Sexual orientation is a widely debated topic throughout all cultures and nationalities around the world. Many people have strong opinions regarding their own views on it. Here in the UK, homosexuality is accepted by most people and is often a celebrated part of society. Most people have friends that are gay or know of people that are gay. However, despite this acceptance I feel that there is a long way to go in terms of gay rights.
So how does this all link in with there being a possible ‘gay gene’? If there is a genetic basis to sexual orientation then it gives us evidence that being gay is biologically determined rather than a lifestyle choice. It erodes the notion that being gay is a conscious choice. I really feel that this would be another huge step forward in tackling discrimination and prejudice against the LGBT+ community. Currently, being homosexual is still criminalised and punishable by death in some countries and some religious groups still believe that it is possible to ‘treat’ gay people and turn them straight. Evidence for a genetic basis to sexuality would help to change these views and hopefully make the world a safer and more inclusive place for LGBT+ people.
So is there actually any research out there that suggests a possible genetic basis for sexual orientation? One of the first papers that looked into the issue was a study that looked at gay brothers. It was a pioneering study, and it is still used a lot today when looking at the topic of male sexual orientation. This study demonstrated a higher incidence of gay brothers amongst twins in comparison to non-twin brothers. Because twins have exactly the same genes as each other, this study therefore showed that there may be a genetic basis to male sexual orientation.
Another study was also recently carried out which involved taking DNA samples from gay men to try to identify specific ‘gay genes’. This study managed to find a couple of areas on chromosomes that showed possible areas where these genes could be located. What was interesting is that these areas contained genes that are often involved with social-sexual behaviours and for making hormones that are involved in mediating social behaviour. This is interesting because these fit well with the concept of sexual orientation.
Whilst I think it is great that these studies have shown that genetics do seem to play a role in determining sexual orientation, there are possible repercussions. Some people may begin to think of homosexuality as a biological abnormality due to a ‘faulty’ gene. People may even try to think of ways of ‘fixing’ this gene in an attempt to turn people straight. An even more extreme concept is that people may abort their children if their genes showed that they might be gay. Whilst these are all quite extreme views, it is important to bear them in mind.
At the end of the day it is important to remember that sexual orientation is complex, and that it depends on multiple factors. Even if further studies to go on to find specific genes related to sexual orientation they are likely to only have a small effect on determining sexual orientation by themselves. The causes of sexual orientation are bound to be complex but these studies have allowed us to gain a further insight into sexual orientation and the genes that make us who we are.