Homosexuality: Is it inborn or acquired? Nature or nurture?

Until about 30 years ago homosexuality was still classified as a disease, but it is no longer so

By Dr F.S.L. Ip

On reading Ramesh Beeharry in Mauritius Times (1 Nov 2018), I went back to my thoughts about homosexuality while I was a medical student, over sixty years ago.

Medicine is simply applied biology.

In those days the debate about it was: is it inborn or acquired? Or as some put it: nature or nurture? The answer has been slow and hard in coming.

From studies of twins, it emerged that in about half of the cases, sexual orientation was genetically determined but the exact genes concerned have not been identified.

In the years 1940-1960 many women were prescribed Di-ethyl-stilboestrol (DES, for short) by doctors believing that it would stop threatened abortion or even act as a preventive. It turned out to be a case of “fools rush in where angels fear to tread” because not only was it not effective but some disastrous consequences were found. Some daughters of such women on reaching late adolescence or early womanhood were found to have cancer of their private parts. Other such daughters were found to be more likely to be bi-sexual or homosexual. Some of the sons had mild malformations of their external genitals. It has been reported that women exposed during pregnancy to nicotine, or amphetamine or phenoharbitone were likely to have lesbian daughters.

How many more hormonal perturbators are yet to be discovered in the light of increasing numbers of chemicals and “medicines” is anybody’s guess.

Those of us who are normal can justifiably say “But for the grace of God go I”, or atheists: “Thank our good luck!”

Hitler considered homosexuality as a disease similar to the plague and at first he encouraged voluntary but later promulgated compulsory castration and finally concentration camps.

Until about 30 years ago homosexuality was still classified as a disease, but it is no longer so.

Also about 30 years ago, it was found (at postmortem examination) that there were recognisable differences between the female and the male hypothalamus which is a part of the brain of great importance for the survival of its owner.

What about the “nurture” aspect? Currently many believe that “mauvaises frequentations” or sexual abuse as a child is a factor leading to pedophilia, which is a homosexual act between a grown male and a young one. It is difficult to study because there won’t be many people to come forward saying they are pedophiles.

There is no doubt that the “raison d’être” of a couple consisting of a female and a male, whether of birds, monkeys, humans or other mammals is reproduction and the continuation of the respective species.

For human couples a strong incentive for couple formation is arousal of feelings, of the senses and outpouring of pleasure hormones and the chasing away of rivals.

Before the advent of the contraceptive pill, generation after generation of people understood that sexual behaviour is geared to the survival of the species.

The rules given by Moses to his Hebrew followers concerning menstrual and other blood from a woman’s genitals were aimed at promoting fertility and survival of his followers during their search of the Promised Land.

Hammurabi, the founder of the first Babylonian Empire in about 1730 BC, proclaimed a code of conduct known by his name and inscribed on a stele still existing at suse in which he prescribed severe punishment for abortion.

With the advent of “the pill”, the pleasure is dissociated from the reproductive aspect of the sexual act and homosexuals felt free. Before that, the climate of social opinion was sometimes so severe as to lead to some tragedies. For example Alan Turing who helped the Allies to win the war against the Axis by breaking the German secret code and was a founder of computers was pushed to commit suicide. I believe that was the case of Oscar Wilde, a popular author.

Homosexual behaviour has not been reported in the animals in the wild. However sometimes female animals mount others but there is no anal intromission. Cases have been observed where there are two females incubating their eggs in the same nest under the watchful eyes and the protection of a male but that is probably to ensure the success of that nesting. The male bird can be considered bigamous but the females not as lesbians.

If a homosexual couple adopts a child (as is allowed in some countries) is such a child not to be highly likely to be confused and perturbed as to whom to call mother and whom to call father?

* Published in print edition on 16 November 2018

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