Determinants of Sexual Orientation, Research Paper Example

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Research Paper

Introduction

No matter the degree of acceptance or conflict in regard to homosexuality, it appears that ancient and modern cultures consistently seek to identify how sexual orientation is determined.  Complicating any such efforts is that sexual orientation issues inevitably rely on more basic assessments of what is masculine and feminine, which then reflect how integral the subject is to a culture’s  ideologies.  Behavior, including sexual orientation, is as subject to cultural influences as it is to those biological in nature.  With the intention of delving deeper into the factors that influence sexual orientation, then, I have compiled a research paper based on four articles relating to the subject.  As will be seen, sexual orientation remains as difficult to explain as the natures of masculinity and femininity themselves, and are largely influenced by combinations of biological and environmental causes.

Research and Factors

Long centuries of societal and religious debate as to the reasons for, and morality of, same-sex orientation have given way to more modern pursuits of identifying biological and/or brain function factors as cause.  This is evident in recent work tracing how left-handedness may indicate homosexual orientation.  Operating on the basis that neurohormonal influences may promote homosexuality, a 2001 study of 429 men and 457 women investigated assumptions that homosexuals are more prone to have “leftward asymmetry” than their heterosexual counterparts (Hall & Kimura, 1994, as cited in Mustanski, Bailey, & Kaspar, 2002 p. 115).  The extensive research, also incorporating elements of asymmetry in finger ridges as well (table 3, idem, p. 118), found no direct causal link between natural hand preferences and orientation.  As these results fail to establish correlations between dermatoglyphics and sexual orientation, this study “urges researchers” to consider alternative hypotheses, such as developmental instabilities influencing both left-handedness and sexual orientation (idem, p. 121).

Similarly, a great deal of work has been done focusing on genetic factors as determining orientation.  As reflected in research by Bearman & Bruckner (2002), homosexual concordance rates between identical twins tend to be higher than  in fraternal twin sets.  One study, in fact, reflected a 100% concordance rate on sexual orientation between 37 identical twin sets and a rate of 15% concordance between 29 fraternal twin sets. (Kallmann, 1952, as cited in Bearman & Bruckner, 2002, p.1184).  Closer analysis most of these findings, however, does not support a substantiated claim.  Comparatively, modern studies conducted with larger groups of siblings produce more widely varying results, with concordance rates between 20%-25% in identical twin pairs (Hershberger, 2001, as cited in idem, p.1184). Some of these stark contrasts can be contributed to sampling bias and statistical methods that are “inadequate” (Jaccard & Dodge, n.d., as cited in idem, p.1185). Additionally, comprehensive research carried out by Bearman & Bruckner (2002) reflects that other factors come to influence sexual orientation than genetics alone. For instance, the data used in dyadic form shows concordance rates of 6.7% in identical twin sets, 7.2%  in fraternal twin sets, and surprisingly,  5.5% in full sibling sets (table 5, idem, p. 1198). The obvious dilemma arising from disparities is that, given the nature of familial relations, it is virtually impossible to determine where biological factors end and where environmental causes begin; simply, brothers and sisters exert immeasurable influences upon one another as they develop. As this study reflects, one should be cautious of disregarding social factors for the purpose of researching influences on sexual orientation.

This same causal conundrum is evident within a study focused on “tomboys”, the purpose of which is to associate masculinity in young girls with the development of sexual differences, but not as causation (Bailey, Bechtold, and Berenbaum, 2002, p. 334). The results of this highly stratified study concludes, not unexpectedly, that such girls are more prone to enjoy playing with boys than with girls, and that this inclination to associate with boys may inhibit “sex-typical” behavior (idem, p.340).  Along these lines of inquiry, associations have been made in research between childhood gender atypicality and homosexuality. When surveyed, lesbians report a higher rate of “tomboyism” than heterosexual females (Bailey & Zucker, 1995, as cited in idem, p.335). Based on retrospective research the authors conclude that, while most tomboys will become heterosexual women, there will be an elevated rate of homosexuality in women who were tomboys as children.  However, there remains the significant factor of the tomboys studied as expressing the identity due to their parents’ classifications of them as such (idem, p. 339).  Here, again, masculinity and femininity are clearly shaped to a degree by external forces.

Another significant problem in isolating genetic or biological dispositions or aversions to same-sex orientations lies in the inescapable, and often obfuscatory, influences of wider culture.  In an extensive study by Wilkinson & Roys (2005), assessing heterosexual responses to homosexuality of both men and women, the heterosexual aversion was far more pronounced in regard to actual sexual behavior, rather than to behavioral associations or fantasy projections. In one study of 171 heterosexual men and women, the subjects were more likely to rate a vignette describing a gay male’s sexual history explained in behavioral terms more negatively than ones presented as fantasies  (table 2, Wilkinson & Roys, 2005, p. 73).  In a second study of 134 heterosexual participants faced with rating lesbians in similar vignettes, the outcome was nearly the same (table 3, idem, p.76). The cultural implications here are evident: same-sex activity is suggested as being socially permissible to an extent, provided it is not overtly conducted.

Conclusion

Precisely what factors go to determining sexual orientation has been explored extensively, and most empirical research points to multifaceted attributes determining causations. Genetics play a role, it seems, yet culture, in defining the status of orientations and consequently shaping them, is equally impactful.  This being the case, it appears that research thus far has served only to present one conclusion: the causes of sexual orientation in men and women are still undetermined, but are largely influenced by a mixture of biological and environmental causes.

References

Bailey, J. M., Bechtold, K. T., & Berenbaum, S. A.  (2002).  Who Are Tomboys and Why Should We Study Them?  Archives of Sexual Behavior, 31 (4).  333-341. doi: 10.1023/A:1016272209463

Bearman, P. S., & Bruckner, H.  (2002). Opposite-Sex Twins and Adolescent Same-Sex  Attraction. American Journal of Sociology, 107 (5).  1179-1205. doi: 10.1086/341906

Mustanski, B. S., Bailey, J. M., & Kaspar, S.  (2002). Dermatoglyphics,    Handedness, Sex, and Sexual Orientation. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 31 (1).  113-122. doi: 10.1023/A:1014043504661

Wilkinson, W. W., & Roys, A. C. (2005). The Components of Sexual Orientation, Religiosity, and Heterosexuals’ Impressions of Gay Men and Lesbians. Journal Of Social  Psychology, 145(1), 65-83. doi: 10.3200/SOCP.145.1.65-84

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