Gay, Straight, and the Reason Why: The Science of Sexual Orientation

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Overview

What causes a child to grow up gay or straight or bisexual? Traditional explanations, such as those put forward by Sigmund Freud, have centered on parent-child relationships, on various forms of "training," or on early sexual experiences. In this book, neuroscientist Simon LeVay summarizes a wealth of evidence that points in a radically different direction: A person's sexual orientation results primarily from an interaction between genes, sex hormones, and the developing brain. The same biological processes that ...

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Gay, Straight, and the Reason Why: The Science of Sexual Orientation

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Overview

What causes a child to grow up gay or straight or bisexual? Traditional explanations, such as those put forward by Sigmund Freud, have centered on parent-child relationships, on various forms of "training," or on early sexual experiences. In this book, neuroscientist Simon LeVay summarizes a wealth of evidence that points in a radically different direction: A person's sexual orientation results primarily from an interaction between genes, sex hormones, and the developing brain. The same biological processes that influence a broad array of gendered traits are also the guiding factors behind a person's emerging sexuality.

LeVay helped initiate this field of research with a much-publicized 1991 study in which he reported on a difference in brain structure between gay and straight men. Since that time, an entire scientific discipline has sprung up around the quest for a biological explanation for sexual orientation. In this book, LeVay takes the reader on a whirlwind tour of laboratories that specialize in genetics, endocrinology, neuroscience, cognitive psychology, evolutionary psychology, and family demographics. Although many details remain unresolved, the general conclusion is inescapable: a person's sexual orientation is a central aspect of his or her identity—one that arises in large part from biological processes operating before birth. And far from seeking to discover "what went wrong" in the lives of gay people, or attempting to develop "cures" for homosexuality, today's scientists see sexual orientation as an aspect of human diversity-something that is worth studying simply because it is part of what makes us human.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
The nature vs. nurture wars over the development of homosexuality have been pretty definitively decided in favor of nature. In this survey of what makes people gay, lesbian, bi, or straight, neuroscientist LeVay (When Science Goes Wrong) brings readers up-to-date on the current state of knowledge. Other recent books have covered much of the same territory, but LeVay's is the most comprehensive. He begins by tackling the seemingly simple question "What is sexual orientation?" As the book progresses, he discusses how gayness is not monolithic; rather, there seems to be different kinds of homosexuality. Some people claim to be able to identify gays using "gaydar," but LeVay says differences between straights and gays go beyond body language to include visuospatial abilities (e.g., lesbians, like straight men, have better spatial abilities than straight women) and verbal fluency. He reviews current thinking on the role of genes and how testosterone levels may influence the fetus's development. LeVay comes close at times to dry recitation of research results, but although the book's chief appeal probably will be to professionals dealing with these issues, other interested readers will find it an informative and generally approachable read. 20 b&w line drawings. (Oct.)
From the Publisher
"A comprehensive, engaging and occasionally quite funny look at the current state of the research on the topic." —Schuyler Velasco, Salon

"A clear and comprehensive summary of recent studies of sexual orientation—a review that should be useful to lay people and journalists as well as to professionals in the field. LeVay has a knack for describing complicated scientific topics—brain anatomy, behavior genetics, endocrinology, cognitive psychology—in straight-forward and easy-to-understand ways." —Richard Lippa, Sex Roles

"This book will serve both as a resource for researchers looking for what is yet unknown and what questions need further research and as a fascinating read for the educated layperson, who will be intrigued by some of the factors that may relate to homosexuality.... Recommended." —Choice

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780199737673
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press
  • Publication date: 9/29/2010
  • Pages: 432
  • Sales rank: 1,061,533
  • Product dimensions: 5.90 (w) x 8.30 (h) x 1.60 (d)

Meet the Author

Simon LeVay, Ph.D., is a British-born neuroscientist who has served on the faculties of Harvard Medical School and the Salk Institute for Biological Studies. He has written ten previous books, including the textbook Human Sexuality (Sinauer, 3rd edition 2009) and the New York Times best-seller, When Science Goes Wrong (Penguin, 2008).

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Table of Contents

Introduction

One What Is Sexual Orientation? 1

Two Why We Need Biology 27

Three The Outline of a Theory 45

Four Childhood 73

Five Characteristics of Gay and Straight Adults 97

Six The Role of Sex Hormones 129

Seven The Role of Genes 157

Eight The Brain 191

Nine The Body 221

Ten The Older-Brother Effect 247

Eleven Conclusions 271

Glossary 297

Notes 309

Bibliography 331

Author Index 393

Subject Index 397

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
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Sort by: Showing all of 10 Customer Reviews
  • Posted May 5, 2012

    Excellent Resource

    The author has taken a lot of care to both synthesize a large quantity of scientific research and present it in a clear and organized manner. The pages are very easy to read -- the book and layout is inviting. The language is scientific but generally respectful of the LGBT community (much more so than some other science texts). The book is what it says, a primer on the science of sexual orientation. While you won't find any intense analysis going on here, you will find more than enough depth to be interesting to the scientifically minded reader and plenty of breadth as far as sexual orientation is concerned. Bisexuality is underrepresented, perhaps. Gender identity is not the key focus of the book either. But, if you are looking for a nice, thorough resource for the science of sexual orientation, this is your book!

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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