Sunday, March 18, 2012

Does Homosexual Behavior in Animals Mean it's Natural for Humans?

by Alan Shlemon

The first “museum dedicated to gay animals” opened in 2006 at the University of Oslo (Norway). It was called Against Nature? An Exhibition on Animal Homosexuality and claimed to prove that animals develop “long-lasting [gay] partnerships.” The creators hope to “de-mystify homosexuality among people” and debunk the belief that gay sex is a “crime against nature.”[1]

Lesbian star, Rosie O’Donnell, makes a similar claim that “In every animal kingdom and every species, 10 percent of the population is homosexual,” and that’s “a fact of nature.”[2] (You can see my response to the claim that 10% of the human population is gay here)

The argument is that since animals engage in homosexual behavior that is instinctual, it must be natural for them and, consequently, natural and moral for humans since they are animals too.

There’s something wrong with this line of reasoning. In fact, a simple question composed of a two-letter word gets right to the heart of the problem: So? Even if animals exhibit homosexual behavior, so? What does that prove? It proves nothing. Do advocates of this view really want to say: Because animals engage in X behavior, therefore X is natural/moral for humans? This claim is absurd. Here’s why.

There’s a Latin term in logic called reductio ad absurdum that means “reduction to the absurd.” At Stand to Reason we call it “Taking the Roof Off.” It’s a simple way to disprove a claim by showing that it leads to an absurd conclusion. In fact, I’m confident you already know this tactic.

Imagine a father asks his daughter, “Why did you start smoking?” She answers, “Because all my friends were doing it.” The father’s response would be obvious: “If all your friends jumped off a cliff, would you do that too?” Notice the father’s reasoning. He accepts his daughter’s rational, for the sake of argument, and then asks himself a question: If I apply my daughter’s rationale to jumping off a cliff, that would mean she’d jump of a cliff too. But that’s absurd! That means her rationale is also absurd. And then he asks a question that exposes the absurdity of her thinking. That’s reductio ad absurdum.

With the claim about animal homosexuality, this tactic works equally well. The rationale for the argument is that if animals engage in a behavior, it must be natural and moral for humans do it too. Let’s apply that logic to some other animal behavior: cannibalism. Animals eating their own kind has been observed in over a thousand animal species. Following the logic of the view would mean that cannibalism is natural and moral for humans. But that’s absurd! And so is the rationale that led to that absurd conclusion.

Indeed, animals engage in all sorts of selfish, violent, and primitive behaviors that humans would almost universally categorize as immoral. That’s why taking moral cues from the animal kingdom is absurd. Yes, humans are an animal of sorts, but we’re more than that. We are rational beings with a capacity for free will and a rich intellectual life. To reduce our behavior and relationships to instincts, stimuli, and urges ignores a major component of human nature. I like how Richard Umbers puts it:

Homo sapiens is an animal, but not merely an animal. We have a lot in common with parasitic worms, but there are some differences, too. Our bodily nature is subject to intellectual direction. A human being unites the intellectual and the corporeal, what is rational and what is animal. We get a distorted picture of man when we focus on one aspect to the exclusion of the other. They can never be separated.”[3]

When humans have conflicting instinctive reactions, our intellect can reason between them and determine the most expedient or moral course of action. Animals, however, behave according to their strongest instinct given what they see, smell, hear, taste, and perceive. These natural impulses aid in their protection, survival, and reproduction.

But internal or external stimuli can cause their instincts to clash or get confused, leading to unusual behavior. Sometimes a cat will kill his kittens. Unlike females whose strong maternal instinct protects her babies, the predatory instinct of a tom cat can confuse his offspring for prey. Are his hunting impulses natural? Yes. Can they be misdirected? Sure. Should we declare filicide or cannibalism as natural or moral for humans? No.

The same is true for allegedly homosexual acts among animals. Their sexual drive and instinct to mate is extremely strong and can be confused. When animals are in heat, they release pheromones that trigger an instinctual behavior by males. According to an expert in the field, this inborn impulse is so strong, that it can “instigate a frenzy of mounting behaviors. Even other females who aren't in heat will mount those who are. Males will mount males who have just been with females [in heat] if they still bear their scent…And males who catch wind of the estrus odor may mount the first thing (or unlucky person) they come in contact with.”[4] I’ve even seen a dog mount a couch. One might have good taste in sofas, but I doubt it’s so good that your dog is sexually attracted to it. The poor pooch is confused.

Plus, sexual activity among animals is known to be used for purposes other than reproduction. Although humans can express themselves by speaking, writing, gesturing, and a multitude of other ways, animals are limited. Consequently, they are known to use sexual behavior to express a range of sentiments: social dominance, aggression, avoiding conflict, and many other emotions. That’s why many researchers think it’s naive to impose a human understanding of homosexuality onto animal behavior.

“Properly speaking, homosexuality does not exist among animals.... For reasons of survival, the reproductive instinct among animals is always directed towards an individual of the opposite sex. Therefore, an animal can never be homosexual as such. Nevertheless, the interaction of other instincts (particularly dominance) can result in behavior that appears to be homosexual. Such behavior cannot be equated with an animal homosexuality. All it means is that animal sexual behavior encompasses aspects beyond that of reproduction.”[5]

So we can’t infer homosexuality when a male chimpanzee mounts another male any more than we can infer sofaphilia when a dog mounts your couch. Yes, I made up the word “sofaphilia.”

Animals behave according to their instincts. That’s appropriate. When humans do the same, we don’t applaud them. Instead, we often put them in jail. That’s because humans have the capacity, and therefore the responsibility, to use principled self-restraint when their instinctual response is to act like an animal.

This post by Alan Shlemon is part of a Thursday series responding to common challenges pertaining to homosexuality. You can read Alan's previous posts on this subject here.




[4] Jacque Lynn Schultz, C.P.D.T. at A short bio on Jacque Lynn Schultz can be found here:

[5] Antonio Pardo, "Aspectos médicos de la homosexualidad," Nuestro Tiempo, Jul.-Aug. 1995, pp. 82-89; as quoted in Luiz Sérgio Solimeo, “The Animal Homosexuality Myth,” at

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