Study: Gays made via epigenetics, not genetics

“Epigenetics – how gene expression is regulated by temporary switches, called epi-marks – appears to be a critical and overlooked factor contributing to the long-standing puzzle of why homosexuality occurs.” [EurekAlert]

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21 responses to “Study: Gays made via epigenetics, not genetics

  1. Hoo boy, looking for genetic and evolutionary elements in homosexual attraction has been a tough slog for a long time.
    I have more than a casual interest of biology and more information than the average bear but I’m a long way short of being a biologist. Still, two things have struck me about homosexual attraction and behavior.
    First, if the basic evolutionary theory is correct, humans and other mammals evolved from animals more like reptiles. Reptiles have a different form of gentialia and excretory system, the cloaca, which could explain why humans retain some sexual response in the anus. Also, reptilian and amphibian gender is less Boolean — the temperature of a nest has an influence of the distribution of male and female crocodile offspring, according to Discovery Channel (got to get my research in there) and some amphibians and fish may switch between fully functional female and fully functional male roles.
    Second, I have never been able to form a same-sex attraction fantasy. I’m not claiming superiority or inferiority, I’m just noting a fact. By extension, I assume that most people with same-sex attraction can’t form an other-sex attraction fantasy (oversimplified but you get my drift). I never “chose” other-sex attraction, it’s simply all I’ve known. That seems a very powerful sign that same-sex attraction is a natural expression of something rather than a moral choice.
    Whether same-sex attraction is biological or has other origins, its expression in homosexual activity is a matter of choice, as is other-sex attraction. Ever since I’ve understood what homosexual activity actually was, I’ve been ready to accept that it works for these folks and is harmless to any others. If child-sex attraction is also natural, and it may well be, its expression is also a matter of choice and of course I think it is wrong because of the harm it does to another.

    • Child-sex attraction is harmful to children because we said so. Should you doubt that, look at the change from mommy and daddy to mommy and mommy, daddy and daddy and the glorification of homosexuality. Forty years ago, it was a mental illness. (There is considerable evidence within psychology that one most certainly can develop same-sex attractions due to abuse or social pressures. Some people listen less to the voices of society about right and wrong, some believe if their twin is gay so are they and some just like to experiment.) We can rewrite what is considered moral and not in a generation or less. We used to say it was wrong to shack up and have babies out of wedlock yet now it’s considered doing one’s own thing. In some places, it is becoming the norm. We dictate the rules and can change them at any time. However, since someone has to be bad and hated, I don’t expect child-sex to be allowed anytime soon. The one thing we cannot do is allow everything to be okay–we need bad guys and usually we choose the ones we are least likely to want to emulate.

  2. Heaven forbid that a lack of morality, discipline, or self-control should be considered as contributing factors!
    Sexual attraction (to whomever or whatever) is not the same thing as sexual behaviour.
    The attraction is perfectly private, occurring entirely within one’s own head.
    The behaviour is public, and should in all cases be subject to the commonly accepted public mores.
    Homosexuality is a behaviour, and can be controlled entirely by the individual – if the individual is so inclined.

  3. A 100% gay person makes no direct contribution to the gene pool. So how does homosexuality persist?

    Males left to defend a camp while males were warring had to be careful not to abuse their access to women. If caught, they would be punished, perhaps killed. Yet those same males would be needed to continue populations when the males were wiped out. Thus the males left behind had to have sexual capacity. While those males were at camp, they had to be productive. Grooming has great value, and that has passed down as gay hair dressers. My theory explains the rate of incidence of homosexuality too.

  4. What a pile of BS. They show a possible mechanism for the continuation of mythical homosexual genetic traits and claim it PROVES homosexuality is genetic?!?!?!?! They still have not shown a reliable connection between any set of genetic traits and homosexuality!!!

  5. M T Geoff,

    ” I assume that most people with same-sex attraction can’t form an other-sex attraction fantasy (oversimplified but you get my drift). I never “chose” other-sex attraction, it’s simply all I’ve known. That seems a very powerful sign that same-sex attraction is a natural expression of something rather than a moral choice.”

    The fact that you do not remember any other type of attraction has NOTHING to do with whether you could or could not have developed it under a different set of life circumstances. As to it being a moral choice, I am a Christian and would not try and tell you that all five year olds could make this moral choice even if they HAD been educated in it!!! They are more likely to go with whatever appears to lead them personally in their life. What?? I haven’t mentioned grooming yet?? As we all do not remember formative events in our lives our personal memories are a very poor evidence of exactly what has formed our personalities and preferences.

    • So are you saying this is or is not chosen? And does anyone have any evidence a five-year-old has ANY sexual knowledge (by the way, if they do this puts a whole new light on child-sex)?
      Personal choice all through life forms who we are. It’s really convenient to blame something that happened when you were three, but you grew up. You made choices. You continue to make choices. If you are what your genes and early childhood say you are, we can forget rehabbing criminals, drug addicts and abused children. We are just like any other mammal–we respond to stimulus and reward with no choices whatsoever. Is that where you are going with this? It’s not really clear.

  6. Well, I did hope to stir things up a bit.
    By “child sex attraction”, I meant the attraction of some adults to children. Acting on such an attraction is harmful and any decent person will want to stop it. Acting on it is also a choice, just like acting on other-sex or same-sex attraction. The origin of attraction to children might be natural but it would still have to be controlled.
    On the origin of same-sex attraction: as reptilian male/female character is less than Boolean, so is human homosexual attraction and activity. There’s a range of inclinations from entirely other-sex to entirely same-sex. If same-sex attraction has genetic components that may or may not express according to many circumstances, then the genetic elements would be eliminated slowly and maybe never be eliminated — we still have diabetes in the gene pool. And same-sex/other-sex attraction may link to clusters of genes rather than any single gene or gene cluster.
    My understanding and experience is that developmental circumstances rarely change a person’s basic makeup. Some people raised in abuse become tender and others cruel. A person with some same-sex attraction may be more inclined to act on the attraction according to how the person grows up but I doubt that circumstances could create same-sex attraction. And of course I could be wrong; if a hundred years’ of psychology hasn’t worked this out, why should I be sure I know what I’m talking about?
    Since all sexual activity is based on choices, the moral issue of homosexual activity is separate in some measure from its origin. I will not allow that consensual, responsible sexual activity is “public” in the sense that any commenter here has a right to condemn the participants. I consider adultery irresponsible because it harms families and relationships, although I’d never support making it a crime. I think promiscuity is a bad idea rather than a defiance of God’s law. These are my own moral positions, binding only to me.
    The significance of a natural origin of same-sex attraction is that, if it were clearly established, it would change the idea that homosexuals are perverts in favor of the idea that they are simply different. It would also help to explain why a behavior that seemingly should die out quicky has remained a thread in human society through all known history.
    There are other mammals than engage in some forms of homosexuality, incidentally. I’ve read articles of such conduct among baboons and dolphins at least. If we all go back to hermaphroditic worms at some point, that could be part of why same-sex/other-sex attraction is so complicated.

  7. @MT Geoff: The psychology does not generally say abuse causes homosexuality. The studies show correlation between childhood abuse and later homosexual/lesbian behaviour. It is very possible that abuse pushes the person to act on an existing desire, rather than creates it. We just don’t know.
    The idea that your morality is separate from society is interesting. The Romans routinely killed their enemies, killed their rulers to effect leadership changes, and showed little regard for life. Yet today, we have all kinds of rules about killing people. The definition of murder is basically a moral choice. We made that into law. It’s mostly sex we pretend is a moral choice that we cannot legislate on, yet we do put scarlet “p’s” on pedophiles, so we do legislate. Someone’s morals get made into law, no matter how you look at it.
    Again, “natural order” is more in line with the Romans killing those that got in their way than today’s diplomacy. Yet few argue that we should return to our natural state and become more like the Romans. Only sex gets that argument made over and over. Sex is apparently outside of any of the generally accepted rules of society, evolution and basically anything. Sex is the only behaviour we want to return to the animal state in. It’s interesting that enforcing morality which condemns some forms of sex is wrong (“you can’t legislate morally”), but the morality that says not slaughtering your annoying neighbor is acceptable, even though both go to basic human nature. Something to think about.

    • Howdy RealityCheck
      In terms of legislation, my standard broadly is that of Thomas Jefferson: “…it neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg…”, nor anyone else’s, if two women have a consensual sexual encounter. An adult who involves a child in sex is very likely to harm the child, though, and so I would legislate in this arena.
      It seems to me that each individual does determine a moral code — what’s right and wrong as opposed to what’s genuinely and objectively harmful. We inform our moral codes through our societies, our religious experience and many other influences, but I think everyone does reach an individual moral state. My key to a moral decision is, “Does this harm someone in a way that doesn’t amount to a crime?” Less than rigorous but the best I can do. Adultery does harm someone who isn’t agreeing to the deal — the spouse or spouses — so I find it morally wrong. Promiscuity seems to spring from, and then to reinforce, a weakness of the individual’s personality or ego and so I think it’s morally wrong to inflict it on yourself.
      There is no harm I can find in homosexual consensual conduct among adults. So I can’t bring myself to condemn it at the law or as a moral offense. I know others disagree with me; they should govern their own lives as they think best. Legislation on consensual adult sex is pretty much dead now in the US, but I am an advocate of cheerful acceptance of people, gay or straight, as long as they are doing no harm.

      • First, do you think homosexuality would have been legal and accepted in Jefferson’s day, since you are using his standard?
        I would say again that in one generation or less we can remove the damage done by adult-child sex. We define damage. In Jefferson’s day, marrying a 15 year old when you were 21 was common. Today, you go to jail for it. We redefine all the time.
        There seems to be little difference between promiscuity and homosexuality as far as moral problems. It has been argued that legitimizing homosexuals led to an increase in pedophilia. I doubt there are studies–no one really wants to know, I’m sure. If it did increase the number of practicing pedophiles, then harm was inflicted.
        As with many “open-minded” ideas, it comes down to what you personally call harm. You are arguing that we accept your definition of wrong as being the correct one. Why should we accept your definition and not that of the people who say homosexuality is harmful? My point is most people think their definitions of right and wrong, harmful or not are correct. Yet there are hundreds of variations on harmful or not. Is marijuana harmful? Is too much taxation harmful? Is a speed limit really necessary?
        You don’t need to answer all of these. I just want people to think what “open-minded” really means.

  8. Howdy Reality Check
    In Jefferson’s day, men convicted of homosexual acts were often hanged, at least in England. I know the acts were felonies in the US at the time but I don’t know if it was quite as bad as in England. I think Jefferson would have supported leaving people who are gay alone. He might even have been ready to accept them. Lots has changed since his day, as you said.
    Defining “harm” is a problem and that’s exaclty why we should be slow to legislate away personal choice. Killing someone is objectively harmful; it deprives that person of all future opportunity, it deprives the person’s family of association, and it requires the most extreme justification. Stealing is clearly harmful to the person who is robbed. Acting negligently so as to damage someone else’s property is clearly harmful. All of these are also illegal.
    Gossiping about someone may be harmful but it’s almost never a crime — you have to rise to the level of slander or libel, and then it’s normally a civil matter.
    If two people who are the same sex are attracted to each other and they form a nurturing, responsible and faithful relationship, why would I be appalled? Why would I look down on that? On the other hand, if two people of opposite sex have a torrid sexual relationship that harms their children or their spouses, or if they cast each other off like old socks, why would I respect that? And why should either situation represent a crime?

  9. There really is no biological explanation for human homosexuality. So, from that angle of discussion, the facts point back to choice. If the choices we make are simply our personal preference – based on our own view of how things ought to be- then there are no absolutes, no right and wrong. Whether it harms another person or not becomes another point of opinion. The pedophile will assure you that their treatment of the child does not harm the child. Does that make it acceptable? I think not.
    So where does it end? Surely not here with our discussion. There must be a higher standard to reference, a transcendent code of conduct that respects all. Where will that come from? Public opinion? Not likely. Divine law is still our best option.

  10. “… epi-marks, which normally protect parents from natural variation in sex hormone levels during fetal development”?!
    As near as I can tell, this passage claims that fathers need to be protected from variations in testosterone levels caused by the fetus!

  11. Again, your standard is what you go by for harm. Many would not object to random sexual attachments–man was never meant to be stuck with one partner, they argue. There is no objective method–we all want laws and morals that work for us. Agreed that most behaviours should not reach criminal status. As for those that are not moral, we are left with situational, shifting ethics. No one is right, no one is wrong. We just disagree. Or that’s the popular theory.
    This seems to be just going around in circles, so enough for now. The answers are far to complex for a blog. The point was nothing is really simple and consensus on morality is not likely.

  12. Intrepid and Reality Check are exactly right in their last comments here. And the science is NOT settled – tadchem demonstrates one of the variables. In regard to Divine Law – OK – interpreted by which humans?

    • The point of divine law is that it does not require human “interpretation” as such. If you read through the text, it becomes pretty self explanatory. The tough part is that it’s black and white and we as humans prefer gray tones.

      • I agree mostly. If you study numerous religions, many have common threads. These are then modified by humans to whatever ends they wish to reach. One rule I have used is that religion and logic/science should not be in conflict. A rational God would not make irrational rules, or at least it seems unlikely (please do not introduce the “Argument from Evil” here–years of philosophy have not solved it). So if God said to kill everyone around you because they are all evil and you know two are nuns, one a minister and two others are model citizens, you probably should rethink where the command came from. It doesn’t work in all cases and complex cases require a lot of thought. Choosing between two evils, etc. Most religious rules are black and white, and humans do indeed love grays. Grays allow people to behave badly.

  13. Thanks, Biggles. In answer to your last question, who knows? The Unification Church tried tying together many different religions and ended up vilified for selling flowers at airports. It resulted in a somewhat unified belief, though individual ministers interpreted values and beliefs as they wanted, not as Moon interpreted things. At this point, there is no unified idea of morals and acceptable behaviour and there probably never will be. We do what can, think through the justifications for our acts, and keep working at it. Some things humans may never succeed at and this is probably one.

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