A recent University of Otago study has indicated that people who suffered sexual abuse or rape as children are more likely than others to later identify as either homosexual or bisexual.
Otago University researcher associate professor Elisabeth Wells has looked at the connection between adverse childhood events and sexuality and found those who experienced trauma were significantly more likely to be non-heterosexual.
The study used results from the New Zealand Mental Health Survey, which surveyed almost 13,000 people aged over 16 between 2003 and 2004.
Participants were asked whether they thought of themselves as bisexual, heterosexual or homosexual and if they had same-sex sexual experiences or relationships.
Less than one per cent of people identified themselves as homosexual, but three per cent had a same-sex encounter.
Wells said the more “adverse events” experienced in childhood – including sexual assault, rape and domestic violence – the more likely the person identified with one of the non-exclusively heterosexual groups.
She said most people from disturbed backgrounds were heterosexual.
However, the study showed a clear relationship between negative events in childhood and homosexual or bisexual relationships later in life.
What has struck me most is not the study itself which, as far as I am aware, had a fairly unremarkable method and reported on the facts as they are. What I’ve found interesting is the reaction of some people in the “gay community.” I dislike that term somewhat because it suggests that homosexuals all think alike when clearly they don’t. But when I use it, I have in mind the more outspoken and often politically involved or politically motivated self appointed spokespeople for non-heterosexuals. That’s a pretty wordy description, so I use the less than ideal phrase “gay community” instead.
Tony Simpson of “Rainbow Wellington” for example reacted by saying that most of the research he had seen (but he didn’t drop any hints on what this research was) “suggests that you are, in fact, born into a particular orientation.” (SOURCE: New Zealand Herald) Now of course, the study didn’t technically dispute this, it merely offered an indication of one possible cause, not the only cause, of a person’s sexual orientation. But the message was basically that we should ignore this scientific research, because somewhere (but I’m not going to tell you where), there’s research suggesting a different conclusion.
Other elements within the “gay community” (as I explained that term earlier) however are suggesting just the opposite. From the first link:
New Zealand Aids Foundation (NZAF) community engagement co-ordinator Hamish Milne and Canterbury gay youth group Q-topia administrator Anne Nicholson said they did not look for “events” that made them gay just like they did not look for events that made straight friends straight.
“I know people who have been abused and are gay and haven’t been abused and are gay; it’s not something a study can say that it’s why a certain group of society is gay,” said Nicholson.
Sexuality was “fluid” and she could not be sure she would still be a lesbian in 20 years time.
Unlike Rainbow Wellington, the message from the New Zealand Aids Foundation was that there’s nothing fixed about sexual orientation (as there is about, say, right handedness or eye colour), you’re not born into it for life, it’s just one of those things like taste in movies or music that may come and go over time. But again, the bottom line is that you should not listen to this scientific research.
Also from the NZAF (see the same link above), Hamish Milne drew from this research the concern that “It was possible that gay people were also at higher risk of suffering abuse or rape as children, which would be a concern, he said.” So instead of the abuse early in life leading to non-heterosexual inclinations as adults and young adults, Milne implies that non-heterosexual orientation could be a factor in making people a target of sexual abuse early in life! It’s rather like suggesting that a man’s obesity at age 20 could cause him to stuff his face with doughnuts when he is 8 years old! But again, regardless of the anecdotal claims, the bottom line is that you shouldn’t believe what this study indicates.
As I step back and look at these responses, it’s as though those vocal people in lobbying positions (and out of fairness, who, for the record, I strongly suspect do not represent non-heterosexuals) have reacted to this research like one reacts to a bomb blast: Scramble in any direction, it doesn’t matter where, just distance yourself from it on any grounds at all, no matter how strange.
I have to wonder just what they think they would be sacrificing by just accepting what the research appears to indicate: that a non-heterosexual inclination can in some cases be contributed to by a negative sexual encounter in childhood. If this is a fact, then what good could it possibly do to label the facts as being in poor taste? Do they think that the study provides good grounds for discrimination or unfair treatment, harassment, or abuse? If so, I just don’t see how. Why is the research being shunned? I thought that organisations like these were interested in curing ignorance and bigotry with good research and education so that we can all have a fully informed, enlightened view of sexual orientation? Reactions like the ones we’re seeing are, to put it gently, not going to encourage this perception of their mission.
For the record (from the New Zealand Herald link):
The study questioned 13,000 people aged 16 and over on mental health issues. Ninety-eight per cent of the respondents identified themselves as heterosexual, compared to 0.8 per cent identifying themselves as homosexual, 0.6 per cent as bisexual and 0.3 per cent as “something else”.