What the science says about human sexuality

Sep 2018
cleveland ohio
f you know anything about sex research, you know Alfred Kinsey. Though the work he conducted in America in the 1940s and '50s is largely controversial — some questioned his survey methods and say he made broad claims his research couldn't support — there is generally agreement that he kickstarted modern sex research. Ever heard of the scale for human sexuality? It measures sexuality on a continuum from exclusively heterosexual to exclusively homosexual. That's Kinsey. Have you heard the statistic that 10% of men are gay? That's from Kinsey's research, too.

or all of the criticism the Kinsey Reports received (and still do), Kinsey is recognized for taking into account the complexities of human sexuality. But that was 70 years ago: what has science told us since?

The story we've long been told is that a combination of genes (such as xx or xy chromosomes) and early exposure to sex hormones (such as testosterone or estrogen) make us who we are. They influence the formation of “male brains” and “female brains,” and that same process, it’s been said, also shapes “gay brains” and “straight brains.” We’ve accepted that biological factors drive our sexual desires, our personalities, what toys we play with as children, what jobs we choose when we become adults. Differences in our brains have been used to explain why there are fewer women in STEM and why young male traders on Wall Street brought the economy to the brink of collapse. Gay and straight. Male and female. We’re just wired differently.

But as the patchwork of studies that make up this story receive more and more scrutiny, holes appear.

In her seminal book, Brain Storm: The Flaws in the Science of Sex Differences, renowned sociomedical scientist and Barnard professor Rebecca Jordan-Young broke down 13 years of exhaustive analysis on hundreds of studies on sex, gender and the brain. Her conclusion? Biology matters. But we really don't understand how.

n 1991, Simon LeVay reported he had found a difference in the brain structures of gay and straight men, which was broadcast as proof of "The Gay Brain." The hypothalamus, which is involved in sexual behavior, was smaller in gay men. But Jordan-Young said it wasn't clear if the brain differences observed in LeVay's study and others like it caused differences in behavior and desire, or resulted from them.

"How could gayness take a single identifiable form in the brain when it takes such varied forms in people's lives?" she wrote.

'Born this way'? It's way more complicated than that
May 2018
I get tired of all this. Who cares and why in the world does it matter? No matter what patterns they try to illustrate, no one pattern fits. I'm gay, but I am also a hockey player and a total gearhead. I frickin love cars, industrial design, science and rock and roll. As a kid, my toys were Captain America and GI Joe. Barbie dolls sucked. I wear t-shirts and jeans, I cannot be bothered with anything else. It's just too much damn work. I am the most un-fabulous gay guy you will ever meet. Oh, and I fucking hate Cher's music, but she gave us Chaz Bono, who fucking rocks.

One thing I do love, drag queens. Amazing artists.

My point is, gay or straight, no one follows any pattern. We just are who we are. There doesn't need to be a gene. People are just people, and we should be OK with that.

I remember when I came out in my small college town in Ohio. I was frustrated because none of the other gay guys were even remotely like me. I felt even more alone than I did before. Once I moved to Chicago, things got better.
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