SEXES

The hands have it

A study provides a clue to the mystery of sexuality

NORA UNDERWOOD August 6 1990
SEXES

The hands have it

A study provides a clue to the mystery of sexuality

NORA UNDERWOOD August 6 1990

The hands have it

SEXES

A study provides a clue to the mystery of sexuality

Throughout history, there has been wide-ranging speculation about the ways in which left-handed people differ from right-handlers. During the Middle Ages, left-handed people were sometimes accused of being witches and burned at the stake. As late as the 19th century, a prominent Italian psychiatrist, Cesare Lombroso, claimed that left-handedness was a sign of mental degeneracy. In more recent times, scientists have said that lefthandedness was the result of a dominant right side of the brain. Now, three Canadian researchers have reported that left-handedness could be linked to homosexuality.

In a study published in the February issue of the British journal Psychoneuroendocrinology, scientists from McMaster University in Hamilton said that they had observed a high incidence of left-handedness in 38 homosexual men and 32 homosexual women. Of the general population, 65 per cent of people are totally right-handed. But, in the study, only 31 per cent of the women and 55 per cent of the men studied were totally right-handed. Declared Dr. Sandra Witelson, a behavioral neurologist at McMaster and one of the study’s authors: “We’re quite confident of our findings.” Because left-handedness is associated with a different brain organization, the researchers suggested that homosexuals have a different brain organization than heterosexuals. They also speculated that the higher incidence of lefthandedness among homosexuals could be explained by atypical levels of sex hormones during early fetal development. Other researchers, Witelson said, have found that in clinical groups of women who had above-normal levels of masculinizing hormones, there was a higher incidence of left-handedness and homosexuality.

Witelson noted that the factors determining sexual orientation have, so far, eluded scientists. While some experts contend that a child’s environment, family and peer-group experiences play a role in determining sexual orientation, other scientists say that it is biologically determined. “Our study does not mean that environment is irrelevant,” said Witelson. “What this means is that biology is not irrelevant.” Witelson added that the study may provide scientists with another piece of evidence in their attempts to solve the mysteries of human sexuality.

NORA UNDERWOOD