Can we choose our sexual orientation? Given the polarized nature of the discussion among national leaders, it would be logical to think that the public's opinions must be equally divided. On the one hand, religious conservatives argue that being homosexual is a choice. On the other, the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force and at least a few experts counter that sexual orientation is immutable, something that we are born with. After running an article by psychologist Robert Epstein in the February/March issue--"Do Gays Have a Choice?"--that explored the related research, the editors at Scientific American Mind wanted to know how the public felt about these issues. We recently commissioned a nationwide poll to find out--and received some surprising results.
Although the editors worried that people might not be comfortable answering questions about sexuality, the online poll conducted by Zogby International drew more than 4,200 responses. Half the respondents believed that sexual orientation is not a choice but rather is "innate, genetic or predetermined by other factors such as environment." Another 34 percent believed that "sexual orientation is determined by both choice and other factors." In contrast, only 11 percent agreed that "sexual orientation is a conscious choice." Six percent were not sure. The margin of error for the sample was plus or minus 1.5 percentage points.