Can sheep be gay?


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Sexual orientation always seems like it's applicable only to humans--but according to an article in Times Magazine, rams can be gay too. According to the article, zoologists have known for years that homosexuality is not limited to just humans and estimate that about eight percent of rams are gay. 

However, while the article did not discern as to why some animals display signs of homosexuality and others do not, it stated that the animal activist group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) started a campaign to raise awareness about scientists in Oregon who were cutting open gay rams to try to learn how to turn them straight.

While this is utterly ridiculous, I did some research and found that scientists in Oregon were in fact studying the heterosexual and homosexual rams to study the "neurological basis of sexual attraction." 

sheep.jpg

I found the press release of the study performed by Oregon Health and Science University, which states that the scientists confirmed the male sheep's sexual preferences are derived from biological differences. The lead scientist in this study said this could also suggest differences in human sexuality--however, there is little to no evidence for this theory.

While he said they performed actual experiments on the sheep, he also said the study only examined 27 adult, 4-year-old sheep. According to the press release, in this study they included eight male sheep who displayed female preferences, nine sheep who displayed male preferences and ten female sheep. 

However, when I saw they only studied 27 sheep--only eight who were considered "homosexual"--I found the study to be unconvincing. With such few numbers, it's very possible that the differences discovered were due purely to chance. 

The study does not say whether or not this experiment was single-blind for the scientists, but if it was not, this also takes away the credit of the experiment.

Additionally, the biology of sheep is extremely different than that of humans, so the fact that the scientist hypothesized that it was possible humans' sexual preference is also determined biologically seems to be a very big stretch.

Perhaps if the scientists took this experiment to a bigger extent it would have more validity, especially if they performed it single-blind. Until then, I would rule this one out!

2 Comments

This article is very interesting to me. It is reasonable to think that since humans can be homosexual that other animals can be too, we just aren't observing it overtly like we can with humans now a days. After doing some research I found an article (given below) by the NY times saying that a species of birds they found are gay. The Laysan albatrosses are so closely alike from gender to gender that they are passing as straight couples but they are not. NY Times says, " It turned out that many of the female-female pairs, at Kaena Point and at a colony that Young’s colleague studied on Kauai, had been together for 4, 8 or even 19 years — as far back as the biologists’ data went, in some cases. The female-female pairs had been incubating eggs together, rearing chicks and just generally passing under everybody’s nose for what you might call “straight” couples." So to answer your question, homosexuality is possible in the animal kingdom.

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/04/04/magazine/04animals-t.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0

You said it right!To study sexual orientation out of only 27 sheeps is a joke and as your said,the part of chance is a huge factor that the conclusion could be false positive(type 1 error).You made a good point to say that this experiment could have been single-blind to be more valid,but what I am suggesting here is that why it could not have been double-blind?After all,rams themselves have no jurisdiction of their sexual orientation,or condescendingly,the concept of homosexuality.So whether they are "humanistically" partaking homosexual activities,it matters nothing to their behaviors.Thus,defining the optimal setting of this experiment as double-blind is the right way to put it.

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