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The Sexual Brain (Bradford Books) Hardcover – March 22, 1993

3.5 out of 5 stars 6 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Neuroanatomist LeVay's expert, drily written, often technical account of the biological basis of human sexual behavior and orientation is likely to be as controversial as his 1991 Science article describing a difference in the hypothalamic brain structure of homosexual and heterosexual men. Here LeVay argues that specialized regions within the hypothalamus generate male-typical and female-typical sexual behavior and feelings. While acknowledging the importance of environmental factors, he contends that identification of genes that influence sexual orientation, and of related biological mechanisms, will ultimately explain what makes a person gay, bisexual or straight. Hormone levels and brain circuitry, in LeVay's view, make males innately more aggressive than females. He also endorses Freud's theory that gay men often have distant fathers and unusually close mothers, yet he explains this by arguing that the young, pre-homosexual child's "gay" traits evoke negative reactions from fathers and positive ones from mothers.
Copyright 1993 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Kirkus Reviews

A fascinating look at the biological bases for diversity of sexual feelings and behavior. Neurobiologist LeVay (Salk Institute for Biological Studies/UC at San Diego), whose only previous writing on sex was a 1991 paper in Science reporting differences in the hypothalamus of gay and straight men, says that his newness to the field of sex research has enabled him to bring a ``certain amateurish or journalistic attitude to the field.'' Unlike many scientists, LeVay has a skilled journalist's ability to make technical subject matter accessible, and he seems to have fun doing it. All the chapter titles are from Shakespeare: ``Time's Millioned Accidents'' covers the evolution of sex; ``For a Woman Thou First Created'' looks at the biology of sexual development; ``The Womby Vaultage'' examines the hypothalamus; and ``The Beast with Two Backs'' is about the mechanics of sexual intercourse. Other chapters look at the nature-versus-nurture question; how hormones influence courtship and maternal behavior; the organization of the brain; sexual identity; and sexual orientation. LeVay, who's gay, devotes his longest chapter to sexual orientation, examining the biological mechanisms that may help make a person gay, straight, or bisexual. Happily, he provides summaries at the beginning or end of most chapters, and he encourages readers to skip chapters that seem too technical and to read just the summary before going on. And there's a glossary designed not just for the scientifically challenged but for those who want help with Shakespeare's language as well: ``millioned'' is explained next to ``mitosis,'' and ``vasotocin'' next to ``vaultage.'' Erudite and entertaining. -- Copyright ©1993, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved.
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Product Details

  • Series: Bradford Books
  • Hardcover: 184 pages
  • Publisher: The MIT Press; First Edition edition (March 22, 1993)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0262121786
  • ISBN-13: 978-0262121781
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15.2 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,189,394 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Amazon Customer TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on July 29, 2005
Format: Paperback
This book summarizes research on sexual behavior and the brain for general readers. Topics covered include: why most organisms use sex for reproduction, pre- and post-natal hormones and sexual development, brain structure, hormones and sexual behavior, instinct and courtship behaviors, hormones and behavior during pregnancy, sexual dimorphism in behavior and brain structures, sexual orientation and genetics, and gender identity and hormones. Research cited in the book involves a variety of organisms, from yeasts to birds, from rats to humans. End material includes sources and suggestions for further reading, a glossary and an index.

LeVay's style is informal to the point of being flippant. For example, in a discussion pointing out the importance of a mothering practice amongst rats for future sexual behavior (licking the anogenital region to promote urination), LeVay launches into a discussion of whether the practice is uncouth, contributing to our feelings of revulsion towards rats. He goes on to point out that even attractive animals can have unattractive behaviors, such as koala mothers who feed their offspring feces. In a book of this nature, considering a normal animal behavior in a subjective light such as this is inappropriate, and emphasizing it by going off the topic to an unrelated behavior in another animal, that isn't even related to the main topic at hand (sexual behaviors) is going way overboard. LeVay may consider such an approach humorous, but it takes away from the credibility of the remaining material.
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Format: Paperback
In The Sexual Brain, Simon LeVay seeks to explain “the brain mechanisms that are responsible for sexual behavior and feelings.” He admits that the 1991 hypothalamus study that made him famous was his first research publication on the subject of sex, that all his previous research had been on totally unrelated subjects, and that he is, “not especially qualified to write a book on sex.” LeVay attempts to justify his writing the book by saying that, as a gay man, he has “always had a personal interest in sexuality in general, and in sexual orientation in particular”, as though this made up for his lack of real qualifications; all it really does is to call his judgment into question. Though LeVay discusses many topics, most readers will probably be interested primarily in what he says about sexual orientation. Unfortunately, he is grotesquely mistaken in much of what he says about this subject. It would be useless to try to list everything wrong with LeVay's contentions, but I will briefly explain what I find most objectionable about them.

LeVay makes clear what the stakes are for him personally. He tells us that he once accepted the Freudian view that a young child’s relations with his or her parents are responsible for the sexual orientation they develop as an adult. He writes that he rembers his mother as having been “very close and possessive” and his father as “distant, even hostile”, noting that this is “exactly the kind of family environment” which, according to Freud, “makes it difficult for young boys to follow the ‘normal’ path to heterosexuality.”

Later, of course, LeVay rejected the Freudian view; according to him, he did so because he got to know large numbers of gay people and decided that they seemed “too normal” to be products of defective parenting.
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Format: Paperback
Overall Opinion:
Although Simon LeVay brings up many interesting points in his novel, The Sexual Brain, he fails to delve deeper into these ideas. Therefore, the book is well suited for the general reader with a curiosity into the biological aspects associated with human sexuality, but may be simplistic for those who already have neuroscience knowledge. Although I enjoyed reading the book, I finished most of the chapters wanting more. LeVay brushed over most of his thoughts and ideas and I wished he'd gone more in depth. At some points, the language he wrote in came off as almost childish. All of the experiments he used to support his ideas only had brief summaries instead of a more complex discussion of the results and what they might mean. LeVay does include his sources listed by chapter so the more interested readers can pursue the scientific literature that discusses his ideas and the research in the area. Despite these shortcomings, it was still an interesting book and would certainly be a pleasurable read for the general reader with an interest in human sexuality.

Synopsis and Style:
The Sexual Brain looks at how individuals develop into males and females, both in the womb and during growth and puberty, and the effects of many hormones in this process. It also looks at the differences in male and female brains, especially the hypothalamus, as well as courting and maternal behavior. Lastly, LeVay looks at a few theories behind sexual orientation and gender identity. The book is written for the general reader, one with no background knowledge in biology or neuroscience. All discussion has been brought more into laymen's terms and anything readers need to know to understand it is given to them.
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