Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Milton Diamond Reviews A Half Century Of Science On Sexual Development

Clinical Implications Of The Organizational And Activational Effects Of Hormones

Milton Diamond, who I regard as the most important figure in modern sexology, has reviewed the scientific history of the nature-nurture debate about sexual behavior. This is a wonderful summary of the science, the theories, and the medical controversies regarding intersexuality and transsexuality written by a leader in the field. Below is the abstract of Dr. Diamond’s article, “Clinical implications of the organizational and activational effects of hormones” which was published in the journal Hormones and Behavior in March 2009.

"Debate on the relative contributions of nature and nurture to an individual's gender patterns, sexual orientation and gender identity are reviewed as they appeared to this observer starting from the middle of the last century. Particular attention is given to the organization-activation theory in comparison to what might be called a theory of psychosexual neutrality at birth or rearing consistency theory. The organization-activation theory posits that the nervous system of a developing fetus responds to prenatal androgens so that, at a postnatal time, it will determine how sexual behavior is manifest. How organization-activation was or was not considered among different groups and under which circumstances it is considered is basically understood from the research and comments of different investigators and clinicians. The preponderance of evidence seems to indicate that the theory of organization-activation for the development of sexual behavior is certain for non-human mammals and almost certain for humans. This article also follows up on previous clinical critiques and recommendations and makes some new suggestions."

This is the paper to read if you are looking for a quick way to be brought up to date on the evidence for the “organization-activation theory” of sexual development and an understanding of the controversies on “core sexuality”. Here is the complete article entitled Clinical Implications Of The Organizational And Activational Effects Of Hormones.


steinbeck said...

Dr. Diamond's report appears to augment the increasing body of research indicating that sexual orientation is not a matter of choice. It is physiological in nature, just as much as ones ethnicity. This type of understanding may hopefully help engender increased tolerance and take the discussion of this issue out of the moral realm, at least among the more thoughtful. After all, every little bit helps, for it is a sad fact that a large segment of society still regards gay men and women (among various minorities) as second-class citizens. That is the salient point of my recently released biographical novel, Broken Saint. It is based on my forty-year friendship with a gay man, and chronicles his internal and external struggles as he battles for acceptance (of himself and by others). More information on the book is available at

Mark Zamen, author

Anonymous said...

This is an example of science twisted to justify pre-desired conclusions. Before the tiresome, cliched shrieks of 'homophobic bigot' are thrown out, at least take the time to let me make my point - unless rational debate/discussion is disallowed at this website.
The "nature vs nurture" debate misses the real point of consideration. It is a straw man argument that draws us away from the real question of whether or not homosexual tendencies serve a biological purpose that is of benefit either to the species or to the affected individual. Claiming some form of normativeness to homosexual tendencies based on either prenatal exposure to hormones antagonistic to the chromosomal gender of the fetus or a baseline genetic predisposition makes as much sense as classifying as 'normal' the predisposition to alcohol or drug addiction. It is not "normal" to be afflicted with diabetes, trisomy-21, or schizophenia, and as we do not treat people afflicted with these conditions as second class citizens, neither should we mistreat those afflicted with homosexual tendencies. There is no biological benefit to the individual in having homosexual tendencies. He or she cannot pass on their genetic material through homosexual acts, and there is ample scientific evidence (even discounting the impact of HIV) showing a shorter average lifespan in those engaging in homosexuality. There is no biological benefit to the species in homosexuality (unless you subscribe to the disproven hysterical philosophies of Malthusian false prophets like Paul Ehrlich and believe that having fewer 'breeders' will alleviate the alleged overpopulation problem.)
Medical science has developed treatments for things like diabetes, because it is abnormal and potentially lethal to have uncontrolled hyperglycemia. Folks so afflicted have to make adjustments to their diet and lifestyle to optimise their individual health. Smoking is not normal either, and as people engaging in this activity are harming themselves, physicians actively promote smoking cessation and discourage people from taking up this habit. Somehow, the question of sexuality has become a political lightning rod where even daring to suggest that there is such a thing as 'normal' results in the instantaneous hurling of epithets.
Finally - if you take the position that sexuality is not a matter of choice, then how does one argue with any consistency that things like incest and rape or pedophilia are abnormal? If there is no choice in the matter of exercising one's sexual preferences, then how can society hold anyone to blame for acting on one's so-called 'natural' inclinations? This is a dangerous and slippery slope of psychiatric gymnastics.

Veronica Drantz, PhD said...

Hello Anonymous,

The "nature versus nurture" debate is necessary because the bigots have always contended that homosexuality is unnatural and therefore disordered. Now that homosexuality has been shown to be innate, not learned or chosen, and natural, being widespread in the animal kingdom, the issue of nature versus nurture is suddenly unimportant for the homophobes.

Talk about pre-desired conclusions! Your assumption that the trait of homosexuality can be likened to alcoholism or sickle cell anemia rather than to blue eyes or left-handedness betrays your prejudice. This is circular reasoning since your objective is to show homosexuality is disordered no matter how natural it might be. You, like so many medical practitioners, immediately equate difference with disorder.

It’s clear that you have not researched the science concerning homosexuality or you would have found the evidence that I easily found and incorporated into my most recent slideshow, “Disordered or Just Different? Myth, Science and Sexuality.” You should look at this slideshow because it addresses the points you make. For example, homosexuals reproduce by kin selection – unless they are persecuted by their kin.

Incest, rape, and pedophilia are acts and have nothing to do with homosexuality which is a state of being. Again your prejudice causes you to lump these unrelated things together.

You have a erroneous view of the terms “normal”and “abnormal.”
“Normal” is a statistical concept and applies to populations only, not individuals. Basically, normal is the equivalent of “common” and refers to the fact that the majority of individuals in the population are near the mean value for a particular trait. But what makes the population normal is the bell shape of the curve that is in part created by those who are different from the majority, the abnormal ones, at either end of the curve. “Abnormal” means “away from the norm” and is not a pejorative term, merely a statistical designation meaning ‘uncommon.” Anyone who is outstanding in any way is “abnormal.” Albert Einstein was “abnormal.” Everyone is normal with respect to some parameters and abnormal with respect to others. You make the mistake of assuming that whatever is unusual is disordered; but difference does not equal disorder as I argue in my slideshow presentation.

If “psychiatric gymnastics” is what concerns you, then you should have been upset by the labeling of gay people as crazy in the DSM for so many years when there was no evidence whatsoever to support it. Gay and lesbian people basically had to prove they weren’t crazy. Like you, the psychiatric profession used prejudice rather than facts as a basis for their thinking.

My conclusions are based on the scientific evidence that I reference in my slides and posts. Where is the scientific data and references to back up what you say? All you do is shoot off your mouth without doing your homework!

And if you have the strength of your convictions, why are you “Anonymous?”