Charles W. Socarides
Richard Horton, the editor of Lancet, has, as usual, done a scholarly job in his review1 of The Sexual Brain by Simon LeVay2 and The Science of Desire by Dean Hamer and Peter Copeland.3 Restricting his comments, however, to genes and genetics with only a brief allusion to psychoanalysis and the evolutionary development of the brain, as well as the study of conscious and unconscious motivations as regards sexual object choice, can seriously mislead the reader as to the origins of homosexuality as well as heterosexuality.
In my book, Homosexuality, A Freedom Too Far, I maintain that investigators such as LeVay and Hamer, despite the apparent seriousness of their scientific interest, are engaging in a foolhardy intellectual exercise – a form of genetic acrobatics without any real promise of discovering the roots of homosexuality, for reasons cited below.
First, the term homosexuality should be limited to the human species, for in animals the investigator can ascertain only motor behavior. As soon as he interprets the animal's motivation, he is applying human psychodynamics – a risky, if not foolhardy scientific approach.
Secondly, assumptions as to the origin of human homosexuality cannot be based on the study of genes, hypothalamus, anterior commissure, or the lower brain structures, or species such as the drosophila fly, or even lower primates; because in man the enormous evolutionary development of the cerebral cortex has made motivation – both conscious and unconscious – of overwhelming central significance in sexual patterning and sexual-object choice. Below the level of chimpanzee, sexual arousal patterns are completely automatic and reflexive.
One of the most outstanding experts in animal behavior, Beach (1942, 1947), the eminent ethologist, made comparative studies of sexual development during the evolution of the vertebrates and made a stunning discovery. He found that in lower vertebrates, sex is an almost automatic activity, a self-regulatory sequence of events.
In the course of development, the stereotyped pattern breaks down during encephalization; that is, the machinery of copulation becomes less and less automatic and depends more and more on the individual animal's experience. At the level of the chimpanzee, he found only three automatic mechanisms remaining – erection, pelvic thrust, and orgasm. With these three items, man builds a sexual pattern with his own cerebral cortex.
What follows from this discovery is: (1) that there is no innate desire for the same or opposite sex partner; (2) that the answer to the question of modified sexual arousal patterns, i.e., sexual orientation, is a question of man's ontogenetic development; (3) that in the training of children we could undoubtedly teach them to respond orgastically to any kind of stimulus, but for obvious reasons this is neither feasible nor desirable, and (4) that wish-fulfillment, memory, and fantasy play a large role in the formation of sexual patterns in man.
In man, therefore, the development of the cerebral cortex and the lessening of the role played by spinal reflexes, hypothalamic structures, and automatic mechanisms leave motivation at center stage for the development of both standard sexual patterns and their disturbances, as well as modified sexual patterns (the sexual deviations, i.e., homosexuality, fetishism, transvestitism, etc.).
In man, heterosexual object choice is neither innate nor instinctual, neither is homosexual object choice or any other deviant behavior – all are learned. The choice of sexual object is not predetermined by chromosomal tagging or hypothalamic functioning. However, most significantly, heterosexual functioning is outlined from birth by anatomy and then reinforced by cultural and environmental indoctrination and buttressed – until recently – by a social system of rewards and prohibitions. It is supported by universal human concepts of mating and the tradition of the family unit, together with a complementarity between the two sexes. The term “anatomically outlined” does not mean that it is instinctual to choose a person of the opposite sex. The human being, however, is a biologically emerged entity derived from evolution, favoring survival.
Those who stress a basic innate, biological tendency toward heterosexuality can make the same error as advocates of the theory of constitutional bisexuality or homosexuality. As the noted psychoanalyst Rado (1956), former professor of psychoanalysis (Columbia University) stated: "In both lines of experimental study, the empirical evidence points to the same conclusion: the human male and female do not inherit an organized neurohormonal machinery of courtship and mating. Nor do they inherit any organized component mechanism that would – or could – deliver them to such goals as mating or choice of mate…. Each of the sexes has an innate capacity for learning, and is equipped with a specific power plant and tools. But in sharp contrast to the lower vertebrates and as a consequence of the encephalization of certain functions first organized at lower evolutionary levels in the central nervous system, they inherit no organized information."
As psychoanalysts and psychotherapists, we are treating ego-dystonic homosexuality, and change in sexual orientation from homosexual to heterosexual is possible. Such a change would be unthinkable if there were any truth at all to the organic or biological or hereditary causation of homosexuality. Lastly, it is not a kindness to homosexuals and their families to attribute their disturbance in psychosexual development to organicity. lt dooms them to a life which is extraterritorial to the biological and social realities which surround them.
First printed in: NARTH Bulletin, Sept. 1995.
1 New York Review of Books, 13.7.1995.
2 S. LeVay, "The Sexual Brain,” Bradford Book, MIT Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1993.
3 D. Hamer and P. Copeland, "The Science of Desire," Simon & Schuster. New York, 1994.