Gay, Straight, and the Reason Why

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Gay, Straight, and the Reason Why: The Science of Sexual Orientation
Gay, Straight, and the Reason Why.jpg
Cover of the first edition
Author Simon LeVay
Cover artist Scott Camazine
Country United States
Language English
Subject Sexual orientation
Publisher Oxford University Press
Publication date
Media type Print (Hardcover and Paperback)
Pages 412 (first edition)
246 (second edition)
ISBN 978-0-19-973767-3 (hardback)
978-0-19-993158-3 (paperback)

Gay, Straight, and the Reason Why: The Science of Sexual Orientation (2010; second edition 2016) is a book about the development of sexual orientation by the neuroscientist Simon LeVay, in which the author argues that sexual orientation is an aspect of gender that emerges from the prenatal sexual differentiation of the brain, and criticizes Freudian and behaviorist explanations of sexual orientation. Gay, Straight, and the Reason Why received numerous positive reviews, praising it for LeVay's wide-ranging overview of scientific research on sexual orientation, but the book also received some mixed or negative reviews, criticizing it on grounds such as LeVay's willingness to rely on studies with inadequate sample sizes. In 2012, Gay, Straight, and the Reason Why received the Bullough Book Award for the most distinguished book written for the professional sexological community published in a given year.


LeVay discusses scientific research on sexual orientation conducted since his 1991 study of the hypothalamus, writing that the research supports the conclusion that sexual orientation is a product of the interactions between sex hormones and the developing brain, which predispose people's minds toward masculinity or femininity. LeVay argues that sexual orientation should be understand as an aspect of gender, seen from a biological perspective. He defines "sexual orientation" as "the trait that predisposes us to experience sexual attraction to people of the same sex as ourselves (homosexual, gay, or lesbian), to persons of the other sex (heterosexual or straight), or to both sexes (bisexual). He criticizes the work of Alfred Kinsey, writing that while Kinsey took sexual behavior into account in judging a person's sexual orientation, that approach suffers from the problem that "sexual behavior is influenced by many factors that have nothing to do with one's basic sexual feelings and that are changeable over time." LeVay argues that in general only people's sexual feelings should be taken into account in assessing their sexual orientation.[1]

Sigmund Freud, the founder of psychoanalysis. LeVay criticizes Freud's theories about homosexuality.

Criticizing conversion therapy, LeVay writes that the majority view among mental health professionals is that it is unlikely to be effective and has the potential to cause harm. However, LeVay notes that a study by the psychiatrist Robert Spitzer identified two hundred people who claimed that it helped them to make a significant shift from homosexuality to heterosexuality. LeVay interprets Spitzer's study as showing that, "at least a few highly motivated gay people can be helped to engage in and derive some degree of pleasure from heterosexual relationships, and to pay less attention to their homosexual feelings." LeVay writes that statistical studies support Sigmund Freud's view that on average gay men are more likely than straight men to describe their relationships with their mothers as close and their relationships with their fathers as distant or hostile. However, he is skeptical of Freud's claim that the behavior of parents influences the future sexual orientation of their children, writing that while psychoanalytic theories about homosexuality have not been proven wrong, they are no more plausible than the idea that unidentified flying objects are alien spacecraft. LeVay suggests that boys who become gay may be unmasculine, or otherwise differ from boys who become straight in ways that influence the behavior of parents, and that Freudian theories reverse the direction of causation.[2]

LeVay rejects the view, based on behaviorism, that the sex of a person's first sex partner influences their sexual orientation, arguing that it is contradicted by cross-cultural evidence, including the anthropologist Gilbert Herdt's work on the Sambia, and studies of British boarding schools. He criticized the sexologist John Money, who maintained that sexual orientation develops as part of a process of gender learning, with reference to the case of David Reimer, a man who was unsuccessfully reared as a girl following the destruction of his penis in a botched circumcision. LeVay writes that, contrary to Money's expectations, Reimer, who ultimately decided to live as a man, was sexually attracted to women as an adult, and that there are several similar cases conflicting with Money's learning theory of sexual orientation.[3]

According to LeVay, there is evidence that levels of prenatal hormones, such as testosterone, influence the development of a person's sexual orientation. LeVay suggests that genes that cause a predisposition to homosexuality could persist despite the presumed lower reproductive success of gay people, through a mechanism similar to that involved in the disease sickle cell anemia, which persists because, while persons who carry two copies of the gene develop the disease, those with only one copy gain resistance to malaria. LeVay writes that there are several possible mechanisms by which genes predisposing persons of one sex to homosexuality might increase the reproductive potential of persons of the opposite sex, for example, the economist Edward M. Miller's proposal that the inheritance of a limited number of "feminizing" genes might make males more attractive to females by giving them increased empathy and kindness, or rendering them less aggressive, in turn making them more successful in reproductive terms, while a larger number of feminizing genes might result in male homosexuality. LeVay writes that a study has provided supporting evidence.[4]

Reviewing his work on the hypothalamus, LeVay defends his 1991 study from the criticism that the differences in brain structure between gay and straight men which it found were simply a side-effect of AIDS, which all the gay men in the study had died from. LeVay writes that there was no obvious pathology in the specimens he studied and that he was subsequently able to study a gay man who died of factors unrelated to AIDS and found that his INAH 3 was the same size as those of the gay men in his study. LeVay notes that one attempt has been made to replicate his study. Psychiatrist and neuroscientist William Byne found a difference in INAH 3 size between gay and straight men, but the difference was not quite statistically significant by the criteria Byne used. LeVay concludes that homosexuality is, "part of a package of gender-atypical traits."[5]

For the second edition, LeVay added a new chapter dealing with aspects of sexuality and gender such as bisexuality, asexuality, attraction to different age groups, "butch" and "femme" behavior, preferences for different sexual roles or positions, and transsexualism.[6]

Publication history[edit]

Gay, Straight, and the Reason Why was first published by Oxford University Press in 2010.[7] A revised edition was published in 2016.[8]


Mainstream media[edit]

Gay, Straight, and the Reason received positive reviews from Schuyler Velasco in,[9] the journalist Deborah Blum in New Scientist,[10] and the philosopher Michael Ruse in The Globe and Mail.[11] The book was also reviewed by Robert Leleux in The Texas Observer,[12] and W. P. Anderson in Choice: Current Reviews for Academic Libraries.[13]

Velasco called the book, "a comprehensive, engaging and occasionally quite funny look at the current state of the research."[9] Blum called it "rational, smart and compassionate", but also observed that it showed that scientific understanding of sexual orientation had advanced less than might be hoped since LeVay's 1991 hypothalamus study, commenting that "many of the most influential studies cited here spring from previous decades ... when a chapter on the importance of biology in sexuality contains 32 citations and 23 of them date to the year 2000 or earlier, a book can feel a bit dated." She suggested that the fact that there were relatively few notable recent findings could in part be the result of a lack of political willingness to fund sex research.[10] Ruse wrote that the book was, "clear and comprehensive, looking at the widest range of research, and very balanced."[11]

Gay media[edit]

Terri Schlichenmeyer reviewed Gay, Straight, and the Reason Why positively in Dallas Voice, writing that it was "intriguing" and made "sense on several levels". However, she also found the book overcomplicated and technical.[14] David Woolwine gave LeVay's book a mixed review in GLBTRT Newsletter, published by the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender Round Table. He wrote that those who considered gender primarily a social construct would dislike it, and that LeVay relied on studies that were open to many objections, such as the small size of their samples. However, he considered the book necessary to bring together the information from such studies.[15] The psychiatrist Vernon Rosario, writing in The Gay & Lesbian Review Worldwide, described Gay, Straight, and the Reason Why as a "rehashing" of LeVay's 1996 book Queer Science. He compared some of the research projects LeVay described, such as those that involved attempts to correlate the ratio of various finger lengths to sexual orientation, to Victorian anthropometry.[16]

Scientific and academic journals[edit]

Gay, Straight, and the Reason Why received positive reviews from Richard Lippa in Sex Roles,[17] and Drew Payne in Nursing Standard,[18] and a mixed review from the psychologist Stanton L. Jones in Christian Scholar's Review.[19]

Lippa called Gay, Straight, and the Reason Why "an excellent review of scientific research on the causes and correlates of sexual orientation" and "fair-minded, and easy-to-read".[17] Payne credited LeVay with critically examining all theories of sexual orientation.[18] Jones called Gay, Straight, and the Reason Why "the latest and most effective among the growing corpus of books and articles arguing for an exclusively biological explanation of sexual orientation", and writing that it showed LeVay's "brilliance", "scientific acumen", and "exceptional capacity for the integration of an enormous array of scientific findings." Jones credited LeVay with "sophistication in outlining the nature of sexual orientation". However, he argued that LeVay's book had subtle problems readers not familiar with the primary literature might not notice. He described LeVay's claim that if one of a pair of monozygotic twins is gay, the other is roughly fifty per cent likely to be gay as well as incorrect, writing that the actual odds were much smaller, and that research that LeVay himself cites shows as much. Jones noted that discovering such mistakes undermined his confidence in LeVay's work in general. He accused LeVay of having a tendency to employ "creative" arguments to explain away findings inconsistent with his theory, consistently criticizing the methodology only of studies that disagreed with him, and of wrongly implying that sexual orientation must be caused either only by biological factors or only by environmental factors, failing to suggest ways in which the two factors could interact. Jones rejected LeVay's claim that there is no evidence of environmental factors influencing sexual orientation, writing that "examples abound" of significant sociocultural influence. Jones also argued that LeVay sometimes employed studies with dubiously representative samples despite his awareness of the problems involved in doing so.[19]

Other reviews[edit]

Colin Wilson gave Gay, Straight, and the Reason Why a negative review in Socialist Review, arguing that LeVay fails to deal convincingly with evidence showing that people cannot be easily divided into categories such as homosexual and heterosexual, that in his evaluation of the biological evidence LeVay sometimes relies on studies with inadequate sample sizes, that the studies do not consistently support LeVay's hypothesis, and that LeVay is "too obsessed with his hypothesis to accept that it doesn't work" and was following a misguided strategy to advance the cause of gay rights by showing that homosexuality has a biological basis, in the process accepting sexist stereotypes.[20]

Views of scientists and scholars[edit]

The psychologist J. Michael Bailey called Gay, Straight, and the Reason Why "the best available summary of the science of sexual orientation." The neuroscientist Marc Breedlove wrote that, "LeVay offers a lucid, authoritative account of the exploding literature on the biology of human sexual orientation." The neuroscientist Bradley Cooke called Gay, Straight, and the Reason Why "lively, engaging, and balanced", and "a must for anyone interested in the biological bases of sexual orientation."[21]

The gay scholar John Lauritsen dismissed Gay, Straight, and the Reason Why, writing that LeVay is obsessed with a "faulty hypothesis". Lauritsen charged LeVay with ignorance of relevant historical and anthropological evidence and poor scholarship, noting that LeVay's bibliography excluded important works by sex researcher Kinsey and psychologist Clarence Arthur Tripp.[22] In 2012, Gay, Straight, and the Reason Why received the Bullough Book Award for the most distinguished book written for the professional sexological community published in a given year.[23] Louis Hoffman and Justin Lincoln, discussing Gay, Straight, and the Reason Why on PsycCRITIQUES, accepted that LeVay provides a strong argument "for biological influences on sexual orientation", but found his case that homosexuality stems partially from the "influence of prenatal hormones that feminize development" to be "convoluted". They also argued that LeVay implicitly endorses conversion therapy, criticizing his view that some highly motivated gay people can be helped to engage in heterosexual relationships, and to "pay less attention to their homosexual feelings."[24] LeVay commented in 2016, when the second edition of Gay, Straight, and the Reason Why was published, that since the publication of the first edition there has been further progress in supporting a biological basis to sexual orientation.[25]

Evaluations in books[edit]

The sex advice columnist and gay rights activist Dan Savage praised Gay, Straight, and the Reason Why.[26]


  1. ^ LeVay 2012. pp. x-xii, XVII, 1, 2.
  2. ^ LeVay 2012. pp. 12-3, 30–31, 33.
  3. ^ LeVay 2012. pp. 33, 35, 38-9.
  4. ^ LeVay 2012. pp. 131-2, 179-181, 186-9.
  5. ^ LeVay 2012. pp. 198–199, 273.
  6. ^ LeVay 2017. pp. vii-viii.
  7. ^ Google Books 2017.
  8. ^ Oxford University Press 2017.
  9. ^ a b Velasco 2010.
  10. ^ a b Blum 2010. p. 53.
  11. ^ a b Ruse 2011.
  12. ^ Leleux 2010. pp. 16-17.
  13. ^ Anderson 2011. p. 1576.
  14. ^ Schlichenmeyer 2010.
  15. ^ Woolwine 2011. p. 9.
  16. ^ Rosario 2011. pp. 9-13.
  17. ^ a b Lippa 2011. pp. 442–443.
  18. ^ a b Payne 2013.
  19. ^ a b Jones 2012. pp. 214–217.
  20. ^ Wilson 2010.
  21. ^ Johns Hopkins Libraries 2015.
  22. ^ Lauritsen 2013.
  23. ^ LeVay 2013.
  24. ^ Hoffman 2011.
  25. ^ Bromberger 2016.
  26. ^ Savage 2014. p. 69.


  • LeVay, Simon (2012). Gay, Straight, and the Reason Why: The Science of Sexual Orientation. New York: Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-993158-3. 
  • LeVay, Simon (2017). Gay, Straight, and the Reason Why: The Science of Sexual Orientation. Second edition. New York: Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-029737-4. 
  • Savage, Dan (2014). American Savage: Insights, Slights, and Fights on Faith, Sex, Love, and Politics. New York: Plume. ISBN 978-0142181003. 
  • Anderson, W. P. (2011). "Gay, straight, and the reason why: the science of sexual orientation". Choice: Current Reviews for Academic Libraries. 48 (8).   – via EBSCO's Academic Search Complete (subscription required)
  • Blum, Deborah (2010). "Gay: born or made?". New Scientist. 208 (2784). 
  • Jones, Stanton L. (2012). "Gay, Straight, and the Reason Why: The Science of Sexual Orientation". Christian Scholar's Review. 41 (2).   – via EBSCO's Academic Search Complete (subscription required)
  • Leleux, Robert (2010). "Driving While Gay". The Texas Observer. 102 (17).   – via EBSCO's Academic Search Complete (subscription required)
  • Lippa, Richard (2011). "A New Look at the Causes and Correlates of Sexual Orientation". Sex Roles. 65 (5/6).   – via EBSCO's Academic Search Complete (subscription required)
  • Rosario, Vernon (2011). "Of Genes, Genitals, and Gender". Gay & Lesbian Review Worldwide. 18 (4).   – via EBSCO's Academic Search Complete (subscription required)
  • Woolwine, David (2011). "Gay, Straight, and the Reason Why: The Science of Sexual Orientation". GLBTRT Newsletter: Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, & Transgendered Round Table. 23 (1).   – via EBSCO's Academic Search Complete (subscription required)
Online articles

See also[edit]

External links[edit]