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What Causes Same-Sex Attraction?

Man-02 SummaryThere is no consensus among scientists about the reasons people experience a heterosexual, bisexual, gay, or lesbian orientation. Same-sex attraction appears to be the result of a complex interaction of personality, biological inheritance, and developmental experiences.

The American Psychological Association states the following: “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.”

It is difficult to develop theories about the origins of homosexual attractions because no single theory fits every situation. Although there are some commonalities among people, there are no constants. Factors are different from person to person, or at least individual reactions to the same factors vary. Humans are complex beings and our behaviors are the result of many complex interactions. (Archives of General Psychiatry 42, “Theories of Origins of Male Homosexuality: A Cross-Cultural Look,” pp. 399–404.)

Below is a discussion of how personality, biological inheritance, and developmental experiences influence us. As you read these sections, consider how each concept may apply to you.

Discussion of Personality, Biology, and Development


Every person has a unique personality. We have different likes, desires, dreams, and moods. We see ourselves and the world in different ways and each of us hopes for something a little different from life. One child may be content with the affection he receives from his parents, while his sibling who receives the same attention feels a deficit and requires more. Some children seem content to play by themselves, while others who have many friends seem to need even more.

Many men with same-sex attractions have a heightened sense of emotional sensitivity which can make them vulnerable to emotional hurt when their high expectations are not met. Since we all have different needs and perspectives on life, it is easy to see why two people in the same situation will react differently. For one person, a negative situation may be manageable, while for another it is a devastating crisis.


Biological inheritance may play a role in influencing behavior or feelings. Some people seem susceptible to particular actions and may be drawn toward them or become addicted to them more easily than other people. For example, one person may be able to dabble with gambling, while another becomes a compulsive gambler. Some may drink only socially, while others have an unusual attraction to alcohol. Studies indicate that genetics may be a factor in susceptibilities to some behavior-related disorders, such as aggression, obesity, or alcoholism. Likewise, there are theories that biological predispositions influence the development of homosexual attractions when other life experiences are also present. (Friedman R. C. and Downey, J. “Neurobiology and Sexual Orientation: Current Relationships,” Journal of Neuropsychiatry 5, 1993, p. 149)

Beyond such predispositions, some scientists search for more direct genetic causes—a gene or chromosome that actually determines sexual orientation. (Friedman and Downey, p. 149.) None of these studies has shown any direct genetic cause of homosexuality. For more information on these specific studies, see biological causes of same-sex attraction.

Regardless of the role that genetics play in the development of sexual attractions, people who experience these attractions can make conscious choices about their behaviors. Although researchers have found a certain gene present in 77% of the alcoholic patients, we know that alcoholics can control their behavior and lead productive lives. You have control over your destiny. You have moral agency and can determine the course of your life.

Developmental Experiences

Professionals agree that children are influenced in significant ways by their environment. Your family, friends, society, and experiences influence how you feel, how you view life, and how you act. Some people theorize that a myriad of social and psychological factors come together in the right amounts at the right time to focus sexual desires in a developing child toward others of the same sex. Some of these factors may include your relationship with your family and peers, your ability to identify with masculinity or femininity, the degree to which your emotional needs are fulfilled, self-perceptions, and early sexual experiences.

Many boys become aware of their same-sex attractions at an early age (sometimes before age five). The most important formative years for the development of sexual feelings and attitudes are during late infancy and before the onset of puberty, and not during puberty and adolescence.

Summary of Personality, Biology, and Developmental Experiences

Personality, genetics, and developmental experiences all have a place in influencing our sexual attractions. Drs. Byne and Parsons at Columbia University believe it is important to “appreciate the complexities of sexual orientation and resist the urge to search for simplistic explanations, either psychosocial or biologic.” (Byne, William and Parsons, Bruce. “Human Sexual Orientation: The Biologic Theories Reappraised,” Archives of General Psychiatry 50, Mar. 1993, pp. 236–37.) They emphasize that in addition to the influences of genetics or the environment, the individual plays an important role in determining his or her identity.

Dr. John Money stated, “Many wrongly assume that whatever is biological cannot be changed, and whatever mental can be. Both propositions are in error. Homosexuality is always biological and always mental, both together. It is mental because it exists in the mind. It is biological because the mind exists in the brain. The sexual brain through its extended nervous system communicates back and forth with the sex organs.” (“Sin, Sickness or Status? Homosexual Gender Identity and Psychoneuroendocrinology,” American Psychologist 42, no. 4, Apr. 1987; Money, John. Gay, Straight, and In-Between: The Sexology of Erotic Orientation , Oxford University Press, New York, NY, 1988.)

Our character is the net result of our choices and life experiences. “Some of us are shy, some anxious, some have problems with anger or chemical dependence, some of us fear commitment. Did we ‘choose’ any of these things? Actually, all of our adult personality is the result of a complex interplay of heredity and family environment with thousands of small personal decisions dating back as far as we can remember. The results are deeply entrenched ways of feeling, thinking, acting.” (Harvest News, Spring 1995, Harvest USA, Philadelphia, PA, p. 3.)

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