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Is Homosexuality a Disease?

February 23, 2012

Gregory Cochran thinks so:

My model – not the only possible  model based on a pathogen, but reasonable – leans on a couple of natural examples.  One is narcolepsy.  We now know that narcolepsy happens when a particular kind of neuron, concentrated in a little region in the hypothalamus, somehow gets zapped.   99% of narcolepsy cases happen in the 25% of the population that has a particular HLA type – which suggests that something, probably a virus, triggers an overenthusiastic immune response that zaps a neuron subpopulation that produce a particular neurotransmitter (called hypocretin or orexin) that regulates appetite and sleep patterns.  And it doesn’t do anything else: narcoleptics aren’t stupid. You can compare narcolepsy to type I diabetes or Parkinson’s disease. Suppose there’s a neuron subpopulation that  performs a key function in male sexual desire:  wipe out that subpopulation, and Bob’s your uncle.

If so, homosexuality is comparable to deafness in that, as a kind of defence-mechanism, people people build up a sense of identity and community around their dysfunction. But obviously a parent would want to find a cure early on if at all possible. Some parents claim to be proud of their gay children, but that doesn’t make much sense. I have a hard time imagining that the news your child won’t be giving you grandchildren isn’t a huge disappointment for most people.

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I’ve generally assumed that homosexuality is often a function of some hormonal imbalance during pregnancy. Cochran doesn’t seem to address this even in the comments, and I’m not sure why. He does say that “identical twins are usually discordant,” and maybe that’s relevant.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. gpm permalink
    February 23, 2012 9:15 pm

    It certainly seems to be at least a disorder from a reproductive standpoint. It’s tough to reconcile homosexuality with natural selection, but I suppose that could be said for any chronic illness.

    I’m starting to think homosexuality is just another form of natural population control, like epidemics, war, and famine. No one really knows what’s going on at the genetic level. That nature is just takin’ care of business seems as valid to me as anything. Trying to find a tidy rationalization for these things is a trip down the rabbit hole.

    • February 23, 2012 10:53 pm

      It does seem like the “helpful uncle” theory is really the only way to make it look ok reproductively. Cochran doesn’t much like the group selectionism that that would rely on. Although if it’s true, as I believe it is, that younger siblings are more likely to be gay, the helpful uncle things seems more intelligible.

      One thing that just strikes me now is that throughout much of history, gay men would still get married and have children. So maybe homosexuality hasn’t had much of reproductive cost until recently, and it might even help in male bonding or something.

      The ancient Greeks, like modern Afghans, had this “men for love and camaraderie, women for children” kind of attitude.


  1. Further Thoughts on Homosexuality « Johann Happolati

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