My Genes Made Me Do It! - A Scientific Look At Sexual Orientation by Neil Whitehead, Ph.D. & Briar Whitehead, 1999, Huntington House Publishers, Lafayette, LA, $13.99, pp. 233.

Reviewed by John A. Speyrer


Written by a husband and wife team, My Genes Made Me Do It! includes voluminous references to support their thesis that homosexual activities do not have or have very little genetic basis. Our sexuality, as well as most of our behavior, they believe, is all about the learning process. The Whiteheads do not appear to be on a fundamentalist moral crusade since they also believe that neither homosexual nor heterosexual orientation is genetic!

Well, I had believed that the authors were not approaching the issue with an agenda until I came to the very end of the book. I should have been suspicious when on the third to last page Christians were being exhorted; and then on the second to last page there was a quotation from the bible. Finally, on the last page there was a pitch or advertisement for Exodus International and a website address for the National Association for Psychoanalytic Research and Therapy of Homosexuals.

But that is my fault; I should have read the Acknowledgments section. But even so, I should have guessed it earlier since the authors had repeatedly stressed that homosexuality was not fixed - that many had changed their orientation. That does not automatically make their reasoning invalid or their conclusions prejudicial -- or does it?

* * * *

Neil Whitehead has a biochemistry doctorate. His wife, Briar, is a writer. Both are New Zealanders. I first heard their interview on a radio talk show and ordered their book based on their knowledgable responses to the questions posed. This is their third book on homosexuality.

Genetically induced behavior has only been found in very simple organisms. If homosexuality were genetic, the authors claim that it would have bred itself out in only a few generations. So, if it's not genetic, what causes a person to be homosexual?

The Whiteheads say that homosexuals have missed out on necessary ingredients in their upbringing which would have made them heterosexual. Those ingredients are affectionate maternal nurturing and bonding. Extreme childhood emotional deprivation can actually cause death, but less extreme deprivation will still wreck havoc with one's future relationships, especially those dealing with intimacy and sexuality.

The hormonal surge at puberty doesn't create the sex drive, they write, it only eroticizes the drive which was created much earlier. We tend to fall in love and be attracted to those who seem to be from families who were like our own but sometimes those attractions are not healthy as they are not the ones which will further our best interests. One study cited showed that 84 percent of homosexual men said that their fathers were indifferent to them. This was compared to only 10 percent of the heterosexual men studied. Lesbians have poorer relationships with their mothers than heterosexual woman. There is also a correlation in both with early sexual abuse.

Even mothering is not an instinctive drive as some women make terrible mothers. The authors say that the sexual instinct is really not that powerful. What makes it appear that way is all of the trained learning we get. Here is where the reader gets a pitch that we can get trained out of our seemingly irresistible sex drives.

The way we were raised can override any other seemingly powerful factors such as ambiguous genitalia. The authors review six cases in which females with andrenogenital syndrome, which results when the fetus is exposed to male hormones while inutero. Ninety percent of such cases chose to continue living in the gender in which they were raised, even though their physical and biological characteristics were contradictory. Upbringing was more powerful than biology the Whiteheads concluded.

There are large variations in what are accepted sexual customs throughout the world. In some there is no breast stimulation; no kissing in others; and sexual excitement induced by scratching and biting in still others. What is sexually attractive differs. Thinness is the ideal in the west while in Arabic cultures a fat woman is desirable. In the west a younger looking firm breast is erotic while others find pendulous breasts more attractive. The Japanese find a great attraction in the nape of a woman's neck. All of these are practices and appeals are so broad that the authors conclude they cannot possibly be genetically determined.

Human beings share between 99.7 and 99.9 percent of DNA. That should mean that if sexual behaviors were the result of genes we would have similar sexual interests. But we do not. Both homo- and heterosexual behaviors have to be learned. The same rule would apply to the variations in homosexual practices in various cultures. For example, fisting is presently becoming more popular with both male and female homosexual populations while being practically unheard of in decades earlier. The authors conclude once again that the behavior must be shaped by learning as is the case with practically all human behaviors.

"In twenty-nine of seventy-nine culture surveys by Ford and Beach in 1952, homosexuality was rare or absent." If homoeroticism were genetic it would appear at the same rate in all cultures. Homosexuality, for example, is extremely rare among Orthodox Jews. When a culture changes sometimes homosexual activities disappear completely. For example, among present day homosexuals, feminine mannerisms are found less nowadays as a greater emphasis is being placed on strong and macho. Anthropologists are in agreement, the Whiteheads write, that homosexuality is not genetic in origin.

In the chapter, "Does Pre-Hormonal Exposure Make You Homosexual?" the authors reply with a tentative yes for lower animals but with a resounding no for humans. What about the anatomy of the brain? Does it supply any answers to our query? The Whiteheads insist that homosexuality is not hard-wired in our brains. There is a difference between male and female brains, but it does not account for sexual attraction.

Over 1450 physical conditions have been found by genetic mapping. Some scientists then began looking for human behavior genes. In 1993 it was widely reported in all of the media that the "gay gene" had been discovered. What the scientists had found instead was a "gene linkage." Dr Dean Hammer is quoted, "We have not found the gene -- which we don't think exists -- for sexual orientation." What was found was evidence that a tendency towards homosexuality was passed on through the female side of the family. The authors write:

Proponents of the view that homosexuality has psychological and sociological explanations have no difficulty with the possibility of genetic linkages to homosexuality. Any genetic link to a physical characteristic that might heighten a person's sense of gender nonconformity (the strongest known predictor of later homosexuality), could be held to be a contributing factor to later homosexuality. In a boy these might be, for example, genes related to slightness of build, lack of physical co-ordination (making a boy poor at sports), sensitivity. In a girl they might be factors like atypical physical strength, height, or weight. (page 146)

An elusive gene determining behavior has yet to be found and will not be found.

What about identical twin studies? Do they offer proof that homosexuality is genetic? Studies have shown that when one identical twin is homosexual then the other twin has a 50% change of being homosexual. But to offer proof the chance should be 100%, since all the DNA which the twins inherit is identical. The rules for scientifically valid twin study analysis have seven requirements which in practical terms are impossible to meet.

Furthermore, twins are not identical to the general population as they have a much higher rate of child abuse than non-twins as well as other differences which could make a difference in statistical results. The rate of homosexuality itself is higher in twins. In any event, the Whiteheads believe that a "50% heritability" doesn't mean much since other twin studies have shown that religiosity is also at the 50% level, as is altruism and fundamentalism. Even divorce is at a 52% level. These characteristics, we know, are not genetically determined. The concordance for lesbianism is much less. So homosexuality is not destined for the other twin even if one is homosexual.

The authors write,

Heritability ". . . is not a measure of how much a trait is inherited. It is, more accurately, a measure of the balance between environment and genetic input into a trait at any one place at a point in time. Heritability is something that rises and falls in direct response to the amount of environmental intervention. An opposite environmental influence can reduce a genetic effect to something negligible." (p. 163)

In any event, the authors believe that one can change one's homosexual orientation which is a frequent theme in their book. They write that sometimes changes to heterosexuality happen automatically. With lesbians it sometimes happens during mid-life. An exclusively heterosexual woman will become a lesbian. The Whiteheads argue that with a bit of encouragement and assistance one can change from a homosexual lifestyle to a heterosexual one. The authors claim that motivation is an important factor in making the change possible.

Read another review of this book on this website,
My Genes Made Me Do It

Regression Therapies Theory
-- The Origins of Homosexuality --

In 1973 the American Psychiatric Association removed homosexuality from their current DSM Manual which in effect declared the behavior to not be a mental disorder. Many criticized the action as political and not based on objective evidence.

From the earliest days, since his discovery of primal therapy, Dr. Arthur Janov considered homosexual behavior to be acting out behavior and within the purview of neurosis. He originally believed that the condition could be cured with primals during which the patient re-lived the early traumas which drove the homosexual ideation and behavior.

Dr Janov in the October, 1979, issue of the Primal Institute Newsletter wrote that "to blink at the facts as the American Psychiatric Association has done and deny that it is a sickness does a great disservice to homosexuals. It tells them that they are well when they are wracked with Pain and tension. The APA made a political decision, not a psychiatric one."

In the January, 1980, issue of the same newsletter, editor William Van Doren wrote that Janov believes that homosexuality is difficult to cure unless its origins are from childhood traumas or later. For very early prenatal traumas the results are less optimistic and it may take many years before arriving at them in primal therapy. In theory they can be cured, but in a practical sense they may never arrive at the trauma. Janov believes, however, that relief from the pain and tension, in such cases, may be accomplished in primal therapy.

In Imprints: The Lifelong Effects of the Birth Experience, Janov writes that the homosexuals he has seen in primal therapy have had "catastrophic birth histories." He believes that inutero trauma may bias male-female sex hormones permanently which might result in residual tendencies. He believes that the deviation is a problem of psychological need and not one of sex. It is a way the need gets sexualized (pp. 98-99).

Psychiatrist Stanislav Grof, believes that the origin of male homosexuality can be derived from a fear of female genitals, a fear based on unconscious birth memory. The genitals unconsciously remind the individual of his extremely painful birth. Identification with the delivering mother can also be a factor. In the case of female homosexuality the cause is more superficial. There is a need for intimate contact with a female body coupled with "serious emotional deprivation in infancy."

Another element in lesbianism, according to Grof, is a need to return to the memory of a release at the time of birth. This replays the close contact with female genitals at birth which is a similar need but which at the same time represents a similar fear which the male homosexual experiences which unconsciously reminds him of repeating the birth trauma. Often a negative experience with a father or father figure in childhood can turn a woman toward another woman for affection and sex. Issues surrounding birth are not as important a dynamic in female homosexuality as it is in male homosexuality, he writes.

Dr. Grof does not believe that the entire origin of homosexuality can be traced solely to problems of birth and near birth. He believes that early childhood events are not the cause of the focus but are seen as necessary conditions for their development and act as reinforcements to pre and peri-natal issues. Oftentimes, in therapy, it is also necessary to go beyond birth and biographical material and engage transpersonal issues. (Beyond the Brain, pp. 219-220).

British psychiatrist, Frank Lake, began practicing LSD regression therapy in the early 1950s but later used primal integration therapy. He found that many patients traced the origin of their homosexuality to a fear of female genitalia due to overwhelming birth trauma. (See Birth Trauma, Claustrophobia and LSD Therapy). Later in his life, Dr Lake believed that the origins of male homosexuality lay in the first trimester of gestation. Lake did not propose that its origins were hormonal but was open to that possibility. He rather hypothesized that maternal feelings were received by the fetus via the umbilical cord. This "umbilical affect" the fetus experienced was". . . the state of mind and emotional longing in the mother . . . It is this combination of the mother's emotional distress at their life situation [her and her husband's] plus her yearning for the intimate love of her man that are transferred into and impressed upon the foetus." (Tight Corners in Pastoral Counseling, pp. 149-150)

Dr. Lake also believed that subsequent traumas could play a role. G. Dörner, an East German (1975), who is quoted by the Whiteheads, found that in a study of 800 male homosexuals that considerably more homosexuals were born during the stressful war years surrounding World War II than in the years before and after the war.

The Whiteheads, who have very little material in their book relating to the pre and peri-natal influences of homosexuality, remarked that Dörner's study was "maverick." Dörner was criticized by some for not interviewing the mothers. In My Genes Made Me Do It! the authors write that a more recent German study (1995) showed no correlation between peacetime maternal stress and male homosexuality.

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