Friday, April 04, 2008

Is homosexuality caused by childhood sexual experiences? One challenge to evolutionary theory is to explain why homosexuality is so enduring, if the researchers are correct in claiming that the orientation is the result of genes. I've wondered if the environment might play an important role in some way. Specifically, I have speculated that many boys, perhaps passive, attractive boys in particular, might be targets for childhood sexual contacts which have a powerful impact on their subsequent sexual tastes.

The stereotype of childhood sexual experiences is of traumatic abuse, but the reality is that most contact does not involve fear, intimidation, or coercion, but is likely to involve other children--often older--and to be playful, experimental, and experienced as pleasurable. The body is wired to feel pleasure, and a naive child might have little idea about what is appropriate or inappropriate.

There is empirical support for my idea in The Longitudinal Study of Violence Against Women. The study asked men, as well as women, about sexual victimization (N=782). Here are the percentages of males who experienced sexual contact as a child:

Percent who had experience at least once as a child

Shown a sex organ as a child
Straight 40.1
Gay 62.2
Bisexual 84.2

Straight 30.8
Gay 50.0
Bisexual 68.4

Attempted sexual intercourse
Straight 4.9
Gay 35.0
Bisexual 42.1

Sexual intercourse
Straight 1.6
Gay 33.3
Bisexual 40.0

Reason for participation--straight men
Felt good 20.1
Curiosity 70.1
Felt loved 1.8
Was told it is ok 6.5
Threatened or coerced 1.4

Reason for participation--homosexual men
Felt good 18.8
Curiosity 62.5
Felt loved 18.8
Was told it is ok 0.0
Threatened or coerced 0.0

Reason for participation--bisexual men
Felt good 41.2
Curiosity 29.4
Felt loved 17.6
Was told it is ok 5.9
Threatened or coerced 5.9

First, we can see that childhood sexual contact is common, and is almost always non-coercive. Gay and bisexual men are both more likely to report various kinds of experiences, and the differences with straight men are the most glaring when the experience is the most intense (i.e., attempted or completed sexual intercourse).

We shouldn't make too much of the "reasons" numbers for gay and bisexual men since the sample sizes are too small, but it is clear that experiences are not traumatic most of the time. Also, keep in mind that these data do not tell us how many encounters were same-sex.

While there are other factors at play here--some homosexuals report none of these kinds of experiences--there is evidence here that early sexual contact might influence sexual orientation: men who develop a gay or bisexual orientation are much more likely to have experienced sexual intercourse--some of it presumably anal sex--as children.


  1. Specifically, I have speculated that many boys, perhaps passive, attractive boys in particular, might be targets for childhood sexual contacts which have a powerful impact on their subsequent sexual tastes.

    also, the arrow of causality could run in a manner so that these males are targeted because of their perceived effiminacy.

  2. Anonymous8:19 AM

    I'm gay and I was molested growing up by my father. I really don't think that's what made me gay, but I've always wondered if there wasn't some genetic/biological connection. By this I mean, did my father have some biological quirk that caused him to feel compelled to molest his son while carrying on numerous successful relationships with adult women in his life, and did I inherit some variation of that quirk that expressed itself in me as a gay sexual orientation? I know it's not a p.c. hypothesis because it proposes a connection between homosexuality and pedophilia, which gays have been rightly trying to get rid of for the past thirty years. But it's interesting to me that my father molested me, his only son, and none of his three daughters. Anyway, if there is some connection it could explain some of these findings: Gay kids could be more likely to be born into families where an adult has pedophilic tendencies.

  3. Anonymous12:06 PM

    What, no mention of Greg Cochran?

    I agree with razib on causality.

  4. Anonymous2:33 PM

    I remember reading a study which found that about 69% of gay men who reported being sexually molested as children already perceived themselves as gay prior to the abuse.

    If gay men are indeed more likely to experience early sexual activity, especially molestation -- and not all studies find that -- we need to know why already homosexual kids are more likely to experience such inappropriate approaches, instead of wondering that they were turned gay by precocious experiences.


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