New poll on public perceptions of sexuality

Scientific American MIND Nationwide Poll Reveals Surprising Perceptions of Sexual Orientation Among Americans

50% Believe Choice Plays No Role in Sexual Orientation; 47% Believe “All People Have the Potential to Be Attracted to Members of Both Sexes”

NEW YORK, NY — (MARKET WIRE) — 02/06/2006 — Half of all Americans believe sexual orientation is “innate, genetic or predetermined by other factors such as environment,” a new nationwide Zogby Interactive poll shows. The surprising findings are the topline results of a survey commissioned by Scientific American MIND (, the magazine that probes the workings of the brain and its impact on behavior.

Just 11% agreed with the statement, “sexual orientation is a conscious choice,” while one in three (34%) said they believed that “sexual orientation is determined by both choice and other factors.” Six percent were not sure. The margin of error for the survey, which included 4,236 interviews, is +/-1.5 percentage points.

While expressing a widespread belief that orientation is not an active choice, respondents also appeared to believe that sexual orientation occurred along something of a spectrum — with both straight and gay people having the potential to be attracted to individuals of either sex.
Some 47% of poll respondents, a slight plurality, agreed with the statement, “I believe that all people have the potential to be sexually attracted to members of both sexes.” But a distinct majority, 53%, said they believed that “a straight person may occasionally experience sexual attraction to individuals of the same sex.” An even higher percentage, 62%, said they believed “a gay person may occasionally experience sexual attraction to individuals of the opposite sex.”

Scientific American MIND commissioned the poll to probe public attitudes on the question of “Do Gays Have A Choice?” — the focus and title of the magazine’s article by Robert Epstein exploring recent research on sexual orientation. The article, which is distinct from this survey, appears in the February/March issue of Scientific American MIND, which hits newsstands this week.

The Scientific American MIND poll also found: — The belief that sexual preference is predetermined is widely held across demographic and political lines. It was particularly prevalent among Americans aged 50-64 (53%); single people (59%); Hispanics (57%); and
Democrats (72%).

— The belief that sexual orientation was either fully or partly a choice
was more widespread among conservative groups. It was especially prevalent
among those who classified themselves as “very conservative” (80%), with
only 15% of that group believing sexual orientation was predetermined.

— Men and women are deeply divided in their perceptions of sexual
orientation: 60% of females believe it is innate, genetic or predetermined
by other factors such as environment; a far higher percentage than men

— The belief that “all people have the potential to be sexually
attracted to members of both sexes” was especially prevalent among adults
under 30 (66%).

Robert Epstein’s article in the new issue of Scientific American MIND, “Do Gays Have A Choice?” explores recent research that suggests that sexual orientation may occur in along a continuum, ranging from exclusive same-sex attraction to exclusive opposite sex attraction. Readers can see where they fall on the spectrum by taking a quiz in the magazine and on its website,

Some reflections on Brokeback Mountain: The story

“What Jack remembered and craved in a way he could neither help nor understand was the time that distant summer on Brokeback when Ennis had come up behind him and pulled him close, the silent embrace satisfying some shared and sexless hunger.” Annie Proulx – Brokeback Mountain.

I have yet to see Brokeback Mountain. However, I have read the short story and so my comments are based on the brief tale of the same name by Annie Proulx. About the movie, it’s by now like the Gulf Coast to me: I haven’t been there since Katrina but I think I can almost imagine it.

According to the popular press, the movie represents a new genre: gay romantic western. I would agree the short story is a western, but that’s about it. I think by most definitions, the characters are not gay and it does not read like a romance to me.

First of all, the story is not about gay cowboys. Many have pointed out that the two men at the center of attention were sheep herders; but fewer have recognized that the characters, if they can be labeled at all, are closer to bisexual than strictly gay. In the story, the men were portrayed as married and heterosexually responsive. Factor in the main event; two men having intermittent sexual flings, and it is clear the fictional pair were bisexually capable.

The actor who played bisexual sheep herder, Jack Twist, rejected the idea of gayness altogether. Jake Gyllenhaal, in an interview with Details magazine said: “I approached the story believing that these are actually straight guys who fall in love…These are two straight guys who develop this love, this bond. Love binds you, and you see these guys pulling and pulling and tugging and trying to figure out what they want, and what they will allow themselves to have.”

In the story, there are some interesting stereotypes. The only relatively good males are the two tragic heroes, Ennis Del Mar and Jack Twist. On the other hand, their fathers are men behaving badly. Ennis’ father took his young son to see a dead man beaten unrecognizable for being gay and Jack recalls as a child missing the toilet and being beaten and urinated upon for this transgression.

Speaking of bad fathers, Brokeback Mountain includes a nod to a much maligned theory of causation of homosexuality in men: a distant, rejecting father. Both Ennis and Jack had the kind of dads that psychoanalysts say breed attractions to the same sex. According to same-sex parent theory, these young, hard luck bucks, lonely and unaffiliated, were looking for daddy’s love and found it by “satisfying some shared and sexless hunger” in each other’s arms. Out on the mountain, without women but with whiskey, times can get a might lonesome, pardner.

The tag line of the movie poster for Brokeback Mountain intends to teach us that “love is a force of nature.” Rather, I think the Ms. Proulx, perhaps unintentionally, portrays how sometimes the longing for love is also a force of nurture. Whether nature or nurture, the feelings are strong and human. Such well-written emotions compel a belief in their truth.

I realize apologists for the story could accuse me of denigrating homosexual coupling. I mean no such thing. I question the epic significance of male and female pairs engaged in the same kind of furtive search for something beyond the sameness of everyday life. It is the genius of the storyteller that makes finding some kind of tortured magic even plausible in the nexus of such ordinary characters. Every therapist has several Brokeback Mountain scenarios in the case files; they go by titles like the Ett-Mar Motel, the Office Next Door and Choir Practice.

And most of the players in these dramas believe their romance cannot be wrong because it feels so right. The experience of intense persistence, however, does not, in itself, make feelings represent something desirable and good.

This tension between what is and what ought to be is where we learn more about the moral philosophy of those consuming the story than the story itself. When those favorably disposed to gay advocacy watch it, they report a tragic story of love unrealized due to societal homoprejudice. In other words, despite the two broken families, fatherless children and lonely aging, they see the relationship between Jack and Ennis as representing something good, even epic.

Those who focus on the aforementioned negative consequences of the tryst render another moralistic generalization from the story: to wit, homosexuality invariably leads to dead-end relationships and despair.

I submit another point of view. As I read them, Ms. Proulx’s musings represent a reality that some men and women face in their lives. They are attracted to others of the same sex and experience conflict over that fact. For them, the feelings they experience just are. They did not choose or want them, nor do they find much change even with help. Being in circumstances where passion can overcome reflection makes the dilemma all the more raw, intense and, to use a religious word, tempting.

Some people decide that what is must signal what ought to be. Moral philosophers in this vein reason that if nature or God allows something to be felt intensely and changed only with great difficulty, then the experience must have been intended. Reasoning from naturalness has a long history in philosophy, and from reading voluminous reactions to Brokeback, this line of thought has a bright future. Many people seem to think this way.

Others however, do not believe their feelings, no matter how intense, signal anything authoritative about their true nature or the path they are obligated to follow. They believe, on the other hand, that what ought to be is defined for them either by a higher power or loyalty to prior commitments. Such people often populate houses of worship and lament the elevation of feeling over moral sense.

A test: what if Brokeback Mountain featured two men who kept their marital commitments instead of going fishing? Would such a film be reaping a harvest of Oscar nominations?

Miscellaneous for the new week

The National Gay and Lesbian Task Force is applauding the MassK team for using the F word regarding the Alito nomination. No, I mean filibuster. Can’t the special interest groups wake up and smell the pandering?

That being said, conservatives are pretty nervous. I received some emails today suggesting some moderates are on the fence. One conservative group last week sang a song about Alito in the Capitol to the tune of Maria from West Side Story. I think this could have been what pushed those moderates into the undecided category.

I haven’t written anything more about Brokeback Mounting, uh Mountain, despite lots of emails asking me to. I don’t know, I have to go all the way to Youngstown to see it and I only have one free night this week. Not going to happen. My oldest went to see it last week and she said, a couple (male & female) got up in the middle and the male (of course; you can measure the homophobia here in gigabytes) said loud enough to be heard, “I don’t see how you people can see anything entertaining in this crap!” I read the short story and still don’t see the “love story” angle.

And probably not finally, I was reminded again today that my mood can be delightfully altered within seconds of observing my youngest child having fun at pre-school. I have not mentioned my family much on this blog but let me blushing say that I have the most amazing wife and children.

Discussion including Ariel Shidlo, Doug Haldeman, Mark Yarhouse and me.

FYI – There is an article in the new issue of Journal of Psychology and Christianity that includes a discussion among the participants in an APA symposium in 2000. This is a follow up to that symposium. The symposium was published in Professional Psychology: Research and Practice in 2002.

Uninformed Consent: Abortion and Mental Health Consequences

Uninformed Consent: Abortion and Mental Health Consequences
Warren Throckmorton, PhD

Recent research from Norway and New Zealand has reported an association between abortion and subsequent mental health problems. Although the two reports are not the first to suggest such a relationship, they are well-designed studies suggesting that abortion may be linked to negative mental health reactions for some women.

The Norwegian study compared the experiences of women who had miscarriages with those who had abortions. Six months after pregnancy termination, women who had a miscarriage were more distressed than women who had abortions. However, after 5 years, women who had abortions were more likely to suffer anxiety and thoughts of the event than women who miscarried.

The New Zealand study, published by the British Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, found that 42% of women who had an abortion later developed mental health problems, including depression, anxiety, substance abuse and suicidal thoughts. This percentage was significantly higher than never pregnant women and women who were pregnant but who did not terminate the pregnancy. The study concluded, “Abortion in young women may be associated with increased risks of mental health problems.”

Are women being advised of these risks?

Read the rest of the article at

Does Abortion Impact the Mental Health of Women?

Does Abortion Impact the Mental Health of Women?
Warren Throckmorton, PhD

A new study from New Zealand, published in the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, raises important questions about the impact of abortion on the mental health of women. Researchers found that those reporting abortion prior to age 21 had rates of mental disorders from age 21 to 25 that were over 1.5 times higher than the rates for women who did not become pregnant and those who became pregnant and did not seek an abortion. The relationship between abortion and mental health problems persisted even when the researchers took into account the mental health status of the women prior to the abortion. The researchers concluded that “abortion in young women may be associated with increased risks of mental health problems.”

To read the rest head over to

Happy Holydays Redux

In the neighborhood of 30 newspapers ran the Happy Holyday piece along with a slew of websites. Alas, to make sure these sources knew I had not deceived them, I sent this out today.


Thank you for publishing or considering for publication my recent article, Happy Holyday. The response to this piece has been significant with mostly favorable reactions.

My reason for writing has to do with some feedback from readers I have received pointing out that the Dodgeville School District in Wisconsin (mentioned in the article as the district associated with singing “Cold in the Night”) changed their program to allow the traditional singing of Silent Night at the end of the program in which Cold in the Night was to have been sung. Furthermore, I have learned that the song Cold in the Night was to be sung by an unwanted Christmas tree character as a part of a pre-packaged school program called “The Little Christmas Tree’s Gift” and not by all children. I wanted to send along this postscript and correct any misunderstanding about this event. I attempted to verify all the details before the piece was sent out but the school district did not return my calls. I sent the piece to Mat Staver of the Liberty Council as well but heard nothing back from them. Many of you printed this piece before these changes were relevant but I wanted you to hear this from me first and not disgruntled readers. (And I should clarify before I knew anything different than I reported).

If you have not run the piece and still wish to, please let me know and I will immediately send you an edited version. If you archive articles on a website and wish to have the edited version, please let me know and I can send that to you. In any case, it is archived here on the Internet: or and you are welcome to use the edited version.

I can understand why those Dodgeville folks did not return my calls; they were inundated with calls and emails and probably carrier pigeons dumping on them for the Cold in the Night thing. Sigh. Happy Holydays to all…


I wrote Mat Staver of the Liberty Counsel for more information so I could clarify in my own mind the order of events and why LC did not let their mailing list know about the context for the children’s play. Here is his reply:

When concerned parents learned that their children were being taught Cold in the Night they meet with school officials prior to LC sending a letter to them. The issue was not resolved. LC was contacted and requested to help. LC sent a letter to the school officials, including Ms. Diane Messer, the District Administrator and to Julie Piper, the Ridgeway Elementary School principal. The letter stated our understanding and concerns, addressed the law, and requested a response. Neither Ms. Messer nor Ms. Piper responded. The District never responded to dispute our letter. LC then sent another letter to Ms. Messer, stating that we needed an immediate response. Two days later, Ms. Messer issued a statement, saying “Silent Night will be sung. Cold in the Night will not be sung.” We then confirmed in writing her written statement, and based on her written statement, the concerns of the parents who contacted us were resolved. The school kept its word and did not sing the song.

The District has now stated to the media that there was a misunderstanding, that this song was part of a program about a Christmas tree. If it were a misunderstanding the District could have cleared this up quickly. The District did not.

No wonder the School district did not reply to my requests for information; they were not even providing context for the entity prepared to sue them. Only later, to the media did the school claim a misunderstanding.