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Are Guys with Older Brothers More Likely to be Gay?

Posted by Average Gay Joe at 1:32 pm - June 26, 2006.
Filed under: Gays / Homosexuality (general),General

In a number of my writings, a gay character is the youngest of several boys. And while, in family I’m the second son, having two younger brothers, if a Canadian study is accurate, it seems these characters of my imagination have some basis in reality.

In a study appearing in Tuesday’s issues of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Anthony F. Bogaert of Brock University in St. Catharines, Canada, reports “that having several biological older brothers increased the chance of a man being gay.” In a telephone interview with AP, Bogaert said that this is “an effect that can be detected with one older brother and becomes stronger with three or four or more.”

This is not the first time I have read of a study suggesting that birth order could influence sexual orientation.

He believes this confirms a biological basis for homosexuality as he found that when raised “with several older step- or adopted brothers,” men “do not have an increased chance of being gay.” Thus, he finds that the environment in which someone is raised doesn’t make “much difference.”

This is fascinating in light of something I uncovered last week in my research on the berdache tradition of the native peoples of the Western Hemisphere. Among the Laches tribe (of what is now Colombia), if a family only had boys, they were allowed to raise one of the youngest as a girl. Perhaps, it’s because they knew that such a child were more likely to be (what we today would call) gay?

Food for thought.

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18 Comments

  1. Very interesting post, GPW. For anyone questioning or curious, or even for GLBT’s already out and comfortable with their orientation, a very good book to read on this subject is “Living with our Genes: Why they Matter More than You Think,” by Dean H. Hamer and Peter Copeland, first published in 1998. It made a very strong argument about how genes play a part in determining our orientation. Much of the information was compiled by studying male siblings, including sets of twins, and acknowledging that homosexuality often runs in families. Some of it was theory, but backed up by irrefutable scientific evidence (as far as I’m concerned). Very intersesting reading, and very comprehensive, for those of us who are not in the medical or scientific professions. Good book for the lay person. I would recommend that all GLBT people read this book, as well as all parents and family members trying to come to terms with their sons/daughters/siblings’ orientations. It’s very convincing. I was much less curious as to how/why I’m gay after reading this book. I think Dean Hamer has also particiapated in a more recent study on sexual orientation (I read an article about it, but don’t remember the particulars) which explored fetal hormonal changes in the womb which also play a part.

    Comment by ndtovent — June 26, 2006 @ 2:41 pm - June 26, 2006

  2. Good post! It’s more evidence of the central role of pre-natal biology in determining sexual orientation. In contrast, those who claim it’s nurture have little beyond some arm waving with a little psychoanalytical mumbo-jumbo thrown in for good measure. Some will argue that we shouldn’t care how we become gay or straight but to me that attitude simply reveals an underlying antipathy towards science.

    Comment by Ian S — June 26, 2006 @ 2:54 pm - June 26, 2006

  3. this was on 60 minutes a few months ago.

    Comment by lester — June 26, 2006 @ 3:29 pm - June 26, 2006

  4. From the post

    In a study appearing in Tuesday’s issues of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Anthony F. Bogaert of Brock University in St. Catharines, Canada, reports “that having several biological older brothers increased the chance of a man being gay.”

    I’m surprised that the ProcNAS is publishing this at this late a date. AF Bogaert has been publishing papers on the subject for about a decade, and I heard of this theory a few years ago. Blanchard R, Bogaert AF.: Homosexuality in men and number of older brothers, Am J Psychiatry. 1996 Jan;153(1):27-31

    Comment by raj — June 26, 2006 @ 3:39 pm - June 26, 2006

  5. Raj, I think that’s the study I heard of; I read something about this in ’96. It must have have been a news article referencing that study.

    Comment by GayPatriotWest — June 26, 2006 @ 4:02 pm - June 26, 2006

  6. I wonder if it’s just a false statistic. If one in 20 men are gay, then the more children in any family, the more likely at least one will be gay anyway. And if there’s three or more children, then the younger children out-number the “eldest”; so that should skew the results also.
    Is this result true statistical-analysis…or just someone working the numbers backwards to attempt to prove some “point”?

    Lies. Damned Lies. And statistics….

    Comment by Ted B. (Charging Rhino) — June 26, 2006 @ 5:43 pm - June 26, 2006

  7. Anyone remember the study that seemed to indicate that lesbians tended to have some inner-ear thing that was more like men than like straight women? That seemed to indicate that pre-natal hormone exposure (rather than genes, per se) were responsible for the difference.

    This too sounds like a pre-natal hormone thing, rather than a genetic thing. Interesting.

    Of course, info like this always makes me think about one of my mom’s friends: he is straight, his identical twin brother is gay.

    Just shows how little we really know.

    Comment by DinaFelice — June 26, 2006 @ 7:47 pm - June 26, 2006

  8. Interesting stuff; but somehow I think it BS. Myself I’m an only child from my bio’s, my brother from my mother’s second marriage is quite straight (gowing up in seperate households). Of the guys I dated they ran the gamut of birth order; although most, if they had a sibling, tended to have a sister. If that is supposed to mean anything.
    I appreciate the desire to understand why one is “born that way”; I just, simply, accept it to be so.

    Comment by Gustav — June 26, 2006 @ 10:40 pm - June 26, 2006

  9. Gustav–probably the best attitude to have. :-)

    Comment by GayPatriotWest — June 27, 2006 @ 1:58 am - June 27, 2006

  10. For mine own part, I’m the middle child with an older sister (lesbian) and younger brother (straight).

    Comment by ThatGayConservative — June 27, 2006 @ 4:46 am - June 27, 2006

  11. Ted, I believe an earlier study showed that it’s the number of elder brothers specifically, not the total number of children, that correlated with sexual orientation, and only in boys. (I may be misremembering.)

    FWIW, I’m the fourth boy in a family of twelve children. None of my three elder or two younger brothers are gay, and none of the girls at all.

    Comment by Doug — June 27, 2006 @ 8:08 am - June 27, 2006

  12. In my local newspaper, Newsday, they published this story right below their Superman Returns review!

    Comment by Damian G. — June 27, 2006 @ 6:58 pm - June 27, 2006

  13. Gustav, I think some gay guys search, in part, to explain why they are gay because they think or feel or have been taught to believe being gay is a defect… and when things are defective, we look for the responsible party or element to explain how the condition came to be.

    Cause and Effect, eh?

    I continue to think that being gay in America is an asset. I think of myself as pretty damn lucky with or without the “gay gene” and irrespective of my birth order. It’s interesting, but right now those theories are just junk science to me… to others, it’s different.

    I know that at the end of the day, I haven’t been “given” anything by society… what I have is because of hard work, self-esteem, sense of pride, and tenacity. For me, at the end of the day as a gay man, I know I’m a winner.

    If we could determine the sexual preferences of an unborn child, I’d be the first to step up and explain to the birthmom considering an abortion that –next to being a parent– being gay can be one of the greatest experiences in America… it will promise a lifetime of solid challenges, an opportunity to evaluate your life choices each day, it’ll teach you tolerance or the internal hatred will break you in two and it will be source for great friendship and understanding of the men you love, women you know, and plus dogs and horses like gay people better.

    Comment by Michigan-Matt — June 28, 2006 @ 4:40 pm - June 28, 2006

  14. GayPatriotWest: Thanks! I needed that…only 20 years ago it would have been been better(I’m kidding; sort of)! But, now this brings me to MI-Matt-
    Like I alluded to, I had to indeed struggle/toughen up/cut the crap, etc. regarding who I, as a gay man, in spite of all the doubts… realised I was a good guy! To illustrate, my Grandmother, who was quite Catholic, ASKED (!) my stepmother if I was gay. My stepmom, not able to lie to her mother, told her the truth. “I’ll say some extra prayers for him then” grandma said. Stepmom explained it can’t be prayed away, that’s who he is, etc. Grandma gave her an incredulous look and remarked: ” well I know THAT! I’ll say some extra prayers…because he’ll have a harder life, and he’ll need some extra strength.”
    Now that’s a dame!
    I heard this story long after it took place. And guess what? She was right- I, as any gay man, needs some extra strength. Whether prayers did it, I don’t know. What I do know is that I had to realise I was not some helpless plastic bag stuck in a tree. I am my Grandma’s grandson, and yes, sometimes I still feel like I got struggles going on- but I know she wouldn’t let anyone mess with me. I have to do that for myself now.

    P.S.: That includes the dogs and horses!:)

    Comment by Gustav — June 28, 2006 @ 10:38 pm - June 28, 2006

  15. Gustav, you were lucky to have a strong, sane, savvy grandmother. I wish there were a way to take her attitude and have bottled it up –we have a ton of guys who need it badly, in large doses, immediately.

    Comment by Michigan-Matt — June 29, 2006 @ 12:50 am - June 29, 2006

  16. MI-Matt: sometimes I wonder If it’s a case of “wish I knew then what I know now”.
    I have heard of stats regarding gay kids killing themselves, or otherwise self-destuctive behavior. I’m not that self rightuous: I look back and ponder that I could have been one of them. But there must have been some knot of stubborness in me to refuse to give up. Yes, you’re right: there are those multitudes who badly need self perseverance. Hopefully they’ll get it, and not give up.

    Comment by Gustav — June 29, 2006 @ 10:26 pm - June 29, 2006

  17. Just to clarify the differences between the previous research and the latest publication: The previous research showed that boys who grow up in families with older brothers have an increased liklihood of being homosexual. This could be a genetic trait or an environmental influence – perhaps growing up in a a household with lots of older boys made one feel comfortable with men and hence increases the liklihood one will be a homosexual. What the most recent research, from March or May this year, shows is that it’s the number of biological brothers one has that counts, not the number of brothers one grows up with. For instance, boys who have a great number of adopted older brothers show no increased chance of being homosexual, while boys who have a number of biological brothers are more likely to be gay even if they were adopted out and raised as an only child, in a family of girls or as the eldest male.

    Comment by Anna — July 2, 2006 @ 11:06 am - July 2, 2006

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