people think something. That’s what that was about, nothing to do with the validity of Steven’s claim. The part you left out was it doesn’t matter what people think the origin of something is, if they don’t like it they’ll find a way to justify it. Do you really think that, say, homophobes don’t like gays, but also really hate the assertion that psychological traits could be due solely to hormonal variations in utero? Is that a biocultural result too? Probably just cultural. People will think whatever they want to think about a group they want to persecute. A cultural origin or a biological origin is not inherently, or even connotatively, negative, so how could finding it was one or the other cause an increase in bigotry? After all, you said, “I would not be at all surprised if beliefs about sexual orientation being biologically determined were used in similar ways that beliefs about race as a biological category have been used (and still are used) against people of color”, which means you don’t know. So now we’re reducing words to meaningless labels that point to nothing and ignoring scientific evidence because maybe some bad human beings will misinterpret it. Great.

    Now please, tear this apart. But please use some logical consistency when you do. Taking a word and expanding it to mean every possible thing is not a valid argument\conjecture\idea\concept\noun\thing\system\universe\existence\all.

    1. Why are you still arguing with Steven after he made it clear that what he meant by “sexual orientation” was “sexual attraction/desire”? Your entire post is about the first, “sexual orientation”, while Steven is talking about the latter. So how can you debunk his claim (as you said were going to do), if you’re not even talking about the same thing?

      How disingenuous. Did you even read my post or the following comments??

      He did not just “make it clear” that he meant it that way. He doubled down and provided dictionary definitions as “proof” that the two words mean the same thing colloquially. I disagree with that assessment. Dictionaries are not necessarily indicative of how people actually use language.

      I understand that in his mind he was talking about desire/attraction. My point is that he should say that in his post them, rather than say sexual orientation, because the two are not equivalent terms.

      Furthermore, I haven’t learned anything more about your position in the post; I’m still confused. Can there be a discussion about these topics without endless arguments about why one definition is really more helpful than the other?

      Endless?? Are you joking? There’s 20 comments, four of which are me and Steve talking to each other.

      If the argument for a particular definition is that it will somehow preclude negative connotations or social stigmatization, we’re really getting away from the meaning of words. It’s also very unhelpful to take a term like “sexual orientation”, and just start shoving in every possible connotation and related topic into the same definition.

      I never made that argument. I never “shoved every possible connotation and related topic” into the same definition. You’re being disingenuous.

      In your quote from the APA, it says “Sexual orientation also refers to…” Also. It also refers to. Meaning the term can be used in different contexts, to mean different things.

      “Also” does not mean the same thing as “or.” It means additionally. Seriously, now who is trying to shift meanings of words?

      Of course the term is used in different contexts to mean different things. I’ve already acknowledged that by noting how the word is used in medical literature and in medical practice. What I’m arguing is that, when someone is making a technical distinction between sex and gender, they should use a more technical definition of the word sexual orientation and not try to fit that concept under “sex” because that ignores all the ways that it is gendered.

      Basically, Steven said A = something, and you said, A cannot equal something, because B is a combination of C and D.

      You obviously have a fundamental misunderstanding of the argument. Steve said “A = something.” I said “That’s not what A means.” Steve said “Well, when I say A, what I really mean is B.” My reply to that is, “Then say B = something and not A = something.”

      Biologists and neurologists are talking about the aspect of sexual preference, the “presence of certain desires/attractions”.

      Then they should say that and not say “sexual orientation.” I’m not the one re-defining terms. In the example you’re giving, they are being sloppy with their word choices. I’m sure you can appreciate that word choice matters, yes? Or do you think that people should just be able to use words however they want and be free from criticism when those word usages lead to misunderstandings of the concepts they’re supposed to be studying?

      I’m not saying you’re wrong that sexual orientation leads to an identity

      That’s not what I’m arguing. That would mean that sexual orientation precedes an identity, and I do not believe that it does. Sexual orientation does not lead to an identity, it is an identity (among other things).

      I am super interested in a well supported argument against a biological origin for sexual orientation, but you haven’t mentioned one single specific factor that has been shown to lead to one outcome or another. If there aren’t any, or at least none that you’ve seen, how can you conclude that it’s a combination of factors? For all you’ve shown us, it could be one or ten thousand factors. Which are they, and how do we know?

      Again, disingenuous. You either have not read any of the other stuff I’ve posted, or you’re ignoring it to try to make points in defense of Steve. If you really are “super interested,” why don’t you do a little research and discover some stuff for yourself rather than expecting me to educate you beyond what I’ve already linked to? Also, I’m pretty sure Steve doesn’t need you trying to defend him. He and I can have this conversation and it will result in whatever it results in, but you’re really only muddying the waters and not doing anyone any favors.

      It basically says Steven has to be wrong because it’s wrong to use biology to explain humans.

      Again, not my argument. I would say that it is wrong to use only biology to explain humans, but I am not saying that’s what Steve is doing. His post certainly goes into gender as a sociocultural category and how sex and gender are related. But by placing “sexual orientation” or even “sexual attraction” under biology (with the caveat that the behavior that results, rather than the orientation or attraction itself, might be culturally influenced), he erases the ways that both of those things are always already gendered. He is privileging the biological categorization over the sociocultural categorization, and my contention is that they are both important.

      Well, where’s the solid, testable, explanation that doesn’t involve biology, or that shows the balance between the two? I don’t get it. If we’re “biocultural animals”, how come we can’t look at the bio part? Why do you feel compelled to say, hey hey hey, hold on, there’s still a lot of cultural influence. Show me. Show me the cultural influence that can dominate the biological factor.

      Seriously, I don’t think you’ve read what I’ve written. I never said we “can’t look at the bio part.” I’ve never said sexual orientation “doesn’t involve biology.” I’ve said when we ignore the way culture influences biology in humans, we’re ignoring something pretty damn important, because you cannot separate out humans from cultural processes. Humans are never purely biological or purely cultural. You might understand this if you took the time to click the links I provided. I mean, seriously, you ask me: “Why didn’t you write that article instead?” Yet, in the very paragraph you’re citing, I linked to a post I wrote on that. I also linked to a fantastic article by Jonathan Marks explaining how humans are biocultural. But you chose not to click those links, obviously, and instead write a comment pretending I have never addressed those topics or that I provided no outside discussion of what “biocultural” means, as if I’ve just made it all up!

      you absolutely did imply that the argument was wrong because of political and social implications.

      Nope, I didn’t imply that. I said that biological reductionism has negative consequences in people’s real lives. I’ve demonstrated how a biologically reductionist view of sexual orientation is not based completely in the available evidence. I’ve also discussed how viewing it that ways causes harm to queer people. The argument isn’t wrong because of the social and political implications, it’s wrong for all of the other reasons I laid out. My last two paragraphs were to warn against using the definition in that way because it matters in the real world. This is not just a semantic argument about how to define terms. How these terms are used has effects on people’s lives.

      The part you left out was it doesn’t matter what people think the origin of something is, if they don’t like it they’ll find a way to justify it.

      I disagree that it doesn’t matter. I also doubt you would use that argument when talking about creationism.

      The ways that people use language is not merely reflective of the world; rather, it produces and reproduces our very perceptions of the world (this should be an uncontroversial claim, but if you need some evidence, you can look up the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis and the effects of language on color perception, for example). So, in this way, the use of language alters how people perceive sexual minorities. It remains to be seen how much a biologically reductionist explanation of sexual orientation (a “born this way” argument) has helped or harmed sexual minorities. There are some who argue that it simply shifted the “blame” of non-heterosexuality onto mothers, as if it’s something that queer people “can’t help,” which as discussed in other comments above is a heternormative assessment of sexual orientation.

      So, sure, people will find ways to justify bigotry. But you’re focusing only on the extremes of persecution and bigotry, which is a convenient way of ignoring the everyday ways that our language reproduces heteronormativity, which can be quite damaging to queer people. When we use language in imprecise ways like Steve has done with sexual orientation, that has an effect on how people perceive sexual orientation. And how people perceive sexual orientation impacts how they interact with sexual minorities, on individual and institutional levels.

      A cultural origin or a biological origin is not inherently, or even connotatively, negative, so how could finding it was one or the other cause an increase in bigotry?

      I never said that it was inherently negative. I said that a purely–or even mostly–biological approach to sexual orientation is wrong. I discussed the politics of how that wrong definition can/could play out. I never said that “wrong” and “bad” mean the same thing.

      After all, you said, “I would not be at all surprised if beliefs about sexual orientation being biologically determined were used in similar ways that beliefs about race as a biological category have been used (and still are used) against people of color”, which means you don’t know.

      Well, I do know that beliefs about sex/gender and sexual orientation have been used to do horrible things to people (and I’ve cited examples here and all over other articles I’ve written on Skepchick). I was referring specifically to eugenics when I said I would not be at all surprised (note how I linked to the Wikipedia article about eugenics in the sentence right before the one you quote? Probably not, it doesn’t seem like you look at any of the links I provide). I could certainly see a eugenics movement forming around sexual orientation in a similar (though obviously not the same) manner as eugenics has been used against people of color. In fact, the same sorts of things are already happening.

      So now we’re reducing words to meaningless labels that point to nothing and ignoring scientific evidence because maybe some bad human beings will misinterpret it. Great. … Taking a word and expanding it to mean every possible thing is not a valid argument\conjecture\idea\concept\noun\thing\system\universe\existence\all.

      I have not done such a thing. I’ve advocated for the definition of sexual orientation as it is used by people who study sex/gender and sexuality when discussing sex/gender. I’m not sure why that’s too much to ask, or why you interpret that as opening up the definition as to be emptied of all meaning. I mean, I’ve asked that the term “sexual orientation” be used in the sense that encompasses its multiple aspects, rather than simply reducing it to attraction. That’s not the same thing as emptying it of meaning.

  11. One minor point: just because there is a constellation of potential causes does not preclude the possibility that one or several of these causes can be targeted.

    We don’t know what possibilities future technology may bring. It may be possible to influence the sexual orientation of a developing fetus, to select for orientation traits in gametes, or even to alter sexual orientation in a living, fully-developed organism. At some point, it may become possible for sexual orientation to be as mutable as the clothing on our backs.
    All of these statements, however, lie far in the future for now. At that point, the question of orientation may become utterly moot.

    It is worth pointing out, though, that arguments which rely on an appeal to consequences (in this case, rejecting the idea of biological determinism in sexual orientation because it opens up the possibility of future influence) are a form of appeal to emotion, and a type of fallacy.

    That said, if sexual orientation is the result of several different factors, that would be rather interesting. I have often wondered how nonstandard sexuality could evolve—is it, perhaps, a form of bonding mechanism? Or is it an issue where the -aversion- to same sex behavior arouse as a means of preserving energy?
    This is all evolutionary biology, though, and -that- is a house of cards, given that there’s no way to test any of these hypotheses.

    1. I am not rejecting biological determinism/reductionism because of the potential for abuse. Rather, I’m stating that biological reductionism is not as anti-homophobic as many people think it is, can contribute to homophobia and heteronormativity, and has the potential to be used (and is already being used) in a eugenics-like fashion. I added the last two paragraphs not as a refutation of the question of whether or not sexual orientation is a biological sex trait, but to bring in the broader siociopolitical concerns I (and others) have with biological reductionism in discussions of sex/gender and sexuality.

      I have often wondered how nonstandard sexuality could evolve

      See, this is the problem. Your question is heteronormative. You are making as assumption that heterosexuality is the “standard” and “normal” sexuality and that any other sexuality is thus “nonstandard” and “abnormal.” This is exactly the reason that I point this issue out, because if people continue on thinking of sexual orientation in these terms, it reproduces the heteronormativity (and thus homophobia) that queer people experience on a constant basis.

      1. “See, this is the problem. Your question is heteronormative. You are making as assumption that heterosexuality is the “standard” and “normal” sexuality and that any other sexuality is thus “nonstandard” and “abnormal.” This is exactly the reason that I point this issue out, because if people continue on thinking of sexual orientation in these terms, it reproduces the heteronormativity (and thus homophobia) that queer people experience on a constant basis.”

        I am asking the rather basic question of what factors in our evolutionary history led to non-heterosexual preferences. I honestly don’t care how “standard” or “nonstandard” it is, and focusing on a narrow question of terminology is poking at semantics. If you have a preferred term, by all means use it.

        While I’m at it, normal is merely the spectrum of results that falls most closely to the average. I was not drawing a value judgement regarding those who fall outside that definition, and am mildly piqued that someone would presume that. Just because something is abnormal does not necessarily mean it is bad, and I think attaching significance to the use of the word is a huge mistake.

        Presently, between about 1-5% of people worldwide identify as homosexual or bisexual. By simple definition, this is abnormal, in the same way that blue eyes and red hair are abnormal in a global population context. Being gay (or abnormal) is no more wrong than being Irish – less so, actually, because Irish people only make up about 0.008% of the Earth’s total population!
        In a hypothetical population scenario consisting largely of gay people, being gay would be “normal,” just as it is “normal” to be Irish in Ireland.

        The point here is that “normal” is a relative term, rather like “heterosexual” since it, too, is a set of behaviors and attitudes that falls along a spectrum which ranges from one end of behaviors to another. Ascribing value judgments to it is where the problem comes in.

        1. I’m so glad you came along to explain the statistical meaning of the word normal to me. I had no idea the word meant that! I guess all us queer folk should just ignore all the ways that word has been deployed in harmful ways against us because, hey, it’s only statistics!!

          *eyeroll*

          Anyway, aside from the most obvious fact that “normal” is used in one way statistically, people (including statisticians and biologists and medical professionals and so on and so forth) DO attach value judgments to the term. You’re describing the way you think the word ought to be used, and I’m talking about the way it is actually used. When you use the word in the way you have used it in this thread, regardless of your intention, you are reinforcing those value judgments. And, regardless of your intention, your question is still heteronormative. Don’t handwave that away as some nitpicky semantic argument–it actually matters to a lot of us queer people what kinds of words are used to describe us. I’m getting really freaking tired of being told that language use doesn’t matter and that when I point out the problematic ways that people use language they try to dismiss it as “just a semantic argument.”

          Further, I would make the argument that homosexuality is normal in the sense that it occurs with regularity. Your statistical analysis seems quite arbitrary. At what percentage does a group suddenly become “normal”? Who gets to decide that? What are the power dynamics at play in making those decisions? These things don’t happen in a vacuum, you know.

        2. ” I was not drawing a value judgement regarding those who fall outside that definition, and am mildly piqued that someone would presume that. ”

          I think this is a serious problem, because when people hear “normal”, they conclude everything else is abnormal, and therefore bad. I think this is a variation of the appeal to nature fallacy (and the linked Wikipedia article cites “normal” as a similar loaded term.)

          You may not be trying to imply a value judgement but a great many people would perceive one, so you should try to find a better term. I think typical and atypical are often used by people on the Autism spectrum as non-judgmental terms, and maybe they are appropriate in this context as well. Or are there better terms already in common use? (I found 239,000 hits on Google for “terminology for gender typicality”, so I guess that’s a pretty common term.)

          1. I definitely think “typical” and “atypical” are less problematic; however, I am still loathe to use words like that in describing sexual orientation due to the ways those terms (as well as “normal” and “standard” and their antonyms) are associated with medical conditions. I sure has hell want to move as far away as possible from medicalizing (and thus pathologizing) sexual orientation.

            The thing is, when we set up sexuality under a dichotomy of “typical” and “atypical” (which reads as “heterosexual” and “homosexual”), that is heteronormative. Contrary to Paul’s claim, the very act of setting up such a dichotomy is placing a value judgment, which is why I asked those parting questions in my previous response. It explicitly entails placing the value of “normal/standard/typical” (even if that is thought of in a purely statistical sense, it is still placing a value judgment in order to delineate what is normal and abnormal–quite literally, at some arbitrary value (number) a line is drawn) on one particular kind of thing (heterosexuality) and “abnormal/nonstandard/atypical” on another particular kind of thing (homosexuality), ignoring any of the other variations of sexuality and sexual orientation in the process of valuing one particular kind of orientation.

          2. This is what I was doing a spectacularly bad job, do to misreading part of your post, I was getting at. It every tree on the side of a mountain is growing at a 90 degree angle from the side either – 1) its somehow normal for that species, or 2) the natural tendency of plants to lean “towards” where they get the most light, has resulted in them all, for some reason, bending over at a 90 degree angle. If you have no bloody clue that plants bend towards the light, you can’t make any kind of rational argument about what is “typical/normative” for anything other than the population you are dealing with. And, if its the only population you can find, and you ignore “outliers”, instead just making up reasons why what you are seeing “is” the “normal/typical” result… you are not going to get jack all of any place in understanding what you are looking at. Well, we are one bunch of 90 degree bent trees, with no clue why we all lean a certain way, in general, trying to work out why a percentage of the population around us lean “somewhere else”. You have to be looking in the right place to figure this out. And studies… well, other than the semi-useless fact that they tend to use college students a lot, which means “same” general cultural, habits, interests, range of wealth, etc., with less general variation than the total population around them, never mind around the world, keep looking where its “easy to get to”. I.e., we keep observing the same bunch of trees, nearest to where ever we happen to be planted, and can’t see any of the rest of them.

            Ironically, the only way out of this trap ends up being “genetics”, because, presumably, the more you know about the paths that things take to get from point A to point B, whether that is, say, GABA chains, or “developmental” chains, the better the questions you can ask about, “What happens, down the chain, if ‘this’ part of the cycle is interrupted, of goes too long, or never triggers at all?” Answers you will never get by looking at the vague outline of the tree, third over, and 5th down the mountain, on your left, no matter how much “observation” you do. (With some hope the analogy still makes sense at this point. lol) Whether or not culture plays a part, its still going to be the genetic processes that tell us how, and why, in any useful, or meaningful, context.

          3. Regarding the terms “sexual orientation” and “sexual preference”, I know a lawyer who was present when the Massachusetts delegation voted to prohibit discrimination based on “sexual preference” and he voted against it (much to the shock of his long time friend, Barney Frank (who was not ‘out’ at the time). When confronted by Barney Frank, he said “but what if it is not a preference?” The term “sexual orientation” has been the language used ever since.

          4. I strongly reject your assertion that the only way to understand culture is through genetics. In fact, I find it to be a rather ignorant claim based in a lack of understanding of both biology and culture.

            Ironically, the only way out of this trap ends up being “genetics”

            Why is that the only way?? What about cross-cultural research? How do we use genetics to examine things that are not genetic?? This is complete nonsense to me. And if all we do is look to genetics for answers, we will miss so much about human lives because not everything is genetic, least of all culture. In fact, that kind of worldview has been appropriately described as magical thinking.

          5. Where exactly did I say, at all, that you could understand “culture” through genetics? Oh, right, you keep asserting that culture is somehow the core of gender… But, that’s just not reality. Culture can be all sort of things, but for it to have non-magical, real, lasting, biological, effects, it has to, well.. have effects on the genetic level.

            What I am saying is not that genetics tells you a damn thing about the “culture”. What I am saying is that, to understand what effects the culture itself is having, you have to understand what its doing to the genetics, and you can’t “get there” by looking at culture itself, because you are… well, looking at the thing being painted, and trying to work out why it looks that way, without bothering to work out what brush was used, what pigments, or even the quality of the canvas. You can tell, quite well what the painting was, and make all sorts of claims about the contents, but to say ***how*** it got painted, you have to go below the surface, to the underlying bits that make it “possible” to have painted it in the first place.

            Your talking about analyzing a game, without analyzing the engine, looking at the shape of a beach, without asking, “What is the beach made of, and how does that effect the resulting shape?”, etc. Looking purely at the culture doesn’t get you any place with regard to what is really going on, because, at the very least, you can’t “step out of it” far enough to get a clear look, like the tree, in my analogy, that can sort of observe other trees, a short distance away, but not the ones around the corner, or “in a different context”, where a whole host of unknown rules are confounding analysis.

            So.. The point being, if you start out with the game engine, and you recreate the game, you can get a clear picture “why” it is what it is, what could have been different, and both what is, and isn’t possible. Same with the genetics. When you start on that end, then apply culture to it, the end result may say jack all about the culture itself, but it might tell you what the constraints are, the possibilities, the range of cultures that are possible, and, more to the point, **how** a specific culture effects the actual engine, one a biological level.

            Now.. Reality isn’t so simple. Your term “bioculture” is a result of the complexity of the real world. We don’t have enough data to tell what the “genetics” are, so we have to make a lot of guesses. Some will be wrong, some will be right, some will turn out to be right, or wrong, for completely stupid reasons, when the data finally “is” available. We are poking around with the game engine, while its running, trying to work out how the culture is monkeying with the genetics, and how the genetics is monkeying with the culture. And… to be honest, we have a much better clue what to look at, and why, than they did, say, 50 years ago, but.. we still can’t see past the 5th tree from where we are, so at least half of the stuff we end up coming up with has nothing to do with either culture, or genetics, in the sense of telling us why things are the way they are. They are, purely. projections from what they are, into only slightly better than philosophical gobbledygook, about what is actually going on. And.. my point, I suppose, is that, when progress **is** being made, its not from the “culture” side of the equation, very often. And, that, tells me that, in the long run, its going to be the genetics that count, and the culture that tells us what “in” those genetics are being tweaked, how, when, and why, and thus give us a clearer picture of both what we are getting, well, right, and dead wrong, in terms of constructing a culture we can really live with. Instead of, frankly.. doing what we have been doing, which is stumbling around in the dark, arguing, like the three blind man, over the elephant we just bumped into.

          6. Where exactly did I say, at all, that you could understand “culture” through genetics?

            The last sentence of your comment was: “Whether or not culture plays a part, its still going to be the genetic processes that tell us how, and why, in any useful, or meaningful, context.” I read that to mean that the only useful way of understanding culture in any meaningful way is by looking at genetics. If that’s not what you mean, then you sure chose your words poorly.

            Culture can be all sort of things, but for it to have non-magical, real, lasting, biological, effects, it has to, well.. have effects on the genetic level.

            Why does it have to have effects at the genetic level?? You keep making this assertion without any foundation. Go read the article I linked to by Clarence Gravlee called “How Race Becomes Biology” (or Google it, it’s open access) to see how culture can affect biology without being genetic. This is my problem with your position: you are equating biology with genetics.

            Your term “bioculture” is a result of the complexity of the real world.

            Seriously, quit calling it “my term” and trying to make it seem like I have made this all up. It’s getting really old.

            We don’t have enough data to tell what the “genetics” are, so we have to make a lot of guesses.

            Yeah, and that’s a big fucking problem. Making guesses gets passed off as scientific fact (again, read the Gravlee article).

            And.. my point, I suppose, is that, when progress **is** being made, its not from the “culture” side of the equation, very often.

            Yeah? And what do you base this claim on?? Your intuition?

          7. “Why does it have to have effects at the genetic level??”
            Because, in this specific case, which is the one under discussion, not race, or a long laundry list of other things you keep trying to point to, there are clear, biological effects, which happen to result in complex effects, for which is it ***not plausible*** to me based purely on what people have “learned” to think about themselves. And, one of the reasons why its not plausible is because, if it was, in any way at all, about what their culture tells them, then all these idiots out there, religious or otherwise, who try to drag someone into a different cultural context, to “reprogram” them, so they stop being gay, or the vast number of other idiots who are scared to death that doing, or exposing people, to certain things will **turn people gay**, would be **right**. Since every bloody single scrap of evidence, with respect to sexual preferences, orientation, though… maybe, I will give you gender identity, only in that, generally, you don’t see people freaking out over that to the extent of trying to create special places to “cure them”, says, “It doesn’t work that way.”

            But, yeah, keep bringing up a bunch of stuff that is not at all related to the specific subject, in an attempt to suggest that “culture” is more influential in this case, and nothing at all on the genetic level is being changed (presuming, of course, again, in this specific case, you can point out one single scrap of evidence suggesting that anything, other than “gender identity”, for which there is some evidence you can mess with this way, is actually effected by culture, more than the genetics.”

            That said.. Enough is enough. You misinterpret what I say, project things on me I didn’t mean, assume the worst in what I am trying to get across, then tell me you don’t plan to reply to my posts any more, only to, then, misinterpret what I have said, and point me at irrelevant, non-related articles that you presume says something about the subject under discussion (Why, because you would prefer it to be cultural? Or are just afraid of the consequences you think come from it not being so, as though being cultural, as so many wackos assume it is already, doesn’t already lead to fear, hate, disgust, and attempts to “cure” people?). This isn’t going any place useful.

          8. kagehi, you’re being totally disingenuous. You are either purposefully ignoring the things I’ve said because you are hellbent on being willfully ignorant, or you simply do not know how to read. It is crystal clear to me that you are refusing to read any of the sources I’ve been trying to point you towards in an effort to educate you about what culture is and what a biocultural approach is. Instead, you keep insisting that “culture” is the exact same thing as “learned behavior” despite my repeatedly telling you that it’s more than that. I’ve tried to point you to literature that explains it in more detail, but you clearly and stubbornly refuse to engage with that literature. And then you come back and try to argue against things I’ve not even said.

            Because, in this specific case, which is the one under discussion, not race, or a long laundry list of other things you keep trying to point to, there are clear, biological effects, which happen to result in complex effects, for which is it ***not plausible*** to me based purely on what people have “learned” to think about themselves.

            I bring up race (and what “laundry list” of other things?) to try to demonstrate to you the ways that culture influences biology in ways you are not aware of or refuse to acknowledge for whatever reason. I am questioning (and rejecting) the ASSUMPTION you are making that biology (genetics specifically, but you keep conflating biology and genetics) is always ultimate cause. That something appears to be “clearly biological” does not mean that culture has not had any important role in it.

            And, one of the reasons why its not plausible is because, if it was, in any way at all, about what their culture tells them, then all these idiots out there, religious or otherwise, who try to drag someone into a different cultural context, to “reprogram” them, so they stop being gay, or the vast number of other idiots who are scared to death that doing, or exposing people, to certain things will **turn people gay**, would be **right**. Since every bloody single scrap of evidence, with respect to sexual preferences, orientation, though… maybe, I will give you gender identity, only in that, generally, you don’t see people freaking out over that to the extent of trying to create special places to “cure them”, says, “It doesn’t work that way.”

            ALL of that is an argument from incredulity. You are asserting that something is a certain way because you can’t believe it could be otherwise. None of what you have just written is evidence for A STRONG GENETIC BASIS FOR SEXUAL ORIENTATION. It’s also predicated on what I can only imagine is a willful ignorance of what culture is and how it works, considering how many times I’ve told you otherwise. Instead, you are closing your eyes and saying “nope, it can only be this way because THAT’S ALL I CAN IMAGINE!”

            But, yeah, keep bringing up a bunch of stuff that is not at all related to the specific subject

            I have not brought up anything that is unrelated. Everything I’ve brought up has been either to support my claims about bioculture or to try to shed light about the literature that’s out there. The fact that you stubbornly refuse to engage with that literature or read the things I’m linking to does not mean that it’s irrelevant, it means that you’re refusing to educate yourself.

            in an attempt to suggest that “culture” is more influential in this case

            I have N E V E R said that. What I have repeatedly said is that biology and culture work in tandem. That is what a biocultural approach means. Instead of reading what I’m actually saying, it’s like you see me challenging your cherished beliefs about genetics and are reacting to that because you do not want to believe that culture could have at least as important of a role as biology in something like sexual orientation.

            of course, again, in this specific case, you can point out one single scrap of evidence suggesting that anything, other than “gender identity”, for which there is some evidence you can mess with this way, is actually effected by culture, more than the genetics.

            Yeah, the thing is, I’m not trying to claim that sexual orientation is affected by culture more than genetics. I’m saying that they both play an important role and that it’s not possible to disentangle them enough to tell which one plays a larger role. So, once again, you’re arguing against things I have not even said.

            Further, you haven’t demonstrated that it is genetics, and neither do any of the studies that Steven Novella linked to. Those are all correlational and based on animal studies as analogies. All you’ve done is asserted that it must be genetics because you can’t think of anything else that it could be.

            That said.. Enough is enough. You misinterpret what I say, project things on me I didn’t mean, assume the worst in what I am trying to get across, then tell me you don’t plan to reply to my posts any more, only to, then, misinterpret what I have said, and point me at irrelevant, non-related articles that you presume says something about the subject under discussion

            Seriously? I’m the one misinterpreting? When you’ve repeatedly refused to acknowledge how I’m using the word culture and you continue to insist that when I say that word what I really mean is simply “learned behavior”? Or how you’ve repeatedly said that “bioculture” is my term, refusing to acknowledge the huge body of literature built around a biocultural approach to understanding human beings? Or that I’m saying that culture is more important than biology and/or genetics when I’ve repeatedly stated that they work together and influence each other?

            No, sorry, I’m not the one doing the misinterpreting here.

            Why, because you would prefer it to be cultural?

            See? When did I ever say that I would “prefer” it to be cultural? I do not, and what I do or do not prefer is irrelevant. What I’m trying to tell you is that the literature does not support a strong pre-cultural genetic or even strong pre-cultural biological component in human beings. But if you’d engage with any of the texts I have directed you towards, you’d understand that. (Seriously, go buy a copy of “Brain Storm” by Rebecca Jordan-Young. Don’t take my word for it. Read about the flaws in the research.)

            Or are just afraid of the consequences you think come from it not being so, as though being cultural, as so many wackos assume it is already, doesn’t already lead to fear, hate, disgust, and attempts to “cure” people?

            Nope, this has nothing to do with it. Attempts to cure people happen regardless of whether or not the cause is culture, biology, or both. What I was pointing to was the ways that biomedicine, as a source of authoritative knowledge for Euroamerican societies, can be utilized in extremely harmful ways towards queer people, and a misunderstanding of sexual orientation as pure biology or mostly biology contributes to that harm.

            This isn’t going any place useful.

            Well, that’s what happens when you are too stubborn to look at other possibilities and take the time to explore other perspectives. I can’t force you to go educate yourself about the literature on this topic. All I can do is provide you with some suggestions, but if you are going to refuse to look at them because you just can’t imagine things to be any other way, that’s all on you. If you were truly interested in having a productive conversation about this, you’d be doing some reading and learning rather than coming in and insisting that you understand my position and the literature it’s based on better than I do.

            So, I do truly hope you will go and read some of the stuff I’ve recommended to try to get a better grasp on the stuff that’s come up in this post and the comments. But if you don’t want to, that’s your prerogative. Just don’t show up in any more threads on my posts if you are going to refuse to do any of the background reading before trying to engage in dialogue with me.

  12. ~ Also, I don’t know if he’s responded here, but if you check the comments for Dr. Novella’s article you will see that he covers many of the points you make.

    “You are correct. The evidence does not prove that orientation is determined entirely by birth. It does, however, suggest it, and that is the most parsimonious interpretation of the evidence. it is possible that later development might still go in different directions (this is more likely to be the case with disorders that affect the typical concentration of various hormones).
    In any case, this is a distinction without a consequential difference. Personality traits, including sexual orientation, seem to be largely biologically determined (again, not without interaction with environment), and seem to be present as early as we can test for them. At what developmental point they are actually locked in and determined is hard to say beyond that.
    I also agree this all has zero bearing on the ethics of how to treat sexual orientation. Respecting peoples choices with regard to gender and sex is independent of the question of how much are those choices biologically determined.”

    You may wish to ask him to respond to your comments directly.

    1. I didn’t read and I don’t monitor the comments on his post. He has responded to me on this post twice so far. If he posted that comment after he’s already engaged in dialogue with me here, oh well. I’m not going to respond over there because I have enough going on without having to constantly check back there for replies.

      But, I find the premise of that comment to be quite problematic, though I’m sure that comes as no surprise.

  13. I did enjoy the J Marks article though I would have included Alfred Kroeber for his survey of NA practices showing the diversity in tribes; Marvin Harris for his remarks on the effects of social rewards on biology, reproduction; Derrida for his work on the impossibility of justice based on biology (as well as his desire to know the sex lives of the philosophers); and Iraguay for her resolution of the impossible in relation to the singular and universal. Yeah, and Greco-Romen aspects, all gay societies, rape as culture, and youth sex. Also some comment on Japan’s current sexuality in support of sexual disgust and celibacy. By the way I have long hated that stupid male-female plaque we sent out to space.

    Why this topic is important for me now in its simplest terms is the application of the Naturalistic fallacy or what is called the Appeal to Nature fallacy. Being naturally gay is not an effective argument against or for being culturally gay, or vice versa. More is needed.

    It doesn’t matter what the percentage is of biology versus cultural. Also, it can be so tightly bound as to make this impossible anyway. The entire argument needs to change to either an overarching support of diversity, the closer consequentialism of being gay, or the pursuit of happiness to allow personal choice however sourced.

    Still, to eliminate stupid bioculturalisms the topic has to be covered. Or accept, no, no, no, that sleeping with babies leads to homosexuality as do certain parental relations, even strange potty training, facial morphology etc. What is more and more clear, now that we can accept gaydom more is how much of it has been left unspoken for so long.

    Further my supercomputer remark was that I don’t think it is so far away that we can model-simulate humans to be accurate enough to better know how all of this works but I would guess it would be rejected for the same reason we don’t track and breed to fathers that have male-oriented or female-oriented genes. Thank goodness!

    As a privileged, self-stated overt hetero (whatever the hell that means–I totally hate these distinctions!) with a family I can vouch for the lack of discourse in the medical world to the support and treatment of the many issues in the margins of my own super-class (hetero, ughhh) where in the states, masturbation, voyeurism, pornography, celibacy, beastiality, genital size, breast size, vulva size, butt size, hip size, etc are providing a host of pressures rewarding particular mores of hetero success, providing a hierarchy driving evolutionary change over time and worse, stratification now–nevertheless stupidly privileging heterodom. That more research is being spent on ahetero sex is a boon and evidenced itself by the importance of gay studies to support politics, for good reason since in spite of this, hetero is way too privileged in all Abrahamic-based cultures. For a recent view on this see William J Mann’s “In Bed with Gore Vidal.”

    The political desire to make culture biology panders to the easy out of saying if it’s genetic, or hormonal, it’s more OK, tolerable, impossible to change. What conservatives claim in this natural distinction is unimportant and results in “be gay but don’t have gay sex.” A society can be authoritarian and demand certain types with treatments for those who don’t match. This relation of the group versus the individual is quite plastic but the pressure is still there.

    Empathy does go further than “do unto others” by walking in another’s moccasins before commenting. Empathy does have assumptions of capability or imagination. I mention empathy because it is a common way of creating change. Psychopathy as a lack of empathy. It’s interesting that some say conservative personality is mild and chronic psychopathy. Should we drug, genetically alter them to change? LOL, tempting. Should we make liberals more authoritarian? What society thinks it needs to survive will rule and not some sort of moral realism. Biocultural politics.

    As another example, it’s more easy to allow race differences in discussing racism because it’s hard to change race. If changing skin color were as easy changing hair color then I dare say there would be more pressure to choose skin color as dictated by fashion or group solidarity. If people could be as easily made tall or short as shaving body hair there would be more fashion in height. If penises could be made to change size as easily as breasts they too would be more often reconstructed. People had to say POC were biologically inferior to justify horrendous oppression. Yet, the inquisition allowed a similar oppression by making salvation predestined but insisting on compliance anyway.

    It is possible to raise someone as gay or not (sparta), celibate or not (monks), or sexual or not (japan). While the news is full of people who repress whatever they are there are also many that lose all sight of what they are, repressed beyond cognition. In puberty, freedom in embracing identity leads to tremendous variance. I don’t think anything is normal in the way many consider and evolution hasn’t either.

    The ability for conservatives to insist people can be changed is as politically dangerous as saying the inability to change makes it right because it’s natural. Aggression, passivity, depression, anxiety, hyperactivity, and many chronic psychological aspects may not be desired in most societies for good reason but they may remain anyway making them either collateral or historical. Once selected, now not, but not deselected yet. Ashes that can be resurrected.

    The issue of pathology and the DSM along with other issues of physicality is driven by the need to have prosthesis, cure, medical support, being covered by insurance or just to convince the community that it is desirable or OK to be treated. This is the notion of perfect, perfectible, people free of pathology. What used to be called character, personality, or individuality can now be called deviant or chronic low-level which has a chilling effect on self-esteem and social acceptance. If someone wishes “treatment” great, if they don’t fine. At either end my desire would be to allow variance without prejudice or bigotry–either aspect poisons what many personally value in democracy.

    As an obviously negative example for most of us, we can say “natural” rapists should be controlled or we can encourage their success when warring–what then when they come home? Send them out again, or tolerate-encourage a culture of rape? Over time as Harris notes, genetically aggressive people will become more genetic as well as more culturally supported, a double feedback. Eventually they become one and the potential to become one was there.

    What is more important than what is natural or not is what is useful, desired, emphasized, or collateral to a society. Some of these choices are unexpected. Who would have guessed what democracy would involve when it said “pursuit of happiness” 200 years ago–just wait until it’s 10,000 years. What seems like a perfectly normal trait changes–who knew slaves and women would get so uppity rather than accepting their lot, or were they always uppity, and stockholm syndrome and “natural” passivity is a myth–they needed others to save them. Or that it would be wrong to have sex with youths as in Greece. Elizabeth Smart swears she was compliant not because of Stockholm Syndrome (same say SS is false, not in DSM) but because she was afraid–yet Mormons believe in personal responsibility on all levels and mormons have their own authority compliance issues.

    1. I’ll be honest, I’m having a hard time following your comments. A lot of what you say makes sense to me…I think? I’m not entirely sure. =P

      It doesn’t matter what the percentage is of biology versus cultural. Also, it can be so tightly bound as to make this impossible anyway.

      I actually agree, and this is really my purpose for bringing up the biocultural critique. It’s not that I think it’s important to figure out how much one or the other influences. I bring it up because the cultural part is often ignored and the bio part is often privileged. If we are serious about understanding human beings, we cannot ignore the culture part or chalk it up to some sort of superficial elaboration of biology.

      I find that placing sexual orientation or even sexual desire/attraction simply into a biological category obfuscates the ways those things are always already cultural and gendered. In some ways, it feels like I’m having a “chicken or egg” argument a lot of the time, and insisting that one did not come before the other but for humans biology and culture are co-productive. The interplay between biology and culture is perhaps most clear in research on race and health, though Anne Fausto-Sterling makes a similar argument with regards to sex in Sexing the Body.

      As another example, it’s more easy to allow race differences in discussing racism because it’s hard to change race.

      Interestingly and tangentially, while it is considered close to impossible to change race in the US, in Brazil “money whitens” such that an increase in socioeconomic status is seen to change one’s racial categorization.

  14. I’m totally supporting you! All of my comments here have been on multiple levels. Sorry I’m ambiguous. I’m just having too much fun playing with words, concepts. I come from a strong deconstructionist background (eurostyle) so it’s trivially true to me that cultural issues are as important or more important than biological ones. That you have to support bioculture is like going back to France in the 60’s.

    I also intentionally create multiple meanings. Most of my writing has to be more clear so I’m having fun being more tangential. I also don’t think linearly in any way whatsoever.

    I guess I should go back to my playpen.

    cheers!

    1. I kind of figured as much, what with your citation of Derrida. ;)

      I’m sure you know his name is a dirty word ’round skeptic circles, eh?

      I don’t mind your playing with language, I just didn’t want to respond through a misunderstanding/misinterpretation of what you were getting at. I also enjoy the irony of linguistic playfulness in a post calling for a prescriptive use of the term “sexual orientation.”

  15. On its face, this may seem like a convincing argument; however, the counterargument is that if it is strictly biological, then it can be “fixed” through biomedical intervention (I link to that text as a demonstration of the ways biomedical interventions have been used in other ways to “correct” what are viewed as problematic human bodies).

    Actually, I don’t think that is exactly accurate. You can, well, kind of “treat” certain conditions, where something “simple” goes wrong with the body, and we understand it just barely enough to know what the most serious problems are, like say diabetes, or failure of “some” organs, when they produce hormones. More complex stuff… we wouldn’t even know where to start, and we damn well certainly lack the means to “repair” damage that is “purely biological”, in the sense of how it happened, if the result is a developmental cascade of complex changes, which can’t be fixed with one simple medication, if at all.

    Likely, the biological factors are such a cascade, a long series of tweaks to what ever might be called a “baseline” set or orientations, and characteristics. So.. how do you treat such a thing with a drug? Go back in time and revert the change, replacing it with a “corrected” one? Maybe if you could regrow a whole body, knew how to remap memories into it, *and* you could do so while preserving the wiring changes you needed to alter perception of those memories, from the “biological” level… but, yeah, no..

    Which isn’t to say its still not total nonsense, if they really do mean that the sum total of sexual orientations and behavior are biological. No, I have no doubt there are framework changes, something like having two identical houses, where someone just “happened” to place the wall plug on a different wall, making it impossible to install the wide screen TV in the living room in the same identical location. Its infrastructure differences, some of them so minor no one would even notice, others.. potentially making one behavior more likely than another, but… nothing stops someone deciding they want the TV on that wall anyway, and running a drop cord. The decorating decisions are limited, guided by, etc., the structure, not defined by it. And, those decorations are all in the “learned” part of the behaviors.

    1. Sure, I don’t disagree with what you’re saying about the difficulty of treating simple vs. complex biological causes. I’m not sure how that contradicts my point about biological reductionism being used as an appeal to nature and how it isn’t actually anti-homophobic.

      The decorating decisions are limited, guided by, etc., the structure, not defined by it. And, those decorations are all in the “learned” part of the behaviors.

      I don’t think your analogy works the way you want it to. Houses (cultural constructions) are able to be altered on more than a decorative level. A person could, in your hypothetical, re-wire the house to add a plug wherever they want. A person can alter the structure of the house to add a room or connect two rooms or divide a room or whatever.

      So, in a way, your analogy supports my position, that the structure is open to influences by culture (and other environmental factors, which I don’t think is really at issue here) both during and after its construction.

      But, I get what you’re saying–that the biological structure is the base and that culture is just “built on top” of it. And I strongly disagree. For an example of why, check out this article on race and health.

      1. Well, if you take it in the most literal sense of the building being “re-designable”, then… maybe. But, even houses have “load bearing” parts, which are harder, and/or impossible, to change. And, well, I can’t agree with your view. There is too much evidence that while culture “does” play a huge role on the overall result, there are clear patterns underlying it, which do drive the end result. Maybe.. A better example would be a house foundation, versus the house? You can build damn near anything, as long as the pipes, etc., coming up through the slab line up with where every you run plumbing, and the like, off of them. But, short of poring more foundation, or making some seriously risky choices (which might include what you pored it on in the first place, i.e., rock, vs. sandy ground), some of the things you might want to construct on it are either not going to work at all, or fail under stress. I think the issue here is, as it continues to be for people trying to figure it out who actually study such things, just what constitutes “foundation”, and just how malleable the result is to other factors. Even arguments about how two people can have completely different mental traits, like orientations, are confounded by the nasty fact that “identical genes”, pretty much **never** means “identical expression of those genes”. We get crazy stuff, like one twin suffering from a disease linked to one pair of their genes, and the other not getting it, purely due to it being “on” in one of them, and “off” in the other. So.. are cases where one twin is gay, and the other isn’t, biological, or learned? Without knowing every single gene that is active “now” in them, and, even more complicated, which ones where “on” and for how long, in difference to each other, throughout certain developmental stages, you can’t say “if” it was or not, any more than you can try to pinpoint some learned factors which might have contributed.

        But, there is one big problem with the assertion that it is learned, and that is that, for the most part, the people who have so called “non-standard” orientations tend to say, over and over, that they knew they where different, long before they knew what *was* different. That seems to imply something biological, not “social”. That it may also be plastic isn’t at issue, its, “how much of it isn’t”. I tend to think, myself, that much like many other species that have had some real testing done on them on the subject, there is a range of behaviors that, at some point, had an impact on breeding, and those factors changed, to varying degrees, what behaviors we expressed, in terms of preferences, orientation, etc. The problem being.. those with “extreme” expression are not stable configurations. Too extreme one way and the females act male, and are less likely to breed, if at all. Too extreme in the other way, and the males, well.. end up acting too female, and again, no breeding happens. But, if you need variation “in between”, such extremes are inevitable, and the “median” is going to be something, for species who have such variation at all, something with enough plasticity of behavior that they can go either direction, given the right conditions.

        How true that is for people is uncertain, but.. I tend to think, from things I have read, that its likely how our own behavior works, but.. we also have, layered over it, an even higher level of social plasticity as well. I.e., where ever we are on the curve, we never the less have a much wider level of “functional” variation, across the spectrum. So.. we can get a few people who can’t *quite* make it all the way from, “I am gay”, to, “No, I am really 100% straight”, for example, but, “Bi” is probably not outside the range they can adapt to.

        The problem with making the assertion that there is “no”, or “little” evidence for a biological source for this is.. a) just not supported by a lot of evidence, and b) presumes a rigidity of behavior, within the context of such a biological base point, which.. denies a whole other set of social adaptations, which override damn near everything, given the right set of conditions, at least to a certain point. So, for me the question isn’t “if” such underlying biological factors are involved, but, “How much do they vary.”, and, “What level of plasticity is there in them, especially within the bounds of our need to, even at our own detriment in some cases, conform to social norms (i.e., be part of the group)?”

        1. I think you and I have a very different understanding of the term “culture.” I feel like you’re equating “culture” with “learned behavior.” While much of a person’s culture certainly is learned, there is more to it than that. Culture also happens in ways that we are unaware of–in fact, one of the features of culture is that it is so habitual that it feels natural. Culture happens around us and does things to us without our recognizing it. So, it is not just “learned behavior.” Culture is pervasive in our social environments.

          So, when I say “biocultural,” I am not simply saying “biology + learned behavior.” Rather, I am referring to the interplay between biology and culture as defined by anthropologists. I’ve linked multiple times to the Jonathan Marks article, so I’d say to check that out if you feel that it’s a bit unclear.

          they knew they where different, long before they knew what *was* different. That seems to imply something biological, not “social”.

          This does not follow. As one of those people who knew I was “different,” I did not know I was different because my biology was directing me to feel certain things; rather, I knew I was different because I was feeling certain things that were different than what society was telling me I should feel. The feeling of “difference” is not a biological trait, but a reaction to one’s sociocultural environment. If there was no taboo against homosexuality or queerness, there would only be a sense of attraction, not a sense of difference. How does a person feel “different” if they have nothing else to compare it to, exactly? Do you mean that they felt different before they knew that it had a term or label?

          I also reject your discussion of a “female extreme” being “too male” and vice versa because it is setting up human beings on a strict sex binary, but it is using gendered understandings to do so. Thus, it is a great example of the social construction of sex that I wrote about in the last post I did on sex/gender differences a couple of weeks ago.

          The problem with making the assertion that there is “no”, or “little” evidence for a biological source for this is..

          Once again (I’m really getting tired of saying this so many times in one thread), I did not and am not arguing that biology does not play a role in sexual orientation or attraction. Please stop arguing against that straw argument. What I’m arguing is for us to stop privileging biology and recognize the biocultural aspects of sex/gender and sexual orientation. Biocultural meaning both biology and culture are tightly bound up in human beings to such an extent that it is difficult if not nearly impossible to disentangle the two and draw a neat, nice dividing line between “this is culture” and “this is biology.” I’ve provided lots of links to biocultural articles, so I’m not going to go into any more detail about that.

          1. Yeah, your definition of culture is definitely “different”. The closest you might get to making it “bioculture” is if you where talking about genetic variations in certain subset populations, which results in their biology reacting in different ways to exposure to things that where not part of the environment they adapted to, something which does happen. But, that doesn’t seem to be what you are arguing. Rather, you seem to be arguing that the behaviors of those around them are influencing their own long term behaviors, and that this, as well as short term exposure “to” such behaviors, even when someone else is doing them, “Like how someone chooses to feed their kids”, have “biological impacts”. Yep, they do. The problem is – its still learned behavior. It may not be specifically “the person under discussions ‘learned behavior'”, but the parent still “learned” to feed their kid a certain way, or decided, as a result of their own experiences, or other factors, to, say.. live someplace with known environmental factors. Only – many of those factors are not “culture”, they are environmental, but to be “cultural” they have to be a choice made because of how and why someone makes the choice, i.e., “learned”.

            As for gender binaries..:head-desk:, this is a matter of providing an easily recognizable concept, to explain something that, if anything, denies such binaries completely. Its about mating habits, attraction, aggression, etc. One of the studies I saw on the subject involved deer. Basically, the “mean”, i.e., the range most of them function in, was semi-aggressive, capable of being effected by hormonal changes, and generally attracted to the right physical sex. The “outlying ranges”, including females and males who where hyper-non-aggressive, had, in case of the females, excessive hormonal responses, and with the males, a huge lack of them, and an attraction to the wrong sex, in the later case. On the other end of the spectrum where hyper-aggressive females, hyper-aggressive males, etc. These dynamics seemed to play off each other, with a general stable outcome, but allowed for enough variation that you almost never got a 100% successful pairing (which would, one presumes, be the hyper-aggressive, territorial, male, with a very willing female). The reason it is nearly impossible is simply because the traits for these thing, unlike in many other species, are linked together, so when one set of behaviors shift, the shift in “all” offspring, to the betterment, or detriment, of the odds of successful breeding in the next generation.

            So, male/female are being used in this context to reference “behaviors”, as generally understood, not as some sort of intentional gender binary, and the result is that **most of the members of species with this dynamic are ***anything but one of the two binaries***. But, if you have better words to use to make such distinctions, then, by all means, I wouldn’t mind using them instead, to avoid confusion.

            In any case, I don’t have a huge issue with “bioculture”, per say. Its the intentional fuzzying of what actually is learned, without really even giving a clear example of something that is “cultural”, but not learned, which then has some sort of biological impact. I don’t think you can, as I said, make such a distinction. At best you can claim that the one “effected” isn’t necessarily, at least initially, the one “learning” the cultural behavior, so, presumably, in that sense, you could then remove them from those factors, before they “learn them”, and end up with permanent effects, on some level, devoid of the original culture. But, if they “do” learn the behaviors… then any action on their part “from then on”, is not some weird particle physics like thing, where the “culture” somehow has a biological impact, while failing to alter the individuals learning, somehow. And, I hardly think that you mean that. But, what you do mean… either doesn’t make sense to me, or is implying something that is no longer “culture”, in the sense most people would use the term.

          2. I’m sorry, but have you even read the stuff I’ve said or linked to?? This is starting to feel like you’re just arguing against points that you feel like I’m making rather than points I’m actually making because you don’t like the idea of humans as biocultural.

            to be “cultural” they have to be a choice made because of how and why someone makes the choice, i.e., “learned”.

            What is your definition of culture? Because this is nonsensical to me. Do children choose the ways they are enculturated? Do you think culture is always intentionally learned by people? Of course people have agency within sociocultural structures, but to imply that all culture is the product of intentional choice flies in the face of what we know about the process of enculturation.

            You said:

            In any case, I don’t have a huge issue with “bioculture”, per say. Its the intentional fuzzying of what actually is learned, without really even giving a clear example of something that is “cultural”, but not learned, which then has some sort of biological impact.

            But here is exactly what I said above: “While much of a person’s culture certainly is learned, there is more to it than that. Culture also happens in ways that we are unaware of…”. I’ve written on what culture means to anthropologists elsewhere on Skepchick. I am not denying that culture is learned; rather, I am telling you that the way I am using culture here is as an anthropologist uses the word to refer to more than just learned behavior. I have not offered an example of culture that is not learned because I am not arguing that culture is not learned. I’m arguing that certain aspects of culture that we are both aware and unaware of influence our biology. I linked to an article by Clarence Gravlee elsewhere in the comments here that goes into one example (race and health disparities) in depth. So, now it’s up to you whether you want to go read the sources or not, but please stop making comments about how I’m not providing examples to back up what I’m saying.

            But, what you do mean… either doesn’t make sense to me, or is implying something that is no longer “culture”, in the sense most people would use the term.

            This is exactly why I have linked multiple times to the Jonathan Marks article. I’m assuming you haven’t even bothered to look at it considering you continue to argue points that are addressed in it.

          3. Will, I think Kagehi is saying that culture is absorbed by learning, whther consciously or unconsciously. I may not be following all this correctly though. If not by learning, perhasps there is another word for it?
            By the way, some of your 7 “many” links way back seem to be broken or pointing to the wrong thing now. I did try to read the at the time. For what it’s worth, I thought that even Steve’s links did not necessarily totally support his “mainly biological” view.

          4. I’m not debating that learning is a part of enculturation. I’m debating whether learning is the totality of enculturation. It’s not. Culture is a process, not just something that people have. It’s something that people do as well. Of course they learn to do culture in certain ways, but there is also the possibility of innovation.

            But all of this really is irrelevant to the overall point that for humans culture and biology are deeply connected and intertwined and influence and shape each other. Even if I were to grant that culture is strictly equivalent to “learned behavior,” that doesn’t change the fact that it influences and shapes biology. So, I’m kind of at a loss for why this is a sticking point because I don’t see how what kagehi is arguing makes any difference to a biocultural approach to understanding sex/gender and sexuality or any other host of human attributes.

            some of your 7 “many” links way back seem to be broken

            Weird, a bunch of them had extra quotation marks added to the addresses. Thanks for pointing that out! I’m going to edit the comment to fix the links.

            The one from Radical Stats was actually the link to just the journal’s website rather than to the article I had intended to link to. Here’s a correct link.

          5. Sigh.. Wish they would fix the glitches on this site, including the looooong delay to just log in. In any case, I am not arguing against what the anthropologists think on the subject, or what you, apparently, actually mean, with respect to culture, so… thanks for clearing it up. What you actually stated, in the original post, on the other hand seemed to imply something else. And, apparently you missed where I agree with you that a person may not make a “choice” to have culture forced on them, what I dispute is the idea, in the original article, that such things, “in a large, and overall”, way are the most significant factor in all ranges of gender identity. It may be in “some” of them, perhaps, but not all of them. My feeling is that you are, imho, ‘oversimplifying’ things in some respects, without cause. And.. frankly, even anthropologists are not devoid of their own biases (which, in this case, is to see everything as behaviors between individuals, and almost never where there may be underlying genetics). Specialists have an unfortunate habit of doing that sort of thing, and its really bad news when you do it with humans, since we do have complex culture, and that plays havoc with trying to perceive the underlying genetics at all (hence the almost total idiocy of the stuff churned out by ‘evolutionary psychologists, due to the, ‘if it exists, it must be adaptive, thus genetic’.) This doesn’t work, but when you do have evidence that differences in behavior “do” have genetic components in other species, and humans have some similar variation, then.. there is a much more valid reason to project that into the culture, than to project it from the culture, into the biology.

            In any case, like I said, the real question isn’t “is any of this biological”, but, “how much, and in what way”. Your anthropologists are… well, in the wrong specialty to necessarily answer that, and their inclination is, quite frankly, to instead find “cultural” answers. This, frankly, just muddies the waters worse, sometimes. Or, do you know a lot of anthropologists also doing gene studies?

          6. This is the last time I’m going to respond to you in this thread because frankly you’re saying things that have no basis in reality and you are insisting that you know more about my own discipline than I do. For example:

            And.. frankly, even anthropologists are not devoid of their own biases (which, in this case, is to see everything as behaviors between individuals, and almost never where there may be underlying genetics).

            I never said anthropologists are devoid of biases. And if you think anthropologists look at everything as “behaviors between individuals,” you have both not been comprehending what I’ve been writing nor have you apparently ever taken a course in anthropology. Anthropologists do look at interactions between individuals, but we also look at the way societies are structured. We certainly do not reduce everything to behaviors between individuals.

            Your anthropologists are… well, in the wrong specialty to necessarily answer that, and their inclination is, quite frankly, to instead find “cultural” answers.

            Except, I’m not advocating finding purely cultural answers! I’m advocating a biocultural approach. But you see that and you ignore the “bio” part of it and think I’m only interested in culture. You’re wrong.

            This, frankly, just muddies the waters worse, sometimes. Or, do you know a lot of anthropologists also doing gene studies?

            You mean like Jonathan Marks, the guy whose biocultural article I’ve repeatedly asked you to read??

            Yeah, there are plenty of anthropologists doing genetics work. You do realize there are biological anthropologists, right? Trust me when I tell you that most of them are not seeing cultural answers to these questions everywhere they look.

          7. Sigh…

            One of those, at first glance anyway, looks to be behind a paywall/login, which isn’t exactly much encouragement to looking at it. The other one.. just part way through it I get the assertion that groomed facial hair is a “Culture is thus an ultimate evolutionary cause (Mayr, 1961) of the human condition.”, which doesn’t bode well for the rest of the article, since, last I checked, my beard hasn’t “evolved” to grow in groomed, despite who the hell knows how many generations of people in my family either shaping it, and/or shaving it off, and even a half asleep anthropologist should be able to notice that the trends as to how much, or little, gets trimmed, and why, changed, practically from generation to generation, with, maybe not quite as much regularity as hair, or clothing styles, but, definitely often enough to be noticeable. Its almost like its purely generational, and what the next generation does has **nothing at all** to do with evolution (in the sense of, well… the usual meaning of the term, as apposed to the hypothetical “changes to meme/ideas over time”, which has nothing at all to do with biology, in anything but the most superficial sense).

            That said, he does go on to something I don’t dispute, which is, “When the environment changes, in some cases, which may be cultural, like raising animals, it can “eventually” have an effect on biology.” Umm… but.. I am not sure that in any way connect, at all, to the specific subject in question, i.e. “sexuality”, and “gender identity”? If you want to make such a claim, where is a) the evidence, and b) a plausible mechanism? More to the point, why ignore “prior” historical examples of such things, which might imply that such things have been going on a bloody long time among humans, just so the suggestion can be made, implausibly, that there are now *new* factors, which are somehow changing the rules, or makes it more likely? How can you be sure, especially without some idea what those factors are, and a way to test them in any useful way, can it be shown that this isn’t a simple case of “increase due to an increase in reporting/verifiability”? I.e., its accepted more, so more people are willing to admit to, and report, what was already going on?

            However, I also must admit that I misread (chalk it up to lack of sleep, or something, and disliking the bugs on skepchick so much I refuse to scroll back past huge gaps in text, to reread things…) some of your concluding commentary. While I think “some” of my points are still valid.. I committed a huge “whoops” in some of my own assumptions of your position.

            “I also reject your discussion of a “female extreme” being “too male” and vice versa because it is setting up human beings on a strict sex binary, but it is using gendered understandings to do so. Thus, it is a great example of the social construction of sex that I wrote about in the last post I did on sex/gender differences a couple of weeks ago.”

            Ok, true, its a “construct”, or, if you prefer “model”. I asked if you had a better definition/wording, etc. for it. I have no problem using something else. Its just convenient short hand, which you happen to have reasons to object to. I also happen to think, in this specific context, it implies a possibly greater “biological” factor in the complexities of gender identity, or at least the subset of attraction, since the rest is, invariable, models (something we build, whether they are fair, reasonable, or even, ultimately, always useful, pretty much by nature). Whether or not this is true for gender, as per body identity, and other factors.. is likely harder to parse out. I would be, for example, interested if one could find, say, a twin case where both had identical upbringing, both had the same “attractions”, but one of them had a different physical identity… But, without such data, its pure speculation, imho, as to what contributing factors are involved.

            I suspect we have a Masters and Johnson problem. i.e., all of our definitions are too narrow, “biologically”, which makes trying to find something “normative”, or what that even means, culturally, just about as infeasible as it was for them to try to study “normal sex”.

  16. Before I begin, I know in previous threads I have gotten into heated arguments over the issue of biological reductionism which in my part was very likely my lack clarity in verbage. And also I did a lot of rethinking in part from Skepchick education.

    I think we all agree on what we are. We are part of a material world and thus, we are creatures of matter. There is no spook in us. No immaterial soul or homunculus that sits in the driver seat in our heads. We are all the glorious result of an event that took place 15 billion years ago ie. the big bang. In that sense, we are all reductionists. But no matter how we take our brains and bodies apart, we will never be able to describe humans in terms of biochemistry and below. We need different disciplines and specialists to describe what it is to be human. And indeed, it is impossible and frankly idiotic to try and reduce culture to the level of action potentials, gene transrciption or even lower to the level of superstrings. And I include not just scientists but philosophers, poets, artists, etc.. who all take a unified anti-woo stance. Thus, being human in a cultural sense and in the neurologic sense complement each other and each informs the other. There is nothing spooky about this. As I write this, I share a slice of chocolate cake with my 4 year old with all the smiles and laughter. If I had a device to map the synaptic activity of the entire brain in each of us, none of that will substitute the first person experience. But none of it would occur were it not for the history which includes the big bang giving rise to matter which ultimately lead to biology, evolution, etc..Do we agree Will?

    That being said, there are biologic reductionists who make claims about the mind including sexual orientation and gender identity that I agree are wholly misguided and like Steve Pinker, cherry pick evidence that supports the claim while ignoring those that refute. But there are reductionists like Patricia Churchland or my former boss, Antonio Damasio (to name a few) who have a more nuanced view of the biological world in relation to the mind. Yes, genes influence behavior but the steps from gene transcription all the way up to a specific trait are subject to so much epigenetic interactions. One can never make a one to one correspondence between a gene and any specific behavior. And contrary to Steve Novella, I think there is environmental influence even on sexual desire/attraction. And history is riddled with biologic reductionist claims that have caused harm to groups. But, Will, do we place halos on all those of the opposite ilk?

    As a student of history, you acknowledge that in the former Soviet Union homosexuality was deemed to be socially determined ie. a deviant behavior resulting from a perverse, decadent, bourgeois capitalist society. And this was at a time when any mention of the word “genetics” would land you in the gulag. Let’s also not forget that religious fundamentalism (or even among those who are moderately religious) is not homophobic because of the latest research on the genetic underpinnings of sexual development. In Rwanda, “Hutu” and “Tutsi” were complete social constructs. No genetic arguments or anything in science led to the massacre of the Tutsis. The “star bellied sneetches” out there will use any idea be it genetics or otherwise to support their bigotry.

    1. And, this is what makes me frustrated about the argument. “I don’t want there to be a genetic component, and it may be dangerous to look for one, because then, people will try curing it.” You saw a similar argument against the search for how Dwarfism works, at least some people arguing similar things about a whole mess of other disorders. And… in the end, in all of those cases, the genetics have proven to be “unfixable” with any technology we do have, and the recognition that it is genetic, and not “catchable”, like a disease, has resulted in, generally, *less* bigotry, not more. Are their still people out there trying to “cure it”? Sure, and they realize there is some risk, if they find solutions, that some asshole, in some distant future, will try mandating the cure. Its inevitable that such a totalitarian system will do so. The problem being, there are already idiots, in the case of homosexuality, trying to mandate everything from jail, exclusion from society, due to it being somehow “catchable”, to mandatory cures, to even death for being that way, from people. We don’t need the imaginary “future” totalitarian wackos making such people’s lives miserable, they are already here, and the only thing standing between them and shuffling everyone who is gay in the US, for example, to Jesus camp, to be “cured” using prayer is that most of the country realize that the people who believe in that nonsense solution are, at best, marginally nuts. Even if they somehow find every single gene, and epigene, involved in the process, its extremely unlikely that some sort of one shot cure is every going to show up, that the result will be a nice simple binary that some people would like things to be, with gay people being the oddballs, or will it be treatable with a pill, in any way shape or form. All you have to do is look at the sheer idiocy that cropped up with the idea of “curing men who cheat on their wives”, the moment someone figured out that oxytocin was involved with ‘attachment between individual’.” In reality, it didn’t do what all the fools hyping it as a “cure for a problem” thought it was. It does other things, is involved with forming attachments in general, etc., and even if it worked as advertised, it would have caused a hundred other problems (for example, the last thing we need would be for it to, say.. increase the attachment a person has to some asshole that just shared extremist political views with the guy taking the drug…. I mean, after all, it strengthens attachment, so.. why wouldn’t it make someone more likely to throw away their common sense, and join a cult, or an extremist group, or even a terrorist cell, as long as their “friend” was convincing enough to hook them?) Its this sort of simplistic, black and white solutions that are the real problem, and knowing that its more complex, that it is genetic, that the conditions that give rise to it are bloody complex, and that the “normal” for humans might not be a nice, comfortable, and imho, totally improbable, “binary”, where each “sex” is 100% on opposite ends in identity, attraction, etc., with the ones that are not being “abnormal” (and what I have seen, observed, and read, suggest this is exactly the non-binary mess we will end up with), will shoot so many holes in the grand vision of the world, which the bigots, would be authorities, and those driven by the fear they peddle about the issue, that they won’t be left with much of any ground to stand on, at all.

      There seems to be some fear that the result if studying this, especially if its studied by people with a bias, will be a “simple” solution. I very much suspect, instead, that now matter how “reductionist” someone tries to be, or how biased, in the end, the result will look far more like the mess that Masters and Johnson ended up with, when they where confronted with the reality that “nothing” about human sexuality was “normative”, and any research they wanted to do on “normal sexual behavior” was doomed from the start, unless they expanded their assumptions about what “normal” actually was. It is, ironic really that they where, in the start, so hung up on Freud, when Freud himself supposedly once said that he thought that the only “abnormal” sex was not wanting it. And, the thing that probably scares the hell out of so many people that are afraid of homosexuality may be the very real possibility (and, I would say, near certainty) that the only “abnormal attraction/gender identity”, may be the inability to form *any* bonds at all, or express any traits, that are “for/from the ‘wrong’ gender”. Wouldn’t that just be a huge kick in the balls to the people who imagine they can cure it with a pill, without having **any** other consequences from trying to do so. lol

Leave a Reply

You May Also Enjoy

Close
Close