Okay, this isn’t some big diatribe about rights or religion or anything of the sort . . . I’ve written plenty of those so you can go check them out on your own.
Instead, here, we ask the question as to why are there gays and lesbians in the first place? Seriously, if the primary motive for a species is to survive, what evolutionary benefit is there to having a rather obvious portion of the population be motivated toward same-gender sexual attraction? Two girls making our or two guys playing a game of penis duel may or may not be hot depending upon your preferred cup of tea but it certainly doesn’t end up with babies which defeats the whole propagate the species thing.
One of the objections the religious right has to legalized gay marriage is that they believe it undermines the value of marriage as an institution intended to protect families and encourage children (they’re wrong in that many heterosexual marriages do not result in children, often by choice, and two dudes having a piece of paper that says they can legally marry has nothing to do with my ability to father or not father children with my wife but that’s another issue).
If being gay is a choice then that’s one thing but most folks accept the reasonable conclusion as shown in study after study that homosexuality has at least a very strong basis in being “born that way” rather than it being solely a behavioral “choice” . . . but if folks are born that way what’s the point? What’s the evolutionary advantage? Just a few folks every once in a while makes sense but homosexuality is pretty solid as a significant minority of the population being born to heterosexual couples over tens of thousands of years in every single human culture (the only cultures that claim to have had absolutely no homosexuals are those that are repressive and delusional . . . homosexuals in areas where they are persecuted or even executed emmigrate or stay very very carefully within the closet . . . or become priests).
Natalie Wolchover has been asking this evolutionary question and has recently published a number of articles and blog reports on research that may have an answer, at least part of the answer.
Why are there Gay Men?
Recent studies of family groups and homosexuality among males has uncovered a very fascinating pattern. There may indeed be a hereditary factor, one that brings benefits to the straight relatives of gay men. While it is clear that homosexuality can appear in any family group, there are some families that do seem to produce more gay children then other familes and the fascinating thing is that the female relatives of gay men in those families are more often than not very fecund . . . that means they tend to be quite fertile and produce quite a few more babies than females in other families. So, there is a genetic trait (passed down the X chromosome from mother to child) that when it expresses in women produces high fertility (which certainly is advantageous for propagating a species) and when it expresses in men produces homosexuality.
This explains why evolutionarily homosexual men don’t just die off. If they had a genetic trait for homosexuality but don’t pass it on then eventually there would be no gays and the idiot preacher and his silly ideas of putting gays and lesbians in gender-exclusive pens would work . . . but it wouldn’t work as the trait is passed through the very fertile heterosexual women in the families. Obviously, the activation of the gene toward homosexuality in men is still pretty low threshold as most men in those families still don’t express as gay, but enough do to make it clear that no one is going to breed out homosexuality (which in and of itself, such idiotic final solutions would be a very bad thing as homosexuality is obviously associated with a number of other very positive traits that while the individual homosexual man may not contribute to the gene pool of future humans, he can contribute rather importantly to the cultural heritage of the species which one can argue is a pretty fucking important thing in and of itself).
Male sexual orientation seems to be pretty intractable, the “born this way” concept holding firm. While bisexuality in men certainly exists, it is less common among males than among females and most men don’t jump the shark after they’ve expressed their sexuality. Certainly, there are cases of straight men who do come out as gay later in life but these are typically cases of men who were “always” gay and decided to come out and stop leading a life in which they had repressed their “true” nature or they are men who grew up expressing as straight due to cultural or religious pressures who did not realize their sexual orientation until much later in life but even so such cases are not typical.
While female sexuality appears to be more fluid, research suggests that male gayness is an inborn, unalterable, strongly genetically influenced trait. But considering that the trait discourages the type of sex that leads to procreation — that is, sex with women — and would therefore seem to thwart its own chances of being genetically passed on to the next generation, why are there gay men at all?
Put differently, why haven’t gay man genes driven themselves extinct?
This longstanding question is finally being answered by new and ongoing research. For several years, studies led by Andrea Camperio Ciani at the University of Padova in Italy and others have found that mothers and maternal aunts of gay men tend to have significantly more offspring than the maternal relatives of straight men. The results show strong support for the “balancing selection hypothesis,” which is fast becoming the accepted theory of the genetic basis of male homosexuality.
The theory holds that the same genetic factors that induce gayness in males also promote fecundity (high reproductive success) in those males’ female maternal relatives. Through this trade-off, the maternal relatives’ “gay man genes,” though they aren’t expressed as such, tend to get passed to future generations in spite of their tendency to make their male inheritors gay.
While no one knows which genes, exactly, these might be, at least one of them appears to be located on the X chromosome, according to genetic modeling by Camperio Ciani and his colleagues. Males inherit only one X chromosome — the one from their mother — and if it includes the gene that promotes gayness in males and fecundity in females, he is likely to be gay while his mom and her female relatives are likely to have lots of kids. If a daughter inherits that same X-linked gene, she herself may not be gay, but she can pass it on to her sons.
But how might the “gay man gene” make females more reproductively successful? A new study by Camperio Ciani and his team addresses the question for the first time. Previously, the Italian researchers suggested that the “gay man gene” might simply increase androphilia, or attraction to men, thereby making the males who possess the gene homosexual and the females who possess it more promiscuous. But after investigating the characteristics of 161 female maternal relatives of homosexual and heterosexual men, the researchers have adjusted their hypothesis. Rather than making women more attracted to men, the “gay man gene” appears to make these women more attractive to men.
“High fecundity, that means having more babies, is not about pleasure in sex, nor is it about promiscuity. The androphilic pattern that we found is about females who increase their reproductive value to attract the best males,” Camperio Ciani told Life’s Little Mysteries.
Turns out, the moms and aunts of gay men have an advantage over the moms and aunts of straight men for several reasons: They are more fertile, displaying fewer gynecological disorders or complications during pregnancy; they are more extroverted, as well as funnier, happier and more relaxed; and they have fewer family problems and social anxieties. “In other words, compared to the others, [they are] perfect for a male,” Camperio Ciani said. Attracting and choosing from the best males enables these women to produce more offspring, he noted.
The new study will appear in an upcoming issue of the Journal of Sexual Medicine.
Of course, no single factor can account for the varied array of sexual orientations that exist, in men as well as in women. “It is quite possible that there are several influences on forming a homosexual orientation,” said Gerulf Rieger, a sexual orientation researcher at Cornell University. He noted that environmental factors — including the level of exposure to certain hormones in the womb — also play a role in molding male sexuality. But as for why genetic factors would exist that make men gay, it appears that these genes make women, as well as gay men, alluring to other men.
This is important stuff. See more at http://www.lifeslittlemysteries.com/2555-gay-men.html
Why are there Gay Women?
Female sexual orientation seems to be less rigid or predictable in terms of heredity than male and there is a certain element of fluidity present that is absent for the most part in male sexuality expression . . . although, there are certainly genetic aspects at work as well.
Straight women are much more likely to get themselves knocked up than gay women. So, in terms of evolution, they would seem to have a better chance of passing on their genes, while at the same time it would seem that the genes that make women gay would quickly vanish from the gene pool. This raises the question, why are there gay women?
Lesbianism is indeed at least 25 percent genetic, as determined by a 2011 study of twins conducted in the United Kingdom. The study found that identical twin sisters (who share 100 percent of their DNA) are more likely to both be lesbians than are fraternal twin sisters (who share just 50 percent), proving that, all other environmental factors being equal, genes matter. While scientists have a theory for how male homosexuality propagates from one generation to the next, no one has yet produced a viable explanation for how the genes that promote lesbianism might do the same. [Why Are There Gay Men?]
A female’s sexual orientation also appears to be partly influenced by her level of exposure to the male sex hormone androgen when she is in the womb. Greater hormone exposure correlates with more gender nonconformity early in her life (as a child, she may be called a “tomboy”), as well as a same-sex orientation later on. A study by Dutch psychologists published in the March issue of the Journal of Sexual Medicine reported that 10 to 12 percent of male and female children who feel discomfort with their gender go on to identify as gay or lesbian as adults. Meanwhile, just 1 or 2 percent of children who are comfortable with their gender identity turn out to be gay or lesbian.
Adding to the confusion about what causes lesbianism is the slipperiness of female sexuality itself. Unlike men, who are usually sexually oriented solely toward men or women, and whose sexuality is essentially fixed from puberty on, a decade of research by the University of Utah psychologist Lisa Diamond and others demonstrates that women have greater “erotic plasticity.” Their sexual orientation can be shaped by cultural influences, altered by positive or negative experiences and intensified by feelings of love or attachment. Women are far more likely than men to “report remarkably late and abrupt onset of same-sex sexuality, often after heterosexual marriage,” Diamond wrote in January in the Archives of Sexual Behavior.
Their sexual fluidity may emerge from the fact that, across the board, women are sexually aroused by images of both men and women (while men are typically only aroused by members of their preferred sex).
Therefore, the question “why are there gay women?” may be better worded as “why is female sexuality so fluid?” Plenty of women exist at both extremes of the straight-gay spectrum, but it is the formation of this slippery spectrum itself that most needs explaining. Evolutionary biologists have yet to determine what survival or reproductive benefit women’s “erotic plasticity” confers.
See http://www.lifeslittlemysteries.com/2563-gay-women.html for more.
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