Whether a neurologist’s claims that smoking during pregnancy makes a baby gay are true or not, we’re still looking for answers, says Rob Buchanan.
At first glance it sounds like an article in The Onion, or a UKIP weather forecast, but in We Are Our Brains, a new book by Professor of Neurobiology at Amsterdam University, Dr Dick Swaab, he claims among other things that smoking and drinking during pregnancy can cause a baby to become gay.
It’s a medically established fact that many chemical and environmental elements can interact with pregnant women to effect the unborn foetus. Everything from birth weight to resultant IQ and predispositions to depression and autoimmune diseases have long been linked to smoking and drinking during pregnancy. But this claim from a respected neurobiologist is a different matter.
On the one hand it might be construed as a step backwards towards the dark days of diagnosing homosexuality as a mental illness. On the other hand, proving physiological basis for homosexuality will go a long way towards silencing the irrational rubbish peddled by the ‘gay is a choice’ brigade.
There are complex chemical interactions during pregnancy, and if smoking might be the cause of homosexuality in some babies, as Dr Dick claims, it doesn’t mean it’s the cause of all gayness. It could merely indicate that smoking is a trigger for some innate biological process, which is inherently natural – as baldness in later life can also be triggered by several unrelated factors.
It has been shown through neurological comparisons between the brains of straight and gay people that homosexual brains are different to heterosexual brains. The fact is that until we are entirely sure of the cause or causes of homosexuality, perhaps the only rational approach is to keep an open mind.
Swaab’s view is that a child’s sexuality is determined due to chemical interactions in the womb and hence cannot be changed, and is not a choice. Nor is it down to parenting. As he puts it: “Children brought up by lesbians aren’t more likely to be homosexual. Nor is there any evidence at all for the misconception that homosexuality is a lifestyle choice. He also discusses other, less controversial explanations for the occurence of homosexuality in boys, due to the order in which they are born and specifically due to how many older brothers they have, because of build ups of antibodies and hormones in the womb over successive male foetus pregnancies.
I’ve written a couple of articles on my blog dealing with the neurological and biology factors of homosexuality in more depth, including the various theories as to why people are gay. Whatever the eventual proven outcome, homosexuality appears to be at a constant stable rate in human societies since recorded history. It transverses cultures and is clearly exhibited in preindustrial societies. It appears to provide positive advantages from a Darwinian perspective. So smoking mothers or not – we`re here, we`re queer, get used to it.
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