Is Sexual Orientation A Choice?

All the secular literature on this will say ‘no’.  But it is a somewhat defensive ‘no’ when we look behind it.  There are certainly parts of our sexual make up we don’t choose.  But to say there is no choices we can or should make regarding the outworking of our sexual desires, is to make the situation far too simple.

Recently the celebrity Cynthia Nixon talked about her migration from heterosexual marriage to gay marriage.  She raged against those who said that because she ‘went gay’ that meant that she had been gay all along.  She found this offensive to her former male lovers and to her former self.  “Why can’t it be a choice?” She said.

She was instantly besieged by criticism from the homosexual lobby.  Why?  Because she had dared to question the sacred orthodoxy of “orientation”.  The orthodoxy simply states: sexual desires are hardwired, genetically, from birth and unchangeable and most definitely have NOTHING to do with choice.  To suggest they is any choice in the matter is to suggest they could be changed,  and this is the really offensive thing.  Because it would suggest that if there were a sexual ideal, that one could choose to conform to it.  This flies in the face of the highest value in our culture: unrestricted sexual self expression.

She quickly was forced to clarify that in fact she DID have an orientation – bisexuality.  Ironically, this admission completely negated her earlier point.  Her point was about sexual freedom and choice.  She was claiming her right to have sex with anyone she felt attracted to.  By being forced to regurgitate the orthodoxy about orientation, she meekly confessed her earlier heresy and denied that people really do have choice in the area of sexual attraction.  Of course, she tried to retain her position as a person of “choice” by hiding behind her bi-sexuality.  She (a bi-sexual) could choose to have sex with anyone, man or woman. She can choose the gender of her lovers, but other poor souls less broadly wired, of course cannot.

But by labeling this bi-sexual lifestyle an ORIENTATION she meekly joined the ranks of all those completely predetermined by their sexual hard wiring who have no real choice in sexual behavior.  To expose how far she backtracked, one has only to imagine that if a tri-gendered race of aliens came to earth, she COULD NOT choose to have sex with them, because of course, she’s a bi-sexual, not a TRI-sexual.  The Nixon who made her first comment, would have proudly said she could have sex with the hypothetical aliens if she CHOSE.  The repentant Nixon denied she could ever take this freedom because we should only have sex with the people we are ORIENTED to have sex with.

Such a conversation, played out in the media, is leading some to question the very notion of hard and fast “orientation”.  A new phrase coined by some to describe the reality of complex human sexual attraction is “sexual fluidity”.  In a work entitled, Sexual Fluidity: Understanding Women’s Love and Desire, one researcher suggests that women are much more open to sex with people irrespective of their gender.  The research shows that sexual attraction is fluid, changing, depending on a host of factors and conditions, both internal and external and does not stay static throughout one’s life.

As with Nixon, this work threatens the “orientation” orthodoxy, so the book begins with a series of disclaimers to keep the high priests from shouting ‘heresy!’ in the Temple of Kinsey:

Does fluidity mean that all women are bisexual? No…Does fluidity mean that there is no such thing as sexual orientation? No… Does sexual fluidity mean that sexual orientation can be changed? No… Does fluidity mean that sexual orientation is a matter of choice? No… Does fluidity mean that sexual orientation is due to “nurture” instead of “nature”? No…’

Methinks thou doth protest too much!  The disclaimers of the author, Lisa Diamond, are, of course, her clear statement that she is still one of the true believers in orientation orthodoxy.  (That, or she just doesn’t want a ration from the media like Nixon got).  Yet she should be lauded for doing such controversial work and seeking the true state of the evidence when it comes to sexual attraction, even if it risks, from her worldview perspective, “misunderstanding” and “misuse” of that evidence.

I will prove her a prophet since here I am “misunderstanding” and “misusing” her research – her strenuous disclaimers notwithstanding.  Because what I care about more are facts she’s uncovered, rather than her interpretation of her own facts, based on her worldview which I do not share.

Nixon and Diamond show that while most research in this area is done in the name of proving the normalcy and innateness of homosexual feelings, it winds up backfiring, showing that the orientation dogma is too simple, at worst a myth, or at best a deeply misleading term.

This conclusion about sexual fluidity is deeply upsetting to the orientation dogma, but it may also be upsetting for heterosexuals with a biblical view of sexuality!  There are those who assert their own heterosexual orientation, as dogmatically as any homosexual would.  But if sexuality truly is fluid, the heterosexual should acknowledge that if conditions were different in their sexual development, this proud heterosexual may, in fact, NOT be one!  If that deflates the pride of their sexual “purity”, so be it.  But Diamond’s work (and human history) confirms that ALL humans are fully capable of a wide, wide variety of sexual expression – they are not “locked in” – and thus social and moral conditions and choices are as key to how one’s very fluid sexuality is allowed to develop and express itself as is our innate ‘wiring’.

The desperate search for a gay gene has come up empty in a very recent scientific study, and this forced even the very PC Guardian to admit, that perhaps sexuality isn’t as baked into the cake as we once thought. Perhaps is far more fluid:

Christians can acknowledge that heterosexual monogamy is God’s ideal, and further that most are predisposed by natural design to lean in that direction, while also acknowledging that no one’s natural sexuality is “pure”, that is to say, fixed.  In nature, sex has proven to have patterns, yes, but also to be almost infinitely morphable.  Clearly sex has an indisputable natural function, and Christians might make an argument for heterosexual sex being preferred simply for that reason.  But our view of sex is higher than merely as means of reproduction – it is lodged finally in the character of God who made us in his image, male and female.

Yet a person is no more born with a perfect reflection of this Image in their sexuality than they are born with an unmarred reflection of this Image in any other aspect of their being.  Thus the journey of a Christian’s life in the area of their sexuality is a journey of conforming our raw, fluid sexual nature toward the Image of God, as is the case in every other area.  This stands opposed to the naïve Christian view that thinks most people have a “pure” sexuality hardwired and perfectly acceptable to God as is, while a few other “pervs” have a life long struggle in front of them.

No.  We ALL have a raw, natural, seething sexuality that is fully capable of going in a myriad of directions, and through modeling, beliefs, habits – finally choices, we as free moral agents, are the final determiners of what that direction will be.

This is not to deny that inside the Kinseyan spectrum of sexual attraction, that people do not naturally, by a myriad of conditions in their person, come to life with sexual preferences.  They do.  But, despite this fact (or the causes of those preferences), the most common definition of orientation as inbuilt, absolute, unchangeable wiring is obviously, demonstrably mythical.  Orientation dogma implies that a homosexual could never or should never physically complete the act of sex with someone of the opposite gender – or visa versa.  This is clearly false.

Homo-sexually oriented men and women have had spouses, and babies and then turned their sexuality on their own gender years later – claiming they were “hard wired” homosexuals the whole time.  Be that as it may, these homosexuals were clearly capable of having full arousal, and successful, consensual, heterosexual copulation and relationship.  The opposite is also true, men and women have considered themselves only attracted to the same sex for years until some later period where they undergo a profound change in sexual proclivity.  This, despite the raging claims of the priests of orientation that “reparative therapy” never works.  And while we scoff at “pray the gay away” programs, pointing to the many homosexuals who have undertaken failed attempts to change their orientation, it only takes ONE successful convert to prove that the orientation orthodoxy is a myth.  Just one.  I personally know of several.

History and experience have shown that, left without moral parameters on this raw, fluid sex drive, the human animal is capable of having sex, not just with the same gender, but with almost ANYTHING – inanimate objects, small children or even animals.  Is bestiality an ‘orientation’?  Is pedophilia an orientation? (At least one tenured psychologist says yes; so does this Dutch psychologist and Criminologist:).

These comparisons are always shouted down, but the shouters seem to have little scientific interest in the subject of sexual attraction, and more interest in protecting a belief or an ideology.  If we define orientation as, “one’s natural preference in sexual partners,” orientations are myriad and must include things like pedophilia.  To not so argue, is special pleading based on societal revulsion – which is the very thing the homosexual lobby says is passé!

So orientation orthodoxy reduces down to this: when the kind of sex I am predisposed to have is (currently) socially unacceptable, it’s a mental disorder and needs treatment to change, but when the desire becomes more socially acceptable, it’s hard wired, it cannot be changed and to try is the height of intolerance and ‘ignorance’.  How very arbitrary.  Does not phenomena like bestiality or pederasty or bisexuality, or polygamy or polyandry show that human sexuality is raw and fluid and capable of infinite permutations?  And don’t we reason in these situations that just because it can flow in almost any direction, doesn’t mean it should?  On what basis then, is the homosexual urge exempt from a belief that complex sexual urges can and at times should be changed/directed?  On the basis of dogma, not science.

Sexual preference might be a much better word to use, and orientation scrapped in light of real world experience.  (Editor’s Note: Since writing this post almost 5 years ago, the case against orientation orthodoxy continues to grow. The term itself, experts now are suggesting is increasingly arcane, and “sexual preferences”, once thought offensive, is the more accurate term:–9wQ5b6-sELTXQmm0nGKcylJDwjfTpj0HzRRhh2EzmmTW4piMDhZt6j-jBtn6NAWthXEoqZrCo70y-5P-2xXYo1lqMfw)

People prefer to have sex with the same gender or opposite gender or prefer both genders (or children, or animals, or many partners or just one etc).  These preferences show up early and are resistant to change. The reasons for these preferences are very complex and certainly include biological factors.  But even within a single lifetime, an individual may migrate or change preferences based on a host of factors.  It happens all the time – and every time it does, it explodes the orientation orthodoxy.

In fact, in the small sample size of my counseling work, all those currently self-identifying as homosexuals have experienced sexual abuse of some kind that deeply affected their sexual choices in later life.  Most also spent an earlier season of life before coming out of the closet having heterosexual sex.  This is easy to explain for the priests of orientation orthodoxy – these people were under societal pressure and came out of the closet to embrace their “true nature” only when released by therapy or societal approval.

Perhaps, but this passes over the fact that they were able, despite their “true nature,” to direct their sexuality by their own choice!  “But they lived a life of tortured inauthenticity!”, is the autoreply.  Yes, perhaps there was great pain as they wrestled with complex and unbidden sexual desires, but what are we saying when we describe every instance of denying a sexual urge as “torture”?  Isn’t self-control a key marker of all good social behavior and emotional maturity?  The question then comes back to what SHOULD or SHOULD NOT be denied?  Here, we are in the territory of morality, not sexuality (or science!).  The most honest science is telling us sexuality is a fluid mass of often competing desires built on complex causes.  Over this we ALL impose morality.  I admit, Christian sexual morality is stricter than secular morality these days, but let us not suppose that our morality is obsolete because it denies the science!

The orientation dogma will likely one day be exposed for what it was:  a useful tool of doctrinal conditioning to encourage a sexual orthodoxy designed to foster the acceptance of homosexuality on par with heterosexual monogamy.  Once this happens (and we’re almost there), there will be no more need to keep up the pretense that sexual attraction is some kind of sacrosanct, inbuilt, untouchable, unmovable predisposition that science discovered.  On that day we will simply have sex with whomever or whatever we want (Nixon’s first position), as an expression of total sexual liberation – the silly notion that we HAD to do it this way or that way, because “God/Nature made us this way” will be left in the dust.

While this dogma enjoyed preeminence, it was useful to crush dissent, shaming people for their ‘ignorance’ and ‘intolerance’ by imposing the authority of “science”. Someday, the science behind this argument will simply be left behind because everyone will see that whatever was important to know about the natural development of sexual urges, is basically secondary to the sexual choices I make with those raw urges.

All men and women find some piece of their sexual desires to be something they do not find expedient and therefore they do not choose to act them out.  Is this hopeless repression?  Is this inauthentic religious coercion?  In some cases it has been, but not inherently so.  We all eschew sexual desires we find inexpedient, because they would bring negative side effects, or because we think them morally wrong.  And not just one-time desires either, but lasting, persistent dark desires we must consistently reject.  This is healthy!  The noble thing to do in such a case is not to allow ourselves to be told we are denying our “orientation” and are suffering from sexual repression.  No, the noble thing to do is to condition ourselves to bring our changeable sexual desires in line with our morals – through further choosing our psychological inputs, our spiritual inputs, and our relational inputs.

So, like Cynthia Nixon A, I’m inclined to dump orientation as a constricting, dogmatic formula that limits choice, limits freedom and liberty, and curtails our belief in the power of the human will to transcend materialistic processes.  At best, orientation science exposes the fact that people have different sexual preferences and these have complex causes some of which seem to come pre-wired.  We mostly already knew that.  But at worst, orientation science locks us into a sense of sexual destiny with our desires, whether we like them or not, whether we believe they are moral or not, or whether they are helpful or productive to our future and human flourishing, or not.