Medicine: What Is a Homosexual?

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With homosexuality in Britain a matter of government concern and wide-open public discussion (TIME, Dec. 16). the once-taboo subject got a whirl in last week's British Medical Journal. First difficulty, reported a three-man research team which had worked at Bristol Mental Hospitals, is to find out just what a homosexual is. So the Bristol psychiatrists went to nearby prisons, got 64 volunteer subjects, aged 20 to 61, doing time for unnatural acts. The researchers exploded a lot of widespread fallacies: Even among prison cases, homosexuality is no all-or-nothing quality. Only nine of the 64 were 100% homosexual; all the rest were "mixed" cases with varying degrees of heterosexuality. While half definitely preferred the company of other males, 18 preferred that of women (13 were indifferent). Several would have been willing to marry for the sake of having children, but could not bear the thought of heterosexual intercourse. With only four exceptions, the subjects were no different physically from men with normal drives; they were not unusually hippy, did not have overdeveloped breasts, their pubic hair grew in the normal male pattern.

CJ There was no consistent predisposing factor (such as head injury) as some investigators have alleged. Alcohol was not important in their own lives, but had been in many cases for their fathers, often to the point of breaking up the home. The difference between the homosexuals' ratio of male-female hormone output and that of normal men used for comparison was negligible.

One disturbing finding: nine of the 64 had been scoutmasters and had had relations with boys in their troops. "This suggests," say the three psychiatrists guardedly, "either that scouting strongly activates latent homosexuality or that homosexuals . . . join the scouting movement because of the . . . opportunities."