Follow Up on the Family Background / Lesbianism Study

As I mentioned below, I wanted to follow up the FRC research to see whether the research was statistically valid. Unfortunately the publicly available dataset does not include within it the same-sex activity data, so I decided to email Professor Sullins to get a copy of his calculations.

The below are excerpts from his email to me, together with my comment and some tables to help make sense of the information.

Our interest in the FRC report was a comparison of intact family structure with any alternative, so we tested for statistical significance as follows:

First, we tested by chi-square whether intact family was significantly different from all other family of origin structures combined.  This is true for both independent variables involving family structure.  I sadly don’t have those results to report to you, but those numbers are redundant to what follows anyway.

OK, for the non-mathematical amongst us, let me decipher that for you. The table below shows you the percentage of each group where the respondent reported same-sex behaviour in the past 12 months.

Group Total Reporting SSA 12m %
0 – Intact Married 3598 145


1 – Married with Step Parent 604 36 6.0%
2 – Intact Cohabiting 325 14 4.3%
3 – Cohabiting with Step Parent 261 25 9.6%
4 – Single Divorced 622 41 6.6%
5 – Always Single 318 21 6.6%
5728 282 4.9%

What this table tells you is the number of women who fell into each of the categories and the number in each category who reported same-sex activity in the past year. We can see that the overall figure is 4.9% (which is interesting in itself), but what has excited some conservative commentators is the huge disparity between Groups 0 and 2 and the others.

However, it’s not good enough just to point to these figures. The percentages might be so far out simply because the groups being looked at are of such differing sizes. This is where the “t-test” comes in. Prof Sullins again.

We tested individual category comparisons by t-test.  Most, but not all categories were significantly different than intact family.  For predicting or affecting same-sex activity, we found that growing up in an intact family was significantly different at .05 or better for all alternative categories except intact cohabiting partners.

The t-test is a simple measure to indicate how certain we are that the difference we see in those percentage figures are down to it actually being true that the groups are so different and not just some sampling error. In the table below we have a t-test result for each possible paired combination of different family origin groups and the figure to show whether they are statistically valid. The numbers on the headings correspond to the groups above.

1 2 3 4 5
0 .03 ns <.001 .004 .03
1 ns ns ns ns
2 .011 ns ns
3 ns ns
4 ns

What does this mean? Where you see “ns” that means “not significant”. The t-test came back with a value greater than 0.05 and so we are less than 95% certain that the different rates of same-sex activity are genuine. 95% might seem like a high threshold, but that’s perfectly normal.

There is an obvious finding from this data. Apart from cohabiting couples that are still intact, we are absolutely certain that when comparing women who have been raised in stable marriages to all other forms of family environment, they are less likely to have been engaged in same-sex practice. The fact the difference between groups 0 and 2 is not significant might suggest that it’s not marriage itself which is the key determiner, but rather it is whether your biological parents were together at birth and stayed together.

Does this mean that coming from a “non-traditional” family background is a cause of same-sex behaviour as an adult?

I should note that while our findings are statistically valid, they are not contextualized, can be legitimately interpreted in diverse ways, and should not by themselves be considered conclusive of anything without further study and multivariate modeling.

Basically, the answer is no! What the data lets you do is say that a woman who grew up in a “non-traditional” family structure is more likely to engage in same-sex behaviour then someone who grew up where their parents remained married. What it doesn’t tell you is that the family structure itself is a causal factor of homosexual development. For that you would need more research, taking all the data and modelling to the outcome of same-sex behaviour.

My thanks to Professor Sullins for sharing this information with myself and you. Feel free to comment below.

33 Comments on “Follow Up on the Family Background / Lesbianism Study

  1. Peter

    Yes, this is kinda of the figures I would have imagined anyway; some figures on the % of women who end up in abusive marriages, divorce or are single parents would add balance to the pathology attempted here. There is something distasteful about the amount of effort Christian organisations want to put into a pathology of homosexuality. It is as if they are searching for the 'Holy Grail' of cause and effect. The real 'discourse' attempted is that homosexuality is not just a normal alternative sexuality but the product of family breakdown, or a poor relationship with a same-sex parent etc. What seems to be evident is a desire to show homosexuality as a product of social 'sickness' – the pus from the breakdown of what God intended. Given that, theological, it is possible to argue ALL relationships are (because they are tainted by sin) a breakdown of what God intended, I can't really see why such effort is applied, unless it is (as is often the case where homosexuality is involved) the creation of a hierarchy or gradation of sin. Certainly, if we follow Genesis and Eden, a man and a woman (made from Adam's rib and Adam made out of dust) is what is suppose to be the 'norm'; but this 'norm’ was before the Fall; here on the outside things are not quite the same. Hence sometimes, you just to have to accept some and queer and some are here, and let us get on with it. God knows I tried 25 years of chaste Christianity – it almost cost me my life. So I think we should move on from these unsavoury attempts at pathology.



    • I'm not quite sure what kind of response you want to this comment Steven. Neither Professor Sullins or myself have suggested that the data evidences a pathological source for homosexual activity, so what you're ranting against is pretty much a straw man. What I'd love to see you address is a reasonable explanation for the statistically significant different outcomes for "non-traditional" family origins compared to permanent married and cohabiting parental backgrounds.

      • Well, the researcher tells you himself that,
        " What it doesn’t tell you is that the family structure itself is a causal factor of homosexual development"
        It is quite likely, for example, that more conventional family structures ( married or long term cohabiting) are more likely to conform to religious or socially conservative ideas about homosexuality and have stressed the importance of marriage/ children to their daughters and so a greater proportion of lesbian women from those backgrounds have repressed their sexuality.

        • You've made two suppositions there which you cannot prove without further analysis / research (likely to conform / repress sexuality). Can I suggest that before you rest your argument on those two ideas you might want to support them with researched evidence.

          • I'm very dubious to be honest, Peter, about any research carried out by these particular organisations. I honestly think there are better things to spend time and money on than this type of study. I know plenty of women in lesbian relationships who have two parents (still married!) and I know straight women whose fathers left them, but I can't see why it matters anyhow! As long as those relationships, gay or straight, are happy and productive, I don't think it matters if people are in them because of their nature, nuture or a combination of both.

            • "These particular organisations" didn't do the research, they simply analysed the data produced by a massive impartial cohort study in the US which is used by thousands of social scientists for data analysis. Anybody can download the data and do the same thing.

              Can we please stop letting our prejudices and presuppositions get in the way of grappling with the data.

              • Well, why do we need to grapple with the data when it doesn't matter anyway? (well it doesn't to me!) I'm quite happy to let those who obsess about why people are gay grapple with the data as much as they please. If it matters to you, you can grapple with it!

                • I think you are bothered about it otherwise you wouldn't have joined in the commenting on the subject! For some people it's really important to prove this one way or the other. As for me, I'm just fascinated in general by the question of how our sexuality develops.

                  Aren't you just curious a teensy-weensy bit as to why there is such a strong difference between different family backgrounds and same-sex behaviour?

                  • I'm not terribly curious. Like many "studies" (on all sorts of subjects) there will be other research or studies that suggest a different picture or give different results. Also, what light does it shed on several gay women I know who do come from stable family backgrounds? I am more concerned that such research can be extended to say – "Oh well, your relationships with your father must have been poor in some way" or "if you can only rebuild this relationship, you can embrace heterosexuality."

                    • I once heard a testimony (from Peterson Toscano) about how his parents attended a conference when he was trying to "go straight". His mother was told her son's sexuality was caused by her close relationship to him , which "damaged his masculinity". Toscano speaks of how "the light went out of his mother's life after that", she became very low and blamed herself. He feels she died with the belief that she was "to blame." He also says he had the most wonderful mother and father in the world.
                      I am much, much more interested in knowing that this kind of research, the integrity of which many readers have questioned, is not going to be used to abuse any more LGBT people and their families in this way.

    • “So I think we should move on from these unsavoury attempts at pathology.”

      Amen, Steve. Unfortunately that’s unlikely to happen for some time. Although all mainstream health authorities now agree that homosexuality is not an illness, disease, defect or disorder, those on the fringe still start from the dogmatic assumption that it’s in some way undesirable – “NOT the way it’s supposed to be” – and so they are for ever looking for some negative factor that supposedly caused it. As one theory passes out of fashion, another takes its place.

      The time will come – although I doubt that I’ll be around to see it – when the view that homosexuality is a negative trait and that any homosexual activity is sinful will be held only by a minority of rather odd people, rather in the same category as the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ belief that blood transfusions are sinful.

  2. Also, what happened to the other 1,915 women (or 2,177) in the study. There was a database of 7,643 women who participated. Does FRC account for the discrepancy?

    Step 1 in any study is making sure the math is correct. This one is troubling.

    • I'm not sure and perhaps that's a question to ask Prof Sullins. It's very possible that some women refused to answer some of the questions that provide this data and therefore there is a smaller group to begin with.

  3. Peter,

    You are mistaken about what the FRC has said about this study. To quote their press release:

    ""This research further undermines the claim that homosexuality is largely genetic or biological in origin," stated Patrick F. Fagan, Ph.D., senior fellow and director of the Marriage and Religion Research Institute (MARRI) at FRC, and co-author of the study. "It is clear that social factors have a significant impact on whether a woman chooses to engage in homosexual relationships.""


    ""With a continued breakdown in the family it is reasonable to expect a rise in homosexual behavior among women. Difficulties in the development of sexual identification with the same sex parent will increase where there is a breakdown of attachment between both parents," concluded Fagan."

    Who is lying, Professor Sullins or Mr. Fagan?

    • I have not claimed in this post that the FRC have said anything. The quotes you reference are from Dr Fagan. Prof Sullins has given an interpretation of the data which I agree with. I suggest you take it up with them.

      Neither of them are "lying". If would be useful if we could move forward together to explore *why* women with certain family backgrounds seem far more likely to engage in same-sex behaviour rather than throwing pejoratives around.

  4. Peter

    It is unfortunate that when it comes to the written word, it is difficult to put mood into what is written. I can assure I was not writing a 'rant'; just sharing my thoughts, as you share yours… I think it was Ned Flander's in the Simpsons who said “I'm a Christian; I have to think the worst…”

    I should imagine the reason for the fact women are less constrained in their sexuality is because they either are less conditioned by the marriage thing or have seen just how awful heterosexual marriage can be, or have seen just how foul men can be.

    As you note: ‘What [the research] doesn’t tell you is that the family structure itself is a causal factor of homosexual development.’

    Perhaps that’s why you led your previous post on the research:

    “Lesbianism and Family Breakdown”

    • What's wrong with that blog post title? The research includes figures on same-sex activity and family structure (including where a family has broken down). Nothing in either post has me suggesting that one leads directly to the other – in fact I am explicit in making the opposite point.

      I think you need to take the chip off your shoulder.

  5. Peter, sorry but FRC's two co-authors are saying very different things.

    Dr. Sullins is telling you (off quietly on this blogsite) that this information "should not be considered conclusive of anything" while his co-author Dr. Fagan issued a press release saying that "It is clear []from "this research"] that social factors have a significant impact on whether a woman chooses to engage in homosexual relationships."

    Those are directly contradictory statements from the two co-authors based on the same observations. One statement for the public, one for private discussion.

    Don't they have any integrity whatsoever? Isn't it a little bit embarrassing to have to defend them and say that "neither of them are lying"? Gosh, I'd hate to have to defend such obvious dishonesty.

    But, moving on.

    Before we make any assumptions about correlation, we need to resolve discrepancies:

    1. What happened to the other women? Are we to believe that a full 25% of participants came to this question and froze?

    Supposing that it's a matter of not answering, with a 25% non-answer rate I'm not sure that we can say anything about the sexual behavior of the sample.

    I'm sure you will agree that women with more conservative values would be less willing to answer (if, indeed, not answering explains the variance) so should we assume that this 25% of non-answers is really category 1 and category 3 women who HAVE had a same-sex relationship in the past year?

    Well, no, obviously not.

    But when the unaccounted for variances are larger than ANY of the response sizes, surely we can't assert that there is any trend observed.

    And since Dr. Sullins is in correspondence with you, perhaps you are the better person to get that answer.

    2. The total 4.9% number is inconsistent with the CDC's findings of 4.4%. That is not a huge variance and may be due to sample size.

    Or, it may be due to FRC playing games.

    I don't trust the FRC, and not just because we have ideological disagreement. I don't trust them because they have a long history of spin, deceit, and outright lies. They are rapidly filling the void left by the complete discrediting of Paul Cameron.

    For example, they just release a "study" claiming that gay sexual assault is three times higher than heterosexual assault and that repealing the ban on gay servicemembers would result in an increase in gay rape. Yes, they actually made that claim.

    To do so, they stated that 8.2% of sexual assault was "homosexual in nature".

    But in order to distort results, they included things like the following as "homosexual in nature":

    “Victim was asleep at his computer station when Subject videotaped himself (Subject) touching Victim’s head with his (Subject’s) genitals.”

    I don't know how much time you've spent around young heterosexual men, but this is exactly par for the course. To FRC this qualifies as "homosexual" but to the rest of the world it's a prank.

    And the thing is, the military reviewed every case. And "homosexual sexual sexual assault" would be enough under Don't Ask, Don't Tell to get a service-member discharged. But that only happened in 21% of FRC's examples.

    In other words, in nearly 80% of what FRC called "gay rape", the military found it not to be gay at all. This study was not legitimate or honest.

    So when I see 2,000 women missing from the same-sex behavior study, I don't assume that FRC has the best intentions. I don't assume they are truthful.

    Based on long experience, I assume that they Cameronized the numbers. History is on my side on this one.

      • Oh I see – Table A on page 4 of this.

        That's not the same dataset as the indepth analysis was done on Tim. It's a much bigger (number of people questioned) survey which didn't include all the indepth questions on family life, all sexual partners etc.

        Apples and pears.

  6. Steven said:

    "I should imagine the reason for the fact women are less constrained in their sexuality is because they either are less conditioned by the marriage thing or have seen just how awful heterosexual marriage can be, or have seen just how foul men can be."

    Really? This is how you define the occurrence of lesbianism in humanity, but bad experiences? Being attracted to women or "less constrained in" (which I take to mean more accepting/open about) your sexuality is not some decision made when you see men acting "foully" or your parents get divorced. It just IS. It's not something you run to because something bad turns you off of being with a man. You just don't want to be with another man.

    Most of this lesbian's life, I identified with guys *most.* And growing up, I was pretty much a little boy – a tomboy to the T. (though, let's be clear, I never felt like i was a biological male. i just related more to their cultural standings.)

    Peter said,
    "If would be useful if we could move forward together to explore *why* women with certain family backgrounds seem far more likely to engage in same-sex behaviour rather than throwing pejoratives around."

    We can't explore that question because the data presented is corrupt to begin with, for the reasons Timothy has been explaining. You assume that their data brings about that conclusion to begin with, when actually it brings about nothing conclusive at all.
    My recent post Emily K, Rennie, and Dez Excerpt

  7. I'm sorry, but I think you're letting your prejudices influence your normal clear headedness. There is no suggestion that anyone has jinked the figures – the tables draw data straight off the publicly available impartial survey. Yes, not all women answered all the questions, but if you look through the dataset you'll see that's the same for almost every single question. I'm not surprised that some women didn't want to answer questions on same-sex activity or family structures, or that there were holes in the data capture. I worked in the data industry for over half a decade and from what I've seen of this database it's pretty good.

  8. I tried to make a point on the previous thread in two different ways without it being picked up either time, so this is a third go. The most frequent source of false statistical analysis is epiphenomena – two things appear to be linked but in fact are both the product of a third thing. No father + more gay sex might = having no father makes it more likely one will be gay, but equally 'no father' and 'more extra marital sex of any kind ' are both things which might happen to occur more often in the some groups which are less stable. So, for example, I was interested in the rates of hetrosexual sex with someone other than a husband or wife for the same groups; this would help test whether or not the variations are in the attitude to divorce and sexual activity rather than anything to do with homosexuality at all.
    My recent post Follow Up on the Family Background / Lesbianism Study

    • Thanks Peter – yes this is exactly the kind of thing I'm trying to say. Take the classic case in this area of boys born later in a series of boys being more likely to be homosexual. That could be because of hormonal levels in the womb (the "nature" argument) or because a boy with lots of brothers has less of his parent's time and therefore suffers (the "nurture" argument). It could be a combination of those two factors.

      Or, it could be (which is the point you're making) that there's something independent about the kind of parents that produce homosexual children which also makes them have more children then average (more children, greater chance of later ones being homosexual child).

      Correlation does not equal causation.

  9. Thanks for looking thru' the statistics Peter, and for being honest and clear about what these data do and don't say. It's been there ages I'm sure, but I've only just found this post by Warren Throckmorton which also seems good to me:

    Thanks for the line, "What it doesn’t tell you is that the family structure itself is a causal factor of homosexual development" – Timothy Kincaid has a point in saying that that's not how this study was publicised, I'd say.

    in friendship, blair

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