Wednesday, June 18, 2008

SSA AND THE BRAIN

This adds a little more evidence that SSA has a biological basis:

"Gay men and straight women have similar brains, study says
The research suggests a basic biological link between sexual orientation and a range of mental functions.

By Denise Gellene, Los Angeles Times Staff Writer June 17, 2008 http://www.latimes.com/la-sci-gaybrain17-2008jun17,0,6828157.story

The brains of gay men resemble those of straight women, according to research published today that provides more evidence of the role of biology in sexual orientation.Using brain-scanning equipment, researchers said they discovered similarities in the brain circuits that deal with language, perhaps explaining why homosexual men tend to outperform straight men on verbal skills tests -- as do heterosexual women.

What does gay look like? Science keeps trying to figure that out
The area of the brain that processes emotions also looked much the same in gay men and straight women -- and both groups have higher rates of depressive disorders than heterosexual men, researchers said.The study in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, however, found that the brain similarities were not as close in the case of gay women and straight men.Previous studies have found evidence that sexual orientation is influenced by biological factors. More than a decade ago, neurobiologist Simon LeVay reported that a key area of the hypothalamus, a brain structure linked to sexual behavior, was smaller in homosexual men than in heterosexual men.The latest study, led by Dr. Ivanka Savic of the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, was significant in that it looked at areas of the brain that have nothing to do with sexual behavior, suggesting that there was a basic biological link between sexual orientation and a range of brain functions."The question is, how far does it go?" said Dr. Eric Vilain, who studies human sexual development at UCLA and was not involved in the study. "In gay men, the brain is feminized. Is that limited to particular areas, or is the entire brain female-like?"Vilain said his hunch was that the entire brain was not feminized because "gay men have a number of masculine traits that are not present in women." For example, he said, men regardless of sexual orientation tend to be interested in casual sex and are stimulated by sexually suggestive images.Savic and her colleagues used magnetic resonance imaging to measure brain volumes of two groups, each divided evenly between men and women: 50 heterosexuals and 40 homosexuals. They knew going into the study that in men the right cerebral hemisphere is larger than the left, but in women the hemispheres are of equal size.The results showed that gay men had symmetrical brains like those of straight women, and homosexual women had slightly asymmetrical brains like those of heterosexual men. Symmetry is thought to favor verbal skills, the report said.The differences were pronounced. For example, the right cerebral hemisphere in heterosexual men was 624 cubic centimeters -- 12 cubic centimeters greater than the left side. In homosexual men, the right hemisphere was 608 cubic centimeters -- 1 cubic centimeter smaller than the left.In heterosexual women, there was no volume difference between right and left hemispheres. But in homosexual women, their right hemisphere was 5 cubic centimeters larger than the left.Next, researchers used positron emission topography to measure blood flow in the amygdala, a brain area involved in processing emotions. The circuitry of the amygdala in gay men more closely resembled that of straight women than straight men, researchers said. The amygdalas of gay women looked more like those of straight men, the report said.Savic said she thought the brain differences originated in the womb or infancy, probably as a result of genetic or hormonal factors. She said she could not explain why the differences were more pronounced in homosexual men than in homosexual women.S. Marc Breedlove, a Michigan State University neuroscientist who studies sexual development, said that in his studies with rats, changes in prenatal levels of testosterone caused the sort of brain alterations that Savic observed.denise.gellene@latimes.com "

Monday, June 16, 2008

SCIENCE TRIES TO DEFINE GAYNESS

The following article found at http://www.latimes.com/features/health/la-he-sex16-2008jun16,0,5424540.story illustrates how little scientists know about gay characteristics.

"THE MATING GAME
What does gay look like? Science keeps trying to figure that out

By Regina Nuzzo, Special to The Times June 16, 2008
Last month, Sen. John McCain dropped by “Saturday Night Live,” drawing laughs from his promise, if elected president, to fight expensive federal projects -- such as, he spoofed, a Department of Defense device to "jam gaydar."That was a joke. But some scientists are, in a way, working on gaydar, the supposed ability to discern whether a person is homosexual by reading subtle cues from their appearance. Just don't refer to it that way. The preferred term is "sexual orientation correlates."These scientists are searching for innate traits that might not appear to be related to sexual orientation or even to standard clich├ęs. So measuring a subject's shoe size is permissible; asking about ownership of Barbra Streisand albums would be cheating. Some inborn traits might be expected if homosexuality is -- as most scientists believe -- rooted in biology, and they might provide clues about the biological origins of sexual orientation.Finding and solidifying these links isn't easy. Studies contradict each other, and some promising paths don't pan out. (A link between male homosexuality and finger lengths isn't holding up, and a claim that gays have distinctive fingerprint ridge patterns is largely discredited.) Scientists don't always agree on how to interpret the results, and more progress has been made with regard to men than to women.* Big brothers. Study after study -- including one of 87,000 British men published last year -- has found that gay men have more older brothers than straight men do. Only big brothers count. Lesbians don't show such patterns.The numbers: Each older brother will increase a man's chances of being gay by 33%, says Ray Blanchard of the University of Toronto, an expert on the "big-brother effect." That's not as dramatic as it might sound. A man's chance of being gay is pretty low to begin with -- perhaps as low as 2% (lowered from 10% by researchers in the early 1990s). So having one older brother ups the chance to only about 2.6%.What it might mean: Psychological influences are probably not at work, because the pattern holds even for gay men who weren’t raised with their older brothers. Instead, the mother's womb might be key. After giving birth to a boy, her immune system might create antibodies to foreign, male proteins in her bloodstream. Subsequent sons in the womb could be exposed to these "anti-boy" antibodies, which might affect sexual development in the brain.Accordingly, you'd expect the percentage of gay men in a society to vary depending on demographic differences in family size: One study calculated that a one-child-per-family law would reduce male homosexuality by about 29% from current levels.* Left hand vs. right hand. The hand you use to sign your name might have something to do with what gender you are drawn to.The numbers: More lefties -- or at least more somewhat-ambidextrous folks -- crop up in the gay population than among straight people, several studies have shown. An analysis of more than 23,000 men and women from North America and Europe in 2000 found that being non-right-handed seems to increase a man's chances of being gay by about 34%, and a woman's by about 90%.What it might mean: One guess is that different-than-normal levels of testosterone in the womb -- widely theorized to play a role in determining eventual sexual orientation -- could nudge a fetus toward brain organization that favors left-handedness as well as same-sex attraction.Another theory is that development of a fetus might be disturbed by factors such as a mother's illness, steering the fetus into being less than strictly right-handed -- and, in some cases, less than strictly heterosexual.It's a politically sticky idea, says Qazi Rahman of Queen Mary-University of London. "It's essentially saying that homosexual preference . . . is some kind of biological error," he says. (It might tick off the left-handed folks too.)* Hair whorl. How does your hair grow? This might reflect your sexual orientation.The numbers: A 2004 study of nearly 500 men -- 272 on Delaware's Rehoboth Beach, popular with gay men, 200 on a beach without that reputation -- found that hair on the heads of men on the gay beach was 3.5 times more likely to grow in a counterclockwise direction. (Scalp hair typically resembles a clockwise-rotating typhoon.)What it might mean: One theory is that a single gene might influence hair-whorl direction, left-right brain organization and, somehow, sexual orientation. Exactly how it would do all this, however, is anyone's guess.The study, although intriguing, suffers from a lack of scientific rigor. The author walked around while on vacation, collecting hair-whorl observations on men from a discreet distance. He didn't know anyone's sexual orientation for sure, and didn't objectively examine any scalps up close. Rahman's group is attempting to replicate the results in the lab.* Penis size. If exposure to testosterone in the womb influences sexual orientation, scientists reckon that straight and gay people would differ in body parts strongly affected by testosterone, such as the penis.The numbers: Anthony Bogaert of Brock University in Ontario and his colleagues re-analyzed data on 5,000 gay and straight men from sexologist Alfred Kinsey's famous files, collected from the 1930s to the 1960s. The results, published in 1999, showed that gay men had longer, thicker penises than did straight men: on average, about 6.5 inches long and 4.95 inches around when erect, versus 6.1 inches long and 4.8 inches around for straight men.What it might mean: Scientists don't really know. One guess is that gay men could have been exposed to an odd mix of hormones in the womb. Testosterone levels might peak early, causing enhanced penis growth, then drop off later in pregnancy -- leading to some feminine characteristics.There's one catch: Kinsey asked his subjects to measure themselves at home and mail a postcard recording their dimensions. It is within the realm of imagination that not every man reported the perfect truth. If everyone lied, the essence of the results wouldn't change. It's a problem only if gay men were more factually creative than straight men.Bogaert says that all the measures -- length and circumference, erect and flaccid -- seem to plausibly line up, which probably wouldn't be the case if the men had tacked on a vanity half-inch or so. Also, a smaller, 1960s study (in which a physician did the measuring) backs up the findings. As to whether gay or straight men are more likely to exaggerate about penis size, "It would be an interesting master's thesis project," Bogaert muses.However, the next frontier in this kind of research seems to lie elsewhere -- with subtle differences in how gay and straight brains navigate new cities, respond to erotic movies and react to the scent of sweat and urine. "

What other characteristics would you suggest they study?

Sunday, February 17, 2008

"MY COMPANION CUSSED OUT GOD!"

A friend of mine working in a campus counseling center told me about a lady who came to him in the throes of a depression. She wasn’t aware of anything that precipitated her . She all of a sudden was wiped out and feeling down. After a few sessions she mentioned that the anniversary of her husband’s death had occurred shortly before her depression. As she talked about it my friend observed that she seemed very angry. “I’m not angry!” she snapped back at him. “I’m depressed!” He commented that depression often is anger turned on one’s self. Over the next few sessions she slowly realized that she was angry. “I am angry. I am angry as hell that he died and left me alone with the children. But this is irrational. He didn’t want to die. He didn’t cause it. He loved us and he loved life. I shouldn’t be angry at him, but I am and this does make me feel guilty and angry at myself for having these feeling towards that wonderful man. I am angry at God for letting this happen. I shouldn’t be angry at God.”

My friend helped her to see that all feelings are irrational. We don’t need to justify them. We just need to understand them and cope with them as best as we can. The flip side of all pain and loss in our lives is anger. If we deny and bottle up those feelings, many times they are unconsciously turned on ourselves, resulting in depression.

He helped her to see that it is OK to be angry. It is a normal reaction to her loss. As she talked out her anger and learned to accept it and to find healthy ways to burn out her stress through talk and exercise and to let go of it through meditation, her depression left her.

I had a bout with depression and was almost emotionally paralyzed by it. I was faced with the reality that my Same Sex Attraction was not going to disappear, that I would be attracted to men the rest of my life, that I would never be physically attracted to women. I would never be “normal”. (Years later, after counseling with hundreds and hundreds of LDS young adults, I have sometimes asked myself, “What is normal?”) I was depressed because, even after living a fairly righteous, celibate life and fasting, praying for a change, the miracle was not going to happen. My mission didn’t do it. I was married to a wonderful, patient, accepting wife who knew of my struggle but could do nothing to help me change.

My anger towards God caused me to turn from Him for a period of time. I acted out, not by sinning but by trying to doubt Him or at least the Church. It didn’t work. I knew that He was my Father and loved me. My convictions about the Church with all of its human imperfections were too deep. But I do understand when people do leave the Church over this issue.

Counseling helped me to realize that it was OK to be angry at God, OK to be angry at all those self-righteous homophobic people who unknowingly made me feel queer and perverted and wicked. But it is not good to be angry at myself for something I didn’t cause. Being able to talk to a counselor, who didn’t try to change me, but accepted me, helped me to accept myself. My wife knew from before our marriage and she still loves me. She is a wonderful blessing to me.

A friend told me of a mission experience he had. They were ready to baptize a family they loved dearly. When they went to take them to the baptism service, they were told that some anti-Mormons had gotten to the family. They said they didn’t want to see the missionaries again. The crestfallen elders went to their apartment. My friend suggested that they pray. He offered a perfunctory prayer and ended. There was a long pause before his companion prayed. “Dammit God!! Why has this happened! We loved that family.” My friend panicked. He had never heard someone talk to God that way. He feared that lightening would strike. But his companion continued expressing his anger and challenging God. His companion then wept and ended his prayer. My friend said that a wonderful peace encircled them. They both felt as if God was saying to them, “It’s OK to express your pain and anger. I also love that family. My heart also is broken. I love both of you. Thank you for what you have tried to give them.”

I, too, have learned that it is OK to cuss out God and He understands our feelings. He is glad that we can be open and honest with Him. I, too, have been embraced by His love and peace, even at times when I didn't feel that I deserved it. His tender mercies have overcome my guilt.

We live in an imperfect world. I don’t know if God purposely sent me into a body whose chemistry causes me to be sexually attracted to men. I don’t believe that God controls everything. He permits agency. Perhaps in this polluted earth , while I was in the womb, my mother randomly encountered something that caused me to develop in this way. I don’t know.

I do know that He has helped me to accept my SSA. He has helped me to be sensitive to and to help many of His children who are struggling with a variety of problems. I have served in many bishoprics and have been a bishop more than once, have been a scoutmaster and young men’s leader, primary teacher and many other callings. I am grateful that He has trusted me to serve in so many ways. My struggle with SSA has helped me, has humbled me, has given me compassion. I have a large family and a wonderful wife. Truly I am blessed!