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? In this book, neuroscientist Simon LeVay summarizes a wealth of scientific evidence that points to one inescapable conclusion: Sexual orientation results primarily from an interaction between genes, sex hormones, and the cells of the developing body and brain. LeVay helped create this field in 1991 with a much-publicized study in Science, where he reported on a difference in the brain structure between gay and straight men. Since then, an entire scientific ...

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

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Overview

What causes a child to grow up gay or straight? In this book, neuroscientist Simon LeVay summarizes a wealth of scientific evidence that points to one inescapable conclusion: Sexual orientation results primarily from an interaction between genes, sex hormones, and the cells of the developing body and brain. LeVay helped create this field in 1991 with a much-publicized study in Science, where he reported on a difference in the brain structure between gay and straight men. Since then, an entire scientific discipline has sprung up around the quest for a biological explanation of sexual orientation. In this book, LeVay provides a clear explanation of where the science stands today, taking the reader on a whirlwind tour of laboratories that specialize in genetics, endocrinology, neuroscience, cognitive psychology, evolutionary psychology, and family demographics. He describes, for instance, how researchers have manipulated the sex hormone levels of animals during development, causing them to mate preferentially with animals of their own gender. LeVay also reports on the prevalence of homosexual behavior among wild animals, ranging from Graylag geese to the Bonobo chimpanzee. Although many details remain unresolved, the general conclusion is quite clear: A person's sexual orientation arises in large part from biological processes that are already underway before birth. LeVay also makes it clear that these lines of research have a lot of potential because—far from seeking to discover "what went wrong" in the lives of gay people, attempting to develop "cures" for homosexuality, or returning to traditional explanations that center on parent-child relationships, various forms of "training," or early sexual experiences—our modern scientists are increasingly seeing sexual variety as something to be valued, celebrated, and welcomed into society.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"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." —Publishers Weekly

"Simon LeVay, a former Harvard neuroscientist, has written, Gay, Straight, and the Reason Why: The Science of Sexual Orientation, a comprehensive, engaging and occasionally quite funny look at the current state of the research on the topic." —Schuyler Velasco, Salon

"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

"LeVay also does a nice job illustrating that the argument for sexual orientation as determined is not a singular cause-and-effect argument...Yet, it is important for scholars and clinicians alike across various paradigms to be aware of the research reviewed in Gay, Straight, and the Reason Why." —PsycCritiques

"Simon LeVay's book, Gay, Straight, and the Reason Why, offers an excellent review of scientific research on the causes and correlates of sexual orientation. It provides 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. He provides the reader with a good sense of where research on sexual orientation stands today, and where further research is needed." — Richard Lippa, Sex Roles

"The theory that sexual orientation has a biological basis receives support in neuroscientist Simon LeVay's book. Relating evidence from genetics, neuroscience and developmental biology, he suggests that prenatal interactions between hormones and the developing brain influence adult sexuality." — Nature

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.)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780199931583
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press
  • Publication date: 9/1/2012
  • Pages: 432
  • Sales rank: 280,986
  • Product dimensions: 5.40 (w) x 8.20 (h) x 1.30 (d)

Meet the Author

Simon LeVay 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 New York Times best-seller, When Science Goes Wrong.

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Table of Contents

Introduction

Chapter 1: What Is Sexual Orientation?
Criteria for sexual orientation
Sexual orientation in men and women
Stability of sexual orientation
Prevalence of different orientations
Are there categories?
Sexual orientation across cultures

Chapter 2: Why We Need Biology
Psychoanalytic theories
Learning theories-influence of early sexual experiences
Learning theories-gender learning
Is it a choice?
The biological alternative

Chapter 3: The Outline of a Theory 30
Male and female brains
Male and female behaviors
Development of sex differences in animals
Sexual partner preference in animals
Origins of variation within each sex
Relevance to human sexual orientation
Sexual orientation in nature

Chapter 4: Childhood
Development of gendered childhood traits
Childhood traits associated with adult sexual orientation: retrospective studies
Prospective studies
Contrasting models

Chapter 5: Characteristics of gay and straight adults
Gendered traits in adulthood 54
Origin of gendered traits
Sexual orientation and cognitive traits: visuospatial abilities 58
Verbal fluency
Memory tasks
Handedness
Intelligence
Personality traits: Masculinity-femininity
Occupational preferences
Other personality traits
Sexuality
Overview

Chapter 6: The role of sex hormones
Hormone levels in gay and straight adults
Why focus on prenatal sex hormones?
Hormone levels during development
Congenital adrenal hyperplasia
Finger length studies
The inner ear
Central auditory system
Action of sex hormones on the developing brain
Possible causes of variability in prenatal androgen levels

Chapter 7: The role of genes
Sibling studies
Is the family clustering caused by genes?
Twin studies
Molecular genetics-candidate-gene studies
Genome scans
Genes and sexuality in fruit flies
Genes, homosexuality, and evolution
Kin selection
The "fertile female" hypothesis
Beneficial effects on same-sex relatives

Chapter 8: The brain
A brief tour of the brain
The hypothalamus and sexual orientation
Other brain regions
Brain activity
Pheromone studies
Sheep
Overview
Inhibition and sexual orientation

Chapter 9: The body
Body size and shape
Trunk and limb length
Penis size
Symmetry and developmental instability
Hair whorl direction
Gaydar
Overview

Chapter 10: The older-brother effect
How well established is the older brother effect?
How strong is the older brother effect?
The older-brother effect and handedness
What causes the older-brother effect?
Is the older-brother effect adaptive?

Chapter 11: Conclusions
Sexual orientation is linked to other gendered traits
A common origin for gender-shifted traits?
The role of genes
Does the older-brother effect work through prenatal hormones?
Is there a random biological influence?
How does sexual orientation become categorical?
Diversity among gay people
Changes in the prevalence and nature of homosexuality
Sexual orientation and gender: the social fallout
Glossary
Bibliography

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
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  • 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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