Sexual Behavior: Genetics vs. Environment

Sexual Behavior: Genetics vs. Environment

The following article summarizes the findings of a recent study on the relationship between sexual orientation and genetic factors.

Research continues to support the likelihood that genetic influences may play a significant role in this complex matter.

I applaud the authors and a discussant for completely avoiding the politics of sexual behavior, so stridently and powerfully promulgated by various political action groups.

It is important that everyone stay informed of what science has to tell us about this contemporary issue . It is also very important to be clear that science can follow a long and highly conflicted road to what it considers to be the “truth”. Note that the word truth is  quotes and spelled with a small “t” and not a capital “T”.

In science what is currently thought to be possibly true, likely true, or even accepted as true, is always open to revision in the light of new findings.

The article emphasizes that the researcher: “stresses that complex traits such as sexual orientation depend on multiple factors, both environmental and genetic. Even if he has hit on individual genes, they will likely only have at most a small effect on their own, as has also been seen in studies of the genetic basis for intelligence, for example.”

Note that Chad Zawitz, M.D., also adds a similar precautionary note about genetics the environment and sexual orientation.

Please read the following article before you consider my remarks that follow it.

And what are the “other factors”  that may interact with genetics, or perhaps even function alone, to determine sexual orientation?

While there are other biological factors possible, there are also a myriad of environmental events that can “condition” (increase or decrease the strength of) a host of sexual reinforcers (roughly speaking, rewards).  Also, environmental events can increase and intensify the range of stimuli capable of eliciting sexual thoughts, emotions and reflexes . Clearly human sexual behaviors are influenced through well-researched principles of learning.

The following citations will provide an overview of the psychological principles to which I refer. Knowing these can benefit you and society, as a whole, in critically important ways.

Decades of scientific research has demonstrated that many sexual “appetites” of humans are highly conditionable (i.e., learnable), in comparison  to animals lower on the phylogenetic scale.

In other words the lower on the phylogenetic scale an animal is, the more their actions are controlled by their genetics. The higher an animal is on the phylogenetic scale, the more the environment influences their actions.

The vast majority of humans find sexual stimulation to be highly pleasurable and sexual stimulation in various private or social contexts can have a strong influence upon an individual’s sexual appetite and behaviors.

The following are a few probable examples that I have encountered in over 30 years of private practice.

  • A socially shy and isolated farm-hand learns to obtain his sexual pleasure with cows and sheep.
  • Teens and other individuals who masturbate while viewing pornography can acquire sexual  appetites for an amazingly vast array of sexual stimuli. They are also prone to fantasize about and imitate the behavior patterns that they witness.
  • Some children and adolescents, lovingly seduced by a peer or adult homosexual (or heterosexual) are may learn to prefer that form of sexuality. Of course many are traumatized by the experience and are at risk for significant emotional problems. Some may become hypersexual. Some may become avoidant of mature sexual relations or even become uncomfortable in normal social relationships.
  • Children  and adolescents who are forcibly sexually abused by homosexual or heterosexual peers or adults are at high risk for a variety of sexual adjustment problems. I have seen children abused in a homosexual context subsequently developing similar sexual appetites and then sexually abuse same sex children.
  • Children and teens suffering non-sexual physical and/or emotional abuse are at risk for a variety of psychological adjustment problems, which can also manifest in their sexual activities.
  • Teens and young adults with confused or fragile sexual identities can be socially pressured, befriended and welcomed into increasingly popular Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transexual clubs increasingly popular in high schools and colleges. Some may then be shaped by others into these forms of sexual behavior patterns.

From my psychological perspective, a society cannot expect anything but a dramatic increase in the variety, frequency and intensities of sexual appetites and behaviors when its youth is flooded pornographic depictions of florid sexual activities of every variety imaginable.

How could a psychologically sophisticated society expect otherwise?!

Sadly, America has not incorporated sound principles of psychology into its more recent political and social evolutions.

V. Thomas Mawhinney, Ph.D., 11/20/14

Health Services Provider In Psychology

Professor Emeritus of Psychology, Indiana University South Bend

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