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Gay, Straight, and the Reason Why: The Science of Sexual Orientation [Hardcover]

Simon LeVay
3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (24 customer reviews)

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Book Description

September 29, 2010 0199737673 978-0199737673 1
What causes a child to grow up gay or straight? In this book, neuroscientist Simon LeVay summarizes a wealth of scientific evidence that points to one inescapable conclusion: Sexual orientation results primarily from an interaction between genes, sex hormones, and the cells of the developing body and brain.

LeVay helped create this field in 1991 with a much-publicized study in Science, where he reported on a difference in the brain structure between gay and straight men. Since then, an entire scientific discipline has sprung up around the quest for a biological explanation of sexual orientation. In this book, LeVay provides a clear explanation of where the science stands today, taking the reader on a whirlwind tour of laboratories that specialize in genetics, endocrinology, neuroscience, cognitive psychology, evolutionary psychology, and family demographics. He describes, for instance, how researchers have manipulated the sex hormone levels of animals during development, causing them to mate preferentially with animals of their own gender. LeVay also reports on the prevalence of homosexual behavior among wild animals, ranging from Graylag geese to the Bonobo chimpanzee.

Although many details remain unresolved, the general conclusion is quite clear: A person's sexual orientation arises in large part from biological processes that are already underway before birth. LeVay also makes it clear that these lines of research have a lot of potential because--far from seeking to discover "what went wrong" in the lives of gay people, attempting to develop "cures" for homosexuality, or returning to traditional explanations that center on parent-child relationships, various forms of "training," or early sexual experiences--our modern scientists are increasingly seeing sexual variety as something to be valued, celebrated, and welcomed into society.

Frequently Bought Together

Gay, Straight, and the Reason Why: The Science of Sexual Orientation + What's Wrong with Homosexuality? (Philosophy in Action) + The Trouble with Normal: Sex, Politics, and the Ethics of Queer Life
Price for all three: $69.49

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

The nature vs. nurture wars over the development of homosexuality have been pretty definitively decided in favor of nature. In this survey of what makes people gay, lesbian, bi, or straight, neuroscientist LeVay (When Science Goes Wrong) brings readers up-to-date on the current state of knowledge. Other recent books have covered much of the same territory, but LeVay's is the most comprehensive. He begins by tackling the seemingly simple question "What is sexual orientation?" As the book progresses, he discusses how gayness is not monolithic; rather, there seems to be different kinds of homosexuality. Some people claim to be able to identify gays using "gaydar," but LeVay says differences between straights and gays go beyond body language to include visuospatial abilities (e.g., lesbians, like straight men, have better spatial abilities than straight women) and verbal fluency. He reviews current thinking on the role of genes and how testosterone levels may influence the fetus's development. LeVay comes close at times to dry recitation of research results, but although the book's chief appeal probably will be to professionals dealing with these issues, other interested readers will find it an informative and generally approachable read. 20 b&w line drawings.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

Review


"Although the book's chief appeal probably will be to professionals dealing with these issues, other interested readers will find it an informative and generally approachable read." --Publishers Weekly


"Simon LeVay, a former Harvard neuroscientist, has written, Gay, Straight, and the Reason Why: The Science of Sexual Orientation, a comprehensive, engaging and occasionally quite funny look at the current state of the research on the topic." --Schuyler Velasco, Salon


"This book will serve both as a resource for researchers looking for what is yet unknown and what questions need further research and as a fascinating read for the educated layperson, who will be intrigued by some of the factors that may relate to homosexuality... Recommended." -- Choice


"LeVay also does a nice job illustrating that the argument for sexual orientation as determined is not a singular cause-and-effect argument...Yet, it is important for scholars and clinicians alike across various paradigms to be aware of the research reviewed in Gay, Straight, and the Reason Why." --PsycCritiques


"Simon LeVay's book, Gay, Straight, and the Reason Why, offers an excellent review of scientific research on the causes and correlates of sexual orientation. It provides a clear and comprehensive summary of recent studies of sexual orientation- a review that should be useful to lay people and journalists as well as to professionals in the field. LeVay has a knack for describing complicated scientific topics- brain anatomy, behavior genetics, endocrinology, cognitive psychology- in straight-forward and easy-to-understand ways. He provides the reader with a good sense of where research on sexual orientation stands today, and where further research is needed." -- Richard Lippa, Sex Roles


"The theory that sexual orientation has a biological basis receives support in neuroscientist Simon LeVay's book. Relating evidence from genetics, neuroscience and developmental biology, he suggests that prenatal interactions between hormones and the developing brain influence adult sexuality." -- Nature



Product Details

  • Hardcover: 432 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press; 1 edition (September 29, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0199737673
  • ISBN-13: 978-0199737673
  • Product Dimensions: 8.5 x 1.6 x 6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (24 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #352,510 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
39 of 44 people found the following review helpful
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
This is the book we've been waiting for: a clear, readable, and intelligent review of the science to-date around homosexuality. Simon LeVay ran the groundbreaking study that found a correlation between body structures and sexual orientation, and although his early study was superseded by a lot of other research, he clearly remains an expert on the subject. Science has generated a lot of powerful evidence over the last few decades, reported piecemeal in the popular press, but only now has someone of Mr. LeVay's caliber pulled all this knowledge together into one place.

"Gay, Straight, and the Reasons Why" achieves two things: First, it describes the science in understandable language. Given the complexity of genetics, hormones, body structures, and sexuality, that alone is impressive. Second, he achieves the more important task of putting these studies in context, explaining the relevance of each data set in our overall understanding of the relationships between human physiology and behavior.

While religions and politicians argue endlessly about homosexuality and gay rights, those of us in the reality-based community need facts. LeVay is not claiming we now understand everything that needs knowing, he's explaining the evidence we do have. That makes this book an important, even essential, contribution to the discussion. The critic here who says this is discredited by Kinsey's research or an out of print book from 1971 is speaking from some old mindset that doesn't apply. If you want to understand the current state of research into the genetic and physical origins of homosexuality, buy and read this book. Highest recommendation.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
Format:Hardcover
I enjoyed this book, and I would recommend to everyone I know to read it. This book is useful and important because the majority of people are at best in the dark about what it means to be gay, at worst homophobes. I did not hesitate about buying this book: I don't know any gays personally, and I've always wondered what makes someone gay. All the false and naive ideas I had (and I had more than I realized) were certainly cleared up by this book. This is important reading, because it gives the average person real evidence to combat the dangerous notions spread by homophobes. Since these false ideas and the discrimination they engender cause considerable suffering in our society today, I think it is important for people to read a book such as this one, which considers the origins of homosexuality from a scientific viewpoint. These are indeed firm arguments put forward, which are difficult to refute considering the volume of supportive data. In conclusion, one comes away from this book convinced that sexual orientation is a biologically controlled characteristic as natural as variation in eye color or height.
One would expect the author to be biased, since he quickly declares he is gay himself, but I had the overall impression that he carefully considers the available data and does not push any ideas that are not fully supported by experimental data. Since I am a scientist myself, I appreciated his cautious approach and his consideration of competing ideas.
I have a few criticisms, however: the fact that this book targets a general audience is no excuse to have omitted error bars on the figures and citations of the sample sizes. It gets a little long and technical at points, and there is perhaps not much interest in mentioning studies for which the results are not conclusive.
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32 of 43 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Excellent if Incomplete June 27, 2011
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Simon LeVay is a retired scientist. He is also gay. So you can expect his approach to be rational and sympathetic toward the question of homosexuality.

I had been familiar with most of the arguments and evidence. I have had a little direct background too. I conducted experiments in 1968 as an undergraduate physiological psychology student to try to induce homosexuality in rats. I failed for reasons which I didn't understand then but LeVay's book helps explain.

LeVay's great study was twenty years ago shortly before he retired. He found that two nuclei in the hypothalamus were of different sizes in the different sexes and that the male homosexuals brains were similar to the pattern of heterosexual women. This was a big discovery at the time and it remains an important finding. This finding has been confirmed in other studies but has not had the kind of follow up that you might have expected.

That's a consistent pattern - suggestive observations but no follow up. Apparently the political climate makes homosexual studies too controversial. Gay activists in general oppose the idea that their homosexuality is a choice, but many also seem to oppose the idea that it is biological either. Some of the comments in this thread make bitter attacks on LeVay. LeVay seems to be a mild mannered, polite and reasonable person. The kind of person you might like to meet. He spent much if not most of his career studying these questions. He knows what he's talking about.

However he does leave out some issues. I expected to see some references to the work of Steve Sailor, Gregory Cochran, Henry Harpending, and Paul Ewald. None.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
2.0 out of 5 stars Not terrible over all
Not terrible over all, but not revolutionary and in many places cringe worthy, particularly on anything relating to trans issues.
Published 12 days ago by Patricia F.
4.0 out of 5 stars I loved this book
I loved this book. I doubt it would be for everyone, however. It is very science driven and theoretical, which is what I wanted, but if you're looking for an entertaining read,... Read more
Published 1 month ago by bmarked21
1.0 out of 5 stars One Star
Waste of money. I don't read it.
Published 3 months ago by Jose
5.0 out of 5 stars How about I settle this:
Sexual orientation is an innate trait we're simply born with. Ask yourself: Did I choose my sexual orientation? The answer is likely no. Read more
Published 3 months ago by Amazon Customer
5.0 out of 5 stars Good teaching tool
This book presents a lot of information in a manner that is accessible to non-scientists (although parts are challenging for younger college students). Read more
Published 3 months ago by Wester
4.0 out of 5 stars Groundbreaking and Important
I found this book extremely important in the evolution of gay studies, but it seems to have been written for medical/psychological professionals. Read more
Published 12 months ago by Tom Scott
5.0 out of 5 stars Can anyone ever really know the Reason Why? We should at least try.
This is a scientifically oriented book that is accessible to the average (and I do mean average) person. Read more
Published 16 months ago by Variety IS the Spice of Life
1.0 out of 5 stars LeVay's worst book yet
Gay, Straight, and the Reason Why is Simon LeVay's latest, perhaps final, book about the development of sexual orientation. Read more
Published 16 months ago by David Walters
1.0 out of 5 stars The science of manipulation
Another of these weird publications by Simon LeVay. What is very insightful is that he doesn't care to adress the profound criticism his "groundbreaking" first study provoked which... Read more
Published 16 months ago by Zoltan Carnovasch
5.0 out of 5 stars THE FAMOUS NEUROLOGIST SUMMARIZES THE SCIENTIFIC EVIDENCE
Simon LeVay (born 1943) is a British-American (and openly gay) neuroscientist turned writer; he has also writen Queer Science: The Use and Abuse of Research into Homosexuality, The... Read more
Published 18 months ago by Steven H Propp
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More About the Author

Simon LeVay is a British-born neuroscientist turned writer. He is best known for a 1991 study, published in Science, which reported on a difference in brain structure between gay and straight men. He has served on the faculties of Harvard Medical School and the Salk Institute in San Diego, but he now lives in Los Angeles. Among his 12 published books are several on sex, including a college textbook titled Human Sexuality (now in its fourth edition), and Gay, Straight, and the Reason Why: The Science of Sexual Orientation. His most recent book is a historical novel, The Donation of Constantine. Once a fanatical bicycle racer, LeVay continues to ride his bicycle, though at a more sober pace. He is intolerant of creationists, lactose, and staying indoors.

LeVay writes: "In the early 1960s, as a teenager, I was arrested and jailed briefly, along with the renowned 90-year-old philosopher and mathematician Bertrand Russell. (The occasion was an anti-war demonstration.) This lead to my reading Russell's History of Western Philosophy. Only one paragraph in that long book stuck in my memory: it dealt with the mysterious 8th-century forgery known as the Donation of Constantine. Intrigue, papal politics, winter journeys, bloody battles -- maybe even a hint of bodice-ripping! What a great topic for a novel, I thought. Fifty years later, I wrote it."

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