Sunday, December 11, 2005

The Economics of Sexuality

The freakonomist has struck again. His latest article in the New York Times is on a topic we've hotly debated before: is human sexuality biologically determined?

In the article, Levitt and Dubner discuss a paper by Andy Francis. The paper might be more fulfilling for the hardcore among you.

The paper reacts to some interesting correlations. Apparently, while homosexual males are more likely to have a friend with AIDS, they are far less likely to have a relative with AIDS. For homosexual females, these correlations flip. If the data holds, what conclusions can be drawn?

Francis thinks this provides strong evidence that biology is not the sole determinant of sexual identity. If fear of AIDS is playing a role in determining sexual identity, other seemingly innocuous costs and benefits might be too.

From the abstract:

People who have a relative with AIDS, on average, have more knowledge, awareness, and fear of AIDS than those who do not. ...I find that AIDS causes people to shift from less safe sexual activities to safer ones. I find that AIDS [awareness] causes men to shift from homosexual to heterosexual behavior, desire, and identity, whereas AIDS [awareness] causes women to shift from heterosexual to homosexual desire. Neither genetic nor hormonal theories of sexual orientation can explain these findings. Therefore, biology is not the sole determinant of sexual behavior, desire, and identity.