Science says that when it comes to sex, it’s really complicated

Maria Isabel Garcia

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Nothing human is ever simple. Complexity is the weight of our worth.

Many of the things that tear us apart come from reducing many things about life to one thing or its opposite. We are either good or evil, friends or enemies, believers or nonbelievers, rich or poor, native or foreigner, conventional or alternative, natural or artificial, male or female, straight or gay. But alas, life is screaming, kicking, showing off, and strewn with all kinds of proof that life is not an either-or enterprise. 

This is why I do not find two-sided debates on human issues useful, productive, or intelligent. Two-sided debates already deny the issue we supposedly care enough about to discuss the complexity that it innately possesses because they are human issues. Nothing human is ever simple. Complexity is the weight of our worth.   

Take for instance sexuality. The permutations for love in life are more than just two. Whether you accept it or not, some people are attracted to the opposite sex and some to the same sex. Why is this so? Does this mean that there is something discrete inside our deepest biology (genes) that make us prefer one sex over another? And if so, can we hunt for that gene?

Science went on that big hunt and came out with the results last month in a large study. It involved over half a million people, asked them which sex they preferred, and looked at their genes if they matched what they stated.

The big reveal was that out of the millions of genetic markers studied, only 5 seem to be directly linked with same-sex behavior but even those 5 were not even enough to predict someone’s sexuality. The millions of other markers contribute bits and pieces to the total genetic force inside you. A very clearly presented video of this study was made, and I think it’s worth the time for you to check out and share. 

Even with genes as a factor that shapes sexuality, they account for only a third of our sexuality. Environment and society account for the rest. The real news is there is no one gay gene, just like there is no one male gene or one female gene. Furthermore, gayness is not solely a genetic affair – it is a state of being, just like maleness or femaleness. It is part of being human, like glitter dust born inside each of your cells in various pinches, giving you this and that and so many more. To think or be otherwise is to impoverish what it means to be human. 

This feature of complexity also applies to what happens to the brain of anyone who is sexually aroused. It is widely believed that when we are aroused, our brains get activated a certain way depending on whether we are male or female. Furthermore, we think that from there, our brains tell our bodies to respond to match what our brains laid out for us in what we thought was according to a male or female “map.” Well, an even more recently published study just disproved that. 

The work reviewed the most relevant studies related to brain imaging of sexual arousal by visual stimulus. It found that so far, by looking at how the brain gets activated during sexual arousal, one cannot tell whether the one being aroused is male or female. This shows that to the human brain, sex is sex. Sexual arousal does not have a gendered brain map! 

We simplify things because most things in life are complicated – involving far more than two ways to think, act, or be – and when it gets too much, the brain is naturally too lazy to work it out. That is known about how our brain negotiates with complexity or ambiguity. But to be lazy, or worse, to look at life as an either-or enterprise is to miss the whole point of being human. So we must learn to love complexity and deal with uncertainty.  Life is indeed complicated but that kaleidoscopic view is ironically our only choice if we are to live fully. –

Maria Isabel Garcia is a science writer. She has written two books, “Science Solitaire” and “Twenty One Grams of Spirit and Seven Ounces of Desire.” You can reach her at

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