The Evolutionary Advantage of Homosexuality
Looking at our evolutionary history, viewing sexuality as a social act and recognizing its fluidity and spectrum gives a perspective that helps to explain homosexuality as natural. This also gives a different perspective on female sexuality, polygamy, promiscuity and the variety of sexual practices in the world. The reason gay and other non-reproductive sex would likely exist is because sex evolved into a social act. As a social act, sex would have been advantageous during our development as a species, and gender would not matter.
Homosexuality is too common and universal to be an unnatural phenomenon. By some estimates, it exists in about 10% of the human population and has been considered normal and expected of people in many societies throughout history—Ancient Greece and Feudal Japan for instance. Homosexuality is also very common in animals, who are indifferent to their own sexuality and the sexuality of others. In humans, Kinsey established that there is a sexuality spectrum, ranging from exclusively heterosexual to exclusively homosexual, with most people falling somewhere in the middle. Why is there this variation?
Going by the theory of evolution and natural selection, pervasive traits in a species are generally there for a reason because advantageous traits that help members of a species survive and reproduce stay and disadvantageous ones die out. The puzzling thing about homosexuality is that it seems that it would destroy itself by discouraging reproduction. But it has prevailed, so there must be a good reason for it. We are driven to do and pleased by the things which in a primitive world would promote our survival and propagation. Therefore eating is enjoyable, sheltering ourselves is enjoyable, having sex is enjoyable. We need the instinctual drives and feelings of reward to keep our species going on both an individual and group level. These instincts and traits have been hard-wired in us by the very gradual process of evolution by natural selection that causes species to develop and change over time, creating the vast diversity seen in our world. Evolution favors that diversity as it leads to new opportunities for life and endows it with resilience.
Changes in species generally happen over the course of many generations. For instance, giraffes didn’t just suddenly mutate into having long necks. The giraffe predecessors had, like any sexually reproducing species, variations among its members, with some being slightly better suited to reaching higher up food sources by being slightly taller. Those with the longest necks were better adapted to their environment than their kin and survived and reproduced more, giving birth to offspring with a tendency toward a long neck. Eventually, thanks to the collective of their unique variations, they developed long necks and became a different species entirely, with their own niche on the African plains.
Our own species developed by the same evolutionary process, and we are the product of that. Our lives are shaped by modern times, but our basic instincts and drives are our foundation. As a species, we developed most of these before we developed language and custom. And it is in our developmental era that we need to look to see where our drives come from. There we will likely find the origins of human sexuality and homosexuality, a strange constant of human life.
Sexual reproduction thrived despite the risk of not finding a mate because it creates genetic variation and diversity. But sex itself is not strictly reproductive in all species. In many species that’s the case. For instance, with many fish, such as salmon or catfish, there is no copulation. The females lay eggs to be fertilized externally by the males. With rabbits, there is copulation but no extended relationship. For these species, it isn’t necessary to go beyond that. Their sexual drives are focused on efficiency in creating offspring. But many social species are more sexually complex.
The complicated, inefficient way that humans have sex demonstrates that there is more to it than just child-bearing. We court each other, flirt, get to know each other first, try to find common ground and compatibility and then we move on to the actual sex. Sex itself is also complex–not strictly copulation, but kissing, foreplay, cuddling and everything you can imagine for yourselves. We frequently exhibit monogamy, something relatively uncommon among the Earth’s species, but at the same time, have a serious difficulty adhering to it. Even though we have social norms discouraging it, promiscuity and drive to have sex with multiple partners over a lifetime are extremely common, as is homosexuality. Why do people have such a hard time following these anti-sex social norms? Because they’re unnatural. Sexual variety is ingrained and built-in to us from pre-historic times.
For humans, sex develops strong positive feelings of love, bonding and friendliness. It is a generally accepted idea that men and women develop these loving feelings toward each other, encouraging some degree of monogamy in order to benefit the offspring that may result from sex, as it would tend to keep the fathers around. The preliminary courtship helps to determine if a potential partner would be a good match, and the bodily exploration is a great way to determine your partner’s state of health and get to know them better. This would be especially true during a time when there was no language to communicate with. People who had this positive, loving reaction to sex would have an advantage, and so would their offspring. So the development of love’s connection to sex was a great step forward for us.
Despite these loving feelings, humans are not entirely monogamous. These feelings can and do extend to multiple people. In primitive societies without the rules created by language, people were more promiscuous. Human promiscuity tends to be attributed to the drive to “spread seed”, but this misogynistic concept doesn’t take female sexuality into account. Female sexuality can’t be explained this way because their ability to procreate is limited, yet they don’t lose their drive when pregnant. Another possible motivation behind promiscuity that extends to homosexuality is that sex developed as a social act that helped keep primitive societies together. It was a social lubricant and a way of communication. As a social act, gender would be irrelevant and sex would be a great way of creating bonds, (or caveman style friends.)
This is exhibited in ape societies such as chimpanzees and bonobos, our closest genetic relatives. Both are very promiscuous, and bonobos are especially notable in that they are completely bisexual and constantly use sex as a social lubricant. The bonobos are also very peaceful. They choose to have sex over fighting. For early humans, sex probably functioned like it does for the bonobos, reducing aggression and encouraging cooperation.
If inherited, homosexuality has to be passed on heterosexually. We all have a mix of genes giving us each our individual traits and differences, such as short and tall, or a predisposition to want sex with people of a certain gender. Likely, there is not one gene for homosexuality; it is part of this mixture of genes and predispositions. That would help explain why there is a sexuality spectrum, why most people fall somewhere in the middle, and why, if a society expects bisexuality, people can adapt.
If sex developed to create bonds between opposite-sex parents for the sake of the offspring, that bonding quality would have extended to other partners as well, regardless of gender. Promiscuity and bisexuality would have been advantageous for propagation and also for developing the bonds that would help a person and their offspring’s survival. An individual who had sexual preferences for both genders would have the option to establish connections with more varied partners, thus creating a wider network. This popularity would give him a survival advantage and potentially more chances to mate. This one’s offspring would have the trait and they would inherit the same advantage. Eventually, after many generations, the trait would more or less pervade the group, with some having more of the “gay” trait than others. As the concentration of the gay traits increased, eventually there may be some that get so many that they don’t reproduce at all, limiting and balancing the trait. Those that get “too many” of these “gay genes” curb its propagation but they won’t die out because they come in combination with “straight genes.” Therefore, bisexuality dominates, generally leaning toward heterosexuality. Additionally, the total homosexuals won’t burden the group with offspring, sacrificing their own genes but helping their gene-sharing kin survive, much like worker bees do.
Homosexuality is a natural tendency that has evolved into humanity and other species due to the social advantages it provided in early times. Viewing sexuality as a social act and recognizing its fluidity and spectrum gives a perspective that helps to explain homosexuality as natural. This also gives a different perspective on female sexuality, polygamy, promiscuity and the variety of sexual practices in the world.
Wil and The Doctor (who wishes to remain anonymous)
P.S. You may post any relevant links you’d like. Comments, suggestions and sharing are welcome 🙂