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The Complex Interaction Of Genes And Environment: A Model For Homosexuality


There is essentially no dimension of behavior which is not both environmentally and genetically influenced.

Notice to Reader: "The Boards of both CERC Canada and CERC USA are aware that the topic of homosexuality is a controversial one that deeply affects the personal lives of many North Americans. Both Boards strongly reiterate the Catechism's teaching that people who self-identify as gays and lesbians must be treated with 'respect, compassion, and sensitivity' (CCC #2358). The Boards also support the Church's right to speak to aspects of this issue in accordance with her own self-understanding. Articles in this section have been chosen to cast light on how the teachings of the Church intersect with the various social, moral, and legal developments in secular society. CERC will not publish articles which, in the opinion of the editor, expose gays and lesbians to hatred or intolerance."

There is essentially no dimension of behavior which is not both environmentally and genetically influenced. Genes and environment interact in extraordinarily complex ways with each other, as well as among themselves to produce a final result; the environmental influences are multi-factorial and affect each other; in human behavior, the pertinent genes are also multiple. Furthermore, there are very few circumstances where free will plays little or no role in what we do. These facts are true of homosexuality as of all other dimensions of human behavior. Indeed, there are no features of human behavior which are not influenced in some fashion by our genetic makeup and no features of human behavior which are not influenced in some fashion by our environment.

Most people do not realize that the discovery that there is a degree of genetic heritability to homosexuality is a meaningless finding. It is being put forth to the public by activists as though it has great import when it actually has none. This is because there is no evidence (and it is highly unlikely that there ever will be any) that suggests that there are genes which code for homosexuality itself. In other words heritability of (or genetic influence on) a trait does not mean that the trait itself is genetically determined. This elementary fact of behavioral genetics is rarely explained and it seems counterintuitive to most people. Here is how it works:

No genes exist that code for becoming a basketball player. But some genes code for height and the elements of athleticism, such as quick reflexes, appropriate bone structure, height-to-weight ratio, muscle strength and refresh rate, metabolism and energy efficiency, and so on.any such traits have obvious racial distributions, so that more men of Bantu or Nordic stock (being taller) will be found on professional basketball teams than men of Pygmy or Appenzeller Swiss stock (being shorter).

Someone born with a favorable (for basketball) combination of height and athleticism is in no way genetically programmed or forced to become a basketball player. These qualities, however, certainly facilitate that choice. As a consequence the choice to play basketball has a clear genetic component, most evident in the very high heritability of height. Height, by the way, is also influenced by diet-mostly negatively in the sense that the maximum height is preprogrammed. The actual height, however, requires the cooperation of upbringing to be reached. In summary, the strong genetic predisposition to basketball playing does not mean that people do not choose-entirely-to play basketball.

The editors of Science devoted a recent issue almost exclusively to "Genetics and Behavior." In the opening editorial, Torsten Wiesel, president of the Rockefeller University, one of the leading international centers for genetics research, comments:

The recent identifications of the mutations underlying Huntington's disease demonstrates that neurological disorders can also be caused by a single aberrant gene. But many other neurological diseases, such as schizophrenia and manic-depression, are likely to have polygenic roots whose interaction with environmental factors will be highly complex.

It has long been known that schizophrenia clusters in families and identical twin studies have supported the belief that the susceptibility to schizophrenia has a genetic component. Yet it is also important to recognize that the genes which predispose one toward schizophrenia may not be expressed except under special environmental circumstances; for instance conditions of great stress. Indeed, understanding of how gene expression in brain cells is regulated by environmental experiences may serve as the foundation for the design of drugs or for preventive measures for better controlling gene expression patterns.

The operations of the brain result from a balance between inputs from heredity and environment-nature and nurture-and this balance should also be reflected in research into the biological basis of behavior. [1]


In the area of behavioral problems, the classic example of a similar phenomenon is alcoholism.

It has long seemed that problem drinking has a genetic component. [2] Even after social and family influences have been taken into account, evidence remains that when a gene or set of genes are present in an individual or family there is a much higher risk for serious alcoholism. Furthermore, certain national and transnational gene pools (Irish, Scandinavian, northern European in general) seem to be predisposed to alcoholism.

Researchers have long presumed that a specific gene might code directly for alcoholism itself, since that is the seemingly most obvious way to understand "heritability." Nonetheless, it always seemed strange that such an obviously counterproductive gene would exist. The same puzzle, of course, lurks behind the proposition that homosexuality is directly genetic.

For a while it seemed that the gene in question might be somewhat like the one that makes alcohol so problematic for Native Americans. In this particular racial pool the gene that directs the synthesis of the enzyme responsible for breaking down alcohol commonly codes for a different form of the enzyme than is found among Caucasians. The American Indian variant breaks down alcohol only very slowly; therefore alcohol rapidly accumulates. Serious intoxication can thus be caused by relatively small amounts of alcohol. But this theory proved to be a false lead. The Irish and the Nordics metabolize alcohol rapidly and well; those who drink heavily metabolize it even more rapidly.

As an aside, another example of how genes indirectly lead to behavioral patterns is found among Orientals. No gene exists that codes for a preference for an Oriental style of cooking. And yet careful study shows that there is a very strong genetic association to such a preference. This is because Orientals lack the gene that codes for the enzyme lactase, which breaks down the lactose found in all milk products. When lactose is not broken down, milk products cause diarrhea. Oriental cooking styles have thus developed around a milk restriction similar to that required by anyone with a lactose intolerance.

Returning to alcoholism, it turns out that the genetic makeup of Northern Europeans generally tends to code for an enhanced fight, flight response to a given stressor. Their nervous systems are more "high strung." Thus they react with relatively intense sympathetic nervous system arousal to a perceived threat. [3] This is experienced subjectively as anxiety. Alcohol is the original anti-anxiety agent. It produces a response in the brain almost identical to that of Valium or Xanax. [4]

People with this predisposition to intense anxiety responses are more likely to find their way into greater alcohol use [5] because for them alcohol gives a greater degree of emotional relief than it does to the more laid-back "Mediterranean" type. [6]

Why do Northerners have this disposition in greater proportion than Southerners? The answer lies in the observation that the most critical distinction for this aspect of human biology is not so much "North" versus "South" or even "warm" versus "cold" as "Polar" versus "Equatorial." Because 75 percent of the earth's land mass is found in the Northern hemisphere, this translates into a distribution of the various people-types corresponding mostly to the comparison North versus South, rather than the reverse, as in the Southern hemisphere.

At issue is not the location per se but the differing cycles of light found close to and far from the equator. The harsher climate and intermittently reduced intensity of light found nearer the poles is not only associated with differences in body build and skin color but also with differences in the nervous system. This fact is less surprising than it might seem because both skin and the nervous system derive from the same precursor tissue in the developing fetus. In brief, the Northern races have adapted to the harshness of their environment by generally developing the more easily stimulated nervous systems of, say, hunter-warriors than have the equatorial races.

In its pure form, this genetic type not only reacts psychologically with greater anxiety, but also responds somatically to stressors with intense physiologic responses such as increased heart rate and blood pressure, skin flushing, perspiring palms and soles, and so on. All these responses, subjective and physiologic, are mediated by the nervous system. Alcohol thus calms all of these by "calming" the underlying "nerves." [7]

Thus genetics strongly predisposes individuals toward alcoholism. And yet no genes specifically code for it. This seeming contradiction can be explained by the fact that some genes do code for the anxiety (fight/flight) response (an ancient, quite mechanical set of responses foundational to the nervous system of all animals) and under certain circumstances an especially intense response is adaptive. Those who carry such genes may be more likely to develop alcoholism than those who do not carry them. This does not mean, however, that alcoholism is itself directly genetic, natural, a good thing-nor, for that matter, that it is an illness in the strict sense of the word.

Of interest in comparing alcoholism to homosexuality is the fact that alcoholism is estimated to be between 50 percent and 60 percent heritable; homosexuality is estimated (even by activist researchers) to be at most less than 50 percent; it very likely considerably less. This even greater risk for alcoholism does not lead to the conclusion, however, that alcoholics are not responsible for controlling, changing, or stopping the behavior. We should also note that early enthusiasm over alcoholism being linked to a gene that coded for the D2 brain (dopamine) receptor proved to be as unfounded as all the other claims for behavioral genes. [8]


This association between a directly inherited trait (intensity of flight/fight response, level of anxiety) and a genetically unrelated behavioral pattern (alcoholism) not only provides an analogy for the possible meaning of the limited contribution of genetics to homosexuality, it may also point to at least one actual explanation for at least some instances of it. For some evidence is emerging that unusually intense anxiety responses are also associated with an increased tendency toward homosexuality.

The fact that multiple genes and multiple environmental factors interact with each other in differing ways over time (i.e., developmentally) adds further to the complexity, as does the fact that repetition and habit (which may be eschewed, more readily early than late) reinforce and exaggerate the direction that development takes. Furthermore, traits that are affected by multiple genes have multiple different patterns of inheritance depending on how many and which of the relevant genes are inherited and which not. For these reasons (especially the last) the more sophisticated researchers speak not of "homosexuality" but of "homosexualities," for depending on the precise mix of environmental variables and genes, the pattern of behavior as well as its entrenchment and resistance to change will be quite different.

Making the picture even more complex is the fact that homosexual behavior may emerge for an extended period of time and then disappear forever. Or, it may reapper once again later (or for the first time later). This important fact was statistically confirmed by the authors of Sex in America [9] (and of The Social Organization of Sexuality) who found that the majority of people who engaged in homosexual behavior did so transiently, predominantly when younger.

Long periods of homosexual behavior followed by a spontaneous change to exclusive heterosexuality suggest important developmental factors that affect broad sweeps of life. But homosexual behaviors may emerge and subside in short bursts as well, suggesting the effect of acute stress. (Those who have successfully emerged from homosexuality to live fully heterosexual lives can attest to this. They have learned that the reappearance of homosexual feelings, rather than being taken as marching orders, are merely symptomatic of other undealt with anxieties. When these are met squarely, the impulses subside [10]).

We can gain some insight into this complexity, and a deeper understanding what it really means to say that some behavior "has a genetic component" (and how far this really is from saying that it F "is genetic") by examining a type of diagram used by behavioral psychologists to illustrate the general relationship between genes and environment. The diagram is called a "threshold" diagram, because it illustrates the conditions necessary for an individual to "cross the threshold" and display the behavior in question.


Diagram 1 demonstrates one of a number of possible "types" of homosexuality associated with a given cluster of genes that interact with a whole host of behavioral and physiological variables (those causing unusual social anxiety, for example, or a particular body habits, as well as nervous system variations). This diagram illustrates a hypothetical class of people among whom homosexuality is 12 percent heritable. This "type" is comparable to the conservative end of heritability estimates for all (unselected, male) homosexuals based on the modest amount of currently available literature as referenced in the text.

Five different individuals, A through E are shown in the diagram, to be read as though locating one's position on a map:

  • the position on the vertical axis represents the total combined effect of environmental influences that might nudge the individual toward homosexuality
  • the position on the horizontal axis represents the total percentage of the full cluster of genes responsible for this (hypothetical) type of homosexuality.

Depending on where the person's innate disposition and environmental history places him, he will be more or less likely actually to be homosexual. In this case, in order for the pressure to be a homosexual to be very strong, the individual must inherit many of the genes and unless he has inherited 100 percent of them, the environmental factors must all add together in just the right way. If he has inherited less than 60 percent of the genes in this cluster, it is extremely unlikely he would turn to homosexuality regardless of environmental factors.

Persons A and B both have few of the genes so the pressure for them to become homosexual is quite weak, even when the environmental influences in that direction are strong (person A). Person E has inherited many of the genes, but the environmental influences are weak for him also, so he, too, experiences little pressure to become homosexual. Person E, for example, might experiment with homosexuality, but not stick with it even though he has the same genetic composition as D. Persons A, B, C and E all show some evidence of a genetic predisposition (E more than C more than A or B), yet none are likely to become homosexual.

Person D, on the other hand, has both a sufficient number of the genes in question and a sufficiently adverse environment. The pressure on him is great and he is therefore more likely to succumb. Nonetheless, the domain of heterosexuality lies close by, as it were, and it would not take all that much movement for him to "cross the line."


Diagram 2 represents another variant of homosexuality in which the heritability is about 25 percent. In this condition it takes less net environmental influence and a smaller percentage of the gene cluster to generate strong homosexual impulses. The homosexual "domain" is "more available" as it were. Under these circumstances, Person D is "deep within it" in the sense that the impulses he experiences are very strong and it will take much more for him to resist and emerge from this Type H homosexuality than from Type I.


Diagram 3 represents yet another variant of homosexuality in which the heritability is 50%. This degree of heritability lies at the upper limit of potential actual heritability of homosexuality based on the current literature as interpreted by activists. In this case, even person C with but a modest genetic loading might "cross the line." But so might he relatively easily cross back again. In fact, persons A, C and E, each with very different composites of environmental backgrounds and very different genetic loadings, is about equally close to the line. Different interventions would be called for, too, to help each remain in the heterosexual domain or cross back.

Person E, for example, with a high genetic loading but little environmental influence, might respond poorly to psychotherapy or other psychosocial interventions, but surprisingly well to medication, even by itself, person C might respond to individual (reparative) psychotherapy since the environmental factors in his background are relatively modest. Person A, however, who has little genetic loading, has, for example, grown up under such adverse circumstances say significant trauma (e.g., childhood sexual abuse) that more powerful (but non medical) interventions might be needed: group treatment such as is often helpful for trauma survivors, or spiritual healing.


Diagram 4 reexamines type H homosexuality to consider the effect of habit. Habit differs from the other environmental variables listed on the left because it has a large element of will at the beginning, but becomes more deeply embedded over time. Furthermore, it reinforces itself. It is therefore a far more complex and dynamic variable than are the others and should be considered separately (it cannot merely be added in to the others in some proportion because its effect changes over time.)

The diagram shows how habitual homosexual activity shifts the demarcation line ever leftward. Persons D and E, becomes progressively "deeper" into the homosexual domain as the years go by; person C, who started out essentially heterosexual may "become" homosexual over time as a consequence of repetition (not just of behavior, but of fantasy as well). The more deeply embedded the habit, of course, the more difficult it is to change. Given the findings in Sex in America that many more young people experiment with homosexuality and then give it up, this diagram illustrates the importance of not reinforcing, indeed of appropriately discouraging, homosexual behavior. This principle is lost to a view which considers homosexuality a preexisting, either/or phenomenon.



Diagram 5 repeats Diagram 4, but demonstrates the effect of will. The truth is that the sharp demarcation lines are a convenient fiction. Actually, the lines are very fuzzy (further blurring the either/or view of homosexuality). One's determination and intent plays a significant role in whether homosexual behavior will be enacted or not. As the diagram illustrates, however, the merely willful determination to resist plays a larger likely role among individuals whose homosexual impulses are relatively modest. Habit, of course, will make the impulses progressively more difficult to resist.


Diagram 6 demonstrates the effect of treatment or of healing experiences that shift the boundary rightward, progressively weakening the homosexual impulses and decreasing the frequency of homosexual behaviors. Some people (e.g., person E.) will respond to treatment relatively easily; others (person D) will not. Realistically, even if enough research were done to determine the major types of homosexuality and their various interacting causes, and if different combinations of treatments were matched to these causes and combined, it will remain impossible to help all individuals. That is to say, the shaded area at the upper right may get smaller and smaller but will never shrink to nothing. On the other hand, every thoughtful form of treatment is likely to benefit some.


Diagram 7 represents the effects of current stress on homosexual impulses and behavior. Stress varies over time and is not "objective." What is stressful is that which is perceived and experienced as stressful and this will vary from person to person and over the course of a lifetime. In general, however, individuals with adverse backgrounds and/or a vulnerable constitution will have a low threshold for finding experiences stressful. They will be at greatest risk for a movement or relapse into homosexual impulses or behavior for a time, as illustrated by person A. Hence, the relatively high rate of homosexual acting-out among adolescents.


The shading in Diagram 8 roughly demonstrates the fact that high risk homosexual behavior correlates closely with the severity of the environmental and other factors, e.g., habit and stress. The more to the upper right one is shifted by the factors (the more to the lower left the boundary is shifted) the more dangerous homosexual behavior is apt to be. Roughly speaking, the more deeply embedded the homosexual habit, and the more it is a response to stress, the more likely it is to be associated with promiscuity, lack of knowledge of partner's HIV status, anal intercourse and unprotected intercourse.

At present, behavior change programs that accept homosexuality as an either/or, unchangeable phenomenon, but wish to lower high-risk behavior are engaged in efforts at pushing the individual from the right hand comer down and to the left yet not across the (fuzzy) boundary into predominantly heterosexual behavior.


It may be difficult to grasp how genes, environment, and other influences interrelate to one another, how a certain factor may "influence" an outcome but not cause it, and how faith enters in. The scenario below is condensed and hypothetical, but is drawn from the lives of actual people, illustrating how many different factors influence behavior.

Note that the following is just one of the many developmental pathways that can lead to homosexuality, but a common one. In reality, every person's "road" to sexual expression is individual, however many common lengths it may share with those of others.

  1. Our scenario starts with birth. The boy (for example) who one day may go on to struggle with homosexuality is born with certain features that are somewhat more common among homosexuals than in the population at large. Some of these traits might be inherited (genetic), while others might have been caused by the "intrauterine environment" (hormones). What this means is that a youngster without these traits win be somewhat less likely to become homosexual later than someone with them.

    What are these traits? If we could identify them precisely, many of them would turn out to be gifts rather than "problems," for example a "sensitive" disposition, a strong creative drive, a keen aesthetic sense. Some of these, such as greater sensitivity, could be related to or even the same as physiological traits that also cause trouble, such as a greater-than-average anxiety response to any given stimulus.

    No one knows with certainty just what these heritable characteristics are; at present we only have hints. Were we free to study homosexuality properly (uninfluenced by political agendas) we would certainly soon clarify these factors-just as we are doing in less contentious areas. In any case, there is absolutely no evidence whatsoever that the behavior "homosexuality" is itself directly inherited.

  2. From a very early age these potentially heritable characteristics mark the boy as "different." He finds himself somewhat shy and uncomfortable with the typical "rough and tumble" of his peers. Perhaps he is more interested in art or in reading simply because he's smart. But when he later thinks about his early life, he will it find it difficult to separate out what in these early behavioral differences came from an inherited temperament and what from the next factor, namely:

  3. For whatever reason, he recalls a painful "mismatch" between what he needed and longed for and what his father offered him. Perhaps most people would agree that his father was distinctly distant and ineffective; maybe it was just that his own needs were unique enough that his father, a decent man, could never quite find the right way to relate to him. Or perhaps his father really disliked and rejected his son's sensitivity. In any event, the absence of a happy, warm, and intimate closeness with his father led to the boy's pulling away in disappointment, "defensively detaching" in order to protect himself.

    But sadly, this pulling away from his father, and from the "masculine" role, model he needed, also left him even less able to relate to his male peers. We may contrast this to the boy whose loving father dies, for instance, but who is less vulnerable to later homosexuality. This is because the commonplace dynamic in the pre-homosexual boy is not merely the absence of a father literally or psychologically but the psychological defense of the boy against his repeatedly disappointing father. In fact, a youngster who does not form this defense (perhaps because of early enough therapy, or because there is another important male figure in his life, or due to temperament) is much less likely to become homosexual.

    Complementary dynamics involving the boy's mother are also likely to have played an important role. Because people tend to marry partners with "interlocking neuroses," the boy probably found himself in a problematic relationship with both parents.

    For all these reasons, when as an adult he looks back on his childhood, the now homosexual man recalls, "From the beginning I was always different. I never got along well with the boys my age and felt more comfortable around girls." This accurate memory makes his later homosexuality feel convincingly to him as though it was "preprogrammed" from the start.

  4. Although he has "defensively detached" from his father, the young boy still carries silently within him a terrible longing for the warmth, love, and encircling arms of the father he never did nor could have. Early on, he develops intense, nonsexual attachments to older boys he admires but at a distance, repeating with them the same experience of longing and unavailability. When puberty sets in, sexual urges which can attach themselves to any object, especially in males rise to the surface and combine with his already intense need for masculine intimacy and warmth. He begins to develop homosexual crushes. Later he recalls, "My first sexual longings were directed not at girls but at boys. I was never interested in girls."

    Psychotherapeutic intervention at this point and earlier can be successful in preventing the development of later homosexuality. Such intervention is aimed in part at helping the boy change his developing effeminate patterns (which derive from a "refusal" to identify with the rejected father), but more critically, it is aimed at teaching his father if only he will learn how to become appropriately involved with and related to his son.

  5. As he matures (especially in our culture where early, extramarital sexual experiences are sanctioned and even encouraged), the youngster, now a teen, begins to experiment with homosexual activity. Or alternatively his needs for same-sex closeness may already have been taken advantage of by an older boy or man, who preyed upon him sexually when he was still a child. (Recall the studies that demonstrate the high incidence of sexual abuse in the childhood histories of homosexual men). Or oppositely he may avoid such activities out of fear and shame in spite of his attraction to them. In any event, his now-sexualized longings cannot merely be denied, however much he may struggle against them. It would be cruel for us at this point to imply that these longings are a simple matter of "choice."

    Indeed, he remembers having spent agonizing months and years trying to deny their existence altogether or pushing them away, to no avail. One can easily imagine how justifiably angry he will later be when someone casually and thoughtlessly accuses him of "choosing" to be homosexual. When he seeks help, he hears one of two messages, and both terrify him: either, "Homosexuals are bad people and you are a bad person for choosing to be homosexual. There is no place for you here and God is going to see to it that you suffer for being so bad;" or "Homosexuality is inborn and unchangeable. You were born that way. Forget about your fairytale picture of getting married and having children and living in little house with a white picket fence. God made you who you are and he/she destined you for the gay life. Learn to enjoy it."

  6. At some point, he gives in to his deep longings for love and begins to have voluntary homosexual experiences. He finds possibly to his horror that these old, deep, painful longings are at least temporarily, and for the first time ever, assuaged.

    Although he may also therefore feel intense conflict, he cannot help but admit that the relief is immense. This temporary feeling of comfort is so profound-going well beyond the simple sexual pleasure that anyone feels in a less fraught situation-that the experience is powerfully reinforced. However much he may struggle, he finds himself powerfully driven to repeat the experience. And the more he does, the more it is reinforced and the more likely it is he will repeat it yet again, though often with a sense of diminishing returns.

  7. He also discovers that, as for anyone, sexual orgasm is a powerful reliever of distress of all sorts. By engaging in homosexual activities he has already crossed one of the most critical and strongly enforced boundaries of sexual taboo. It is now easy for him to cross other taboo boundaries as well, especially the significantly less severe taboo pertaining to promiscuity. Soon homosexual activity becomes the central organizing factor in his life as he slowly acquires the habit of turning to it regularly not just because of his original need for fatherly warmth and love, but to relieve anxiety of any sort.

  8. In time, his life becomes even more distressing than for most. Some of this is in fact, as activists claim, because all-too-often he experiences from others a cold lack of sympathy or even open hostility. The only people who seem really to accept him are other gays, and so he forms an even stronger bond with them as a "community." But it is not true, as activists claim, that these are the only or even the major stresses. Much distress is caused simply by his way of life-for example, the medical consequences, AIDS being just one of many (if also the worst). He also lives with the guilt and shame that he inevitably feels over his compulsive, promiscuous behavior; and too over the knowledge that he cannot relate effectively to the opposite sex and is less likely to have a family (a psychological loss for which political campaigns for homosexual marriage, adoption, and inheritance rights can never adequately compensate). However much activists try to normalize for him these patterns of behavior and the losses they cause, and however expedient it may be for political purposes to hide them from the public at large, unless he shuts down huge areas of his emotional life he simply cannot honestly look at himself in this situation and feel content.

    And no one not even a genuine, dyed-in-the-wool, sexually insecure "homophobe" is nearly so hard on him as he is on himself. Furthermore, the self-condemning messages that he struggles with on a daily basis are in fact only reinforced by the bitter self-derogating wit of the very gay culture he has embraced. The activists around him keep saying that it is all caused by the "internalized homophobia" of the surrounding culture, but he knows that it is not."

    The stresses of "being gay" lead to more, not less, homosexual behavior. This principle, perhaps surprising to the layman (at least to the layman who has not himself gotten caught up in some such pattern, of whatever type) is typical of the compulsive or addictive cycle of self-destructive behavior: wracking guilt, shame, and self-condemnation only causes it to increase. It is not surprising that people therefore turn to denial to rid themselves of these feelings, and he does too. He tells himself, "It is not a problem, therefore there is no reason for me to feel so bad about it."

  9. After wrestling with such guilt and shame for so many years, the boy, now an adult, comes to believe, quite understandably and because of his denial needs to believe 'I can't change anyway because the condition is unchangeable." If even for a moment he considers otherwise, immediately arises the painful query, "then why haven't I... ?" and with it returns all the shame and guilt.

    Thus, by the time the boy becomes a man, he has pieced together this point of view- "I was always different, always an outsider. I developed crushes on boys from as long as I can remember and the first time I fell in love it was with a boy not a girl. I had no real interest in members of the opposite sex. Oh I tried all right desperately. But my sexual experiences with girls were nothing special. But the first time I had homosexual sex it just 'felt right.' So it makes perfect sense to me that homosexuality is genetic. I've tried to change God knows how long I struggled and I just can't. That's because it's not changeable. Finally, I stopped struggling and just accepted myself the way I am."

  10. Social attitudes toward homosexuality will play a role in making it more or less likely that the man will adopt an "inborn and unchangeable" perspective, and at what point in his development. It is obvious that a widely shared and propagated worldview that normalizes homosexuality will increase the likelihood of his adopting such beliefs, and at an earlier age. But it is perhaps less obvious it follows from what we have discussed above that ridicule, rejection, and harshly punitive condemnation of him as a person will be just as likely (if not more likely) to drive him into the same position.

  11. If he maintains his desire for a traditional family life, the man may continue to struggle against his "second nature." Depending on whom he meets, he may remain trapped between straight condemnation and gay activism, both in secular institutions and in religious ones. The most important message he needs to hear is that "healing is possible."

  12. If he enters the path to healing, he will find that the road is long and difficult but extraordinarily fulfilling. The course to full restoration of heterosexuality typically lasts longer than the average American marriage which should be understood as an index of how broken all relationships are today.

    From the secular therapies he will come to understand what the true nature of is longings are, that they are not really about sex, and that he is not defined by his sexual appetites. In such a setting he will very possibly learn how to turn aright to other men to gain from them a genuine, nonsexualized masculine comradeship and intimacy; and how to relate aright to woman, as friend, lover, life's companion, and, God willing, mother of his children.

From communities of faith that turn to him in understanding, offering not only moral guidance but genuine healing, he will gain much in addition. Most importantly, the love he sought so vainly when young and finally turned away from he will find in the arms of a loving God. Those for whom this is no mere formula but a living reality are truly blessed, whatever their wounds. And he will find too that the presence of this love makes it possible to lay those old defenses down and face fearlessly the wounds that have inflicted so much pain and distorted so much of his life over so many years. For many, this is the only circumstance in which it is possible to lay their defenses down.

Of course the old wounds will not simply disappear, and later in times of great distress the old paths of escape will beckon. But the claim that this means he is therefore "really" a homosexual and unchanged is a lie. For as he lives a new life of ever-growing honesty, and cultivates genuine intimacy with the woman of his heart, the new patterns will grow ever stronger and the old ones engraved in the synapses of his brain ever weaker.

In time, knowing that they really have little to do with sex, he will even come to respect and put to good use what faint stirrings remain of the old urges. They will be for him a kind of storm-warning, a signal that something is out of order in his house, that some old pattern of longing and rejection and defense is being activated. And he will find that no sooner does he set his house in order that indeed the old urges once again abate. In his relations to others as friend, husband, professional he will now have a special gift. What was once a curse will have become a blessing, to himself and to others.

If he is fortunate enough to be able to place all this in the context of faith, then he will also find that he has traveled far along the ancient pathway toward sanctification. This is just as when the angel put Jacob's hip out of joint and then blessed him, transforming him forevermore into Israel. On this road he will always have as his companion the Great Companion. And perhaps because of this he will find his footing a little more surely than those who are skeptical that such a companion walks invisibly at their side, too.


  1. T. Wiesel, "Genetics and Behavior," Science 264 (1994), p. 1647; my emphasis. Back to text.
  2. J. Knop et al., "A 30-year Followup Study of the Sons of Alcoholic Men," Acta Psychiatrica (Denmark) 370 (1993), pp. 48-53; K. S. Kendler et al., "A Population-Based Twin Study of Alcoholism in Women," Journal of the American Medical Association 268, no. 14 (1992), pp. 1877-82; J. B. Peterson et al., "Cognitive Dysfunction and the Inherited Predisposition to Alcoholism," Journal of Studies in Alcoholism 53, no. 2 (1992), pp. 154-60. Back to text.
  3. S.Y. Hill et al., "Cardiac Responsivity in Individuals at High Risk for Alcoholism" Journal of studies in Alcoholism 53, no. 4 (1992), pp. 378-88; P. R. Finn et al., "Sensation Seeking, Stress Reactivity, and Alcohol Dampening Discriminate the Density of a Family History of Alcoholism," Alcohol Clinical and Experimental Research 16, no. 3 (1992), pp. 585-90. Back to text.
  4. Valium is the parent compound of a class of chemicals benzodiazepine that are widely used as anti-anxiety agents, muscle-relaxants, sleeping medications, and anesthetics. Other examples of this class, of which there are about forty, are Ativan, Dalniane, Halcion, and Librium. All are "cleaner" than alcohol, however, and associated with fewer "hangover" effects. This is because their breakdown products are either themselves different benzodiazepines or essentially inactive. Some of the breakdown products of alcohol, however, have adverse side effects. Prior to the invention of synthetic agents, alcohol was widely used in hospital-sometimes intravenously-to calm nerves, dull pain, suppress seizures, and cause sleep. D. S. Cowley et al., "Response to Diazepam in Sons of Alcoholics," Alcohol Clinical and Experimental Research 16, no. 6 (1992), pp. 1057-63. Back to text.
  5. N.el-Guabely et al., "Adult Children of Alcoholics in Treatment Programs for anxiety Disorders and Substance Abuse," Canadian Journal of Psychiatry 37, no. 8 (1992), pp. 544-48; S. M. Mirin et al., "Psychopathology In Drug Abusers and Their Families," Comparative Psychiatry 32, no. 1 (1991), pp. 36-51; M. W. Otto et al., "Alcohol Dependence In Panic Disorder Patients," Journal of Psychic Research 26, no. 1 (1992), pp. 29-38; G. Winokur and W. Coryell, "Familial Subtypes of Unipolar Depression: A Prospective Study of Familial Pure Depressive Disease Compared to Depressive Spectrum Disease," Biology Psychiatry 32, no. 11 (1992), pp. 1012-18. Back to text.
  6. D. S. Cowley et al., "Response to Diazepam"; S.Y. Hill et al., "Cardiac Responsivity"; P.R. Finn et al., "Sensation Seeking." Back to text.
  7. D. S. Cowley et al., "Response to Diazepam." Back to text.
  8. {See C. Holden, "A Cautionary Genetic Tale: The Sobering Story of D2," Science 264, pp. 1696-97. Back to text.
  9. R. T. Michael et al. Sex in America A Definitive Survey. Boston: Little Brown (1994). A more rigorous and detailed analysis of the same data set by the same authors and released at the same time but targeting a professional readership will also be referred to: E. 0. Laumann et. al. The Social Organization of Sexuality Sexual Practices in the United States. Chicago: University of Chicago Press (1994). Back to text.
  10. See "Setting Love in Order", by Mario Bergner. (Grand Rapids: Hamewith/Baker, 1994). Back to text.



Satinover, M.D., Jeffrey. The Complex Interaction Of Genes And Environment: A Model For Homosexuality. NARTH Annual Conference, Saturday, 29 July 1995.

Reprinted with permission of Narth.

The Author

Jeffrey Burke Satinover, M.D. is a psychiatrist and psychopharmacologist in private practice in Westport, Connecticut. He is a diplomat of the C.G. Jung Institute of Zurich and of the American Board of Neurology and Psychiatry, and past-president of the C.G. Jung Foundation of New York. He is a former Fellow of the Yale Child Study Center and former William James Lecturer in School of Divinity at Harvard University. He has twice been the recipient of the Lustman Research Award in Psychiatry from Yale University. He is the author of many scientific and psychoanalytic articles. He is the author of Homosexuality and the Politics of Truth.

Copyright © 1995 NARTH
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