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Is sexual attraction all in the brain? James Olson, author of "The Whole-Brain Path to Peace," thinks so. In his book he establishes the basis with which the brain's hemispheric dominance affects the health and cultural values of society. Furthering his studies, Olson has discovered what he considers to be the missing link in understanding the roots of sexual orientation.
According to Olson's research, there is a direct correlation between hemispheric dominance and whether one is gay or straight. Of course, there are other influences on sexual attraction and behavior, ranging from genetic and hormonal factors to cultural influences and opportunities. Nevertheless, the brain is the key player.
I interviewed Olson recently to learn more about his research:
"Our two brain hemispheres are radically different in their vision and approach to problem solving," he said. "Both hemispheres contribute to our understanding of life, but one dominates. Most men are left-brain-dominant; most women are right-brain-dominant.
"But there are major exceptions – most notably lesbians and gays. My research suggest that in those groups, brain dominance is the reverse of what it is among heterosexuals of their same sex. Gay men, like straight women, exhibit right-brain dominance; lesbians, like straight men, demonstrate left-brain dominance. Obviously there are degrees of brain dominance, just as there is a full spectrum of sexuality."
"So you're saying that sexuality is based in the brain, not in the genitals?" I asked.
"Yes," Olson said. "When a reversal in brain dominance occurs, we experience a reversal in perspective, and with it a reversal in sexual orientation – the sex of the body is secondary."
Olson went on to explain that his pioneering theory that homosexuality occurs as a result of a reversal in brain dominance, complements existing physical-based theories, including genes, hormones, environment.
"In numerous recent studies," Olson said, "neuroscientists have found that gay men and heterosexual women tend to exhibit similar responses to stimuli – as do lesbians and heterosexual men. Studies have also found that the key structures governing emotions in the brains of lesbians and gays resemble those of straight people of the opposite sex – and even sexual orientation could be predicted with 95% accuracy based on the size of the corpus callosum (the largest connecting structure between the two brain hemispheres) and test scores on language, visual, spatial and finger dexterity."
Olson believes these studies are only a part of the story. His theory that our mental perspective (which is determined by hemispheric dominance) determines our sexual orientation helps us to better understand why sexuality is brain-based.
"If sexual attraction is a function of brain dominance," as Olson postulates, "it shows that the predisposition to homosexuality or heterosexuality is already present in one's infancy, perhaps even at or before birth, because brain structures are already in place by then. In that case, homosexuality is not a lifestyle choice.
"How we behave, and even a large part of our personal and social identity, is a function of what we see – in other words, a response to our own unique perspective" he explained. "Our brain dominance can present us with one of two very different perspectives. The dualistic, specialized left brain excludes information outside of its narrow focus. The right brain takes in the large picture and therefore is holistic and inclusive – even to the point of encompassing the left brain's perspective. Interestingly, this factor is reflected in the brain's connecting structures (such as the corpus callosum). Gay men and heterosexual women not only have larger connecting structures, but also show enhanced communication between the hemispheres."
Olson cautions that brain dominance is not always easy to identify. Proficiency in left- or right- brained activities is not the same as dominance. For example, vocational and cultural pressures may lead to a perceived identification that differs from one's natural dominance.
Although right-brained males, who tend to be gay men, and right-brained females generally have an inclusive (and therefore relatively balanced) perspective, left-brained individuals can overcome this disadvantage by consciously seeking their right-brain perspective and its big- picture view, which is the subject of his book, "The Whole-Brain Path to Peace."
For more on Olson and his work, visit www.thewholebrainpath.com.
BJ Gallagher is a sociologist and author of numerous women's books, including "Everything I Need to Know I Learned from Other Women" (Conari Press) For more on BJ Gallagher and her work, visit www.womenneed2know.com.