Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Is your brain straight or gay? and does it matter?

I wonder if in all the attention to marriage equality in California, you happened to see any news stories about the publication on Monday about the potential difference between the brains of people who are straight and the brains of people who are gay.

Here's the beginning of the abstract:

NEUROSCIENCEPET and MRI show differences in cerebral asymmetry and functional connectivity between homo- and heterosexual subjects
Ivanka Savic* and Per Lindström
Stockholm Brain Institute, Department of Clinical Neuroscience, Karolinska Institute, 171 76 Stockholm, Sweden
Edited by Jan-Åke Gustafsson, Karolinska Institutet, Stockholm, Sweden, and approved April 30, 2008 (received for review February 27, 2008)

Cerebral responses to putative pheromones and objects of sexual attraction were recently found to differ between homo- and heterosexual subjects. Although this observation may merely mirror perceptional differences, it raises the intriguing question as to whether certain sexually dimorphic features in the brain may differ between individuals of the same sex but different sexual orientation. We addressed this issue by studying hemispheric asymmetry and functional connectivity, two parameters that in previous publications have shown specific sex differences. Ninety subjects [25 heterosexual men (HeM) and women (HeW), and 20 homosexual men (HoM) and women (HoW)] were investigated with magnetic resonance volumetry of cerebral and cerebellar hemispheres.

What they found in essence was that sections of the brains of straight women and gay men were similar and that the brains of straight men and lesbians were similar, which provides additional evidence to the growing body of science that sexual orientation is present at birth and not "chosen." William Salaten has an interesting article at Slate about the findings.

I'm frankly mixed about these types of studies. Of course, it is endlessly interesting to think about how it is that we are so "wonderously made", and I know that for those who believe that "homosexuality is a chosen lifestyle", the science could make a difference. But, I wonder if these discussions don't also reinforce a rigid, binary view of human sexuality, and set us up for what Salaten in his article calls a "chemical war": that once truly known, will parents opt to change the sexual orientation of their fetuses before birth? Will the knowledge help us celebrate God's blessing of sexual diversity or seek to control it?


Jo Gerrard said...

Yet another study that ignores (discounts, or otherwise doesn't control for) the existence of us bisexual folks.

Anonymous said...

Love the jargon!!

Anonymous said...

Look on the bright side....maybe in brain scientists quest for determining a chemical, biological, and genetic 'cause' for (exclusive?) homosexual behavior and life styles they will come up with some useful findings that will cure 'real' brain schizophrenia, or obsessive compulsive disorder, or nail biting or maybe even a cure for the common cold...God bless them and best wishes in their endevours..

Cameron Partridge said...

"But, I wonder if these discussions don't also reinforce a rigid, binary view of human sexuality"-- that's my concern as well. I also second sistercoyote's question about bisexuality and wonder about the implications of ignoring the complexities of sex/gender beyond the notion of two opposite or complementary sexes.

Anonymous said...

There seems to never be any information for us bisexuals. You're excluding us.