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Cross-Cultural Evidence for the Genetics of Homosexuality

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Mexico’s third gender sheds light on the biological correlates of sexual orientation

By Debra W. Soh

The reasons behind why people are gay, straight, or bisexual have long been a source of public fascination. Indeed, research on the topic of sexual orientation offers a powerful window into understanding human sexuality. The Archives of Sexual Behavior recently published a special edition devoted to research in this area, titled “The Puzzle of Sexual Orientation.” One study, conducted by scientists at the University of Lethbridge in Alberta, Canada, offers compelling, cross-cultural evidence that common genetic factors underlie same-sex, sexual preference in men.

In southern Mexico, individuals who are biologically male and sexually attracted to men are known as muxes. They are recognized as a third gender: Muxe nguiiu tend to be masculine in their appearance and behavior, while muxe gunaa are feminine. In Western cultures, they would be considered gay men and transgender women, respectively.

Several correlates of male androphilia — biological males who are sexually attracted to men — have been shown across different cultures, which is suggestive of a common biological foundation among them. For example, the fraternal birth order effect—the phenomenon whereby male androphilia is predicted by having a higher number of biological older brothers—is evident in both Western and Samoan cultures.

Interestingly, in Western society, homosexual men, compared with heterosexual men, tend to recall higher levels of separation anxiety — the distress resulting from being separated from major attachment figures, like one’s primary caregiver or close family members. Research in Samoa has similarly demonstrated that third-gender fa’afafine—individuals who are feminine in appearance, biologically male, and attracted to men—also recall greater childhood separation anxiety when compared with heterosexual Samoan men. Thus, if a similar pattern regarding separation anxiety were to be found in a third, disparate culture—in the case, the Istmo region of Oaxaca, Mexico—it would add to the evidence that male androphilia has biological underpinnings.

The current study included 141 heterosexual women, 135 heterosexual men, and 178 muxes (61 muxe nguiiu and 117 muxe gunaa). Study participants were interviewed using a questionnaire that asked about separation anxiety; more specifically, distress and worry they experienced as a child in relation to being separated from a parental figure. Participants rated how true each question was for them when they were between the ages of 6 to 12 years old.

Muxes showed elevated rates of childhood separation anxiety when compared with heterosexual men, similar to what has been seen in gay men in Canada and fa’afafine in Samoa. There were also no differences in anxiety scores between women and muxe nguiiu or muxe gunaa, or between the two types of muxes.

When we consider possible explanations for these results, social mechanisms are unlikely, as previous research has shown that anxiety is heritable and parenting tends to be in response to children’s traits and behaviors, as opposed to the other way around. Biological mechanisms, however, offer a more compelling account. For instance, exposure to female-typical levels of sex steroid hormones in the prenatal environment are thought to “feminize” regions of the male brain that are related to sexual orientation, thereby influencing attachment and anxiety.

On top of this, studies in molecular genetics have shown that Xq28, a region located at the tip of the X chromosome, is involved in both the expression of anxiety and male androphilia. This suggests that common genetic factors may underlie the expression of both. Twin studies additionally point to genetic explanations as the underlying force for same-sex partner preference in men and neuroticism, a personality trait that is comparable to anxiety.

These findings suggest childhood separation anxiety may be a culturally universal correlate of androphilia in men. This has important implications for our understanding of children’s mental health conditions, as subclinical levels of separation anxiety, when intertwined with male androphilia, may represent a typical part of the developmental life course.

As it stands, sexual orientation research will continue to evoke widespread interest and controversy for the foreseeable future because it has the potential to be used—for better or worse—to uphold particular socio-political agendas. The moral acceptability of homosexuality has often hinged on the idea that same-sex desires are innate, immutable, and therefore, not a choice. This is clear when we think about how previous beliefs around homosexuality being learned were once used to justify (now discredited) attempts to change these desires.

The cross-cultural similarities evinced by the current study offer further proof that being gay is genetic, which is, in itself, an interesting finding. But we as a society should challenge the notion that sexual preferences must be non-volitional in order to be socially acceptable or safe from scrutiny. The etiology of homosexuality, biological or otherwise, should have no bearing on gay individuals’ right to equality.

Complete Article HERE!

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It’s time to end the taboo of sex and intimacy in care homes

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Imagine living in an aged care home. Now imagine your needs for touch and intimacy being overlooked. More than 500,000 individuals aged 65+ (double the population of Cardiff) live in care homes in Britain. Many could be missing out on needs and rights concerning intimacy and sexual activity because they appear to be “designed out” of policy and practice. The situation can be doubly complicated for lesbian, gay, bisexual or trans individuals who can feel obliged to go “back into the closet” and hide their identity when they enter care.

Little is known about intimacy and sexuality in this sub-sector of care. Residents are often assumed to be prudish and “past it”. Yet neglecting such needs can affect self-esteem and mental health.

A study by a research team for Older People’s Understandings of Sexuality (OPUS), based in Northwest England, involved residents, non-resident female spouses of residents with a dementia and 16 care staff. The study found individuals’ accounts more diverse and complicated than stereotypes of older people as asexual. Some study participants denied their sexuality. Others expressed nostalgia for something they considered as belonging in the past. Yet others still expressed an openness to sex and intimacy given the right conditions.

Insights

The most common story among study participants reflected the idea that older residents have moved past a life that features or is deserving of sex and intimacy. One male resident, aged 79, declared: “Nobody talks about it”. However, an 80-year-old female resident considered that some women residents might wish to continue sexual activity with the right person.

For spouses, cuddling and affection figured as basic human needs and could eclipse needs for sex. One spouse spoke about the importance of touch and holding hands to remind her partner that he was still loved and valued. Such gestures were vital in sustaining a relationship with a partner who had changed because of a dementia.

Care staff underlined the need for training to help them to assist residents meet their sexual and intimacy needs. Staff highlighted grey areas of consent within long-term relationships where one or both partners showed declining capacity. They also spoke about how expressions of sexuality posed ethical and legal dilemmas. For example, individuals affected by a dementia can project feelings towards another or receive such attention inappropriately. The challenge was to balance safeguarding welfare with individual needs and desires.

Some problems were literally built into care home environments and delivery of care. Most care homes consist of single rooms and provide few opportunities for people to sit together. A “no locked door” policy in one home caused one spouse to describe the situation as, “like living in a goldfish bowl”.

But not all accounts were problematic. Care staff wished to support the expression of sex, sexuality and intimacy needs but felt constrained by the need to safeguard. One manager described how their home managed this issue by placing curtains behind the frosted glass window in one room. This enabled a couple to enjoy each other’s company with privacy. Such simple changes suggest a more measured approach to safeguarding (not driven by anxiety over residents’ sexuality), which could ensure the privacy needed for intimacy.

Conclusions

Our study revealed a lack of awareness by staff of the need to meet sexuality and intimacy needs. Service providers need guidance on such needs and should provide it to staff. The information is out there and they can get the advice they need from the Care Quality Commission, Independent Longevity Centre, Local Government Association and the Royal College of Nursing.

Policies and practices should recognise resident diversity and avoid treating everyone the same. This approach risks reinforcing inequality and doesn’t meet the range of needs of very different residents. The views of black, working-class and LGBT individuals are commonly absent from research on ageing sexuality and service provision. One care worker spoke of how her home’s sexuality policy (a rare occurrence anyway) was effectively a “heterosexuality policy”. It may be harder for an older, working-class, black, female or trans-identified individual to express their sexuality needs compared to an older white, middle-class, heterosexual male.

Care homes need to provide awareness-raising events for staff and service users on this topic. These events should address stereotyping and ways of achieving a balance between enabling choices, desires, rights and safeguarding. There is also a need for nationally recognised training resources on these issues.

Older people should not be denied basic human rights. This policy vacuum could be so easily addressed over time and with appropriate training. What we need now is a bigger conversation about sex and intimacy in later life and what we can do to help bring about some simple changes in the care home system.

Complete Article HERE!

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British Columbian study reveals unique sexual healthcare needs of transgender men

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by Craig Takeuchi

While HIV studies have extensively examined issues related to gay, bisexual, and queer men, one group missing from such research has been transgender men.

Consequently, Vancouver and Victoria researchers undertook one of the first such Western Canadian studies, with the findings published on April 3 in Culture, Health, and Sexuality. This study allowed researchers to take a look at HIV risk for this population, and within the Canadian context of publicly funded universal access to healthcare and gender-related public policies that differ from the U.S.

The study states that trans men have often been absent from HIV studies due to small sample sizes, eligibility criteria, limited research design, or the misconceptions that trans men are mostly heterosexual or are not at risk for HIV. What research that has been conducted in this area has been primarily U.S.–based.

The Ontario-based Trans PULSE Study found that up to two-thirds of trans men also identify as gay, bisexual, or queer.

The researchers conducted interviews with 11 gay, bisexual, and queer transgender men in Vancouver who were enrolled in B.C. Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS’ Momentum Health Study.

What they found were several aspects unique to gay, bisexual, and queer transgender men that differ from gay, bisexual, and queer cisgender men and illustrate the need for trans-specific healthcare.

None of the participants in the study were HIV–positive and only two of them knew of trans men who are HIV–positive.

Participants reported a variety of sexual behaviours, including inconsistent condom use, receptive and insertive anal and genital sex, trans and cisgender male partners, and regular, casual, and anonymous sex partners.

The gender identity of the participants’ partners did influence their decisions about sexual risk-reduction strategies, such as less barrier usage during genital or oral sex with trans partners.

While trans men shared concerns about HIV and sexually transmitted infections with gay cisgender men, bacterial vaginosis and unplanned pregnancy were additional concerns.

Almost all of the participants used online means to meet male partners. They explained that by doing so, they were able to control the disclosure of their trans status as well as experiences of rejection or misperception. Online interactions also gave them greater control over negotiating safer sex and physical safety (such as arranging to meet a person in public first or in a sex-positive space where others are around).

When it came to healthcare, participants reported that regular testosterone therapy monitoring and transition-related care provided opportunities to include regular HIV– and STI–testing.

Some participants, however, experienced challenges in finding LGBT–competent healthcare services, with issues arising such as clinic staff using birth names or incorrect pronouns, insistence on unwanted pap testing, and a lack of understanding of the sexual practices of trans men.

The researchers note that these findings indicate the need for trans-inclusive services and trans-specific education, particularly within services for gay men.

Complete Article HERE!

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Is I is or is I ain’t

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Name: Kate
Gender: Female
Age: 20
Location: canada
Lately I’ve been noticing I am attracted to both males and females. So I don’t know if I am a lesbian or not? Is that normal?

Perhaps you are unclear on the concept. If you’re attracted to both women and men, you could hardly be a lesbian, right? I mean think it through, darlin’! A lesbian, by definition, is a woman who is ONLY sexually interested in other woman. Apparently, that rules you out…unless you are simply fooling yourself about being attracted to men.

You are more likely bisexual — a rather common phenomenon in the female of the species, don’t cha know!

But, truth be told, all human sexuality is on a continuum. Probably it’s time to haul out my Handy Dandy Kinsey Scale for a look-see.

Wait, are you familiar with the Kinsey Scale? The dean of American sex research, Alfred Kinsey, and his associates developed this 0 to 6 scale as a way of classifying a person’s sexuality in terms of both behavior and fantasy.

This is what they developed.

0- Exclusively heterosexual with no homosexual behavior or fantasy.
1- Predominantly heterosexual, only incidentally homosexual — most likely in fantasy only.
2- Predominantly heterosexual, but more than incidentally homosexual — fantasy for sure and possibly behavior too.
3- Equally heterosexual and homosexual in both behavior and fantasy.
4- Predominantly homosexual, but more than incidentally heterosexual — fantasy for sure and possibly behavior too.
5- Predominantly homosexual, only incidentally heterosexual — most likely in fantasy only.
6- Exclusively homosexual with no heterosexual behavior or fantasy.

These pioneering sexologists also discovered that an individual could occupy a different position on this scale, at different periods in his/her life. It’s conceivable that one could go from Kinsey 0 to 6 in a lifetime, or just a afternoon at the Lilith Fair, if ya know what I’m gettin at. This seven-point scale comes close to showing the many gradations that actually exist in human sexual expression. Amazing, huh?

Good luck

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Married LGBT older adults are healthier, happier than singles, study finds

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Same-sex marriage has been the law of the land for nearly two years — and in some states for even longer — but researchers can already detect positive health outcomes among couples who have tied the knot, a University of Washington study finds.

For years, studies have linked marriage with happiness among heterosexual couples. But a study from the UW School of Social Work is among the first to explore the potential benefits of marriage among LGBT couples. It is part of a national, groundbreaking longitudinal study with a representative sample of LGBT older adults, known as “Aging with Pride: National Health, Aging, Sexuality/Gender Study,” which focuses on how historical, environmental, psychological, behavioral, social and biological factors are associated with health, aging and quality of life.

UW researchers found that LGBT study participants who were married reported better physical and mental health, more social support and greater financial resources than those who were single. The findings were published in a February special supplement of The Gerontologist.

“In the nearly 50 years since Stonewall, same-sex marriage went from being a pipe dream to a legal quagmire to reality — and it may be one of the most profound changes to social policy in recent history,” said lead author Jayn Goldsen, research study supervisor in the UW School of Social Work.

Some 2.7 million adults ages 50 and older identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender — a number that is expected to nearly double by 2060.

Among LGBT people, marriage increased noticeably after a 2015 U.S. Supreme Court ruling legalized same-sex marriage nationwide. A 2016 Gallup Poll found that 49 percent of cohabiting gay couples were married, up from 38 percent before the ruling.

For the UW study, more than 1,800 LGBT people, ages 50 and older, were surveyed in 2014 in locations where gay marriage was already legal (32 states and Washington, D.C.). About one-fourth were married, another fourth were in a committed relationship, and half were single. Married respondents had spent an average of 23 years together, while those in a committed, unmarried relationship had spent an average of 16 years. Among the study participants, more women were married than men, and of the respondents who were married, most identified as non-Hispanic white.

Researchers found that, in general, participants in a relationship, whether married or in a long-term partnership, showed better health outcomes than those who were single. But those who were married fared even better, both socially and financially, than couples in unmarried, long-term partnerships. Single LGBT adults were more likely to have a disability; to report lower physical, psychological, social and environmental quality of life; and to have experienced the death of a partner, especially among men. The legalization of gay marriage at the federal level opens up access to many benefits, such as tax exemptions and Social Security survivor benefits that married, straight couples have long enjoyed. But that does not mean every LGBT couple was immediately ready to take that step.

According to Goldsen, marriage, for many older LGBT people, can be something of a conundrum — even a non-starter. LGBT seniors came of age at a time when laws and social exclusion kept many in the closet. Today’s unmarried couples may have made their own legal arrangements and feel that they don’t need the extra step of marriage — or they don’t want to participate in a traditionally heterosexual institution.

Goldsen also pointed to trends in heterosexual marriage: Fewer people are getting married, and those who do, do so later.

“More older people are living together and thinking outside the box. This was already happening within the LGBT community — couples were living together, but civil marriage wasn’t part of the story,” she said.

The different attitudes among older LGBT people toward marriage is something service providers, whether doctors, attorneys or tax professionals, should be aware of, Goldsen said. Telling a couple they should get married now simply because they can misses the individual nature of the choice.

“Service providers need to understand the historical context of this population,” she said. “Marriage isn’t for everyone. It is up to each person, and there are legal, financial and potentially societal ramifications.” For example, among the women in the study, those who were married were more likely to report experiencing bias in the larger community.

At the same time, Goldsen said, single LGBT older adults do not benefit from the marriage ruling, and other safeguards, such as anti-discrimination laws in employment, housing and public accommodations, are still lacking at the federal level.

Over time, Goldsen and colleagues will continue to examine the influence of same-sex marriage policy on partnership status and health.

The study was funded by the National Institutes of Health and the National Institute on Aging. Other researchers were Karen Fredriksen-Goldsen, Amanda Bryan, Hyun-Jun Kim and Sarah Jen in the UW School of Social Work; and Anna Muraco of Loyola Marymount University.

Complete Article HERE!

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