Were there gay people in the paleolithic, or do you think homosexuality is a neolithic, "civilized" phenomenon?

by 1768 · February 19, 2013 at 05:15 PM

Were there gay people in the paleolithic, or do you think homosexuality is a neolithic, "civilized" phenomenon? I don't wish to offend anyone by this question. I'm asking because I would like to know people's thoughts because I'm trying to figure this out myself.

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21 Replies

1686 · February 13, 2013 at 10:05 PM

I would say that it is homophobia that is a Neolithic phenomenon.

478 · February 13, 2013 at 09:47 PM

Homosexuality is found in all sorts of animals. I don't think it has anything to do with civilization.

571 · February 14, 2013 at 01:29 AM

Homosexual and heterosexual love are poor substitutes for bacon.

10439 · February 14, 2013 at 12:31 AM

I think that categorizing oneself or others by sexual preferences is more Neolithic than not. Homosexual behaviors and activities, however, are probably as old as mankind itself.

14507 · February 14, 2013 at 02:15 AM

This probably won't be what you're looking for, but I think you need to define homosexuality before one can really answer the question.

Many guys seem to think that simply thinking another guy is attractive means you're gay. I beg to differ.

I think every guy whether he likes to admit it or not will happen upon a time when he finds another man (a) sexually attractive, but not every man will find another (b) sexually desirable. The latter (b) I think is a necessary aspect of being gay (or bi). But I actually think that if you are capable of gay or bi love (c) platonic love must also be present. I actually think that this is far more common in gay relationships than it is in hetero relationships, and I think this is brought on by a sense of camaraderie and a friendship that you build doing something physical (often athletics..which would explain Ancient Greece and Sparta).

I think (a) is universal. (b) is less common. and (c) even less so. A and B is you just like good looking people. A B and C is you're gay (or bi if you also have A B and C with the opposite sex).

EDIT: After just posting this, I have noticed Luckie's response. Which is essentially the conclusion that I am trying to draw, just with an (overly) verbose explanation.

40 · February 14, 2013 at 12:02 AM

I have to admit, when I first read the title of this thread, I expected a bunch of ignorant comments. But I was pleasantly surprised to see serious and interesting responses. Bravo Paleohackers!

4247 · February 13, 2013 at 11:52 PM

I think you have to separate between homoerotic desire (the sexual attraction to someone of your same sex) and homosexual cultural identity (things like gay men being associated with art, musicals, tight pants, etc.)

I've heard of animals in the wild showing homosexual behavior, so I'm perfectly willing to believe that homoerotic sexual attraction existed in Paleolithic humans as well. But I'd be willing to bet that homosexual cultural identity was very different if it existed at all...our current GLBTQ culture is very much a product of modern society and likely to be much different than anything found in Paleolithic communities.

And since culture has such a huge effect on the development of things like desire, sexual behavior, etc., who knows what the expression of those homoerotic sexual desires would have looked like back in the day? They might have played such a different cultural role in the society that they weren't really analogous to anything we currently understand as cultural "homosexuality" or "gayness."

726 · February 13, 2013 at 09:53 PM

The Spanish conquistadors burned a lot of Indigenous North Americans alive for homosexual acts. Sure, that was in the Neolithic, but I the Spaniards definitely did not consider them civilized.

4400 · February 14, 2013 at 03:52 AM

First of our, our closest relative the Bonobo has tons of homosexual behavior, way more than humans. Flush the "not found in nature" argument down the drain. Bonobos also reproduce no problem, and retain that homosexual behavior, so flush the "can't reproduce" argument down the drain too.

It seems that a certain percentage of kids seem to come out gay even in the most anti-gay cultures. Every parent seems to know a kid -- their own or a friend's -- who was clearly gay from age three or so. It's hard to imagine that some kids wouldn't just come out gay in a hunter-gatherer culture too.

Why evolution would select for this is a whole other question, but it's certainly not unreasonable. There are a ton of traits that make it harder to reproduce when they arrive in certain combinations but are advantageous to keep in the gene pool in other combinations. That's the explanation for the genetically-disadvantaged individuals we call nerds!

15380 · February 14, 2013 at 03:14 PM

Of course, homosexuality is very Paleo.

Imagine, five or more guys (and some of them are very tall, dark and handsome) go out for a number of days in search of... gazelle? Or whatever.

For days they run under the hot sun, covered with sweat, oozing with testosterone.

Finally, they catch some ... buffalo - or something else. The wives stayed in their cave for the day, about 2 hour walk from where they are. And the hunters need to satisfy their cravings for celebratory sex. They look at each other. Slim, naked bodies with six packs. Hey, why not?

Then they come home and if their wives are old and ugly... they don't mind younger and pretty looking hunting expedition team members.

This is my logic behind homosexual behavior during Paleo times. But if you read Melissa's blog, it seems like hunter gatherers are straighter than chimps.

Don't know. Happy Valentine's anyway!

8487 · February 14, 2013 at 11:00 AM

Homosexuality is as old as sex (which is pretty old).

What is possibly a newer epiphenomenon is defining oneself as gay, but the importance of onself as an individual (personal subjective) is a fairly new social evolution and most likely did not exist anywhere near the degree of superlative importance it has today.

3365 · February 14, 2013 at 02:21 PM

I suggest anyone interested in this subject check out Dr Gabor Matè. He is a champion of nurture over nature. He's primarily worked to dispell the myth of biological determinism concerning ADHD and addiction, but I think there are strong implications for sexuality, as well.

Mind you, Matè is NOT anti-homosexuality, and his work absolutely does not support any type of anti-homosexuality rhetoric or agenda.

Just some very well thought-out and supported ideas on genetics.

11251 · February 14, 2013 at 07:56 PM

Well, we have a lot more free time, a lot more not-hungry time, a lot more hormone-like substances messing with our chemistry.

Thus it is reasonable to believe that we've got a lot more time and reason to develop preferences and act on them without worrying about our survival. Modern America can generate a sub-population inordinately interested in feet. Additionally, Americans tend to define themselves via their sexuality, though in other places in the world people engage in various acts but don't consider them to define them. Thus it might make sense to find homosexual behavior under certain circumstances in the paleolithic, but it is doubtful that ACT UP would be anywhere to be found. People had to depend on family, so they'd place a pretty high premium on creating more family rather than identifying and gratifying whatever desires they could come up with.

So basically, I think homosexual activity could be found in the paleolithic, but the conditions under which it flourishes are much more present in the modern age.

1768 · February 14, 2013 at 05:30 PM

Wow thank you everyone for the thoughtful, surprisingly non-bigoted answers. Well, mostly non-bigoted answers.

I don't think I can choose a best answer at this time, because there are so many good ones.

A few things I don't get is @surfing on a rocket's comment that "There is some evidence emerging that homosexuality, like numerous other traits, is epigenetically mediated.." Whjat is that evidence and are you insinuating that grains are the cause of homosexual behavior? I find that a dubious assertion. Especially considering that there has probably been a decline of testosterone in today's men, and less testosterone means less sexual behavior. Not only that, but if paleolithic men looked like today's hunter gathers (square jaw, flat stomach, athletic build, long and lean muscles), they were a lot better looking than the typical ugly, physically effeminate, overweight man today.Oh, and I almost forgot, men probably spent a lot more time together than today's men. They spent hours, days, weeks, hunting and fishing alone together while the women stayed back at the camp to look after children and gather plants. Seems likely that one thing might lead to another like @VB said. So to me homosexual behavior seems MORE likely in the paleolithic to me.

@surfing on a rocket and @brenjin. Thank you for these two incredible answers. To everyone else, thank you for your answers as well. I enjoyed hearing your thoughts and opinions.

2483 · February 14, 2013 at 01:21 PM

A very interesting question. Paleolithic people had to work together in tight units for survival. Presumably these units were familial based. Of course there were homosexuals back then but what intrigues me is: how did they live? I cannot believe two men or two women being a loving unit fending for themselves. I suspect a gay man/woman would be part of sibling's unit, or else they would die a particularly early death. Homosexual activities would have been rare.

Maybe dirty cave drawings are actually early gay porn? :)

666 · February 14, 2013 at 07:09 AM

It does make sense from an evolutionary perspective. Firstly, those same genes could increase women's attraction to men, thereby making the particular gene an advantage. The gene cold in this way pass on through the sisters of the homosexual men. Secondly, it may have some bonding properties in some tribal societies. Better than fighting and killing each other like the chimpanzees, if survival and reproductive success is the goal.

However, there may be some chemicals that we are exposed to in modern days that may increase the frequency. There is no question that many chemicals that most people ingest daily causes changes in the endocrine system and in the brain, but at this time it is all just speculation.

4247 · February 14, 2013 at 03:14 AM

(sorry; didn't realize this posted the first time bc I got an error message)

150 · February 19, 2013 at 05:15 PM

I have PCOS and on a certain PCOS forum, I found some women sharing their experience like - they are lesbian and the better their hormonal profile (due to medication or lifestyle changes or both), 'more straight' they find themselves. Also the general distribution for PCOS is different in case of lesbian women - they are more likely to have PCOS.

I don't mean to say homosexuality is a disorder in itself but that homosexuality is not one of the random phenotypes of sexuality, it happens due to foetus being subjected to specific condition like exposure to excess testosterone, etc.

Can we assume that the healthier we get, more straight we become? provided we don't calculate health by blood chemistry and body composition only but by vulnerability to certain ailments and inclination to certain conditions...

I hope I make sense...

0 · February 15, 2013 at 02:52 AM

Mscott is right, it's not worth a downvote, flag it for the mods to delete.

1230 · February 14, 2013 at 02:58 AM

Nature seems to have difficulty spritzing on the right amount of hormones to make 50% of its creations attract to women, and the other 50% to men. It's apparently not easy as flipping a single switch.

It seems homosexuality has causes both genetic and/or developmental. That is, any of a number of things could cause the process to go awry, or lean one way instead of the other.

77322 · February 14, 2013 at 02:54 AM

It is obviously not genetic since they cannot repopulate.

Therefore, it is a neolithic issue, perhaps due to grain consumption. We see it in nature as many animals are also malnourished as most of us now are.

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