In yesterday's article, I argued that sexual orientation in general (and same sex sexual orientation in particular) occurs as a result of a broad range of biological and environmental factors that interact and that ultimately crystallize at puberty to produce a person’s sexual attraction to others. Furthermore, I suggested that the course of sexual orientation development is the same regardless of one’s sexual orientation: heterosexual, homosexual, bisexual, and even asexual orientations develop in the same way.
At the outset, let me note that the scientific community is some distance from knowing the specific details of how different factors interact to produce our sexual orientations. This observation may not be surprising; the scientific community (e.g., psychology, psychiatry, biology) is some distance from knowing the specific details of how different factors interact to produce a range of personality characteristics (e.g., intelligence) and disorders (e.g., schizophrenia).
We do know that there is NO single factor or element that is only and unambiguously associated with a specific (e.g., same sex) sexual orientation. For example, we know that genetic factors contribute to same sex sexual orientation, but there is no known gene or set of genes which always and only produces same sex sexual orientation. Similarly, we do know that early childhood experiences (such as childhood sexual abuse) can contribute to sexual orientation, but it is not the case that child sexual abuse always produces a particular sexual orientation. If, for example, a younger male has been sexually abused by an older male, this may have a slight influence on the development of same sex sexual orientation by the young male, but the vast majority of males (and females) who have been sexually abused develop opposite sex sexual orientation. So, there is no individual factor that clearly leads to same sex sexual orientation.
The range of factors that influences the development of sexual orientation is broad. These factors include genetic factors, prenatal non-genetic factors (e.g., exposure to prenatal hormones), personal perceptions and experiences influences (e.g., relationships with other children, feeling different from others), and broader interpersonal/social influences (e.g.. urban vs. rural environments). These factors work together before puberty to set up a person’s sexual orientation. So, we do know that a broad range of factors interacts in a complex (and unknown) fashion to influence the development of all sexual orientations. We also know that this complex set of factors also tends to have a mostly predictable but strong influence on the development of sexual orientation. That is, however the combination of factors interacts, the combination tends to “push” the development of sexual orientation in a particular direction (e.g., generally toward opposite sex sexual orientation – heterosexuality).
Surveys that examine sexual attraction/orientation generally find that about 2-5% of the participants of a survey report themselves as having a same sex sexual orientation (or report as bisexual). This is relatively consistent across a variety of surveys administered across a range of countries and times. To put it another way, in the vast majority of individuals (approximately 95-98% of people) the complex interaction of factors leads to the development of opposite sex sexual orientation at puberty. That is, most individuals are “pushed” toward opposite sex sexual orientation during the course of their development. The (unknown) combination of factors that lead to an alternate development route for sexual orientation (i.e., toward same sex sexual orientation) occurs relatively infrequently.
So, we know that a broad range of factors, both biological (i.e., nature) and environmental (i.e., nurture) interact over a period of time (from conception to puberty) to produce our sexual orientations. The most common pathway of development leads to opposite sex sexual orientation; less common alternate pathways lead to same sex sexual orientation or both sex sexual orientation (bisexuality). We also know that the pathways are “set” at puberty, when a pubertal child discovers that he or she is attracted to or has a crush on others. We are neither born with, nor do we choose, our sexual orientation – to whom we are attracted.
Guardians of the Truth ’83-‘85