Published on: Aug 4, 2008
Type: Opinions

In my naivety as a teenage boy growing up in relatively conservative Nigeria, I was of the view (which was consistent with popular opinion then) that all boys and girls, irrespective of social status and religious affiliation, typically grew up and married the opposite sex, if they don’t, become priests and nuns. I was undoubtedly convinced in my strict Roman Catholic upbringing, that heterosexuality was the only sexual orientation, but little did I know how wrong this view was. The contemporary reality is that not all men like women and vice versa. The controversy, however, as to why men like men or women like women remains a hotly debated and sensitive topic.

While some people have argued that homosexuality is a phenomenon predetermined by genetics, others have postulated that homosexuality results from environmental/social interaction. In the middle of this debate are people who are convinced that homosexuality is a product of the clash between nature and nurture, whether one believes that homosexuality is a learned behaviour brought about by people’s life experiences, or people were intrinsically homosexuals through genetics, the argument rages on. The complexity of each of the viewpoints has remained florid for decades and shows no sign of recession into obscurity anytime soon.

For decades, scientists, including psychologists and social biologists have immersed themselves in academic and non-academic enquires to unravel the mystery of homosexuality with marginal progress. Initially, the American Psychological Association (APA) classified homosexuality as a mental disorder. The APA conducted extensive research into its causes, origin, complexity and development, than concluded that they would remove homosexuality from its list of mental health diagnosis. As a result, the debate on whether homosexuality is a product of nature or nurture continues with each side of the debating isle readily providing sometimes compelling evidence to support their claims.

Charles Darwin who has been credited with in-depth discussions on sexuality and natural selection on a number of his writings found the theory of sexual orientation particularly challenging. According to Darwin, “…We do not even in the least know the final cause of sexuality. The whole subject is hidden in darkness.” APA is on the view that sexual orientation is not a matter of choice but a phenomenon “that emerges from most people in early adolescence with no prior sexual experience.” Social biologists on the other hand have postulated that an individual’s upbringing can directly influence their choice of sexual orientation. With current understanding, there appears to be no definitive, widely accepted stance on the issue by academics and non-academics, including the homosexual community itself.

But realistically, sexual orientation transcends homosexuality and heterosexuality. What of men who like men and women? What of men or women who have sex with inanimate objects? Putting people in sexual categories arguably may be a cruel and unrealistic measure of understanding people’s sexual inclination and its determinants. From some religious and cultural viewpoints, any sexual orientation that defies heterosexuality, which is believed to be ordained unto humanity, should be criminalized. In fact, it is punishable by death in some countries and cultures! While I do not encourage any particular sexual orientation, particularly homosexuality; I recognise its existence and hope to understand the phenomenon a lot better. One thing that is certain about homosexuality: practitioners include politicians, religious, and people of all social-economic class. People who may overtly criticise and condemn homosexuality may covertly engage in it, promoting the worst form of hypocrisy.

As mentioned earlier, prior to 1973, homosexuality was indeed considered a mental health disorder by APA. The predominant conclusion was that homosexuality was as a result of childhood abuse, neglect and adverse social influences. Recent researches have challenges such believe with the case of neuroscientist Simon Levay most prominent in this regard. Simon Levay was thought to have discovered the part of the human brain responsible for homosexual predisposition. However, Levay’s theory that a homosexual man’s hypothalamus was smaller than that of a heterosexual resulted in intense criticism. The argument is that the change could have been caused by a number of social and or biological influences. Homosexual advocates have yearned for a rational explanation for homosexual orientation that is rooted in genetics. The argument is that once people are made aware of the fact that homosexuality is brought about by genetics, discrimination and social isolation will diminish and acceptance of the phenomenon would become wider. Otherwise, the issue becomes simply an issue of equality and civil rights.

The question of whether homosexuality is a product of nature, nurture or a combination of both and other dimensions in between remain as controversial today, as it was five decades ago, and will remain so for a long time to come. However, with renewed interest in better understanding this phenomenon, one would imagine that the future is more promising. In the current social climate, the war on who is right or wrong appears to be quite far from over.

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