For a long time scientists, psychologists, and social theorists have debated: what makes a person gay? Is it nature or nurture? While some people fall strongly on one side or the other, the general consensus is: both!
Now, a new book -- a whole book!! -- by Dutch researcher Dick Swaab (unfortunate name for someone studying homosexuality...it's really just too easy) is claiming that exposing babies to certain stress factors in the womb, including smoking and drugs, might cause babies to turn gay. He asserts that these factors are a far better predictor than the social and psychological setting in which the child is brought up. He also argues that sexuality is set in the womb and cannot be altered, changed, or selected afterwards.
Swaab claims that "Pre-birth exposure to nicotine or amphetamines also increases the likelihood of lesbian daughters ... Pregnant woman suffering from stress are also more likely to give birth to homosexual children, because their raised levels of the stress hormone cortisol affect the production of fetal sex hormones ... The more older brothers a boy has, the greater the chance that he will be homosexual. This is due to a mother’s immune response to male substances produced by boy babies in the womb, a response that becomes stronger with each pregnancy."
Interesting conclusions, although suspicion is warranted. We don't exactly know what methods Swaab used to come to his conclusions. Also, is the implication of this research suggesting that homosexuality is somehow the product of an irresponsible mother? Is Swaab suggesting that homosexuality is caused by damaging the baby in the womb from stress? If so, that speaks a lot about the biases of the researchers more than it does about homosexuality itself.
On the other hand: the new book also supports a growing body of evidence that allows LGBT people to argue against more conservative theoreticians who would suggest that being gay is a choice.
Ben Summerskill, a leader of the gay rights organization Stonewall, has already spoken out against Swaab: "There does not seem to be a shred of evidence to support the idea that a mother’s lifestyle changes a child’s sexuality. Our feeling is that sexuality is probably is caused by genetic inclination, but until the evidence is there, nobody can say either way."
Meanwhile, gay rights campaigner Peter Tatchell was enthusiastically supportive: "It is a slapdown for religious and political homophobes. If being gay is mostly or wholly determined by biological factors prior to birth, it is immoral to condemn or discriminate against lesbians and gay men."
This also isn't the first time scientists have claimed to understand the factors that go into creating a gay baby: articles have suggested that numerous epigenetic factors (from the temperature of the womb to hormone levels) play a part in the creation of child who will some day grow up to be gay.
Well, if smoking causes gay babies, I say bring on the cigarettes.