dna-308919_1280I read two different headlines last week related to a new study about the genetics of sexual behavior. Both headlines referred to the same study-a landmark study conducted by an international team that examined the genomes of almost a half million people. The study was published in Science. One headline said, “Research finds genetic links to same-sex behavior.” The other one read, ” No Single “Gay Gene’: New Data.” Confused? I was and had to read the study.

The bottom line of the study is this: There is no genetic signature that predicts how an individual will behave sexually. Genetics predicts less than 1% of same-sex behavior.

The study also calls into question the use of the Kinsey scale to used to measure sexual orientation. “Overall, our findings suggest that the most popular measures are based on a misconception of the underlying structure of sexual orientation and may need to be rethought.”They also noted that several of their results pointed to the importance of sociocultural context. And that there was no evidence that sexual orientation is associated with variance on the chromosome X as has been previously reported.

What they did find was that five genetic variations were significantly associated with ever having same-sex sexual behavior. But these are common variations in populations and have small effects-meaning you can’t use these markers to predict sexual behavior or orientation.

So why the two different headlines? It depends on your message. The authors were worried about the way the data would be used so created a website to help communicate their results. After working with several advocacy groups like GLADD, the scientists rewrote sections of their paper to help people understand the study focused on behavior not identity or orientation. You can cherry pick the headline you want from the study. There was a small and complex genetic underpinning –thus the headline stating genetic link, but this link was small explaining 1% of the genetic variation.  The conclusion of the study was that there is no single gene–thus the headline about no gay gene.

Bottom line: Scientists are trying to be careful how to discuss results that may or may not fit cultural narratives.




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