evolution homosexuality gay anthropology
World History of Male Love - Home Page Queer Studies

Biological Adaptation, Psychological Adjustment, and Morality

The ideas I have been discussing here have been around for many years, but they have been neglected, perhaps in part because many have found them politically distasteful. I think this attitude results from misunderstandings about the relationships between biological adaptation, psychological adjustment and morality. In short, many people seem to have confused these really unrelated concepts. Gadpaille (1980:354), for example, argues that "homosexuality as a preferential or obligatory mode must by definition be biologically deviant," and implies that preferential homosexuality is pathological. Similarly, the psychoanalyst, Arango (1989), in proposing a close tie between dominance hierarchies and homosexuality, argues that homosexuality is not "love" but "masochism." But let us be clear here. Biological adaptation is not the same as "psychological adaptation" or "psychological adjustment." Biological adaptation refers to the passing on of genes. It is genes that are passed on, and that are adaptive or not. Individuals are never passed on – they always die.

The heterozygous argument has often been presented as the "sickle-cell" argument, in analogy with the well-known case of sickle-cell anemia. In malaria areas, individuals homozgyous for the sickle-cell die of sickle-cell anemia, and individuals homozygous for the absence of sickle-cell are more likely to die of malaria - so only heterozygous individuals pass on genes to the future. Now in the case of sickle-cell anemia we really are talking about an illness! No one wants to get sickle-cell anemia, and people die from it. "Illness" and "health" are defined in terms of individual well-being, and perhaps at times (e.g. psychopathic killers) in terms of social well-being. People do not need to pass on genes to be considered healthy. They need to feel themselves as healthy and happy, and to not cause harm to others. Certainly homosexuality should be considered "healthy." Arango's argument that homosexuality is "masochism" is also suspect, because it makes it sound as if our "real" selves are what we find in the innermost regions of the brain. But human nature is based on our whole brains. And of course all the different forms of human "love" (not just homosexual love) have their evolutionary history. I doubt very much whether Arango would reduce these forms of love to their homologues in ancestral fish!

Biological adaptation also tells us nothing about whether something is moral or not. As Rachels (1991) points out, attempts to link the two commit the basic philosophical fallacy of concluding from what "is" to what "ought to be". Sommer (1990) has very nicely shown the absurdity of using the criteria of "natural" (adaptive) or "unnatural" (maladaptive) to decide whether homosexuality is "good" or "bad". He found historical examples of scholars who argued for all the different possibilities: 1) that homosexuality is natural (found in animals), therefore it is good, 2) that homosexuality is natural, therefore it is bad, 3) that homosexual is unnatural, therefore it is good, and 4) that homosexuality is unnatural therefore it is bad.

Still, there may be a tie between the notion of morality we actually have (not necessarily what we should have) and homosexuality. In short, surrendering one's own interests to the interests of another is what we mean by morality. Humans are capable of such surrendering because in their evolutionary past they learned to yield at times rather than aggressively defend their own interests. If the heterozygous argument is right, then the evolution of morality depended on the evolution of homosexuality. This may sound bizarre. If homosexuality is at the base of morality, why are exclusive male homosexuals so badly treated in so many places? I think the answer is simply that they are easy to mistreat – they generally yield more easily than others.

This contradiction between what we define as moral, and how we treat those who most comply, may well be one of the major conflicts in human society. It deserves a name at least as catchy as the Oedipus Complex, although it is not an individual psychological complex, but rather a social complex. If it is really as important as my argument suggests, then I imagined this complex must appear in human myths. There are several possibilities. For example, the Kayapo Indians have a story about a boy who shunned men's work, and was sexually abused by a bat man, which caused him to giggle - the very first laugh ever, unworthy of a warrior, but necessary for life (Werner 1984). Among the Cashinuaha there is a story about a great transvestite artist who showed the Indians how to draw, but who died because he was impregnated by a lover, and the baby could not be born (Lagrou 1996). But the best fitting story is closer to home. The story of Jesus is about a man who "turned the other cheek" instead of fighting, who did not compete with other men for women, and who, in the end, was easily mistreated. Perhaps someday humans will learn to recognize this "Jesus Complex" and things will change, Then maybe Jesus' prophecy will be born out: "Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth."

CITATION: If you cite this Web page, please use the following form of citation:
Dennis Werner, World History of Male Love, "Gay Studies", On the Evolution and Cross-Cultural Variation in Male Homosexuality, 1998 <http://www.gay-art-history.org/gay-history/gay-literature/gay-studies/evolution-homosexuality/male-homosexuality-biological.html>



Adams, H. E., Wright, L. W. and Lohr. B. A. Is homophobia associated with homosexual arousal? Journal of abnormal psychology, 105: 440-445, 1996.

Antinucci, F. The comparative study of cognitive ontogeny in four primate species, In "Language" and intelligence in monkeys and apes: comparative developmental perspectives, S.T. Parker and K.R. Gibson (Eds.). New York: Cambridge University Press., 1990., pp. 157-171.

Arango, A. C. Dirty words: psychoanalytic insights. Northvale, N.J.: Jason Aronson, 1989.

Bailey, J.M. and. Pillard, R.C. 1991. A genetic study of male sexual orientation. Archives of general psychiatry 48: 1089-1096.

Buhrich, N. Bailey, J.M. and Martin, N.G. Sexual orientation, sexual identity and sex dimorphic behavior. Behavioral genetics. 21:75-96, 1991.

Cairns-Smith, A.G. Evolving the mind: on the nature of matter and the origin of consciousness. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 1996.

Cardoso, F.L. Orientação sexual numa comunidade pesqueira. Master's thesis in Anthropology. Universidade Federal de Santa Catarina, Brazil, 1994.

Castell, R. Communication during initial contact: a comparison of squirrel and rhesus monkeys. Folia primatologica 11:206-214, 1969.

Chagnon, N. Life histories, blood revenge, and warfare in a tribal population. Science 239 (Feb. 20): 985-992, 1988.

Damasio, A, R. Descartes' error: emotion, reason, and the human brain. New York: G.P Putnam's Sons, 1994.

Dawkins, R. The selfish gene. New York: Oxford University Press, 1976.

Diamond, M. Homosexuality and bisexuality in different populations. Archives of sexual behavior. 22(4): 291-310, 1993.

Dickemann, M. Reproductive strategies and gender construction: an evolutionary view of homosexualities. In "If you seduce a straight person can you make them gay?: Biological essentialism versus social constructionism in gay and lesbian identities", J.P. De Cecco and J.P. Elia (eds.), York: Haworth Press, 1993, pp. 55-71.

Downtown. Fingerabdrücke. Köln: Michael Sürth Verlag. January 1, p. 16. 1995.

Duerr, H.P. Obszönität und Gewalt: Der Mythos vom Zivilisationsproze. Frankfurt a.M.: Suhrkamp Verlag, 1993.

Edwards, A.R. and Todd, J.D. Homosexual Behaviour in Wild White-handed Gibbons (Hylobates lar). Primates 32(2): 231-236, 1991.

Eckert, E.D., Bouchard, T.J. Bohlen, J. and Heston, L.L. Homosexuality in monozygotic twins reared apart. British Journal of Psychiatry. 148: 421-425, 1993.

Enomoto, T. Social play and sexual behavior of the bonobo (pan paniscus) with special reference to flexibility. Primates 31(4): 469-480, 1990.

Epple, G. Vergleichende Untersuchungen über Sexual- und Sozialverhalten der Krallenaffen (Hapalidae). Folia Primatologica 7: 37-65, 1967.

Flores, R. Z. Cultura, Família e genética: um estudo das causas do homossexualismo em uma população de Porto Alegre. Relatório de Projeto de Pesquisa. Depto. de Genética, UFRGS, 1994.

Forsyth, A. Die Sexualität in der Natur. München: Deutscher Taschenbuch Verlag. 1991.

Fry, P. Para inglàs Ver: Identitdade e política na cultura brasileira. Rio de Janeiro: Zahar, 1982.

Gadpaille, W.J. Cross-species and cross-cultural contributions to understanding homosexual activity. Archives of general psychiatry 37: 349-357, 1980.

Gould, S.J. Ontogeny and phylogeny. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1977a.

Gould, S.J. Ever since Darwin: reflections in natural history. New York: W.W. Norton, 1977b.

Green, R. The "sissy boy syndrome" and the development of homosexuality. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1987.

Greenstein, J.M. Father characteristics and sex typing. Journal of personality and social psychology 3: 271-277, 1966.

Hamer, D.H., Hu, S., Magnuson, V.L., Hu, N., Pattatucci, A.M.L. A linkage between DNA markers on the X chromosome and male sexual orientation. Science 261: 321-327, 1993.

Hayaki, H., Huffman, M.A. and Nishida, T. Dominance among male chimpanzees in the Mahale Mountains National Park, Tanzania: a preliminary study. Primates 30(2): 187-197, 1989.

Henzi, S.P. Genital signalling and the coexistence of male vervet monkeys (cercopithecus aethiops pygerythrus). Folia primatologica. 45:129-147, 1985.

Herdt, G. (ed.). Ritualized homosexuality in Melanesia. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1993.

Jamison, C.S., Meier, R.J. and Campbell, B.C. Dermatoglyphic asymmetry and testosterone levels in normal males. American Journal of Physical Anthropology 90: 185-198, 1993.

Kelly, R. Etoro Social Structure: A Study in Structural Contradiction. Ph.D. disseration. University of Michigan, 1974.

Kinsey, A.C. Pomeroy, W.P. and Martin, C.E. Sexual behavior in the human male. Philadelphia: W.B. Saunders, 1948.

Lagrou, E. Xamanismo e representação entre os Kaxinawa. In Xamanismo no Brasil: novas perspectivas. E. J. M.

Langdon (ed.). Florianópolis: Editora da UFSC, 1996, pp. 197-232.

Ledoux, J. The emotional brain: the mysterious underpinnings of emotional life. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1996.

Levay, S. Keimzellen der Lust: Die Natur der Menschlichen Sexualität. (German edition of The Sexual Brain). Heidelberg: Spektrum Akademischer Verlag, 1994.

Lindholm, C.T. Generosity and jealousy: the Swat Pukhtun of Northern Pakistan. New York: Columbia University Press, 1982.

Lorenz, K. Das Sogenannte Böse. München: Deutsche Taschenbuch Verlag, 1963.

Maple, T. Unusual sexual behavior of nonhuman primates. In "Handbook of sexology", J. Money and H. Musaph (eds), Elsevier: North-Holland Biomedical Press, 1977, pp. 1167-1187.

McConaghy, N. and Blaszcynski, A. Initial stages of validation by penile volume assessment that sexual orientation is distributed dimensionally. Comprehensive psychiatry 32(1): 52-58, 1991.

Mendes, J.C. Hetero e homo: uma relação entre homens. Bachelor's thesis. Social Sciences, Univ. Federal de Santa Catarina. Florianópolis, 1997.

Money, J. and Ehrhardt, A.A. Man & woman, boy & girl. Baltimore: John Hopkins University Press, 1972.

Oi, T. International Journal of Primatology 11(4): 239-355, 1991.

Phillips, G. and Over, R. Adult sexual orientation in relation to memories of childhood gender conforming and gender nonconforming behaviors. Archives of sexual behavior. 21(6): 543-558), 1992.

Pillard, R.C. and Weinrich, J.D. Evidence of familial nature of male homosexuality. Archives of general psychiatry. 43:808-812, 1986.

Pinker, S. The language instinct: how the mind creates language. New York: William and Morrow, Co. 1994.

Ploog, D.W., Blitz, J. and Ploog, F. Studies on social and sexual behavior of the squirrel monkey (saimiri sciureus). Folia primatologica. 29-66, 1963.

Rachels, J. Created from Animals: The Moral Implications of Darwinism. New York: Oxford University Press, 1991.

Reichholf, J.H. Der schöperferische Impuls: eine neue Sicht der Evolution. Stuttgart: Deutsche-Verlags Anstalt, 1992.

Reinisch, J., Ziemba-Davis, M. and Sanders, S.A. Hormonal contributions to sexually dimorphic behavioral development in humans. Psychoneuroendocrinology 16(1-3):213-278, 1991.

Rieppel, O. Unterwegs zum Anfang: Geschichte und Konsequenzen der Evolutionstheorie. München: Deutscher Taschenbuch Verlag, 1992 .

Siegelman, M. Parental background of male homosexuals and heterosexuals. Archives of sexual behavior 3(1):3-17, 1974.

Sommer, V. Wider die Natur?: Homosexualität und Evolution. München: C.H. Beck Verlag, 1990.

Stoddart, D. M. The scented ape: the biology and culture of human odour. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1990.

Symons, D. The evolution of human sexuality. New York: Oxford University Press, 1979.

Vincent, J-D. Biologie des Begehrens: wie Gefühle entstehen. Reinbek bei Hamburg: Rohwohlt Verlag, 1986.

Waal, F. de. Peacemaking among primates. New York: Penguin Books, 1989.

Werner, D. O pensamento de animais e intelectuais: Evolução e Epistemologia. Florianópolis: Editora da Univ. Fed de Santa Catarina, 1997.

Werner, D. Variação cultural na sexualidade humana. Sexus: estudo multidisciplinar da sexualidade humana 2(5-6):15-22, 1990.

Werner, D. Amazon journey: an anthropologist's year among Brazil's Mekranoti Indians. New York: Simon and Schuster. 1984.

Werner, D. A cross-cultural perspective on theory and research on male homosexuality. Journal of homosexuality 1(4): 345-362, 1979.

Whitam, F.L. Culturally invariable properties of male homosexuality: tentative conclusions from cross-cultural research. Archives of sexual behavior 12(4): 207-226, 1983.

Whitam, F.L., and Zent, M. A cross-cultural assessment of early cross-gender behavior and familial factors in male homosexuality. Archives of sexual behavior, 13(5): 427-439, 1984.

Whitam, F.L. and Mathy, R.M. Male homosexuality in four societies: Brazil, Guatemala, Philippines, and the United States. New York: Praeger, 1986.

Wilbert, J. The fishermen: the Warao of the Orinoco delta, In "Survivors of Eldorado: four Indian cultures of South America", J. Wilbert (ed.), New York: Praeger, 1972, pp. 65-115.

Williams, W. Persistence and change in the berdache tradition among contemporary Lakota Indians. In "The many faces of homosexuality: anthropological approaches to homosexual behavior. E. Blackwood (ed.). New York: Harrington Park Press, 1986, pp. 191-200.

Wilson, D.S. Adaptive genetic variation and human evolutionary psychology. Ethology and sociobiology 15:219-235, 1994.

Wrangham, R. and Peterson, D. Demonic males: apes and the origins of human violence. Boston: Houghlin Mifflin, 1996.

Yamagiwa, J. Functional analysis of social staring behavior in an all-male group of mountain gorillas. Primates 33(4): 523-544, 1992.

Young, O.P. An example of "apparent" dominance-submission behavior between adult male howler monkeys (alouatta palliata). Primates 24(2): 283-287, 1983.

Zucker, K.J., Wild, J., Bradley, S.J., and Lowry, C.B. Physical attractiveness of boys with gender identity disorder. Archives of sexual behavior 22(1): 23-36, 1993.

1   2   3   4   5
gay sex

evolution homosexuality gay anthropology
Site Map