Sociology is hard


I’m constantly spammed by the Weatherspoon Institute, one of those right-wing think tanks that is, as part of its mission, adamantly opposed to homosexuality, marriage equality, etc., and they’re notorious for having funded and guided the infamous Regnerus study that claimed that children raised by gay parents were at greater risk for all kinds of social ills.

It’s not my favorite organization. I didn’t personally subscribe to their newsletter, it’s just one of many that people who don’t like me sign me up for, thinking I’ll be horrified and offended by it, when actually I find it interestingly bad and sometimes browse to find weird stuff. Message to people who do that kind of thing: it doesn’t work. Would you believe that seeing the hate some people have for gay and lesbian people makes me sympathize with the homosexual population more?

Anyway, a recent newsletter highlighted this article, Why are so many lesbians getting pregnant?. I thought that was actually an interesting question. I’d like to know! It was also an interesting read because so much of it was discombobulating — that author would make some statement, I’d actually agree with it (or not), but then he’d make some mental leap in interpreting it that left me baffled. Like this claim at the very beginning:

One’s sexual orientation is supposed to be locked in and unchangeable, like sex, race, or ethnicity.

It is? Who says? Keep in mind this article is talking about teenagers and sex; I suspect sexual orientation has a fair bit of flexibility, at least if you’re not brought up in a family or peer group that imposes severe costs on deviation from expected behaviors. I can believe that there are distinct biases in individual preferences from an early age, but that they’re also shaped by experience. Witherspoonians seem to be trying to argue that their critics are complete gender absolutists, while they are open-minded about the fluidity of sexual response, probably because they’re the kind of people who want to promote a “gay cure”. I think. There are many hidden premises in this article that I don’t share.

Then the very next sentence confuses me.

But high pregnancy rates among lesbians confound that narrative.

Why does it confuse the narrative? Does the author think sexual orientation and pregnancy are in lockstep? That lesbians should be incapable of pregnancy? That pregnancy is always a matter of choice and preference? So many assumptions implied by that little sentence.

But then he’s going to deploy logic. Too often this is a dangerous sign, as it proves to be in this case, that the author doesn’t understand logic, except to know it’s a good thing.

It makes for an illogical syllogism.

Premise A: Lesbians are sexually attracted to women only.

Premise B: Women cannot impregnate women.

Conclusion: Lesbians have higher pregnancy rates than non-lesbian women.

It’s contrary to all reason, but it’s true. Lesbians have significantly higher pregnancy rates than their heterosexual peers.

Hang on there, guy. You’ve somehow linked “sexual attraction” and “pregnancy rates” as if one is a logical consequence of the other. You know they obviously aren’t, right?

This smacks of the common argument that evolution implies that homosexuality cannot exist, because gay people would be unable to breed or spread their gay genes, except that it’s in reverse. It’s got the same logical flaw, though, the assumption that sexual orientation, a product of the brain, is inflexibly linked to biological reproduction, a product of the gonads.

The logic is also flawed by sloppy definitions all around. What is a “lesbian”? Is it any woman who prefers the company of other women? A woman who only ever has sex with other women? Does a lesbian who is raped immediately stop being a lesbian? And how about defining “woman”? He seems to think of women as a pair of functioning ovaries, but again with the disconnect between gonads and brains — what about women who have functioning testes?

(We will pause for a moment to give those, even those of a liberal bent, who seem to be incapable of dissociating minds from genitalia, time to wipe up the saliva they just spluttered all over their computers.)

Are you back now? OK. Another thing about that syllogism — we can rework it in lots of different ways. Another interpretation might be that teenage women who get pregnant develop an aversion to men that makes lesbianism a much more appealing label. Or that this should be a discussion about unwanted pregnancies, rather than sexual orientation, and it’s mangling causally unrelated issues to routinely associate desire with reproduction.

I’m trying to puzzle out what point the author is trying to make, though. There are interesting observations in here, but they seem to avoid testing alternative interpretations.

Multiple studies with samples drawn from various nations find that sexual-minority youth aged fourteen to nineteen have pregnancy rates two to seven times greater than their heterosexual peers. Their pregnancy rates continue to rise, even though the overall teen pregnancy rate is declining in the United States.

So I actually read the paper cited to support the “two to seven times” data. Seems kosher. But the important point is glossed over by our Witherspoonian.

Over half of pregnancies in the U.S. are unintended – that is, they are mistimed (occurring earlier than the woman wanted) or unwanted (not wanted at any time). In addition to derailing life plans, these pregnancies are commonly linked to a variety of negative health and well-being indicators for women and their children, including lower levels of prenatal care and breastfeeding; and higher levels of premature delivery, low birth weight, child abuse, intimate partner violence, and maternal depression and anxiety (accounting for background characteristics).

Over half of all pregnancies are unintended or unwanted — that is for all women of all ages. It’s almost certainly much higher for teen pregnancies. This sounds like the basis for arguing for a greater expansion of abortion rights and sex education than it is for some peculiar conservative reaction against homosexuality. It also makes a complete hash of those fallacious arguments that certain sexual behaviors are “natural” or “right” for human beings — a heck of a lot of heterosexual behaviors seem to be undesirable and unpleasant for at least one of the people involved.

But wait until you see his conclusion.

Lesbianism and gayness are more different than they are similar in very fundamental ways. The gay male is more likely to stay in one lane for life, even while his sexual desire is generally more aggressive and he seeks greater diversity in partners than do women. However, judging by the pregnancy-risk data, younger men who identify as homosexual appear to be much more fluid in their actions than has been previously assumed. Does this mean that male same-sex attraction is more developmental than it is fixed? We don’t know.

But it’s a question worth researching. This has important policy implications for today. When we establish certain rights and accessibilities based on one’s sexual orientation and identity—and thus the punishment and severe public shaming of those who violate them—we are operating on ground that is more subjective than many would like us to believe.

I say hold on to your horses for that first paragraph: it assumes considerable uniformity in how gays and lesbians behave, erases a lot of individual preferences, and ignores the contributions of a culture that generally condemns all homosexual behavior. Those aren’t necessarily human universals, but rather a consequence of complex interactions between society and psychology.

But then that last bit that I highlighted — I agree 100%! We should not restrict rights to individuals on the basis of sexual identity. Gay and lesbian couples should have all of the same rights and privileges as heterosexual couples, without question.

But here is where I get hopelessly confused. The author of that commendable statement is Glenn Stanton, who works for…Focus on the Family Patriarchy. GLAAD has a page of quotes from Stanton. He opposes same sex marriage because it not only redefines marriage wholesale for everyone, but it actually deconstructs humanity itself. I don’t know how he reconciles that with his view above that using sexual orientation to establish rights is inherently subjective.

But even worse, he said “it was shameful, manipulative, and not good parenting for two dads to allow their daughter to make a video defending her family”. So non-traditional families don’t even have the right to defend their choices?

And of course he’s a fundamentalist/evangelical Christian.

All sexual sin is wrong because it fails to mirror the Trinitarian image, but homosexuality does more than fail. It’s a particularly evil lie of Satan because he knows that it overthrows the very image of the Trinitarian God in creation, revealed in the union of male and female.

I now have the feeling that I’m missing some secret coded message in that admirable final sentence from his article, because it doesn’t jibe at all with his ideological stance elsewhere, the position of his organization, or the typical sectarian views of his Christian cult.

I’m confused so much now, because I’m a biologist and this sociology/psychology stuff is so dang complicated and messy and hard. But at least one thing I got out of it was one useful datum I can bring up when people make that stupid “homosexuality can’t evolve” argument.

Comments

  1. Crip Dyke, Right Reverend Feminist FuckToy of Death & Her Handmaiden says

    All sexual sin is wrong because it fails to mirror the Trinitarian image,

    Look, honey, if we don’t have this threesome, we’re both going to hell. Is that what you want? Hell?

  2. chigau (違う) says

    PZ
    You have q-quote error in the paragraph beginning,
    “But even worse,…”

  3. says

    the Trinitarian God in creation, revealed in the union of male and female.

    How do two people represent a trinitarian god? Something’s missing.

  4. Raucous Indignation says

    How did you plow through that turgid fucking frothing pile of purulent sulfurous excrement? How were you even able to fisk that? My brain would’ve checked out. Except for where he’s prattling on about sin. Any person going on about “sin” cannot be trusted. At all. It all has to do with the root of the word sin. It derives from the Avestan word “sin,” meaning an act that someone else really, really, really doesn’t want an individual or individuals to partake of. (Justifications as to what makes something sinful do vary, but they’re generally all bad.)

  5. jrkrideau says

    I must admit I always thought this same sex marriage stuff was silly until I realized the legal implications. I suddenly went from “who cares” to strong supporter of the principle.

  6. says

    How do two people represent a trinitarian god? Something’s missing.

    The pervert watching your every move.

  7. Azkyroth, B*Cos[F(u)]==Y says

    All sexual sin is wrong because it fails to mirror the Trinitarian image,

    …a threesome involving a father and son?

  8. Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls says

    …a threesome involving a father and son?

    Don’t forget the “virgin” Mary…..

  9. AstrySol says

    I think he’s referring to different people from what you may thought.

    But it’s a question worth researching. This has important policy implications for today. When we establish certain rights and accessibilities based on one[1]’s sexual orientation and identity—and thus the punishment and severe public shaming of those[2] who violate them[3]—we are operating on ground that is more subjective than many would like us to believe.

    [1]: LGBT+ people
    [2]: “Honesty, faithful” Xians that refuse to acknowledge the existence of LGBT+ people, and/or refuse to serve LGBT+ people, and/or actively harm LGBT+ people;
    [3]: said rights and “accessibilities” for LGBT+ people (I guess people don’t violate their own identity often, if not under any external pressure.)

    Yeah. It all checks out. Bigots indeed.

  10. says

    That’s an interesting question, why is there a higher rate of teen pregnancy among GLB people? From one of the cited papers: (warning that some reasons are very unpleasant)

    A number of studies over the past few decades have documented that LGB youth are more likely to report ever having sexual intercourse compared to heterosexual adolescents.

    LGB youth are less likely to use condoms or hormonal contraception than their heterosexual peers.

    One such risk factor is early sexual initiation, for example before the age of 13 or 14. In several studies, LGB youth were more likely to report early sexual initiation. Early sexual initiation may be associated with sexual abuse or coerced sex, and sexual abuse itself is strongly associated with teen pregnancy involvement for both girls and boys.

    Other forms of violence, such as physical abuse, bullying in school, sexual harassment, and dating violence, have been linked to teen pregnancy involvement in the general population.

    Many but not all of the surveys in North America have found that LGB youth are more likely to have sex under the influence

    One of the reasons described in [a qualitative study that asked people directly] was the ways in which heterosexism, and the pressures around being heterosexually active, contributed to risk for teen pregnancy involvement. They suggested the invisibility of sexually diverse examples of relationships, and the pressures to conform to heterosexual norms, led to LGB youth engaging in heterosexual sex as ‘‘proof’’ of heterosexuality, or to hide same-sex attractions. In addition, the groups felt there was a lack of awareness that opposite-sex sexual behavior can lead to pregnancy, in part because so much of the focus for gay and bisexual males is on HIV and STI prevention.

    [Another qualitative study on homeless Black lesbians:] …in their social circles, pregnancy and childbearing were not considered mutually exclusive with their lesbian identities, as it was quite common; it was only unintentional pregnancies that appeared to create stress around identity. These qualitative studies also supported additional risks for pregnancy such as sexual abuse and homelessness, especially being kicked out due to coming out;

    D:

  11. AstrySol says

    Oops, screwed up quotes…

    I think he’s referring to different people from what you may thought.

    But it’s a question worth researching. This has important policy implications for today. When we establish certain rights and accessibilities based on one[1]’s sexual orientation and identity—and thus the punishment and severe public shaming[4] of those[2] who violate them[3]—we are operating on ground that is more subjective than many would like us to believe.

    [1]: LGBT+ people
    [2]: “Honesty, faithful” Xians that refuse to acknowledge the existence of LGBT+ people, and/or refuse to serve LGBT+ people, and/or actively harm LGBT+ people;
    [3]: said rights and “accessibilities” for LGBT+ people (I guess people don’t violate their own identity often, if not under any external pressure.)
    Yeah. It all checks out. Bigots indeed.

    Also,
    [4]: Things like the Colorado court ruling against a certain cake maker and the “public shaming” (read: calling out who they are) accompanied.

  12. Rob Grigjanis says

    Raucous Indignation @5:

    It derives from the Avestan word “sin,”

    Do you have a source for that? Looks dodgy.

  13. rietpluim says

    PZ, I think you completely misunderstood that one sentence. When some evangelical bigot says something like When we establish certain rights and accessibilities based on one’s sexual orientation and identity he most definitely means When we allow gay marriage or gay adoption. Don forget those people think same sex marriage is not marriage but a kind of privilege.

  14. lanir says

    Astrysol @10 has the interpretation of the puzzling weirdness I came away with. I did initially think what PZ suggested though. But then I realized this guy was going to be one of those people who never found a ridiculous, hateful, barbaric idea that screws over vulnerable people that he didn’t like.

    Honestly what really confused me was the “A: Lesbians like women; B: women don’t impregnate themselves; Conclusion: pregnant lesbians” bit. Does he not know what the word “conclusion” means? He just stapled on another piece of input without explaining how he thought it was related.

    So many assholes, so many manufactured excuses and broken logic chains. They might as well all be pointing fingers and chanting “Bibbledy babbledy boo, I don’t like you.” It wouldn’t help their logic or give them new excuses but at least it would be honest.

  15. rietpluim says

    A: Weatherspoon does not do logic
    B: It does logic bad
    C: This logic is as flawed as Weatherspoon’s

  16. wajim says

    @AstrySol: Sorry, why are we arguing this?:

    No state shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any state deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.

  17. AstrySol says

    @wajim

    I’m not arguing this. The [4] I was referring to is the CO court ruling that a Xian baker could not discriminate gay couples by refusing to fulfill their wedding cake order (and said baker had even compared the order to a “pedophile cake” order). And I believe it’s a civil suit so no life or liberty of any party was involved, nor was the property deprived by the state (if there was property involved, it was probably just going to the couple), plus some regulatory burden on the baker.

    I’m just saying if you can dig deeper through the twisted “logic” of those bigots, who consider order in such nature “punishment” (and probably “prosecution”), then everything just checks out in that paragraph.

  18. AstrySol says

    lanir @16
    I blame their poor (to the extent of almost non-existent) knowledge of biology. Remember Todd “Legitimate Rape” Akin?

  19. raven says

    Glenn Stanton the crackpot;
    not only redefines marriage wholesale for everyone, but it actually deconstructs humanity itself.

    This is complete gibberish.
    What does “deconstructing humanity itself even mean? Nothing.
    It’s also an assertion without proof or data and can be dismissed without proof or data.

    And of course, biblical marriage is one man and as many women as he can round up and as many sex slaves as he can buy.
    We’ve long ago redefined that as undesirable.
    Stanton manages to get three things completely wrong in on short phrase.

  20. says

    the unstated premise to make the quote cogent to denying same sex marriage is that heterosexuality is not a sexual orientation but a “natural” default. Thus, to extend same sex couples marriage rights is to grant them “extra” rights based on a supra-natural condition.

    It’s just around about way of arguing that gay men (or lesbians) already had equal marriage rights. No two men could marry and gay men were free to marry any women of his choice (vice versa).

    It’s dumb. It’s not unintelligible through.

  21. Marissa van Eck says

    I just wanna ask him “How’s that heterosexual divorce rate working out for y’all good Christians?” And unlike being gay, Jesus had a two things–of COURSE mutually contradictory!–to say about divorce :D

  22. dontlikeusernames says

    (Formatting is a bit weird… 80’s style email, but whatever. Y’all’l get the point.)
    Nerd @9:

    Heh, well, I suppose that as long as she *just* watched, she’s still *technically* a virgin…? Because technicalities like this seems to be all the fundies actually care about. (Well, except technicalities pertaining to actual science, but I digress.)

    Generally, as a filthy socialist from Scandiwegia[1], this rabid fascination with who does/did what to whom seems *really* idiosyncratic. It might’ve been more relevant to people’s daily lives 1000-2000 years ago because feudal (well, -ish) society based on marriage-means-all-of-the-family ideas[2], but nowadays…? Nobody cares.

    From *my* socialist perspective: As long as you (one-some, two-some, N-some) contribute to society like everyone else, I *really* don’t care what you do with your bits, nor do I even necessarily[3] want to know.

    [1] … and I suppose all round “semi-enlightened person”, just be inclusive of non-Scandiwegians.

    [2] Though I’m pretty sure people still got up to all sorts of shenanigans! People are amazing that way.

    [3] I’m weird that way. I’d actually like to know, but it’s not a sexual thing. I just find it fascinating that people, e.g. have vastly different ways of wiping their asses post-dump. Same thing with sex.

  23. zibble says

    @11 Siggy

    Came in to say basically this. I didn’t have as good a citation as you, it’s all just… kind of fucking obvious if you think about it (as fundy ideologues are wont not to do).

    It’s just another example of how homophobia creates poor living conditions for gays, which homophobes cite as a justification for homophobia. I really hate these stupid evil fuckers.

  24. rrhain says

    Um, PZ? You write:

    It is? Who says? Keep in mind this article is talking about teenagers and sex; I suspect sexual orientation has a fair bit of flexibility, at least if you’re not brought up in a family or peer group that imposes severe costs on deviation from expected behaviors.

    Who says? The gay people do. There have been any number of highly motivated people who have tried extremely hard to change their sexual orientation, including both pharmaceutical and psychological methods, and it has never worked. The best that can be hoped for is to put the “bi” back in “bisexual.” The only thing that has been shown is that you can make people feel guilty enough about their sexual attractions that they refuse to act upon them but instead engage in sexual activity that they don’t find as satisfying.

    There are stories of people in later life coming to realize that they have attractions for people of the other sex than what they typically were attracted to, but talking to them reveals that they always kinda knew that something was off; that it was only later that they came to understand exactly what their feelings were (you will note that I am not indicating any direction.)

    It’s why the various organizations that attempt to claim to change orientation have such disastrous records…to the point that they don’t actually keep records regarding their “successes” and the fine print of their pitches indicates that they do not promise anything. For crying out loud, the founders of Exodus fell in love with each other and every time they came up with a poster boy (and it’s always a boy), he is found in flagrante.

    I’m hardly saying there are no environmental effects regarding sexuality. But despite intense attempts to demonstrate the ability to actively change one’s attractions, there is simply no evidence that it can be done.

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