Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Another Assumptions Driving Conclusions Study

Compared with sexual nonminority adolescents, sexual minority adolescents were on average 2.9 times more likely (odds ratio [OR]=3.94; 95% CI=3.45, 4.57) to report childhood sexual abuse. The mean of the absolute prevalence was 40.4% for bisexual females, 32.1%, for lesbian females, and 16.9% for heterosexual females. The mean of the absolute prevalence was 24.5% for bisexual males, 21.2% for gay males, and 4.64% for heterosexual males.
And yet the study makes the assumption that the problems of adult homosexuals in the areas of mental health and substance abuse are because of the history of abuse -- not that the childhood sexual abuse might have something to do with the adult sexual orientation:
The higher rates of abuse experienced by sexual minority youths may be one of the driving mechanisms underlying higher rates of mental health problems, substance use, risky sexual behavior, and HIV reported by sexual minority adults. 
Willful blindness.

And another, where I can only see the abstract:
There is a significantly higher rate of childhood sexual abuse among individuals who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, or queer. We describe how being a survivor of childhood sexual abuse can later affect adult sexual identity formation by examining it through the intersection of gender, race, and sexual orientation. Adult lesbian, gay, bisexual, and queer abuse survivors may experience unique clinical challenges while healing from this type of traumatic experience and developing a healthy lesbian, gay, bisexual, or queer identity. We recommend a multicultural clinical approach for family therapists in order to best treat this vulnerable population.
This paper, at least, recognized (quietly) that there might be a connection:
Several recent large-scale studies have indicated that gays, lesbians, and bisexuals (i.e., nonheterosexuals) are at elevated risk for many psychiatric symptoms and disorders (). For example, a recent meta-analysis revealed that, compared to heterosexuals, nonheterosexuals are at approximately twice the risk of major depressive disorder (depression) and anxiety disorders, deliberate self harm and attempted suicide (). ... 

Childhood sexual abuse took place at an average age of 8.7 years, well before the average age that sexual feelings developed (13.5 years; as assessed by an item in Sample 2 interviews only1). Around half of the participants that were sexually abused by either a family or non-family member participated in a follow-up interview, revealing that perpetrators were male in the cases of 94% and 98% of male and female victims, respectively....

Table 1
Descriptive statistics. Prevalences and means of the variables used in this study, for heterosexuals, nonheterosexuals and the total sample.
HeterosexualsNonheterosexualsTotal sample (N=up to 9,884)
Lifetime major depression24%36%44%60%24%37%
Childhood family dysfunction24%30%41%42%25%30%
Sexual abuse before the age of 144.2%11%12%24%4.5%11%
Childhood parental physical abuse40%27%40%38%40%27%
Number of older brothers* (Mean ± SD)0.72 (±1.1)0.62 (±.1.0)0.76 (±1.0)0.47 (0.8)0.72 (±1.1)0.62 (±1.0)
Age of father when born (Mean ± SD)31 (±6.2)31 (±6.1)31 (±6.6)30 (±6.0)31 (±6.2)31 (±6.1)
Age of mother when born (Mean ± SD)28 (±5.4)28 (5.3)28 (±5.8)27 (5.5)28 (±5.4)28 (±5.3)
Number of close friends (Mean ± SD)4.8 (±3.7)4.3 (±2.3)4.8 (±3.2)3.8 (±1.6)4.8 (±3.6)4.3 (±2.3)
*Mean is deflated due to non-random missingness, see Methods.
SD=standard deviation 
Look carefully: the nonheterosexual males were  83% more likely to be depressed, and almost 3x as likely to be sexually abused before the age of 14 as the heterosexual males.  The female nonheterosexuals were 66% more likely to be depressed than the female heterosexuals, and more than twice as likely to have been sexually abused before age 14.

The study looks carefully at every possible connection, and then essentially throws away this connection:
It is not at all clear how adverse childhood experiences might affect adult sexual orientation, and indeed the prevailing scientific view is that sexual orientation is fixed before birth (). It is beyond the scope of this paper to speculate about possible explanations, but elsewhere the first author proposes a mechanism that could potentially explain both the link between childhood sexual abuse and adult nonheterosexuality and depression, as well as the genetic correlation between sexual orientation and depression ().
Reality is calling.  Pick up the phone.


  1. Childhood sexual abuse can't be the *only*, or even *primary* cause of homosexuality, as even among bisexual women, more than half have *not* experienced childhood sexual abuse, and among gay men, three in four have not been victims of childhood sexual abuse. Looking at the numbers, it appears that less than half, possibly significantly less, of victims of childhood sex abuse end up gay or bisexual, which means the causation is complicated, perhaps too much so to have useful explanatory power.

    Of course, the biological-origins theories (both the discredited "it's genetic" and the mainstream one whish says it's due to hormonal imbalances during gestation) have the problem of explaining why kids who end up gay are so much more likely to have been abused.

  2. While there may be problems of repressed memories of abuse, I would agree that childhood sexual abuse can't be the only explanation. There might well be several different causes for it -- but the high correlation does suggest that it is at least a contributing factor if not the only factor for a significant fraction of those with adult homosexuality. And it does suggest that oppression may not be the clearest explanation for high rates of substance abuse, suicide, and depression among homosexuals.