Historical and Scientific Perspectives on Homosexuality

Homosexuality has been, in the past, both punishable by death and encouraged as a way of life; both hated for its indecency and cherished for its openness; both a means to an end and an end to a means; nevertheless, homosexuality has always existed in one form or another within human society. Homosexuality is at the same time the most condemned minority and the most enduring minority. It is this duality of condemnation and resilience that beckons history and science to either reinforce or reevaluate how homosexual individuals perceive themselves in light of the aforementioned dichotomy.

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Charles Pierce (1980), the great logician, once said, “I’d rather be black than gay because when you’re black you don’t have to tell your mother” (p. 4). This quote serves to elucidate one resounding point; namely, that even though admitting one’s homosexuality to the world is difficult it is nonetheless necessary in order to maintain a healthy self-image. An integral part of homosexuality is the societal disapproval that usually accompanies this type of sexual orientation. For instance, a study was done concerning attitudes towards homosexuality in 40 preliterate societies. Of these 40 preliterate societies, 41% either disapproved of homosexuality or even imposed punishment for male-male sexual activity (Rathus, Nevid, & Fichner-Rathus, 2005). This scientific data only reinforces the assertion that homosexuality in human society has been both heavily condemned and very resilient. In addition, another study of 70 preliterate societies indicated that in 59% of these societies homosexuality was either very rare or completely absent. However, in some preliterate societies temporary, adolescent homosexuality is considered necessary for a young man’s rites of passage. It was believed that semen brought with it life and vitality, and that to ingest semen would pass one man’s strength to the next generation. To that end, in some of the cultures, young men would perform fellatio on older men in order to absorb their fierce manhood. Additionally, female-female homosexuality was found in only 17% of a sample of 76 preliterate societies. The disparity between male-male sexual relations and female-female sexual relations in preliterate societies might be accounted for by the social pressure and traditions abovementioned. The historical context of homosexuality is rather necessary for a discussion about homosexuality because it highlights the fact that homosexuality has been around for a long time and likewise has been condemned for just as long a time.

Now that there is a foundation to build upon it would seem fitting to turn from the past to the present. Modern-day biology has established loose scientific data reinforcing a genetic and physiological basis for homosexuality. Monozygotic (MZ) twins are one substantial source of evidence that homosexuality is genetic. This type of twin is identical and has the exact same genetic makeup. In one study concerning these types of siblings 52% were found to be in agreement about their homosexual orientation versus only 22% of fraternal (non-identical) twins (Rathus, Nevid, & Fichner-Rathus, 2005). Moreover, a region of the X chromosome has been isolated as a possible genetic basis for homosexuality. In the aforementioned monozygotic twins, 33 of the 40 pairs had this genetic differentiation in their X chromosome. Furthermore, in an autopsy of 39 AIDS victims (19 gay men and 16 heterosexual men) a segment of the hypothalamus, the third interstitial nucleus of the anterior hypothalamus, was found to be twice as small in the homosexual individuals as in the heterosexual individuals. With this strong of a genetic and physiological basis for homosexuality, a person’s self-perception of their own homosexuality should fall in line with say maybe their perception of their race.

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Lastly, the social-learning theory has much to say about how homosexuality develops within the context of social interaction. The basis for learning theory, as it pertains to homosexuality, is wrapped up in the notion that “people generally repeat pleasurable activities and discontinue painful ones” (Rathus, Nevid, & Fichner-Rathus, 2005, 315). When applied to homosexuality, this knowledge explains that if painful experiences become associated with heterosexual activities and pleasurable experiences become associated with homosexual activities, then a person will usually pursue future homosexual activities. However, learning theory does mandate rigid lines of association, but rather learning theory explains a general context in which to understand the association between social conformity, experience, and the evolution of homosexual activities.

The common term for expressing one’s homosexual to others is “coming out”. Because of issues related to social conformity and social pressure most people who are internally homosexual feel some measure of anxiety when first expressing their homosexuality to the world. This anxiety is in reaction to the societal condemnation that usually follows such a declaration. As I have read these chapters and contemplated the evidence for a genetic and physiological basis for homosexual I have come to the conclusion that the evidence is still lacking. There is a strong correlation between genetics/physiology and homosexual but at present nothing more. Much more research needs to be expedited in order to directly link genetic information to homosexual activities. Likewise, direct evidence must be ascertained in order to make any comparison between cerebral structures and homosexuality.

In conclusion, there is a great deal of evidence that reinforces the opinion that homosexuality has a basis in both genetics and physiology and very little that is cause for reevaluation. Indeed if a genetic basis for homosexuality can be absolutely established, then “coming out” should become more akin to confessing race to a parent.


Pierce, C. (1980). Retrieved June 28, 2008, from Quotegarden Web site: http://www.quotegarden.com/homosexuality.html

Rathus, S.A., Nevid, J.S., and Fichner-Rathus, L. (2005). Human sexuality in a world of iversity. (6th ed.) Boston, MA: Allyn and Bacon.

Paper Topic

Answer the following in 700 to 1,050 words, formatted according to APA guidelines:

  • How do you think historical and scientific perspectives on homosexuality may have shaped the way gay individuals perceive themselves? Address at least three perspectives discussed in the text.
  • Include in your analysis the experiences of coming out and adjusting as a gay individual.
  • Finally, how have historical and scientific perspectives reflected on your sexual orientation?

2 thoughts on “Historical and Scientific Perspectives on Homosexuality

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