By Jay Dixit, Peter Doskoch, published on December 1, 1996 - last reviewed on November 20, 2015
Just when we thought the nature-versus-nurture debate concerning
sexualorientation was leaning toward nature--with the search for a "gay
gene" ongoing--here comes a new theory of sexual development from Cornell
University psychologist Daryl Bem, Ph.D.
Despite the finding that at least one part of the brain is larger
in heterosexual men than in gay men, Bern believes biological factors
such as hormones, genetic makeup, and brain anatomy don't influence our
sexual preferences directly but rather determine our temperament. And
temperament, in turn, influences the activities and playmates children
So while an aggressive boy might relish rough sports, a girl with a
gentle disposition may prefer hopscotch. And just as these two will feel
different from each other, so too will a rough-playing tomboy feel
different from girls who prefer Barbie dolls. Bern says that feeling
unlike your same-sex peers makes you perceive them as "exotic," producing
physiological arousal--faster heartbeats, increased blood
pressure--that's later transformed into sexual attraction. As Bern puts
it, "the exotic becomes erotic."
In a detailed article in Psychological Review, Bern supports his
claims by pointing to studies that show the vast majority of
gender-nonconforming boys wind up gay or bisexual, while most who conform
do not. Whether or not the theory is accepted--and thus far it has earned
both praise and pans from other experts--it's sure to add fresh fodder to
the debate over whether sexual orientation is born or bred.