The ‘nature vs. nurture’ debate is among the most popular and pressing issues in psychological development. This is a topic that extends not only to the field of psychology but also in biology as proponents of either argument base their positions on equally persuasive reasons that are with scientific value. This debate is also applicable in the determination of a person’s sexual orientation. The discussion is specially applicable in whether or not homosexuality can be attributed to nature in that it is something that can be inherited or with biological explanation, or, is it nurture because it is something that can be influenced by a person’s environment. The leading argument in this question has leaned more towards nature especially as scientific experiments have been conducted to determine that homosexuality is something innate in a person and that it cannot be adopted according to mere continuous exposure to homosexual conduct.
Human sexuality is determined specifically through the makeup of a person’s sex chromosomes so that a male will have both X and Y chromosomes while a female will have the XX chromosomes. Strictly speaking, this scientific determination of a person’s sex is determined upon his birth where any human being should belong to either sex. While the possibility of one to be born intersex is not impossible, it is a rather unusual phenomenon that is referred to as hermaphrodism which occurs in some animals where both male and female characteristics are present in one anatomical structure. Going against the expected social behavior recognizes that “humans can have a chromosomal arrangement which is contrary to their phenotypic sex, that is, XX males or XY females” (Church of Scotland, 2010, p.4).
Sexual orientation is defined by the American Psychological Association (2008) as a pattern of behavior that embraces romantic, emotional and attraction to a man, a woman, or both. “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” (p.1). The term categorizes a person ascribing to any of the gender identities such as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender (LGBT) as a part of his or her sexual orientation. These peculiar orientations involve the consideration of Gender Identity Disorders (GID) to differentiate from heterosexual normal behavior and sexual orientation. The question now arises for the scientific community to ascertain the source of these behaviors and identity differences.
Many organized religions look upon homosexuality restrictively as they maintain that it is abnormal behavior which can be controlled accordingly. The Catholic religion, which adheres to the principle of procreation, looks at homosexual behavior disapprovingly because it departs from the notion than union between two persons should exclusively be between a man and a woman as the bible dictates. In this regard, the church views homosexuality as heavily influenced by nurture which could be altered. The Church of Scotland (2010) argues that the available scientific studies on the value of sexual orientation as fundamentally hereditary are not conclusive. The different published papers on this matter are open to interpretation since they could be varying on their findings. The conduct of the relevant studies is limited and differs as to their size and subject matter, respectively. Further, the genetic factors attributed to sexual orientation have the simultaneous contention that a person has the ability to overcome his own genes to overrule a particular trait.
“While our genes certainly direct the development and maintenance of the physical structures which make up our bodies, we as humans have the ability to make choices about many of our behaviours” (The Church of Scotland, 2010, p.14). This position has been maintained by the Catholic Church for years but has evolved in some ways that they now recognize that homosexuality is a reality but affirms that one must not act on it or engage in a homosexual lifestyle so that a person will not commit a sin. But this is a backward way of thinking and does not permit of the freedom that a person should have of his own sexual orientation because there is still the restriction that he must remain heterosexual. This position of nurture together with the standpoint that sexual orientation can be influenced by external factors limits an individual’s will without the simultaneous infallible attitude supported by science.
Studies of homosexual behavior are varying in that some focus on the brain as a point of study while others are taking a more genetic course of mapping the GID. Sharon Kingman (1992) outlines the successive studies that focused on the argument that sexual orientation takes on more of the side of nature in the debate. The breakthrough can be traced to start with Professor Dick Swaab, a Swedish brain expert, who found that the difference between homosexual and heterosexual men can be traced in the ‘suprachiasmatic nucleus’ that controls a person’s body clock. Professor Swaab’s study found that homosexual men have double the amount of these cells. Next, Simon LeVay’s study concluded that a homosexual’s INAH-3, a part of the hypothalamus which is related to sexual behavior, is also more than two times the volume compared to a heterosexual’s. Then, University of California Los Angeles’ Laura Allen and Roger Gorski stated that homosexual men’s anterior commissure, related to nerve fibers, is larger compared to that of their counterpart.
These studies only exemplify the biological nature where homosexuality can be differed from normative sexual behavior. From then, many more studies have been conducted which only builds upon the argument of the natural factors that influence sexual orientation. In Swaab’s article, Sexual differentiation of the human brain: relevance for gender identity, transsexualism and sexual orientation, he wrote a table which sketch out “factors that influence sexual orientation” for both homosexuals and heterosexuals (2004, p.308). These factors are genetic, hormones, chemicals, and social. These show that there are a number of factors that can contribute to a person’s sexual orientation but most of these are beyond his or her control as opposed to the earlier argument discussed. More and more scientific research aimed at an objective understanding of explaining gender identification has supported the concept that it is more nature that dictates this process. This does not mean that there are no longer other aspects to be considered in this matter. But research provides empirical evidences that nature prevails in giving a better explanation in understanding sexual orientation in the persistent nature vs. nurture debate.
- American Psychological Association. (2008). Answers to your questions: For a better understanding of sexual orientation and homosexuality. Washington, DC: Author. [Retrieved from www.apa.org/topics/sorientation.pdf.]
- Church of Scotland. (2010). Nature v nurture: is sexual orientation inherited?. Retrieved from http://www.churchofscotland.org.uk/__data/assets/pdf_file/0010/5869/ga11_specssrm_naturenurture.pdf
- Kingman, S. (1992, October 4). Nature, not nurture?: New studies suggest that homosexuality has a biological basis, determined more by genes and hormones than social factors or psychology, says Sharon Kingman. The Independent. Retrieved from http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/science–nature-not-nurture-new-studies-suggest-that-homosexuality-has-a-biological-basis-determined-more-by-genes-and-hormones-than-social-factors-or-psychology-says-sharon-kingman-1555359.html
Swaab, D. F. (2004). Sexual differentiation of the human brain: relevance for gender identity, transsexualism and sexual orientation. Gynecol Endocrinol 2004, 19, 301-312. doi: 10.1080/09513590400018231