Once and future gayness

Never one to avoid opening Pandora’s box, Bering in Mind has an excellent discussion on whether it’s possible to predict adult sexual orientation from childhood traits and behaviours.

As the article notes, there are a host of heated debates about the merits of trying to ‘predict homosexuality’ but even as a purely scientific question, it turns out to be challenging research.

For the most accurate data, prospective studies – where you see how people change over time – are ideal, but unfortunately they are difficult to implement for both social and practical reasons:

Conducting prospective studies of this sort is not terribly practical, explain Bailey and Zucker, for several reasons. First, given that only about 10 percent of the population is homosexual, a rather large number of prehomosexuals are needed to obtain a sufficient sample size of eventually gay adults, and this would require a huge oversampling of children just in case some turn out gay. Second, a longitudinal study tracking the sexuality of children into late adolescence takes a long time—around sixteen years—so the prospective approach is very slow-going. Finally, and perhaps the biggest problem with prospective homosexuality studies, not a lot of parents are likely to volunteer their children. Rightly or wrongly, this is a sensitive topic, and usually it’s only children who present significant sex-atypical behaviors—such as those with gender identity disorder—that are brought into clinics and whose cases are made available to researchers.

The article discusses the various methods researchers have used to try and uncover whether there are any childhood characteristics typical of adults who later turn out to be gay, including interviews with friends and family and analysing home videos.

While the data is, to be fair, a bit ropey, there is evidence to suggest that non-gender typical behaviour is more common, but it is unlikely that this alone is a reliable guide to future homosexuality.

Needless to say, the whole area is fraught with ethical and political debates but the Bering in Mind article is a great wide-ranging introduction to this little discussed topic.

Link to Bering in Mind on ‘forecasting adult sexual orientation’.

3 thoughts on “Once and future gayness”

  1. I find it hard to describe the linked article as a “great wide-ranging introduction” to the topic. It basically covers the findings of two closely allied labs and never mentions any of the (many) published criticisms they have received. “Ropey” indeed. As a long time reader, this and the recent cliched article on bad postmodernism both made me wince. Overall, you do amazing work though.

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