SEXUALITY AND GENDER

July 19, 2017

In the fall of 2016 The New Atlantis published a study introduced by the editor as:

Editor’s Note: Questions related to sexuality and gender bear on some of the most intimate and personal aspects of human life. In recent years they have also vexed American politics. We offer this report — written by Dr. Lawrence S. Mayer, an epidemiologist trained in psychiatry, and Dr. Paul R. McHugh, arguably the most important American psychiatrist of the last half-century — in the hope of improving public understanding of these questions. Examining research from the biological, psychological, and social sciences, this report shows that some of the most frequently heard claims about sexuality and gender are not supported by scientific evidence. The report has a special focus on the higher rates of mental health problems among LGBT populations, and it questions the scientific basis of trends in the treatment of children who do not identify with their biological sex. More effort is called for to provide these people with the understanding, care, and support they need to lead healthy, flourishing lives.”

The credentials of these authors are not in question, and the science has not been refuted.  However, such publication as The New Atlantis, is described by editor Adam Keiper as being written from a “particularly American and conservative way of thinking about both the blessings and the burdens of modern science and technology.”[4] New Atlantis authors and bioethicists publishing in other journals have also similarly referred to The New Atlantis as being written from a social conservative stance which utilizes religion.[5][6][7][8]

In their attempt to be scientific rather than political the authors explain here:

“Dr. Mayer said many people who contributed to the study asked not to be identified. The anonymity they requested is to protect them from a potential backlash from those who would disagree with the study. He admitted the study may stir controversy among both pro and anti-LGBT people.

“Some feared an angry response from the more militant elements of the LGBT community; others feared an angry response from the more strident elements of religiously conservative communities. Most bothersome, however, is that some feared reprisals from their own universities for engaging such controversial topics, regardless of the report’s content—a sad statement about academic freedom,” Dr. Mayer said.”

In part Dr. Mayer and Dr. McHugh write:

“The popular discussion of sexual orientation is characterized by two conflicting ideas about why some individuals are lesbian, gay, or bisexual. While some claim that sexual orientation is a choice, others say that sexual orientation is a fixed feature of one’s nature, that one is “born that way.” We hope to show here that, though sexual orientation is not a choice, neither is there scientific evidence for the view that sexual orientation is a fixed and innate biological property….

As we argue in this part of the report, however, there is little scientific evidence to support the claim that sexual attraction is simply fixed by innate and deterministic factors such as genes. Popular understandings of scientific findings often presume deterministic causality when the findings do not warrant that presumption.

Another important limitation for research and for interpretation of scientific studies on this topic is that some central concepts — including “sexual orientation” itself — are often ambiguous, making reliable measurements difficult both within individual studies and when comparing results across studies….

The philosopher Alexander Pruss provides a helpful summary of some of the difficulties involved in characterizing the related concept of sexual attraction:

What does it mean to be “sexually attracted” to someone? Does it mean to have a tendency to be aroused in their presence? But surely it is possible to find someone sexually attractive without being aroused. Does it mean to form the belief that someone is sexually attractive to one? Surely not, since a belief about who is sexually attractive to one might be wrong — for instance, one might confuse admiration of form with sexual attraction. Does it mean to have a noninstrumental desire for a sexual or romantic relationship with the person? Probably not: we can imagine a person who has no sexual attraction to anybody, but who has a noninstrumental desire for a romantic relationship because of a belief, based on the testimony of others, that romantic relationships have noninstrumental value. These and similar questions suggest that there is a cluster of related concepts under the head of “sexual attraction,” and any precise definition is likely to be an undesirable shoehorning. But if the concept of sexual attraction is a cluster of concepts, neither are there simply univocal concepts of heterosexuality, homosexuality, and bisexuality.[14]

The ambiguity of the term “sexual desire” (and similar terms) should give us pause to consider the diverse aspects of human experience that are often associated with it. The problem is neither irresolvable nor unique to this subject matter. Other social science concepts — aggression and addiction, for example — may likewise be difficult to define and to operationalize and for this reason admit of various usages.[*] Nevertheless, the ambiguity presents a significant challenge for both research design and interpretation, requiring that we take care in attending to the meanings, contexts, and findings specific to each study….

Just as the concept of “sexual desire” is complex and difficult to define, there are currently no agreed-upon definitions of “sexual orientation,” “homosexuality,” or “heterosexuality” for purposes of empirical research. Should homosexuality, for example, be characterized by reference to desires to engage in particular acts with individuals of the same sex, or to a patterned history of having engaged in such acts, or to particular features of one’s private wishes or fantasies, or to a consistent impulse to seek intimacy with members of the same sex, or to a social identity imposed by oneself or others, or to something else entirely?

As early as 1896, in a book on homosexuality, the French thinker Marc-André Raffalovich argued that there were more than ten different types of affective inclination or behavior captured by the term “homosexuality” (or what he called “unisexuality”).[19]

Lay readers might note at this point that even at the purely biological level of genetics, the shopworn “nature vs. nurture” debates regarding human psychology have been abandoned by scientists, who recognize that no credible hypothesis can be offered for any particular traits that would be determined either purely by genetics or the environment. The growing field of epigenetics, for example, demonstrates that even for relatively simple traits, gene expression itself can be influenced by innumerable other external factors that can shape the functioning of genes.[52] This is even more relevant when it comes to the relationship between genes and complex traits like sexual attraction, drives, and behaviors….

Many of the issues surrounding sexual orientation and gender identity remain controversial among researchers, but there is general agreement on the observation at the heart of Part Two: lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) subpopulations are at higher risk, compared to the general population, of numerous mental health problems. Less certain are the causes of that increased risk and thus the social and clinical approaches that may help to ameliorate it. In this part we review some of the research documenting the increased risk, focusing on papers that are data-based with sound methodology, and that are widely cited in the scientific literature.

A robust and growing body of research examines the relationships between sexuality or sexual behaviors and mental health status. The first half of this part discusses the associations of sexual identities or behaviors with psychiatric disorders (such as mood disorders, anxiety disorders, and adjustment disorders), suicide, and intimate partner violence. The second half explores the reasons for the elevated risks of these outcomes among non-heterosexual and transgender populations, and considers what social science research can tell us about one of the most prevalent ways of explaining these risks, the social stress model. As we will see, social stressors such as harassment and stigma likely explain some but not all of the elevated mental health risks for these populations. More research is needed to understand the causes of and potential solutions for these important clinical and public health issues….

In a 2008 meta-analysis of research on mental health outcomes for non-heterosexuals, University College London professor of psychiatry Michael King and colleagues concluded that gays, lesbians, and bisexuals face “higher risk of suicidal behaviour, mental disorder and substance misuse and dependence than heterosexual people.”[1] This survey of the literature examined papers published between January 1966 and April 2005 with data from 214,344 heterosexual and 11,971 non-heterosexual individuals. The large sample size allowed the authors to generate estimates that are highly reliable, as indicated by the relatively small confidence intervals.[2]

For the 144 page study itself click here.

I tried to find a scientific rather than a political response and was unsuccessful.  Last year there were several articles attempting to refuting this work but they uniformly make political rather than scientific responses. If anyone is aware of a scientific response let us know.  For an example of a political article the Washington Post published this in April, 2017.   Zack Ford, the LGBTQ Editor at ThinkProgress.org. Gay, Atheist, Pianist, Proud SJW also write a political rather than scientific article.

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