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Endocrinology. 2011 Aug;152(8):2937-47. doi: 10.1210/en.2011-0277. Epub 2011 Jun 21.

Minireview: Hormones and human sexual orientation.

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  • 1University of Liège, Groupe Interdisciplinaire de Génoprotéomique Appliquée Neurosciences, Research Group in Behavioral Neuroendocrinology, 1 Avenue de l'Hôpital (B36), B-4000 Liège, Belgium. jbalthazart@ulg.ac.be

Abstract

Many people believe that sexual orientation (homosexuality vs. heterosexuality) is determined by education and social constraints. There are, however, a large number of studies indicating that prenatal factors have an important influence on this critical feature of human sexuality. Sexual orientation is a sexually differentiated trait (over 90% of men are attracted to women and vice versa). In animals and men, many sexually differentiated characteristics are organized during early life by sex steroids, and one can wonder whether the same mechanism also affects human sexual orientation. Two types of evidence support this notion. First, multiple sexually differentiated behavioral, physiological, or even morphological traits are significantly different in homosexual and heterosexual populations. Because some of these traits are known to be organized by prenatal steroids, including testosterone, these differences suggest that homosexual subjects were, on average, exposed to atypical endocrine conditions during development. Second, clinical conditions associated with significant endocrine changes during embryonic life often result in an increased incidence of homosexuality. It seems therefore that the prenatal endocrine environment has a significant influence on human sexual orientation but a large fraction of the variance in this behavioral characteristic remains unexplained to date. Genetic differences affecting behavior either in a direct manner or by changing embryonic hormone secretion or action may also be involved. How these biological prenatal factors interact with postnatal social factors to determine life-long sexual orientation remains to be determined.

PMID:
21693676
[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
PMCID:
PMC3138231
Free PMC Article
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