My Genes Made Me Do It and brain plasticity

Just a postscript to my earlier posts on brain plasticity and sexual orientation…

Neil Whitehead first authored his signature work, My Genes Made Me Do It in 1999. Now he maintains the book on his website saying that “It is under constant review to keep it up-to-date so readers can be asssured (sic) of its on-going relevance.”

In chapter 8, on page 6, Whitehead recommends Norman Doidge’s book on brain plasticity. He takes some of the same liberties with Doidge’s book that he does in the Anglican Mainstream article and again fails to quote what Doidge actually says about sexual orientation.

Doidge gives a neurological principle: Neurons which fire together wire together. In human sexuality this means that if something extraneous is often associated with sexual arousal it will tend to become part of it. In brain maps genital response regions lie alongside the response region for feet, and Doidge wonders if this might relate to sexual fetishes involving feet. It also becomes very reasonable to suppose that (for example) intense emotional focus on someone of the same sex might get triggered together with sexual excitement, and if frequently repeated ultimately seem to be very deeply ingrained homosexuality.

Because of brain plasticity it’s quite possible that homosexuals can become more heterosexual and heterosexuals could become homosexual, though persistent work could be needed, about equivalent to learning a new musical instrument

A prediction of plasticity principles though not mentioned by Doidge, would be that any brain structures associated with sexual activity would be much changed in those very old people for whom such activity has long ceased eg those brain regions would have shrunk and lost function.

Doidge’s conclusion about sexuality is that “Human libido is not a hard-wired invariable biological urge, but can be curiously fickle, easily altered by our psychology and the history of our sexual encounters.” And “It’s a use-it-or-lose-it brain, even where sexual desire and love are concerned.” This would apply both to same-sex attraction and opposite-sex attraction.

There are numerous problems with Whitehead’s extension of Doidge’s ideas into the area of sexual orientation. However, I will note again that he selectively quotes the book and adds his own ideas as if they come from Doidge’s book.

Whitehead’s predictions that sexual reorientation should be as easy as learning a musical instrument should be offensive to celibate gays, ex-gays, post-gays, and ex-ex-gays. I have heard hundreds of narratives from people who sought change, are seeking change and/or congruence with their nongay-affirming religious beliefs and no one has ever described the process in those terms.

Another problem with this book is a reference to Paul Cameron’s anti-gay pamphlet, The Medical Consequences of What Homosexuals Do in chapter 6. He even incorrectly says the Family Research Council published the thing (Paul Cameron’s DBA Family Research Institute is the actual publisher). He quotes him two additional times in the book as well. One might understand these inclusions better if they occurred in the 1999 version. One could make the case that the degree of Cameron’s bias was not clear at that point. However, since this is an effort “under constant review,” I am assuming that the presence of these references is intentional.

Related posts:

Brain plasticity and sexual orientation: Train it to gain it?

NARTH authors again mislead readers: More on brain plasticity and sexual orientation

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