NYC Therapist Talks: Gay Women, Science and Therapy
"Lesbianism is indeed at least 25 percent genetic, as determined by a 2011 study of twins conducted in the United Kingdom. The study found that identical twin sisters (who share 100 percent of their DNA) are more likely to both be lesbians than are fraternal twin sisters (who share just 50 percent), proving that, all other environmental factors being equal, genes matter. While scientists have a theory for how male homosexuality propagates from one generation to the next, no one has yet produced a viable explanation for how the genes that promote lesbianism might do the same. [Why Are There Gay Men?]
A female's sexual orientation also appears to be partly influenced by her level of exposure to the male sex hormone androgen when she is in the womb. Greater hormone exposure correlates with more gender nonconformity early in her life (as a child, she may be called a "tomboy"), as well as a same-sex orientation later on. A study by Dutch psychologists published in the March issue of the Journal of Sexual Medicine reported that 10 to 12 percent of male and female children who feel discomfort with their gender go on to identify as gay or lesbian as adults. Meanwhile, just 1 or 2 percent of children who are comfortable with their gender identity turn out to be gay or lesbian.
Adding to the confusion about what causes lesbianism is the slipperiness of female sexuality itself. Unlike men, who are usually sexually oriented solely toward men or women, and whose sexuality is essentially fixed from puberty on, a decade of research by the University of Utah psychologist Lisa Diamond and others demonstrates that women have greater "erotic plasticity." Their sexual orientation can be shaped by cultural influences, altered by positive or negative experiences and intensified by feelings of love or attachment. Women are far more likely than men to "report remarkably late and abrupt onset of same-sex sexuality, often after heterosexual marriage," Diamond wrote in January in the Archives of Sexual Behavior." (Read Article)
Science and religion love to try to figure out the "Why". In therapy, we're more interested in the "What are you going to do about it?". Research seems to show that, like being right-handed or left-handed, there seems to be something more going on than choice. The choice comes with whether or not you want to just be okay in your own skin. When left to our own devices, people want to be happy. But when superstition and politics clouds our minds, that's when we start to pick up what we call in rational emotive behavior therapy, irrational beliefs. These include things like "I'm gay, and people call me a sinner, that must mean I am bad, immoral, rotten, going to hell, etc" and "Mom, Dad, sit down- I have something terrible to tell you/apologize for... I'm gay." What kind of beliefs do you think gay folks pick up from expressions like "Defense of Marriage Act" and "Don't Ask, Don't Tell"?! This, dear readers, is why we have gay pride marches and rely on social activists to make sure our voices are heard.
When working with people with sexual identity issues in therapy, our job as therapists is not to "turn people gay", but to help them identify the rational and irrational thoughts (also known as cognitive distortions) that they are walking around with. Anxiety about burning in fire and brimstone? Irrational. Why? Because it leads to anxiety, which we consider an unhealthy negative emotion. A more balanced approach could be to help the client come up with thoughts that lead to relief and comfort- whether it comes to their religious faith, family and social relationships, or other areas. Learning to accept yourself no matter what, called unconditional self acceptance, is one of the big concepts in REBT that leads to better self-image regardless of whether you were exposed to more or less hormones in the womb, or choose to wear Crocks instead of heels.