The 'Gay Gene' Doesn't Exist, Say Scientists

A widespread study on same-sex attraction has disproven the myth that there is a single “gay gene” that determines a person’s sexual orientation.

Analyzing genome data from 477,522 participants from the United States and United Kingdom, a team of researchers found that same-sex attraction is far more complex than previously believed, and is shaped by a number of genetic variants. They published their study, ‘The Genetics of Sexual Orientation’, in the journal Science.

“Same-sex sexual behavior is influenced by not one or a few genes but many,” the researchers wrote in the report’s conclusion. “Overlap with genetic influences on other traits provides insights into the underlying biology of same-sex sexual behavior, and analysis of different aspects of sexual preference underscore its complexity and call into question the validity of bipolar continuum measures such as the Kinsey scale.”

The idea of a “gay gene” originated in research by Dan Hamer in 1993. He and his team at the U.S. National Cancer Institute found a connection between same-sex attraction and DNA markers on the X chromosome.

The study acknowledges the impact that external factors have on human sexuality: “Nevertheless, many uncertainties remain to be explored, including how sociocultural influences on sexual preference might interact with genetic influences.” It also found a correlation between same-sex attraction and a predisposition towards mental health issues including depression and addiction.

Previous research has also found this link, but it is not necessarily strictly genetic: according to Mental Health America, “discrimination against LGBT persons has been associated with high rates of psychiatric disorders, substance abuse, and suicide.” Suicide prevention organization The Trevor Project reports that 39 per cent of LGBTQ+ youth have seriously considered suicide in the last 12 months.

Cognizant that their findings may potentially have political and civic implications for sexual minorities (to the point that some corners of the scientific community were against the report’s publication), the authors of the study have partnered with LGBTQ+ advocacy groups to ensure that their data is communicated clearly and responsibly.

“We wish to make it clear that our results overwhelmingly point toward the richness and diversity of human sexuality,” they wrote in Science. “Our results do not point toward a role for discrimination on the basis of sexual identity or attraction, nor do our results make any conclusive statements about the degree to which ‘nature’ and ‘nurture’ influence sexual preference.”

“I hope that the science can be used to educate people a little bit more about how natural and normal same-sex behavior is,” lead researcher Benjamin Neale told the New York Times. “It’s written into our genes and it’s part of our environment. This is part of our species and it’s part of who we are.”

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