Homosexuality: A Paradox of Evolution
By Preston Hunter, 1994.
This paper examines homosexuality in the animal kingdom. The seeming paradox of the
existence of homosexuality is delineated. The observed reality of animal homosexuality
is described through examples as well as evidence for its biological causes. Possible theories of how homosexuality could have evolved and how it might be adaptive
Introduction: The Paradox
Sex is important but very inconvenient. Biologically speaking the word "sex" has
two important and distinct meanings, one for each of the fundamental requirements
of sexually reproducing species. Sex is a state: the separation of a species into
two distinct genders, male and female (thus "hetero-
sexuality"). Sex is also an action: the combined behavior of both a male and a female
individual which results in the combination of genetic material from both.
While some plant and animal species produce both asexually and sexually, many species
dispense with sex altogether and are strictly asexual. Through asexual reproduction
organisms essentially clone themselves. All individuals in a population share an
identical genetic makeup. This form of reproduction has a variety of advantages: It's behaviorally,
physiolocally, and morphologically simpler; therefore there is less that can go wrong.
Asexually reproducing organisms that are well-adapted to a particular environment need not dilute their adapted genes with from a potentially less-adapted other
parent. Asexual reproducers don't have to expend the energy to search for, attract,
and couple with a mate. Nor do they need to evolve specialized behaviors and physical features for doing so such as massive antlers, complex bird songs, or intimidating
For reasons such as these Ridley (1993, p. vii) called the very existence of sex a
"profound puzzle" which most creatures would be better off without. Why? Because
sex makes possible the perpetual recombination of genetic codes that drives evolution.
While evolution is the foundational force of biology, sex is the mortar that holds that
foundation together. So advantageous is sex that despite the high biological cost
of sex most macroscopic animals, including 99% of all vertebrates, reproduce sexually
It is because sexual reproduction is so indispensable and so zealously selected for
that the existence of homosexuality is a paradox. Homosexuality would seem to be
the antithesis of sexual reproduction, the enemy of evolution. One must wonder:
why wouldn't evolution quickly select against behavior which diverts an animal from sex and
Yet despite seeming unlikelihood homosexuality does
exist. Moreover, homosexuality is more than an insignificant quirk in one or two
animal species and a social aberration in humans. It is widespread in animals. Why?
To answer why homosexuality exists we must first identify it. "Homosexuality" has two principle meanings which are distinct but related. Homosexuality is sexual activity between two individuals of the same gender. This
includes same-sex coitus or genital contact, whether ventro-ventral, dorso-ventral,
or otherwise and whether male-male or female-female.
Homosexuality is also the innate sexual preference for one's own gender or the biological
urge for same-sex coitus. While much is said about the distinction between homosexual
desires (or innate sex drive) and homosexual behavior in humans, this distinction is of limited or negligible significance in non-human populations in which we
infer "desire" (be it instinctive or learned) primarily from behavior. The distinctive
gulf between human desire/biological impulse and behavior (Marmor, 1980) is attributed to human social mores and cultural constraints (Dickemann, 1993), which epigenetic
forces can also
be accounted for with biological/evolutionary explanations (Alcock, 1984, pp. 522
In summary, homosexuality is both the biological drive for same-sex coitus as well
as the performance of same-sex coitus. Homosexuality (as defined by both definitions)
has been observed in both males and females in both human and non-human populations.
While it is difficult, if not impossible, to separate innate urge from action in non-human
animals, the distinction between these two definitions will be important later as
we discuss possible evolutionary explanations for homosexuality.
We will refer here to non-human fauna simply as "animals," in keeping with the human use of the word in this context. Human familiarity and understanding of the importance of heterosexuality renders the
notion of animal homosexuality counterintuitive. Even today many who oppose human homosexuality
on religious or other grounds call it unnatural,
citing the animal kingdom as evidence. This is not a new argument. Some lines from
Ovid's ninth book in the Metamorphosis
(first century B. C.) contain these observations:
Cows do not burn with love for cows, nor mares for mares;
The ram is hot for the ewe, the doe follows the stag.
So also do birds mate, and among all the animals
No female is seized with desire for a female (Boswell, 1980).
Early Greek writers who defended homosexuality responded with pride in their supposed
difference from the animal kingdom, saying, "All irrational animals merely copulate,
but we rational ones are superior in this regard to all other animals. We discovered homosexual intercourse. Men under the sway
of women are no better than dumb animals" (1980). Despite their differing philosophies,
both sides of the debate were equally unaware of homosexuality among animals. This
popular unawareness has continued to this day, (Paul, 1980; Weinrich, 1982) as characterized
by a Thirteenth Century denunciation of homosexuality which stated flatly but falsely
that, "No dumb animal is drawn to this evil" (Boswell, 1980).
In modern times, with science in high regard, some people use a variety of biological
and evolutionary concepts to "prove" the unnaturalness (and, by implication, the
invalidity) of homosexuality. The ultimate source of these arguments is social tradition and "religious precepts" (Weinrich,1982) rather than observable data. In truth,
homosexuality occurs naturally and can be explained through evolutionary principles.
In modern times the scientific community has observed and thus become aware of widespread
non-human homosexuality. Animals from "throughout the animal kingdom" have been
observed engaged in same-sex courting and same-sex copulation (Alcock, 1989, p. 525)
and "apparent homosexual behavior increases as we ascent [sic] the taxonomic tree
toward mammals" (Denniston, 1980) and then towards primates.
Not surprisingly many observations of non-human homosexuality have been of our fellow
primates. Homosexual mounting is, in fact, "common in monkeys" (Edwards & Todd,
1991) and has been described in detail in many species, including rhesus monkeys,
stumptail macaques (Mitchell, 1979, pp. 134 &142), Japanese macaques (Mehlman & Chapais,
1988; Mitchell, 1979, p. 416) and others. In a study of stumptail macaques in captivity,
23 of the 143 sexual encounters observed by Chevalier-Skolnikoff were female-female, often resulting in orgasm (Small, 1993, p. 141).
While comparatively less common in "higher" primates (Edwards & Todd, 1991) homosexual
mounting has frequently been observed. Male-male mounting in the great apes has
been described in chimpanzees, bonobos, mountain gorillas (Wrangham, 1986, p. 367;
Yamagiwa, 1987; Yamagiwa, 1992; Edwards & Todd, 1991) and pygmy chimpanzees (Savage & Bakeman,
1978). Male-male mounting in lesser apes (siamang and gibbons) has been observed
in Hylobates syndactylus
and Hylobates lar
(white-handed gibbons) (Edwards & Todd, 1991).
In many primate species same-sex mounting is far more than incidental and should not
be dismissed as an unimportant aberration (Small, 1993, p. 143). Female bonobos
have been observed to choose genital-genital rubbing with another female over copulation
with a male. During one season in which 58 bonobo females were observed, 45 "engaged
in homosexual activity" and some were exclusively homosexual (1993, pp. 144-145).
Yamagiwa observed 98 homosexual mountings in male mountain gorillas; these were
both ventro-ventral and dorso-ventral encounters (Yamagiwa, 1987).
A proclivity for female-female mounting in cattle has been noticed by dairy farmers
who watch for one cow to mount another as an indicator of estrous (meaning the cow
is in heat). This technique is called "bulling" (Short, 1984). Burros are known
for frequent homosexual mounting (Flinders, 1993). Male-male mounting is typical behavior
in mountain sheep (Weinrich, 1982; Denniston, 1980). Homosexual behavior has also
been observed in giraffes, rats (Kirsch & Rodman, 1982), dolphins, dogs (West, 1977,
p. 116), female red deer (Short, 1984), donkeys, cats, rams, goats, pigs, antelope, elephants,
hyenas, rabbits, lions, porcupines, hamsters, mice, and porpoises (Weinrich, 1982).
Homosexual play is probably a universal in juvenile mammals. "Play" activities are normal for juvenile mammals (important in learning and preparation
for adult behavior) and "almost all mammals" are "quite indiscriminate as to" sex
when they practice sexual mounting (Denniston, 1980). Certainly adult homosexual
activity is more pertinent to the possible alteration of actual reproductive success,
but the juvenile behavior could be indicative of the innate nature of the sex drive.
Homosexuality, both male and female, is present in birds also. Homosexual female
pairs are sometimes observed in colonies of Western gulls as well as ring-billed
and California gulls (Weinrich, 1982; Davies, 1991; Denniston, 1980). In budgerigars
(also called undulated or shell parakeets) homosexual female pairs will court and mimic
all the behaviors and rituals of typical male-female courtship and copulation except
for sperm emission (Kavanau, 1987, pp. 41 &119). Young mallard ducks in contact
only with other males during the imprinting period grow up to be exclusively homosexual
(West, 1977, p. 43). Among wild zebra finches sexually frustrated males show "female
receptive behavior after thwarted copulation attempts and long, intense courtship"
(Denniston, 1980). Such mimicry of the stereotypical sex roles and copulatory behaviors
of the opposite sex has similarly been observed in other birds, as well as fish,
reptiles (Weinrich, 1982; Denniston, 1980) and mammals (especially primates, including
Homosexual behavior is not uncommon in reptiles. Female homosexuality is engaged
in by the American chameleon Anolis.
A male lizard of the genus Teiidae
can copulate, by inserting his hemipenes into the cloaca of a receptive partner,
equally well with females or males. "Homosexual copulation stimulates the passive
male, so that he may change roles with the previously active male and complete a
copulation in turn Among the Iguanidae,
ten of twenty-one observed copulations were male homosexual" (Denniston, 1980, p.
31). The purpose of homosexual behavior in some lizards may be territorial (Kirsch
& Rodman, 1982). Males may mount other males as a show of dominion over a breeding
area in order monopolize the chance to reproduce with females.
Male guppies will court "each other for weeks while confined in a one-sex group."
Their homosexual behavior includes the "nipping of the genital area" typical of
male-female courting. Male ten-spined stickleback fish will compete with females
to mimic the female role in copulation with dominant males (1980).
Brief mention should be accorded the invertebrates: Although it is quite beyond the
scope of this paper to discuss in detail, many "lower" vertebrates, especially teleostean
fishes, (Chan & O, 1981) and invertebrates (such as marine snails and annelid worms) are neither male nor female when younger and/or are hermaphroditic as adults (meaning
individuals switch between being biologically male and female or are both at the
same time). Coe wrote: "numerous representatives of nearly every phylum of invertebrates and of every phylum of plants are functionally hermaphroditic" (Denniston, 1980;
So despite popular non-recognition of the phenomenon, natural history observations
have revealed a wide range of homosexuality -- both same-sex genital/sexual interaction
as well as sexual preference -- throughout the animal kingdom.
To account for homosexuality (or any phenomenon) using evolution it is necessary that
it be natural, i.e it must occur naturally without human influence. Thus far we
have only used animal behavior to illustrate the naturalness of homosexuality. In
essence: there are homosexual animals in nature; therefore homosexuality is natural.
That homosexuality is biological and natural in origin is further demonstrated by
knowledge of the biological causes of homosexuality in humans. Human homosexuality
was long ignored by biologists and relegated almost entirely to study by psychologists
and social scientists because it was considered primarily a human and "unnatural" trait.
Study has now spread to the realm of physical science and biology, as researchers
probe the biological, developmental, and even genetic causes of human homosexuality.
The current openness and frequency with which homosexuality is discussed is a recent
development (brought about by the discovery and rapid spread of Acquired Immune Deficiency
Syndrome, or AIDS) (McWhirter, 1990), Human homosexuality is not so new. Human homosexuality has existed in every time
and culture we have record of (Bullough, 1990) and people have long wondered about
Until recent decades homosexuality was widely considered a psychological illness.
In the 1860's Karl Heinrich Ulrichs was one of the first scientists to formally
causes for homosexuality, positing the idea, based partially on his own firsthand
experience, that homosexual instincts are inborn and therefore natural (1990). Ulrichs
called homosexuals a " 'third sex'--a woman's mind in a man's body, and vice versa
for women" (Rist, 1992). Sigmund Freud advanced theories of latent homosexuality
(Bullough, 1990), but homosexuality was labeled an abnormality and mental illness by the American Psychiatric
Association until 1973, when the APA dropped it from its official disease list (McWhirter,
1990). But despite the ideas of Ulrichs and a few similarly minded early theorists, homosexuality
remained largely in the realm of psychology until only recently.
Early in this century biological causes for human homosexuality were speculated --
perhaps "some combination of body chemicals"(Broderick, 1977) -- but the idea that
there could be biological causes was generally balked at. People wondered (as some
still do), if a person's biology is tied to his genetic code, wouldn't this mean that homosexuality
has genetic causes? The words of one skeptic are not unusual:"From a population-genetics
viewpoint, the idea of a gay gene is a bit ridiculous. If there is a specific gene or set of genes that predisposes one to homosexuality then, assuming that
homosexuals reproduce at a lower rate than the population in general, the gene would
slowly disappear from the population. Since there are thousands of years of documented human homosexuality, a gay gene seems very unlikely" (Dave J727, 1993).
This opinion, though very popular, fails to take into account the following genetic
principles and observed phenomena:
Because "essentially every type of human homosexual behavior also occurs in animal[s] "
(Weinrich, 1982), and because those animals represent the source of humankind's genetic
inheritance, we can apply knowledge of human homosexuality to our understanding of animal homosexuality and vice versa. The physical, chemical, genetic, and biological
studies of human homosexuality join with ethological observations of non-human homosexuality
to synergistically illustrate the central role of nature, and thus the implied force of evolution, in the origin of homosexuality in both humans and other
Homosexuality doesn't prevent reproduction:
Homosexuals reproduce and would therefore be able to pass on a genetic propensity
for homosexuality, or "gay genes," to use the skeptic's term (GregBear, 1993). This is shown by sociological studies and surveys. A Kinsey Institute study supplies one source of hard data about the propensity
of homosexuals to engage in heterosexual sex which could result in offspring: "Of
262 self-identified lesbian women, 75% had had sex with men since age 18 and 43%
of those who had always identified themselves as lesbian had done so (Sanders, Reinisch,
& McWhirter, 1990). It is not uncommon for gay men and lesbian women (often for religious or social reasons)
to marry into a heterosexual relationship and sire children (Jones, 1978).
2. Perpetuity of deleterious genes:
Being maladaptive or nonconducive to reproduction does not ensure that a genetic
trait will disappear. Even fatal
diseases caused by recessive alleles, such as sickle-cell anemia in its homozygous
form, are not eliminated from the human gene pool. (And, remember, homosexuality
is not fatal, and homosexuals often reproduce.) Deleterious heterozygous traits
are maintained at low frequencies because if heterozygous, they are not expressed, and can
be passed on perpetually, only causing problems when matched with another heterozygous
genotype as a homozygous allele. Furthermore, natural levels of mutation offset
the natural slow decrease in frequency through natural selection. Thus, if the frequency
of such a disease is only one in ten thousand, to reduce the deleterious allele just
tenfold would take 500 generations, or about twelve thousand years in a human population (GregBear, 1993; Fairbanks, 1993).
3. Twin studies:
In multiple similar studies pairs of twins have been compared for sexual preference.
A strong positive correlation between relatedness and similarity of sexual preference
has been identified. Identical twins raised apart, for instance, are more likely
to both be homosexual as adults (if one is homosexual) than fraternal twins, and both
are more likely to share sexual orientation than genetically unrelated siblings raised
together. Some twin studies have shown concordance rates as high as 100% (Friedman, 1988, p. 27). Based only on the data from these studies genetics can account for
31 to 74 percent of sexual orientation (GregBear, 1993; UPI no author, 1993; CNN
Health Works, 1993; Bower, 1992; Puterbaugh, 1990). Based on such evidence Richard C. Pillard of the Boston University School of Medicine
declared said, "Male sexual orientation is substantially genetic" (Bower, 1992).
An unchosen preference:
There is no evidence to suggest that the sexuality of the majority of people, homosexual
or heterosexual, is a result of a conscious choice on their part. Despite the frequently
heard popular assertations that homosexuality is a choice (De Witt, 1992), the overwhelming majority of homosexual males and females indicate they never chose
to become homosexual, but that they are that way innately (SteveD41, 1993, "Evidence";
GregBear, 1993). Those who would dismiss this point make the untenable mistake of
believing in synchronized mass dishonesty, rather than accepting the stated feelings
of homosexuals as indicators of (at least partially) natural biological drives.
Statistical information gathered from interviews with large numbers of American homosexuals
and heterosexuals reveals a quantitative presence of feelings of difference in pre-homosexual
children. Children who mature into adult homosexuals are behaviorally different from their pre-heterosexual counterparts in many ways, exhibiting "gender
nonconformance," a refusal to act out traditional gender roles, from the age of 2
or 3 on, as well as a number of other developmental differences (Bell, Weinberg,
& Hammersmith, 1981). The innate sex drive of homosexuals is so powerful a determinant of their behavior
that many choose to respond to it, even while facing intense social and cultural
pressure not to. Said one homosexual male, "our need to love others of our gender is innate. There is no choice involved" (Anecdotal
accounts include: Leavy, 1993; Alex, 1993; SteveD41, 1993, "God made ").
Recent physiological studies have demonstrated physically detectable differences
between homosexuals and heterosexuals. Simon LeVay's hypothalamus study (1991) found
that the hypothalamus, "a part of the brain that helps regulate sexual behavior,
was smaller in homosexual men than in heterosexual men; it was equivalent to the dimensions
seen in heterosexual women" (Angier, 1992).
A second anatomical difference was subsequently discovered by Dr. Laura S. Allen
and Dr. Roger A. Gorski of the University of California at Los Angeles. Allen and
Gorski found that another brain structure, the anterior commissure, a "cord of nerve
fibers that allows two halves of the brain to communicate with one another, is larger in
homosexual men than it is in either heterosexual men or in women." LeVay said of
he Allen-Gorski studies: "'I think the work is very good, and I think it's correct
It's such a clear result, and in a sense it's more important than my own finding" (1992).
New findings support "a neuroendocrine predisposition for homosexuality" (study by Dr. Gunther Dorner and associates, as reported by Ellis, 1992). Other studies indicate
hormonal differences in homosexuals (West, 1977).
Even with the increased number of studies being conducted, the "question of the basic
origin of fixed homosexuality remains controversial" (Ellis, 1992). The trend is
towards identifying biological factors which may lead to a predisposition for homosexuality, while leaving the door open for environment and experience as determining factors
in individual behavior.
Having illustrated the existence of general animal homosexuality and the practicality
of biological/hereditary explanations, it is now possible to discuss what evolutionary
mechanisms might account for this seeming paradox.
From the existence of homosexuality in nature and from its frequent taxonomic clustering
(i.e. more closely related organisms display increasingly similar homosexual behavior)
we can infer that homosexuality has evolved. But because no one has been able to observe the evolution of homosexuality first hand we can only theorize as to how
it happened. Based on behavioral studies of homosexuality in humans and animals
a number of models and explanations have been proposed for how this seemingly gene-stopping
practice has evolved.
There are two main types of explanations for how and why homosexuality has evolved
Homosexuality the side effect:
As Alcock describes (1984 & 1989) the side effect model of the evolution of homosexuality
proposes that homosexuality is a result of the intense drive to have sex. The workings
of this model have much to do with the principles of heterosexuality. In mammals, females must carry their young through pregnancy, thus limiting their potential
number of offspring. Males need only contribute sperm, however, and may have no
additional cost or time investment in their offspring. Males can produce sperm effectively endlessly and father many offspring. A male mammal's reproductive success is enhanced
as it inseminates more females, thus ensuring a larger number of offspring. A female
can't produce a higher number of offspring through increased copulation so it is
of no benefit for a female to increase her number of sexual partners. A female increases
her fitness through selecting the best possible father for her offspring, thus increasing
the fitness and chance for survival in her young. Much of the difference between male and female sexual behavior in mammals can be explained simply by the fact
that females are taken out of the gene-mixing loop while pregnant.
- Homosexual behaviors (such as same-sex mounting and cross-gender mimicry) are non-functional
but not particularly harmful side effects
of adaptive behavior. Homosexuality is thus unintentional
(meaning the animal has no drive for same-sex copulation).
- Homosexuality is adaptive
, amplifying an organism's ability to pass on its genes. Homosexuality is thus intentional
(meaning the animal has a specific drive for same-sex copulation).
Biologists, usually studying a limited range of animals, have gravitated to either
one or the other of these two explanations and sometimes extrapolated their theories
to broadly explain animal homosexuality. However, when evaluating the wide spectrum
of various homosexual behaviors in the animal kingdom it becomes clear that homosexuality
has evolved both
as a side effect and
as an advantageous adaptive behavior.
Through evolution males have acquired behavior compelling them to compete with other males for wider,
more frequent copulation and thus greater reproductive success. The side effect
model of homosexuality proposes that "hypersexuality" has consequently evolved in
males which causes them to strive for a maximum number of copulations with a wide range of partners
and that their imperfect sex recognition when in such a state of heat leads them
to mount males as well as females.
This theory is well-supported by observations of sexual behavior in the animal kingdom.
As Denniston points out (1980), animal "homosexuality" is a misnomer, and really
refers to bisexuality or"ambisexuality," or the behavior of mounting with animals
of both sexes. Only in a few isolated species are any animals even occasionally preferentially
homosexual (as in some primates, including Japanese macaques; see Small, 1993, p. 145; West, 1977, p. 116). The side effect
model of homosexuality can explain many same-sex sexual behaviors, such as male mallard
ducks and stickleback fish courting each other when deprived of females (West, 1977, p. 43; Denniston, 1980) and the frequent homosexuality in all-male groups of mountain
gorillas (Yamagiwa, 1987). This model, suggesting evolution has favored a greater
sex drive in males, is supported by observed masturbation rates: There are no known
human cultures in which females masturbate more frequently than males. The same is
true for non-human primates. Rhesus monkeys raised in isolation from their parents
(to prevent learned behavior) showed higher masturbation rates in males, suggesting
an innate difference in sex drive (Green, 1978).
The side effect model also helps explain why animals can be observed attempting copulations
outside of their species, such as the European toad photographed clasping a "human
finger as it would a female of its species" and an Australian beetle observed attempting copulation with a beer bottle (Alcock, 1984, p. 352). In captivity animals
deprived of their natural mates will seek to copulate with unusual partners, such
as the male brown hyena observed to frequently copulate with its water bowl, the
chimpanzee which formed "a sexual relationship with a cat, and an immature female gorilla
[which] showed pseudomale behavior toward a dog (Grier, 1984, p. 626). Animals clearly
have powerful sex drives which may cause their copulatory behavior to be somewhat
indiscriminate, an understandable side effect because animals don't copulate having made
a conscious decision to pass on their genes.
The side effect model is inadequate for explaining many other homosexual behaviors,
however. This model predicts that "the value that males place on sexual variety
for its own sake [to ensure multiple copulatory partners, should] be absent or much
reduced in" females (Alcock, 1989, pp. 525-527). Female homosexuality in animals is certainly
not "absent," as has been illustrated with many examples above, ranging from gulls
and budgerigars to cows and primates. To what degree (if any) homosexuality is reduced in females is debatable.
The side effect model also has diminished applicability in non-mammal vertebrate species.
Because these do not generally incubate offspring internally during pregnancy females
can potentially increase reproductive success through multiple matings (as is the case with polyandrous phalaropes and Galapagos hawks). While it is true that biological
cost is still associated with mothering (if only to produce eggs), it is evident
from both non-male and non-mammal homosexuality that the side effect model does not fully explain general animal homosexuality.
Homosexuality the adaptive behavior:
One reason the side effect model is inadequate by itself is that homosexual behavior
is clearly intentional for adaptive reasons in some animals (not merely accidental
during the fervent reproduction-maximizing pursuit of partners as the side effect
model suggests). There are various reasons suggested for intentional homosexual behavior.
Many have to do with an organism's reducing the copulations and gene dispersal of
competitors, to ensure that a greater proportion of the next generation will be its
Male-male homosexuality in non-human primates is frequently "seen in the context of
dominance rank and high social tension or stress than in a sexual context" (Yamagiwa,
1987; Yamagiwa, 1992). This has also been described as the reason behind male same-sex mounting and copulation in mountain sheep (Weinrich, 1982; Denniston, 1980). Dominating
other males through homosexual coitus could be akin to the typical nonsexual aggression
used against other males to decrease their share of the females.
"Surrogate sexual satisfaction" is another form of intentional adaptive homosexuality.
This is the practice of copulating with an individual of one's own gender to cause
that individual to be satisfied, so it won't seek other partners. This appears to
be a motive for female-female copulation in langurs (Small, 1993, pp. 146-147) and male
ten-spined sticklebacks fishes (Denniston, 1980).
Other possible explanations of how homosexuality could be advantageous include:
Long term male-male and female-female homosexual relationships in primates such
as Japanese macaques (Mehlman & Chapais, 1988), mountain gorillas (Yamagiwa, 1992),
and gibbons (Edwards & Todd, 1991) result in lower stress and tension and/or better
grooming for the individuals involved, all of which would positively influence an organism's
health and prolong its chances for reproduction.
Homosexuality can also serve to make and maintain beneficial social alliances between
individuals, such as in primates (Small, 1993, pg. 147) and gulls which typically
mate for life but have lost a mate and need another one, even of the same gender,
to safely raise their young (Davies, 1991).
In many species (such as tree shrews, squirrel monkeys, and many types of macaques;
see Mitchell, 1979, p. 416) females engage in homosexual copulation when "they are
in a new environment or undergoing stress." This could be an innate mechanism for
limiting overpopulation or wasted energy on reproduction and fetus-production when environmental
conditions make survivalship unlikely. One difficulty with applying the "density
dependent population control" theory more broadly is that under "conditions of high density the frequency of any gene disposing toward homosexuality would be drastically
reduced, since individuals bearing it would not breed. Consequently, the representation
of such a gene would decline in subsequent generations," diminishing its effectiveness as a selected-for population control mechanism (Kirsch & Rodman, 1982).
The theory of kin selection has been cited by many. Kin selection theory explains
why some animals will display "altruism," such as squirrels which give warning cries
of predators to help their relatives even while endangering themselves or unmated
birds which help rear their younger siblings. Close relatives such as nieces and nephews
carry on an individual's gene line. This theory has been applied to homosexuality
and it has been argued that homosexuals can help tend and see to the survival of
their close relatives such while not having to undergo the disadvantages of parenthood
themselves, thus increasing their close relatives' survivalship and offsetting their own
non-parentage (Ruse, 1981; Denniston, 1980; Kirsch & Rodman, 1982). One problem with this theory,
however, is most animals which engage in homosexuality do quite well meeting their quota of heterosexual
sex, and may even enjoy greater than average dissemination of their genes for some
of the reasons discussed above.
Perhaps because of its history of being socially objectionable in human culture, homosexuality
in the animal kingdom is poorly recognized and understood relative to its actual
frequency. Relatively recent is the scientific understanding that homosexuality is (a) present -- even widespread -- in the animal kingdom, (b) it has biological causes,
and (c) it can be accounted for by evolutionary theory.
Animal studies can do a great do much to illuminate the human condition and vice versa,but
sweeping parallels cannot be drawn between man and animals. Our unique social complexitites
create such an ocean of differences that direct comparisons and conclusions about human behavior are impossible. Whatever we learn about animal behavior or
biological causes of human behavior, our possession of consciousness gives us a certain
indemnity from behaving for purely biological reasons. The studies and conclusions
discussed in this paper indicate nothing about the appropriateness of any behavior in
Exactly how widespread homosexuality is in the animal kingdom is still unknown. Researchers
have usually not looked for it or they have dismissed it as an aberration when they
encountered it. The relatively shallow pool of knowledge pertaining to animal homosexuality makes it difficult to arrive at solid conclusions about how it evolved
and exactly what adaptive functions it plays in animal populations and reproductive
success. As complex an issue as all
sexuality is, however, the factors causing and governing homosexuality are doubtlessly
complex and many.
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