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Gay sheep may shed light on sexuality
November 5, 2002 Highlights
Complete article at

Scientists studied 27 sheep -- 10 ewes, nine rams that mated only with other rams and eight rams that mated only with females.

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -- Gay sheep that mate only with other rams have different brain structures from "straight" sheep, a finding that may shed light on human sexuality, U.S. researchers said on Monday.

The differences are similar to those seen in some homosexual humans, but probably only go a small way to explaining the causes of different sexual preferences, the team at Oregon Health & Science University said.

Brains may hold the answer
First the scientists watched the sheep to be sure of their behavior -- something that cannot be done with humans. Then they took apart their brains.

"There had been reports in humans that a certain area of the hypothalamus, the preoptic area ... was usually larger in males than females," Roselli said. This area was also found to be larger in heterosexual humans than in homosexual men.

But the researchers had used the brains of men who had died of AIDS in their study, which meant the disease or drugs used to treat it could have had an effect on the brain.

"With an animal model you can be more selective and do more controlled studies," Roselli said. The sheep had similar differences in their brains, the researchers told a meeting in Orlando, Florida, of the Society for Neuroscience. "In a sense we confirmed what been found in humans," Roselli said. The brain cells in this area also made greater amounts of an enzyme called aromatase in the heterosexual rams. Aromatase is involved in the action of testosterone, the so-called male hormone.

Roselli believes that exposure to hormones while still in the mother's womb may affect the brain and cause differences in sexual preference, and more experiments will aim to show whether this is true.

"A Polysexual, Polygendered World," In the Animal Kindom that is....

Gayness in the Animal Kingdom is very common and natural just as in man/women kind.

Biological Exuberance : Animal Homosexuality and Natural Diversity by Bruce Bagemihl,
751 pp, with illus, $40, ISBN 0-312-19239-8, New York, NY, St Martin's Press, 1999.

Reviewed in JAMA of the American Medical Assn April 26, 2000 Highlights:
Reviewed by William Byne, MD, PhD

A good thing about science is that, given enough time, it will eventually correct itself. Biological Exuberance by Bruce Bagemihl illustrates that self-correcting process by dispelling two prevalent myths: that reproduction is the sole reason for sexual behavior and that homosexuality is hard to find in the animal kingdom.

The book contains two sections. In the first, "A Polysexual, Polygendered World," Bagemihl examines the hidden assumptions behind the way scientists interpret homosexual behavior in animals. Assumptions that tend to explain animal homosexuality out of existence are carefully analyzed as are the double standards often used in characterizing behaviors as sexual when they involve members of the other but not the same sex.

As stated succinctly by James Lovelock, "as diversity increases, so does stability and resilience." From this perspective, diverse sexualities, including homosexualities, should be expected throughout the animal kingdom. Biological Exuberance thus offers a hypothesis for the maintenance within populations of homosexual behaviors and other behaviors that are often presumed to be at odds with reproduction.

The second section, "A Wonderful Bestiary," is organized in a field-guide format and documents homosexuality as well as "nonreproductive and alternative heterosexualities" in 190 species. In total, this abundantly illustrated book compiles more than two centuries of observations of homosexual behavior, pair bonding, and coparenting in more than 400 species. These include observations of species in which homosexual but not heterosexual pair bonding has been documented and others in which same-sex courtship and sexuality are so pervasive that "females are said to `mimic' males in order to mate with them." The sheer scope and thorough documentation of this book make it an extremely valuable resource for anyone interested in the diversity of animal behavior and sexuality.

"What is remarkable about the entire debate about the naturalness of homosexuality," according to Bagemihl, "is the frequent absence of any reference to concrete facts or accurate, comprehensive information about animal homosexuality." Heretofore, for reasons that are examined in the first section of the book, much of this information has been virtually inaccessible to scholars. Biological Exuberance fills that void, and there can no longer be any excuse for such omissions.

Another review:

He firmly dispels the prevailing notion that homosexuality is uniquely human and only occurs in "unnatural" circumstances. An overview of biologists' discomfort with their own observations of animal homosexuality over 200 years would be truly hilarious if it didn't reflect a tendency of humans (and only humans) to respond with aggression and hostility to same-sex behavior in our own species. In fact, Bagemihl reports, scientists have sometimes been afraid to report their observations for fear of recrimination from a hidebound (and homophobic) academia. Scientists' use of anthropomorphizing vocabulary such as insulting, unfortunate, and inappropriate to describe same-sex matings shows a decided lack of objectivity on the part of naturalists. Astounding as it sounds, a number of scientists have actually argued that when a female Bonobo wraps her legs around another female ... while emitting screams of enjoyment, this is actually "greeting" behavior, or "appeasement" behavior ... almost anything, it seems, besides pleasurable sexual behavior. Throw this book into the middle of a crowd of wildlife biologists and watch them scatter. But Bagemihl doesn't let the scientific community's discomfort deny him the opportunity to show "the love that dare not bark its name" in all its feathery, furry, toothy diversity. The second half of this hefty tome is filled with an exhaustive array of species that exhibit homosexuality, complete with photos and detailed scientific illustrations of the behaviors described. Biological Exuberance is a well-researched, thoroughly scientific, and erudite look at a purposefully neglected frontier of zoology. --Therese Littleton

by Rex Wockner, 11/22/89
Eight percent of the male sheep at the United States Department of Agriculture's Sheep Experimental Station in Dubois, Idaho, are gay, officials confirmed in late November. "These animals are homosexual. They are responding physically to how they are," explained Anne Perkins, a doctoral student at the station who is completing her dissertation on "Reproductive Behavior In Rams." Station officials deferred to Perkins when asked for details on the matter.

"It's a very interesting model and we can learn a great deal about homosexuality from it," Perkins said. "They are not morally or culturally or ethically behaving like humans. These sheep are just doing what their bodies are telling them to do." Homosexuality among animals is "nothing real unique," according to Perkins, who said gay sex has been observed in 63 distinct mammalian species. "It's not considered aberrant in farm animals at all," she said.

The gay sheep, like some gay men, practice anal intercourse, according to Perkins, although some achieve orgasm simply by rubbing their penis around another male sheep's tail. There is, however, a serious social problem currently in gay sheep culture in that most gay sheep, Perkins said, only want to be on top. "The difficulty for homosexual sheep is that it's difficult to find another male who will stand still," Perkins explained. "If there is a ram that is hurt or caught in a fence, then they can mount him, but otherwise there are so few receivers that it becomes difficult for homosexuals to express themselves." Only two of the gay sheep in Perkins' study population don't mind being on the bottom. "They tolerate it," she said. "They may have been the wimps that got beat up so much that it was easier to tolerate it than anything else."

Lesbian sheep, meanwhile, are apparently wrestling with a major "invisibility" problem in the gay sheep world, a difficulty that has plagued human lesbians too. "It's very difficult to look at the possibility of lesbian sheep," Perkins explained, "because if you are a female sheep, what you do to solicit sex is stand still. You don't mount. So, it's very rare that a female sheep would mount another female sheep." "Maybe there is a female sheep out there really wanting another female," Perkins speculated, "but there's just no way for us to know it."

In addition to the rams who are practicing homosexuals, another eight percent of Perkins' ram population fail to express interest in any kind of sex. "They have a very low libido," she explained. Two percent of the gay sheep, meanwhile, begin dabbling in bisexuality following one year of exclusive homosexuality, Perkins said.

Researchers don't have many theories yet about why some sheep are gay, but Perkins says she is convinced that the animals are genuinely homosexual. "We're not embarrassed or ashamed of this," she added. "But we do hope it doesn't get twisted and distorted in a way that could do harm to the United States Department of Agriculture."

"Homosexuality/Bisexuality in the Animal Kingdom"
Judd Marmor, "Homosexual Behavior," 1980; chapter 1: Ambisexuality
in Animals, by R. H. Denniston, p. 34

Frequent homosexual activity has been described for all species of mammals of which careful observations have been made. This behavior is so common in domestic stock as to attract little notice from the husbandman, unless he chooses to use it for some specific purpose. Cows in heat so frequently mount other cows that the behavior is considered diagnostic of the estrous condition. Young bulls or steers are often used as "teasers" to arouse mature bulls in preparation for the collection of ejaculates for use in artificial insemination.

...Geist (1974) in his mountain sheep demonstrates that male-male mounting is a "normal" part behavior and happens frequently. When a dominant ram is courting and copulating with an estrous ewe, the subordinate males become excited and mount each other indiscriminately. Geist counted sixty-nine male homosexual mounts out of one hundred encounters in such a situation. Feral goats show the same behavior. Rams may ejaculate at any time during the year in homosexual interaction.

...[p. 35] Young (1961) describes estrous mounting in twelve species of animals ranging from the shrew to the chimpanzee. .P ...[p. 37] According to McBride and Hebb (1948) ... the mature male dolphin has perhaps as broad an array of self-stimulating methods as has the mature human male. The males show evidence of sexual excitation throughout the year. Much of this evidence is in the area of homosexual behavior. .P ...Both male and female homosexual behaviors are shown in the primates, but the former is more obvious and may go to apparent climax per anum. .P ...[p. 38] Female primate homosexual behavior seems to take the form of mutual grooming, including oral contacts with the external genitalia and occasional mounts. .P ...Cow elephants in one-sexed groups spend much time masturbating each other with their trunks (Morris, 1970). .P ...This survey of homosexual activity among lower animals should serve to explode several widely held misconceptions. First, it certainly is not a uniquely human practice. It occurs in every type of animal that has been carefully studied. Second, it has little relation to hormonal or structural abnormality. Even as lowly an organism as the fish show homosexuality related to social dominance-subordination conditioning rather than to endocrine aberrations. It is behavioral preconditioning that is directive, with hormones playing a permissive or generalized activating role.

Other articles

Agar, M.E. & Mitchell, G., 1975
Behavior of free-ranging rhesus adults: a review. In Bourne, G. (Ed.) The Rhesus Monkey (Vol. I, Chapter 8). New York: Academic Press, pp. 323-342

Carpenter, C. R., 1942
Sexual behaviour of free-ranging rhesus monkeys (Macaca mulatta). II: Periodicity of estrus, homosexual, autoerotic and nonconformist behavior J COMPARATIVE PSYCH. 33: 143-162

Dagg, A. I., 1984
Homosexual behaviour and female-male mounting in mammals - a first survey. MAMMAL. REV. 14(4): 155-185

Edwards, A-M. A. R. & Todd, J. D., 1991
Homosexual behaviour in wild white-handed gibbons (Hylobates lar) PRIMATES 32(2): 231-236

Erwin, J. & Maple, T., 1976
Ambisexual behavior with male-male anal penetration in male rhesus monkeys. ARCH. SEXUAL BEHAV. 5(1): 9-14

Fairbanks, L. & McGuire, M., 1977
Homosexual behavior and female aggression in rhesus macaques. Paper presented at the Western Psychological Association meeting, Seattle, Washington, April.

Fox, G. S., 1977
Social dynamics in siamang. Doctoral dissertation, University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee.

Goy, R. W. & Goldfoot, D. A. 1975
Neuroendocrinology: animal models and problems of human sexuality ARCH. SEXUAL BEHAV. 4(4): 405-420.

Kling, A. & Dunne, K., 1976
Social-environmental factors affecting behavior and plasma testosterone in normal and amygdala lesioned M. speciosa PRIMATES 17(1): 23-42

Kuroda, S., 1980
Social behaviour of the pygmy chimpanzee PRIMATES 21: 181-197

van Lawick-Goodall, J., 1968
The behaviour of free-living chimpanzees in the Gombe Stream reserve ANIM. BEHAV. MONOGR. 1(3): 161-311

Yamagiwa, J., 1987
Intra- and inter-group interactions of an all-male group of Virunga Mountain gorillas (Gorilla gorilla berengei) PRIMATES 28: 1-30

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