Making Gay Okay: A Review (7)

Chapter Five of Robert Reilly’s Making Gay Okay is titled “The Lessons From Biology,” and is a discussion of the health issues involved in same-sex behavior. But before we get to the health issues he will raise, Reilly must first set the stage with a number of assumptions. He complains that we know the use and purposes of every other part of the body but refuse to admit what is so obvious about our sex organs, namely that they are used for procreative and unitive purposes (52). He uses the example of the lungs, which were made for air, not for water.

But it seems to me he is ignoring a number of truths regarding the genitals. First of all, they have two primary purposes – to pass waste and to have sex. NNL theorists, and all conservative arguments against SSM, ignore this reality entirely. To them, the genitals are always spoken of as life-bringing while the anus is an organ of death and waste. But the reality is that the genitals expel waste as well (a function for which they are arguably employed far more than for sex). Furthermore, the anus is also designed to give pleasure during its typical function, and has many more nerve endings than the genitals. The male prostate is located nearer to it than to the genitals too, and thus anal intercourse is reportedly able to give more intense orgasms than otherwise. What an odd design, if we are indeed to believe the NNL theorists and conservatives.

What follows are pages and pages of nonsense and misinformation and shoddy logic. He lists the many sexually transmitted diseases that can be contracted by gay people, ignoring that all of these can also be contracted by heterosexuals. The anal-specific problems he points to are problems with aggressive penetration, not with the practice exclusively. Moreover, he says gay men are 37 times more likely to get anal cancer than the general population, but as even he manages to note, this is for men who have already contracted HIV, not the general population of gay men.

Reilly also claims that gay men have a lifespan 30 years shorter than straight men, even without anal sex. To make this claim, Reilly depends upon the discredited work of Dr, Jeffrey Satinover, an anti-homosexual advocate. The trouble is that Satinover is depending upon bad research, in this case a 1993 paper which came to this shocking conclusion by comparing obituary listings in 16 gay mags and papers with two mainstream newspapers. In John Corvino’s words, “the methodology in this study is laughable even to those with no formal training in statistics” (What’s Wrong With Homosexuality?, 52). The author of this paper, Paul Cameron, was expelled from the American Psychological Association for ethics violations, and condemned by the Nebraska Psychological Association and American Sociological Association for “misrepresentations of scientific research on sexuality” (Corvino, 53). Reilly also uses the work of Dr. Hogg on young gay men in Vancouver between 1987 and 1992, which found that young gay men there were more likely to die 8-20 years before the general male population. But Reilly, and all conservatives who cite Hogg’s work ignore three things: 1) this was in the heyday of risky gay behavior, thus driving up mortality rates 2) these deaths were from HIV, for which there is now effective treatment, thus bringing the average back down and 3) the study is so narrow that general conclusions cannot be drawn from it. This is demonstrated from Hogg himself, who in 2001 denounced the use of his paper to “suggest that gay and bisexual men  live an unhealthy lifestyle that is destructive to themselves and others,” and points out that his research would no longer be an accurate study of the gay urban population in Vancouver today (Corvino, 55-56).

Such is the sort of “scholarship” one finds in these sorts of books. Based upon this shoddy research, Reilly asks why we don’t put warning labels on homosexuality like we do for smoking (57-59). This again ignores the fact that HIV and AIDS can be transmitted heterosexually, and that heterosexuals also practice anal sex. It also ignores the fact that physicians and medical experts have been warning people about how HIV and AIDS is transmitted for nearly three decades. We don’t outlaw smoking just because it can cause cancer, though we do warn people about the dangers and stop indoors smoking in public to protect others from second-hand smoke. Reilly also downplays the difference between the HIV virus and anal sex – that is, anal sex does not cause HIV, though it can transmit a virus that is already present. He tries to hand-wave over this distinction by calling it a distraction (58), but the point is a real and legitimate one. The behavior and the virus are two entirely different things, and anal sex practiced without the virus present cannot cause the virus. To turn this around a bit, imagine claiming that because vaginal intercourse comes with the risk of contracting various diseases that a person wrote an entire book denouncing the “heterosexual lifestyle” as filthy, degrading, disgusting, and unclean? Would we not call such a book a category confusion and an overreaction?

The rest of Reilly’s chapter is devoted to the purported claim that gay men are vastly more promiscuous than other segments of the population (59-65). The object of rehashing all this information is to claim that fidelity is not common in the gay community, therefore they will destroy marriage or redefine it out of existence. That gay people (really, gay men since Reilly continually conflates gay men who practice anal sex with the general LGBTQ community) are not marriage material. Now, we must grant at the outset that men are generally more promiscuous than women for a variety of biological and cultural reasons, and that men who have sex with men, therefore, will have a higher rate of promiscuity than any other demographic group. But this hardly proves that this must be the case; plenty of promiscuous heterosexual men have been tamed by love and there is nothing to prevent this from being the case with homosexual men either.

But even granting that this is the case, there are a number of studies which have shown that, while men who have sex with men do report higher numbers of partners than those who do not, this is not statistically much higher from the general population of men. For example, Edward Laumann et al notes that While some evidence in our data supports this general tendency, the differences do not appear very large in view of the higher variability in our measures that results from the small sample size of homosexually active men.”  (Social Organization of Sexuality, 316). Vierod et al noted in their large study of gay men in Scandinavia over a five year period that the average sexual partner was about one partner per year in the first year, and 0.3 partners by year five, which is much lower than expected (Scandinavian Journal of Social Medicine, 1997). Bryant and Demian conducted a study on homosexual relationships which showed that 63% of gay male relationships were entirely monogamous and 78% had a frequency of extra-relationship sexuality of zero partners (Journal of Gay and Lesbian Social Services, 1994). These numbers are comparable to the heterosexual numbers of Laumann et al’s study, taken from the same period, which showed that 79.3% of heterosexual men were monogamous.

So where do these huge numbers come from? Often these statistics come from earlier days in the LGBTQ movement when, born out of the free love movement, encouraged casual sexuality, or are studies of high-promiscuity centers like densely populated urban centers. There are highly promiscuous gay men out there – just like there are highly promiscuous straight men out there. But this does not appear to be the norm for either orientation.

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