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Straight, No Chaser: An Overview of the Literature on Homosexuality

By Jeffrey Sterling, MD July 22, 2019


This overly simplistic post doesn’t mean to suggest the science on the topic is settled. It does aims to review the topic sufficiently to provide a very general scientific overview. In this Straight, No Chaser, I’ll reveal a few simple points that reflect the existing medical consensus. In a subsequent post, we will review gay conversion therapy.
In a vivid example of how the political landscape is attempting to shout out science, Presidential hopeful and world-renowned retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson has opined that homosexuality is “absolutely” a choice. However, instead of the use of any available science to support his argument, Dr. Carson uses the happenstance of men engaging in homosexuality in prison and expressing homosexuality after prison release as “evidence.” Trust me, he knows that’s not how science works.
There’s an important consideration to discuss here. The nature of science is such that scientists need to be oblivious to the facts that unfold before them. Scientific truths are beholden to political agendas, although scientific biases often get in the way of accurate research. So going into the conversation, one’s opinions really are less relevant than you’d imagine. In other words, an unbiased scientist must be open to any possible outcome.

 homosexuality in animals

Regarding outcomes, here are three straightforward points that are actually supported by the medical literature:

  • People can’t change their sexual orientation of choice. What is more likely to be occurring is expression of an already existent orientation. Genetic research suggests the presence of the equivalence of “switches,” meaning factors in DNA that can promote expression of homosexuality given the necessary environmental triggers. This alone would explain the “jail phenomenon.”
  • Homosexuality has at least an established genetic basis. Other animals, including those close to humans on the evolutionary scale, display homosexual behaviors and same-sex pairings. If you are interested in specific information on this matter, you should review research on the genes Xq28 and chromosome 8; there are suggestions that are present more often in gay men. Furthermore, studies of identical twins reveal a higher incidence of shared homosexuality than among siblings or fraternal (non-identical) twins.
  • Research demonstrates that efforts to change sexual orientation in either direction are unable to do so without significant psychological consequences. It is of interest to note the following fact without judgment: existing research suggests women do in fact have a greater ability to have levels of attraction adjusted throughout life than do men, whose sexual orientation appears to be well formed by the onset of puberty. This phenomenon is known as “erotic plasticity.”

homosexuality-USE.svg_The last point speaks to why efforts at gay conversion therapy have proven ineffective. There is also one more point to be made here. The prevailing scientific evidence speaking against homosexuality has been debunked and the author of the paper promoting the notion has reversed his findings. Both points will be explored further in an additional Straight, No Chaser post.
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