Can we talk about sexual orientation for a bit? I sure hope so, because I’m gonna go ahead and launch into it here, if you’re ready or not.
Among the load of email I get from the sexually worrisome in any given week, I will predictably get a handful of questions, mostly from guys, who are concerned that they might get gay.
The guys writing in are concerned enough by something that is going on inside of them that they’re compelled to broach the issue with me. I hasten to add that rarely are these communications the “Gee, I’m Mildly Curious” type. Rather they’re more likely to be the “Oh My God, What Wrong With Me?” type. They fear that they picked up queer cooties somewhere and their undies are all in a twist fearing they are scared for life. Ya know, kinda like the pox.
Then there are those who write in wanting to me to make sense of their sexual ramblings. They’ve been playing on both sides of the fence, so to speak; and they want me make the call. My response to each group of correspondents is virtually the same — for most of us sexual interests and behaviors are way more fluid than we care to acknowledge. For example, here’s young (20-year-old) Mel.
My first sex was with a guy, and then I got plenty of sex with girls. Then there was the time that I got fucked, it hurts on the first time but as it continued it started to feel tickly and I started to enjoy it. But I still like to have sex with girls. What do you think I am really?
What do I think you are, REALLY? Why would you want me, a total stranger, to offer an opinion on who you REALLY are? I mean, REALLY!
I gather you want me to weigh in on your sexual orientation, right? Well from the bit of information you give me, I’d say you’re able to swing both ways. And that’s a good thing, at least in terms of getting a date. You have it way over all the other folks who acknowledge being interested in only one gender.
Listen, all human sexuality is on a continuum. Have you ever heard of the Kinsey 0-6 scale? The dean of American sex research, Alfred Kinsey, his associate, Wardell Pomeroy, and their colleagues developed this scale as a way of classifying a person’s sexuality in terms of both behavior and fantasy.
This is what they developed.
0 represents an exclusive heterosexual person, who has no homosexual behavior or fantasy.
1 represents a predominantly heterosexual person, who may have incidental same sex feelings — most likely in fantasy only.
2 represents a predominantly heterosexual person, who has more than incidental same sex feelings and experience — fantasy for sure and probably behavior too.
3 represents an equally heterosexual and homosexual person, one who enjoys both other and same sex behavior and fantasy.
4 represents a predominantly homosexual person, who has more than incidental other sex feelings and experience — fantasy for sure and probably behavior too.
5 represents a predominantly homosexual person, who may have incidental same other sex feelings — most likely in fantasy only.
6 represents an exclusively homosexual person, who has no heterosexual behavior or fantasy.
These pioneering sexologists also discovered that an individual can, and often does move around on this scale at different periods in his/her life. So if you really want to know what you really are, look to both your fantasy life and your actual behaviors and make your call with that information. Just don’t be overly surprised if you find that you shift from one position to another as you grow into you sexuality.
To elaborate on what I just said to our young friend, Mel, I’m going to go all egghead on you. Because there is a body of sexual research that underscores just how complex this whole issue is.
For example, did you know that a recent study discovered that gay men and straight women have similar brain organization? It’s true!
Researchers in Sweden found that gay men and straight women share some characteristics in the area of the brain responsible for emotion, mood and anxiety. Brain scans also showed the same symmetry among lesbians and straight men. These findings were published in the prestigious journal — The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
The researchers quickly added that their study couldn’t determine whether the differences in brain organization were inherited or due to exposure to hormones, such as testosterone, in the womb. They were also unable to conclude if brain organization is responsible for sexual orientation.
Numerous other studies have examined the roles genetics, biology and environment play in sexual orientation. But little evidence exists that any one factor in particular plays the all-important primary role. This leads most scientists to assert that both nature and nurture play a part.
To make matters worse, some research contradicts other research, and some promising findings never pan out. (Did you know that there was once a belief that male homosexuality and finger length might be linked? Another, later discredited claim, suggested that gays have distinctive fingerprint ridge patterns.) And researchers never agree on how to interpret results even when they find a likely correlation.
Here are some fun facts you might find interesting.
• A study of 87,000 British men published in 2007 found that gay men have more older brothers than straight men do. Only big brothers count. And lesbians don’t show such patterns.
Ray Blanchard of the University of Toronto, an expert on the “big-brother effect” says that each older brother will increase a man’s chances of being gay by 33%. That’s not as dramatic as it might sound. A man’s chance of being gay is pretty low to begin with — perhaps as low as 2%. So having one older brother only ups the chance of being gay to only about 2.6%.
Curiously enough, this “big-brother effect” holds true even for gay men who weren’t raised with their older brothers. This leads researchers to believe the key to understanding this is in the mother’s womb. After giving birth to a boy, a woman’s immune system can create antibodies to foreign, male proteins in her bloodstream. Subsequent sons in the womb could be exposed to these “anti-boy” antibodies, which might affect sexual development in the brain. How freakin’ amazing is that?
• The hand you use to sign your name might have something to do with what gender you are drawn to.
An study containing more than 23,000 men and women from North America and Europe in the year 2000 found that being non-right-handed seems to increase a man’s chances of being gay by about 34%, and a woman’s by about 90%.
Again researchers guess that different-than-normal levels of testosterone in the womb — widely theorized to play a role in determining eventual sexual orientation — could nudge a fetus toward brain organization that favors left-handedness as well as same-sex attraction.
• If exposure to testosterone in the womb influences sexual orientation, scientists reckon that straight and gay people would differ in body parts strongly affected by testosterone, such as a guy’s cock.
Here we get back to Alfred Kinsey’s groundbreaking work. Researchers at Brock University in Ontario reviewed the data on 5,000 gay and straight men collected by Kinsey and his associates from the 1930s to the 1960s. Their results, published in 1999, showed that gay men had longer, thicker penises than did straight men. On average, about 6.5 inches long and 4.95 inches around when erect, versus 6.1 inches long and 4.8 inches around for straight men.
Again, no one can actually say for certain what this means. One guess is that some male fetuses are exposed to a unique mix of hormones in the womb. Testosterone levels might spike early, causing enhanced penis growth, then drop off later in pregnancy — leading to some feminine characteristics.
As you can see, there’s a still a lot of work to be done in this field. The next frontier looks to be in the subtle differences in how gay and straight brains navigate new cities, respond to erotic movies and react to the scent of sweat and urine.