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Jordan Reeves

TED-Ed Community Manager, TED Conferences

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In ten words or less, what is a question no one (yet) knows the answer to?

Is there life outside of our planet?

What's a bigger factor in our development: environment or genetics?

Is there any real truth, or is everything relative?

What will the earth be like in 100 years?

Topics: answers questions
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  • Dec 8 2011: What determines sexual orientation? Genetics or Environment?
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      Dec 9 2011: I think 99% of scientists agree that 100% of the evidence points to genetics. Often, however, there are people that claim to choose the people they are attracted to. Interesting, right?
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        • Dec 10 2011: It seems that much more research is needed in this area. Based on what I've read so far, the consensus maintains that both genetics and environment are involved in determining sexual orientation. My personal opinion is that it's mostly environmental as a person may go through different phases of orientation in her/his life (whereas if it's genetics, it should stay the same (or should it?)).

          And Joel, I think your argument (how it reproduce itself genetically) doesn't contrast the genetics hypothesis. Imagine a gene that is produced in a mutation process.
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      Dec 11 2011: QUOTE: "What determines sexual orientation? Genetics or Environment?"

      Genetics, in utero maternal hormones, and brain development.
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        Dec 11 2011: I agree, but there is (at least) one more factor: an individual's life experiences. In most cases this is a routine process, but in some cases it is life-altering.
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          Dec 11 2011: Hey Jim,

          QUOTE: "I agree, but there is (at least) one more factor: an individual's life experiences. In most cases this is a routine process, but in some cases it is life-altering."

          Not really. Preference (i.e. sexual orientation) is set by genetics, in utero maternal hormones, and brain development. Behaviour is a choice and might be affected by circumstance.

          A bisexual, or even a gay person might choose an opposite-sex partner "to fit in" to an intolerant culture but the underlying preference will not be affected. Heterosexual prisoners might engage in homosexual sex because there is no other option save celibacy but, again, the underlying preference will not be affected.
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          Dec 11 2011: Hi Joel,

          Research. (I'm sure you can find some if you do a google search.)
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          Dec 11 2011: Hi Joel,

          Sexual orientation is not a choice.
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          Dec 11 2011: QUOTE: "Remember, good science is repeatable with the same result."

          So is bad science.

          Seriously. Google it. Sexual orientation is not a choice.

          Are you a religious man?
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          Dec 12 2011: Hi Joel,

          Why so defensive?

          It's a genuine question: Are you religious?

          I am not.

          The findings are not disputed at all ... at least not by "mainstream" science. Sexual orientation is not a choice. There is some question as to how orientation is determined - which is "normal" with any scientific assertion. The most widely accepted explanation is as I have stated.

          Would you prefer it be a choice?
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        Dec 11 2011: Thomas - Your paradigm makes me shutter... But you might be right.

        Are you saying that people - in fact all living things - are nothing more than a complex mechanisms?

        That we are bound tight to the gods of the genes?

        Is it possible that free will is a hoax?
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          Dec 11 2011: Hi Jim,

          That you would read that into an epigenetic, etiology of sexual orientation is intriguing.

          If I said your eye colour is determined by genetics, would you react?

          Of course not.

          Sexual orientation is determined by genetics, in utero hormones, and brain development.

          So says the research.

          If it were not so:

          - a "straight" person could choose to be "gay." They cannot. (They might choose to engage in homosexual behaviour ... but that is not the same thing, is it?)

          - a "gay" person could choose to be "straight." They cannot. (They might choose to engage in straight behaviour ... but that is not the same thing, is it?)

          - an "asexual" person could choose to be "anything." They cannot. (They might choose to engage in specific behaviour ... but that is not the same thing, is it?)

          In fact, if orientation were a choice, we could all simply say, I choose to be _________ [fill in the blank with whatever the opposite of our orientation actually is] and we would be equally happy, and equally satisfied ... and we all know that's not true ... research or no research.
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        Dec 11 2011: Thomas - Your argument sounds so impenetrable.

        I'm not disputing the science. I'm disputing (kind of) your interpretation of the science. I think you may be jumping to conclusions in an area that is still not wholly understood.

        For now? Yes, sexual orientation is, for all intents and purposes, determined by what you say. But I can't help but feel there is more to the story that we have not understood yet. Call it my "instincts", if you'd like!
        • Dec 11 2011: One thing to consider is the point that genetics actually *determine* little on their own. Having one gene simply does not guarantee an outcome (although it can make it very likely!). Thus, it is important to be careful here when we talk about causation in complex systems-there are obviously mainly inter-dependent, emergent concepts in play.

          If you look to the natural world homosexual behaviour is abundant. Looking for the 'gay' gene is for me to entirely miss the point, you are looking for something (being gay) that doesn't really exist. There is not black and white world of sexuality, 'natural' behaviour demonstrates many shades of grey. There might be genes that pre-dispose you to to certain behaviours, as much as there might be cultural or environmental influences that pre-dispose you to being with males and females in different ways.
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          Dec 11 2011: Hi Jim,

          This is the second time this conversation has come up recently. I'm not sure why people feel uncomfortable about sexual orientation being determined by genetics, in utero maternal hormones and brain development. In other words, by epigenetics.

          Sexual orientation is just one attribute (expression) of our human nature. In that regard, it is not different than eye colour or gender. We do not seem to mind that those are genetically determined but, when it comes to orientation, we seem to clamour for "democracy."

          Anyway, the research in unequivocal. It is not a choice.

          By far, the dominant explanation is that it is determined by genetics, in utero maternal hormones and brain development but, as with all science, there are people who question the findings.

          That is good science.
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          Dec 12 2011: Hi Jan,

          [There's no reply button on Jan's comment Jim so this is following on from yours.]

          Yes, you are correct, genes act "in concert" and may be expressed differently depending on other genes, environment, and so on. That is why orientation is said to be determined by "epigenetics" - genes, in utero hormones, and brain develpment.

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