NARTH Responds Irresponsibly to the Birth Order Study
Updated for NARTH reponse (see below)
In the 1990’s, Anthony Bogaert released a study in which he and his fellow researchers had determined that birth order of male children had a correlation with the incidences of homosexual orientation. This observation is not true with all gay men but seems to represent a possible etiology for a sizable portion.
The study found that the more older brothers a boy has, the more likely it is that he will grow up to be gay. The rate of increase in each successive male sibling is about 33% (i.e. if an oldest son is about 2.3% likely to be gay, the next son is about 3% likely, the eighth son is about 17% likely, et cetera). The study has been subsequently confirmed and the fact pattern is now accepted.
NARTH claimed that this study was consistent with their argument that sexual orientation is rooted in environment:
In current non-polemic scientific quarters, the general consensus is that the origins of homosexuality are complex and include developmental and environmental influences. These later influences appear robustly evidenced in the research on sibling and birth order patterns among homosexual men. Numerous studies have reported that homosexual men have later birth orders and a greater number of older brothers than heterosexual men. While maternal immune reactions have been offered as one explanation of this finding, direct biological support for this theory appears to be lacking and psychosocial interpretations should not be ruled out. The birth order trend is also consistent with the involvement of developmental and familial experiences in the origins of sexual orientation.
NARTH further discussed this study when considering their response to Bem’s postulation about “exotic become erotic”:
The connection between sibling relationship and homosexuality gained support by a recent study which showed that the likelihood of a boy to develop homosexual orientation is correlated with the number of older brothers (but not sisters) he has (Blanchard & Bogaert, 1996). By attending to possible consequences of sibling rivalry, parents can help preventing problems from developing in the gender-nonconforming child.
However, Bogaert performed a follow-up study designed to determine whether the physical presence of older brothers in the home could account for the observed increase in incidents or whether they could be eliminated as a factor. The study, which was released last week, 1) compared younger brothers who were raised with their older natural brothers to those which were not (adoption or other reasons) and 2) compared younger brothers raised with older natural brothers to those raised with older brothers that did not share the same mother.
Bogaert found that the presence of older non-maternal male siblings was not relevant and that the absence of natural older brothers was not relevant. He concluded that the shared circumstance was the number of male children that had been present in a woman’s womb and that this is the factor responsible for the observation.
These results strongly suggest a pre-natal origin to the fraternal birth-order effect.
Bogaert goes further in the body of the report to guess as to the possible cause:
A theory of homosexuality consistent with the present findings is a maternal immune response to succeeding male pregnancies.
Some proponents of ex-gay efforts accepted the study and adjusted their assumptions accordingly. For example, Dr. Warren Throckmorton recognized that this study does impact the more usual lines of argument:
This study seems to leave the “feared older brother” theory looking pretty shabby.
I continue to believe nothing in this research supports a direct line of cause between the womb and homosexual orientation. The differences would be in brain organization and toward possible gender atypical interests. I do think this is quite compelling research though and discounts typical reparative explanations.
While I may find Dr. Throckmorton’s underlying positions unconvincing, he applied the results of the study to his cumulative knowledge and adjusted his assumptions about the path to sexual orientation accordingly.
NARTH, predictably, was less honest in their approach. Perhaps this is because NARTH has staked a position on the exact origins of all sexual orientation and has more to lose by objective analysis. NARTH compiled the observations of “three professional members of NARTH”.
The first, Canadian Psychiatrist Joseph Berger, ignored the conclusions of the study and focused on the guessed “cause” included in the body of the report.
It is far too early to do anything other than speculate about the possible causes of such a finding, if indeed repeated surveys with larger populations confirmed its accuracy.
Which is true. But that is, of course what Bogaert had done, speculate.
Additionally, Berger ignores the purpose of the study and the efforts to eliminate family patterns in which the child is not raised as the youngest of several brothers. He also ignores the findings that the number of older sisters did not correlate to an increased likelihood of homosexuality.
There are obvious possible “environmental” explanations for such a finding, such as the tendency in many families to “baby” the younger or youngest, often thus “delaying” their maturity into an adult masculine identity. The tendency of many such younger/youngest children to play up the “cute” “wishing-to-please” baby-aspect, which can take on an almost feminine charming/seductive demeanor.
Dr. Neil E. Whitehead, a New Zealand research scientist, was the only of the three to address the actual conclusions of the study. Whitehead claims that there were flaws in the methodology of the sample selection of those sons that were adopted.
In the case of the present paper, it is very likely that volunteers were intrigued they were gay in spite of being adopted and knowing the nature of the study volunteered disproportionately—the more biological brothers they had…There is a serious doubt that the finding is valid.
I would suggest that there is a serious doubt that Dr. Whitehead’s unsubstantiated assumptions are valid. His assumption requires one to believe that the inclination for gay adopted men to participate in the study was somehow affected by how many biological brothers they had. This is absurd.
Dr. Whitehead does go on to question the sample size and the possibility of error, all of which is fine. However, taken as a whole, Whitehead’s objections are all about possible errors, none of which he can identify as an actual observable error, and his purpose appears to be to cast doubt without any substantiation. Whitehead makes a serious error for a researcher when he goes beyond suggesting possible errors to suggesting that the conclusions are incorrect – without a single substantiated reason.
NARTH’s final professional member, family counseling Psychiatrist Dr. Richard Fitzgibbons, appears not to understand the intent and conclusion of the study. Althought the study clearly indicates that it looked at younger sons raised apart from their older siblings, Fitzgibbons blithely assumes that they were teased by these absent brothers. He doesn’t indicate whether he thinks this was by means of telepathy or smoke signals.
His observations don’t address the findings but instead arrogantly pretend that his personal musings override clinical study.
In my clinical experience a major issue in regard to older brothers is the rejection a younger brother often experiences from older male siblings. This is particularly the case when the younger brother is not good in sports and is called cruel names by the older brother.[snip]
These traumatic events severely weaken male confidence, which is the major emotional conflict leading to SSA.
Finally Fitzgibbons reveals that NARTH is not nearly as secular in nature as they like to pretend.
Fortunately, these brother and father wounds can be healed through the hard work of an understanding and forgiveness process, growth in male confidence and growth with a spiritual director in the relationship with the Lord as best friend and brother at each life stage.
The arguments of Dr. Whitehead may be weak and grasping, but the inclusion of the musings of Berger and Fitzgibbons is irresponsible. NARTH’s response to Bogaert’s study further challenges their credibility and demonstrates that they have little use for science, observation, or truth.
(thanks to Autumn for bringing this to my attention)
NARTH has read our analysis of their article on the Bogaert study and responded. Although our review was of all three of NARTH’s “professional members”, the only member who sought to justify his position was Dr. Joseph Berger. He wasn’t pleased with our observations.
Mr. Kincaid’s comments are ignorant rubbish. I rejected the claims made by Bogaert on the basis that the assumptions are so fundamentally flawed that any “results” become meaningless.
Berger’s response goes on to mistate the relationship between correlation and causation. It is clear that either he did not understand the methodology and conclusion of Boegart’s study or he has little knowledge of the scientific method. A look at a more complete article by Berger further illustrates that he has a very poor understanding of how research is conducted and the way in which conclusions are determined.
It is difficult to determine much about Dr. Berger. His bio states
Joseph Berger, M.D., is fellow of the Canadian Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons, a Diplomate of the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology, and a Fellow of the American Psychiatric Association. He has served as an Examiner for the American Board of Psychiatry for twenty years.
However, other than his anti-gay writings, Dr. Berger does not seem to be published.
If Berger is the best that NARTH has to offer, it is little surprise that they are held with such low regard by the scientific and mental health communities.
M.D. Cautiously Weighs Study Suggesting Homosexuality’s Biologically CausedBy Mary Rettig
July 6, 2006Excerpt:
Of course I come from a completely different viewpoint than Scheidt. But I do applaud the distinction he makes:
“However, Scheidt cautions that homosexual orientation or temperament, which is what the Canadian study was investigating, is not the same thing as homosexual behavior. “Homosexual behavior is always the result of a choice,” the Christian doctor asserts, noting that having a prenatal disposition toward same-sex attraction is not the same thing as engaging in homosexual activity.”
That is true. And important.
I don’t fault churches that say that behavior is sinful or bad (whatever the behavior). That is, after all, one of the purposes of churches.
And it is the obligation of society to determine whether to apply law based on those teachings. In our pluralistic society, a recognition that orientation may be natural (though considered sinful by some) bodes better for the freedoms of gay people than an insistence that orientation does not exist.
Posted by: Timothy Kincaid | July 6, 2006 07:05 PM:
I couldn’t agree more. The quotation marks we see around the words gay and transgender by some publishers — Such as AgapePress — to me indicates a questioning of the existance of gay and transgender people. Apparently, if we don’t really exist we don’t really need civil rights and protections.
I might be able to understand why someone would be CURIOUS about the origins of homosexuality.
Here is where I have problems with the line of discussion and what it has to do with NARTH or any ex gay ministries.
The organic or physiological origins are elusive for HETEROSEXUALITY and ASEXUALITY as well.
Look as these comparisons they are making with siblings and sibling order.
What about gay only children, or gay adoptive children and their hetero siblings of whatever number?
Considering how large and distinct gay people are universally, the test sample is specifically people with this birth order, rather than how it can figure into homosexuality in general.
The other part of my problem is: biological factors and one’s treatment in society.
Regardless of empirical and objective evidence and proof of the mental, emotional and physical competence of homosexual people, the straight world is still looking for aspects of inferiority to justify maltreatment and/or disqualification from basic standards of social interaction and protection.
I now see religious communities in particular casting or working hard to, doubt on any and every aspect of gay people and their lives through a mutable and subjective belief system.
A mutable and subjective opinion or belief, cannot and won’t ever square with immutability and objectivity if they don’t WANT it to.
Which would be fine, except that said communities are engaging the government to ENFORCE their subjective and mutable beliefs.
What we only really needed to care about is competency and social ethics in gay people that is equal in being accomplished as non gay people.
Everything else, we don’t demand of anyone else and shouldn’t of gay people.
It’s not that I’d ignore whatever these studies have to say.
But the origins of human sexual orientation seems to be equal.
And that of homosexuality and asexuality, elusive.
I think for a reason.
When you’re normal, nothing profoundly different of out of place is going to be found.
What about gay only children, or gay adoptive children and their hetero siblings of whatever number?
Well, one of the problems with the NARTH response, and other anti-gay groups, has been the misunderstanding that the birth order effect only provides a biological explanation of homosexuality for a small proportion of men. In one of the responses, I think at AFA, there was a rumination from an “expert” about how many gay men he knows who are oldest or only brothers, and how this research does not explain their homosexuality. But that is a misunderstanding of the findings.
Although Bogaert posits an immune response in the mother, presumably caused by ealier male births, there is no reason to suspect that such a response is ONLY present in women who have had a number of children. It is also possible that the same underlying biological process always occurs when a gay child is formed in the womb, but that the process is more likely the more sons the mother has.
It is also interesting that the “pro-family” movement never reacts to the sum total of these studies. Any individual research, like this study, cannot make any definitive statements about the nature of homosexuality. In fact, in every published scientific paper there is what I used to call the “anti-ego section,” in which the researcher explains and analyzes all the potential flaws in the published study, explores what other studies would be necessary to answer those flaws, and states that “more research is needed.”
Scientific answers to medical or biological riddles don’t come from one study, they are based on scientific consensus after years of research. Bogaert’s paper is most interesting in how it fits into the well known sequence of research findings on the linkages between homosexuality and various biological processes – including concordance rates among twins and other inheritance patterns (e.g., the “maternal effect” for gay men, in which the odds of being gay increase with the number of gay male relatives on the mother’s side of the family), physical structures of gay men and lesbians and even the much higher rate (3X, IIRC) of left-handedness among gay people. It is only after putting all these findings together that anyone can state there is a biological origin to homosexuality. Interestingly, all the research seems to point in that direction.
It should be noted that any researcher citing 1996 as a “recent” study obviously hasn’t done their homework or looked at the clock on their computer. Ten years have passed. Times move on. Research from that time period should be questioned and validated by more current sources. If thats all the current sources the researcher can provide it begs the question as to the quality of the researchers at NARTH.
Actually, Berger’s response is worse than the original; if at all possible.
The analogy he uses — religion — is plain crackpot territory.
Yes twins, siblings etc do indeed “inherit” the specific religion. But so do any ADOPTED children. Oh, Berger didn’t mention them did he…
That alone should indicate that we’re not talking biological influences here. And probably give away the reason nobody has even bothered searching for Catholic genes, or Hindu genes etc.
/snort… and Timothy is an “extremist” is he 🙂
Ok. So…I’m gay because my mom had an immune response against my maleness…and her body was trying to…kill me? Kill my masculinity? Well, there you have it: it’s the smothering, emasculating mother theory all over again. Or…wait…I thought it was a distant mother who didn’t teach you how to love women…or…a distant father who made you crave the love of men…or…a father who showed you too much affection, and made you crave the love of men. Wait a minute…I got it…it’s having too many brothers, who dominated you and made you fear them…or what I meant to say was distant brothers who wouldn’t have anything to do with you, like if you’ve been adopted away or something. Yeah, that’s it.
I myself am a gay man, first born male, with two older sisters, two very distant parents, and a straight younger brother who I terrorized and dominated, yet stayed very distant from. With all of that, it’s obvious why I’m gay, and why my younger brother is straight.
All joking aside, I look forward to seeing more real research on this. And research on the hets, bis, and asexuals too!
Homosexuality and the number of older brothers and sisters, or, the difference between “significant” and “not significant” is not itself statistically significant
This paper, “Biological versus nonbiological older brothers and men’s sexual orientation,” by Anthony Bogaert, appeared recently in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences and was picked up by several news organizations, including Scientifi…