from "Born that way" theory
Media reports of homosexual rams fail to deal with dominance-submission behaviors of these animals. Nor do they address another question: "If this behavior is inborn, is it a biological error?"
August 17, 2005 - An Associated Press report published on August 16, 2005 details what is allegedly a new discovery by researchers at Oregon State, Oregon Health & Science University and the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Sheep Experiment Station.
According to AP, a study of rams and ewes begun in 1995 revealed that some rams refused to mate with female sheep and a fraction of them preferred to mount other rams. The article notes that about 8% of rams are homosexual in orientation.
The researchers theorized that low levels of a hormone in the brain of the developing fetus somehow kept the ram becoming fully masculinized. Researchers claim to have discovered that the anterior preoptic area of the hypothalamus of gay rams was half the size of this part of the brain in heterosexual rams.
This same basic story from Oregon was published in 2002 and NARTH discussed it when the story first appeared: "'Gay Sheep' Study Offers Intriguing Prenatal Hormonal Link."
Why this gay ram story is appearing three years later in the media is a mystery. There are no new developments to report, yet this study is currently being published on gay web sites all over the world to promote the idea that homosexuality is inborn from birth.
Other Causes For Mounting Behaviors Not Considered
Dr. Neil Whitehead, a NARTH member and author of My Genes Made Me Do It! has studied the claims about gay rams for several years.
According to Dr. Whitehead, the research claims made by Oregon researchers are questionable and fail to consider alternative social conditions that may have contributed to rams mounting other rams. He writes:
Do studies on "gay rams" prove that humans with same sex attraction are inescapably born that way? No, because, as usual, the studies do not include the alternative explanation that social conditions caused it. Those who study this field acknowledge that mounting behavior by rams on rams is deeply mixed with expressions of dominance, which is so critical in the life of a ram. A ram mounted by another ram treats this as a kind of insult -- so how far is it really desire for sex by either of them?Dr. Whitehead also questions the claim that researchers have discovered that ram prenatal brains have been demasculinized in some fashion:
Studies show that ejaculation is rather unusual in this same-sex play, so that also supports a dominance interpretation.
The studies with domestic sheep are parallel to those with the Rocky Mountain Sheep, well known for this activity.
The same-sex activity occurs among those rams which have failed in the competition to become alpha males in charge of the flock. However, if they get the chance (for example, a hunter culls the alpha male), they seize the opportunity to become heterosexual and take his place. At best, therefore, this is bisexuality and the best human analogy would be the situational homosexuality among men in prison.
The studies with domestic sheep tested for same-sex preference are done by offering to a test ram a choice of a constrained male and female near each other. If a test ram mounts the ram rather than the ewe in five 10-minute trials out of five, he is judged "gay." However, this test is subject to some criticism.
It is possible that a ram knows from long experience that to access the ewe sexually he must first subdue the ram, and hence displays preferential dominance towards it. The testers also do not seem to have checked on whether the test ram is defective in smell, which could be a critical clue. Lacking smell, his behavior could be almost random.
Even granting the validity of the test, the best papers do not find that 8% of rams are gay, but only about 1.5%.
The studies have shown brain and hormone differences between gay and heterosexual rams, but there is no evidence that these are inborn. On the other hand, there is clear evidence that the brain structure (therefore, presumably the hormone levels) change in response to the social environment. What would the hormone levels be, do you suppose, in a ram that had been constantly humiliated in the sexual dominance stakes?
We are currently finding that hormone reactions in rats are not such a good guide to humans as hoped. We are learning that humans are much more influenced by social conditions and by learning. The same is probably true of sheep studies -- though possibly they might be more applicable to a man with a large harem or more likely to the other males who wanted to access that harem.
In the past couple of decades academia has concluded that both nature and nurture have been involved in most traits in animals that have been studied. The end point of the sheep study is likely to be that there is some of both in a ram's sexual inclinations. But we are a long way from saying what the balance is.
Brain scans of young human do not show differences associated with the hypothalamus so there is no clear gender differentiation in terms of (probably) sexual function until much older. In this sense, early brains cannot be observably demasculinized or defeminized. What is observable is differences in toy preferences and a few other characteristics, such as boys fighting. From these are inferred by some authors that there are innate brain differences. But this is speculative, and it is hard to exclude social influence. In the case of rams, we can observe demasculinization (more submissive behavior, lower testosterone) associated with their failure to dominate sexually over the alpha male. It will be a long time before it can be established what the contribution of this is, compared to any innate properties they may have.Dr. Whitehead has written before on the subject of gay rams and Rocky Mountain sheep: "Is ram behaviour evidence of 'natural homosexuality?"