By Dr. Nadia El-Awady
IslamOnline’s Health & Science Editor

Development Of Sexual Orientation

Joseph Nicolosi, Ph.D. states:

Recent political pressure has resulted in a denial of the importance of the factor most strongly implicated by decades of previous clinical research: developmental factors, particularly the influence of parents. A review of the literature on male homosexuality reveals extensive reference to the prehomosexual boy’s relational problems with both parents (West 1959, Socarides 1978, Evans 1969); among some researchers, the father-son relationship has been particularly implicated (Bieber et al 1962, Moberly 1983). (

One psychoanalytic hypothesis for the connection between poor early father-son relationship and homosexuality is that during the critical gender-identity phase of development, the boy perceives the father as rejecting. As a result, he grows up failing to fully identify with his father and the masculinity he represents.

Non-masculine or feminine behavior in boyhood has been repeatedly shown to be correlated with later homosexuality (Green, 1987, Zuger, 1988); taken together with related factors, particularly the often-reported alienation from same-sex peers and a poor relationship with the father, this suggests a failure to fully gender-identify. In its more extreme form, this same syndrome (usually resulting in homosexuality) is diagnosed as Childhood Gender-Identity Deficit (Zucker and Bradley, 1996).

One likely cause for “failure to identify” is a narcissistic injury inflicted by the father onto the son (who is usually temperamentally sensitive) during the preoedipal stage of the boy’s development. This hurt appears to have been inflicted during the critical gender-identity phase when the boy must undertake the task of assuming a masculine identification. The hurt manifests itself as a defensive detachment from masculinity in the self, and in others. As an adult, the homosexual is often characterized by this complex which takes the form of “the hurt little boy” (Nicolosi, 1991). (

As previously mentioned, the person’s own interpretations of his childhood are a matter of importance in the development of his sexual orientation.

Homosexuality is almost certainly due to multiple factors and cannot be reduced solely to a faulty father-son relationship. Fathers of homosexual sons are usually also fathers of heterosexual sons-so the personality of the father is clearly not the sole cause of homosexuality….

Other factors in the development of homosexuality include a hostile, feared older brother; a mother who is a very warm and attractive personality and proves more appealing to the boy than an emotionally removed father; a mother who is actively disdainful of masculinity; childhood seduction by another male; peer labeling of the boy due to poor athletic ability or timidity; in recent years, cultural factors encouraging a confused and uncertain youngster into an embracing gay community; and in the boy himself, a particularly sensitive, relatively fragile, often passive disposition. (

A recently completed doctoral dissertation by Gregory Dickson, Ph.D. found statistically significant differences between the childhood recollections of heterosexual and homosexual men. The dissertation was entitled An Empirical Study of the Mother-Son Dyad in Relation to the Development of Adult Male Homosexuality: An Object Relations Perspective.

A total of 135 men were surveyed-57 egodystonic homosexuals, 34 egosyntonic homosexuals, and 44 heterosexuals from various parts of the U.S. Utilizing the Parent-Child Relations Questionnaire (PCR-II; Siegelman & Roe, 1979), the study found that heterosexual males recalled a much better relationship with their mothers. These men reported a significantly more loving, less demanding, and less rejecting mother than did homosexual males.

The study further found that male homosexuals reported significantly higher levels of current depression, as well as significantly higher levels of childhood sexual abuse than their heterosexual peers.

Commenting on the findings, Dr. Dickson stated:

A cursory review of research to date suggests a lack of uniform findings on the role of the mother-son relationship in the development of male homosexuality. Some authors have found a close, overly protective mother, while others have found the opposite a less loving, more demanding, and more rejecting mother. While these results are seemingly contradictory, further investigation reveals an underlying consistency, in that the homosexual male has repeatedly reported a significantly different relationship with his mother than that reported by his heterosexual peers. Whether he reported her as overly close or distant, a negative relational pattern is apparent.

…It is reasonable to assume that either type of relationship (overly close or distant) may negatively impact the developing boy’s ability to complete the necessary steps leading toward the accomplishment of the developmental tasks of individuation and separation. The overly close and binding relationship with the mother may prevent the young boy from “abandoning” her in order to join his father and his male peers. Likewise, the overly distant relationship may not allow him to feel secure enough in the mother’s love to leave it in order to explore peer relationships with other boys.

Findings of this study and of Dickson (1996) also support findings in the literature, which suggest that the adult male homosexual has experienced a greater dissimilarity of relationships between his mother and father during his developmental years than did his heterosexual peers. The current study drew upon previous literature regarding the healthy early triangulation in which the boy is able to develop both a sense of connectedness to, and distance from, both parents. “A lack of this healthy triangulation,” stated Dr. Dickson, “may result in the developing boy finding himself ‘stuck’ between parents. He must choose one parent over the other. It appears that this phenomenon is present and much more extreme in homosexual development.”

Furthermore, the study sheds light on the potential relationship of a history of sexual abuse and the development of adult male homosexuality. An alarming 49% of homosexuals surveyed, compared to less than 2% of heterosexuals, reported sexual abuse.

Results of this study underscore the importance of a need for increased understanding of the effects of sexual abuse in the development of adult male homosexuality. Dr. Dickson’s findings are congruent with those of Finkelhor (1984) which found that boys victimized by older men were four times more likely to be currently involved in homosexuality than were non-victims. All of the respondents in Dr. Dickson’s study reported their molestation as having occurred by a male perpetrator; none reported female abusers. This finding, perhaps one of the most significant of Dr. Dickson’s study, suggests that sexual abuse should be considered in evaluating etiologic factors contributing to the development of adult male homosexuality. Dickson stated, “An experience of sexual abuse could possibly contribute to the sexualizing of the unmet needs for male affection, attention, and connection.”

Commenting on the abuse factor, Dr. Dickson stated:

It is possible that the male child who experiences the negative relational pattern with his mother along with the less present and negatively perceived father becomes more susceptible to the perpetrator’s advances. Given the relational deficits experienced by the male child, it is also possible that the molestation, as devastating as it may have been emotionally, simultaneously may be experienced by some of the boys as their first form of adult male affection, as well as something relational that is not shared in common with his mother. The abuse could, theoretically, be perceived by the boy as a facilitation of some form of separation-individuation between himself and mother.

…It is also reasonable to assume that the sense of shame, secrecy, violation and anger which may result from childhood sexual abuse contributes to the development of a distorted paradigm through which the child views subsequent relationships with self and others. The duty of the parent to protect the child from all harm, as understood by the child, may be perceived as having been forsaken. If the abuse is left unresolved, subsequent parental behaviors may be experienced in a more negative way by the child and later, the adult. Additionally, the established negative relational pattern present in the family may impede the child’s ability to look to his parents for assistance in resolving the pain resulting from the molestation.

The multifaceted approach of Dr. Dickson’s study helps to clarify some of the previous literature’s apparent contradictions about potential contributing factors in the development of male homosexuality. His study underscores the significance of the influence of multiple environmental factors in the development of adult male homosexuality. It further emphasizes the complex, often subliminal, yet powerful forces of not only the childhood mother-son and father-son relationships, but the childhood experience of sexual abuse as all of these factors relate to the development of the child’s sense of self, including gender identification and future relational choices.

Pop culture and political rhetoric suggest that it is society’s lack of acceptance that is solely responsible for pathology associated with homosexuality. Such a simplistic conclusion ignores homosexuals’ repeated reports in psychology literature of conflicted parental relationships, as well as other important issues such as sexual abuse.

Dr. Dickson stated, “The current study, in concert with past literature, suggests that the issues surrounding committed adult homosexual identification may be more core structural and relational, rather than sexual in nature.”

He concluded:

Recent investigation of homosexuality has been hindered by the American Psychological and Psychiatric Associations’ philosophical shift, which fails to consider the role of environmental factors in the development of male homosexuality. The clearly complex nature of the issue should not be oversimplified, nor should scientific exploration be limited by politics. (

Another factor that may be involved in the development of a homosexual personality might result from the ever-present argument in homosexual-accepting cultures of “Be what you are, and don’t be ashamed of it”. Many youths then start to experiment to “discover” what they really are. This experimentation may lead to an entrapment and cessation of normal sexual development. The youth, who is at an age in which there exists a normal idealization of same-sex peers, might develop an incapability to further progress to a heterosexual relationship due to the fact that he has been convinced that he is a homosexual. This indulging in homosexual relationships, with time, will trap him in a sexual habit pattern. Thus, the danger of sexual experimentation at a young age. Teenagers must be made aware that homosexual attractions do not necessarily make one a homosexual.

Psychiatrist Jeffrey Satinover, M.D states:

Like all complex behavioral and mental states, homosexuality is…neither exclusively biological nor exclusively psychological, but results from an as-yet-difficult-to-quantitate mixture of genetic factors, intrauterine influences…postnatal environment (such as parent, sibling and cultural behavior), and a complex series of repeatedly reinforced choices occurring at critical phases of development. (Homosexuality and the Politics of Truth (1996)).

The American Psychological Association says:

Various theories have proposed differing sources for sexual orientation.…However, many scientists share the view that sexual orientation is shaped for most people at an early age through complex interactions of biological, psychological and social factors. (From the APA’s booklet, “Answers to Your Questions About Sexual Orientation and Homosexuality”)

The national organization PFLAG offers a booklet prepared with the assistance of Dr. Clinton Anderson of the American Psychological Association. Entitled, “Why Ask Why? Addressing the Research on Homosexuality and Biology,” the pamphlet says:

To date, no researcher has claimed that genes can determine sexual orientation. At best, researchers believe that there may be a genetic component. No human behavior, let alone sexual behavior, has been connected to genetic markers to date.…Sexuality, like every other behavior, is undoubtedly influenced by both biological and societal factors.