Is Being Gay Genetic?

What Would You Say?

You’re in a conversation and someone says, “People can’t help being gay. It’s part of their genetic makeup.” What would you say? Because the search to find a biological cause for sexual orientation has been largely unsuccessful, it has continued to change. For example, many people aren’t aware that scientists long ago abandoned any search for a single master gene that dictates sexual orientation, or most behaviors for that matter, because we now know that’s not how genes work. Today, the search has shifted to whether or not there is any genetic component to one’s sexual orientation, and if there is, what kind of role does it play in determining who we are sexually attracted to? Still, people will often assume that there must be a genetic source for sexual orientation and will talk about it as if it is settled science. But it’s not. So, the next time you’re in a conversation and someone says being gay is genetic, here are 3 things to remember: Number 1: Genetics only plays a small role in determining sexual orientation. The most recent study on genetics and same-sex sexual behavior was published in 2019. One of the largest searches ever conducted for genes linked to sexual orientation, it demonstrated just how difficult it is to link homosexuality to genetics. Based on their findings, the researchers estimated that genetic factors might be able to explain only 8-25% of all non-heterosexual behavior. In fact, they could only identify five possible DNA markers – not five genes, but five markers. And those five markers could only explain less than 1% of all non-heterosexual behavior. And even this study has yet to be replicated and confirmed. Furthermore, it’s important to understand that genes express themselves in all sorts of ways. For instance, one of the strongest associations researchers found to gay male attractions was a gene linked to male baldness. But, of course, not all bald men are gay, nor are all gay men bald. Genes just aren’t as clear cut as many think. So far, the studies we have suggest that genetics simply don’t play as significant a role in determining sexual orientation as is often claimed. On the other hand, scientists do recognize environmental influences, ranging from hormonal exposure while babies are in the womb to social influences they experience later in life. So, even if there are genetic components to sexual orientation, they are certainly not the only influences. Number 2: Genetics cannot predict whether a person is gay or straight. The scientists conducting this study concluded that “even with all the markers together, they cannot predict whether a person is gay, bisexual, or straight.” Another way to say this is “A predisposition is not equivalent to a predetermination.” In other words, it’s quite possible for a person to be born with a predisposition, but that predisposition does not predetermine their life experiences, nor can it predict their behaviors. In fact, the data shows that sexual orientation is not as fixed as activists often claim. Dr. Lisa Diamond, a self-identified lesbian psychologist at the University of Utah, has provided extensive research demonstrating that sexual orientation is predominantly fluid, not fixed—especially among women. While genetics may, at a small level, influence sexual attraction, it’s not necessarily an immutable reality. Which brings up the third point. Sexuality is not WHO you are, it’s HOW you are. In any discussion about sexual orientation, it’s important to remember that sexual attraction is something we experience. It’s an existential reality. “Existential” refers to things like our behaviors, actions, feelings, desires, and passions. However, conversations about sexuality often move from the existential realm to the ontological realm. In other words, the claim “here’s who I am attracted to” quickly becomes “this is who I really am.” Ontology has to do with issues of essence to personhood or existence, but sexual attraction is not essential to our existence, so it should not be talked about it in ontological terms. Attraction is something we all experience, and it’s often outside of our control. Experiencing same-sex sexual attraction is not a choice; but acting on it is. Experiencing any attraction, or any desire, doesn’t justify a decision to act on it. This is a difficult and personal topic for many. As we discuss what is true, we must remember that anyone asking this question and everyone who experiences same-sex attraction, are created in the image of God, with all the value and dignity which that entails. So next time you’re in a conversation and someone says being gay is genetic, remember these three things: Number 1: Genetics only play a small role in determining sexual orientation. Number 2: Genetics cannot predict whether a person is gay or straight. Number 3: Sexuality is not WHO you are, it’s HOW you are.

Yuan, Christopher. Holy Sexuality and the Gospel: Sex, Desire, and Relationships Shaped by God's Grand Story. Colorado Springs, CO: Multnomah, 2018.