In Chapter 8, I dismissed the concept of homosexual behaviors as basically useless. Now I am going a step further and dismissing the category of homosexual as largely useless for scientific purposes. It may well be of importance in doctrines of faith or in discussions of morality, but I cannot really see how it can help us to understand human sexual behavior. Likewise, the category of heterosexual can be dismissed from scientific use on the same grounds. I am well aware of the fact that it is always easy to criticize an idea and dismiss it as being of little use. It is frequently more difficult to propose a better alternative. However, in this particular case, I will propose an alternative that may prove to be far more fruitful than the categories of homosexual and heterosexual have been. I suggest replacing both these categories not with other categories but with an entirely different concept taken directly from behavior theory. It is probably not difficult to guess that I will propose to conceive same-sex behavior as a result of the action of sexual incentives, in exactly the same way as heterosexual behaviors are a result of the action of such incentives. As already suggested, the sex of the incentive is not of any particular importance. It can be argued that this shift of terminology has no direct consequence, because we would anyway have to explain why some individuals give a larger incentive value to individuals of the same sex than to those of the opposite sex. This argument has not much force, though. It could just as well be asked why some people give a larger incentive value to thin people than to fat people, or to fair-haired rather than dark-haired people. No need to mention that preference is situational and not a stable characteristic of the individual.
In order to illustrate how general incentive motivational concepts can be employed for explaining same-sex preferences, I suggest that we return to the public convenience where Humphreys (1970) obtained his data. Our first task will be to reveal the factors that made the men come to the toilet in the first place. The most common reason impelling humans to visit a toilet, urgencies of the bladder or bowels, can be excluded. Instead of that, we must figure out which sexual incentive brought them to the toilet. Since they did not come there because of physiological necessity, and thereby discovered the possibility of sexual interaction by accident, they must have had a mental representation of some sexual activity, which functioned as incentive. The origin of this mental representation must be their experience acquired at earlier visits or social learning. Someone might have told them about this toilet and mentioned the activities taking place there. Thus, on the way to or from work, the mental representation of fellating or being fellated by another man is an efficient sexual incentive producing a detour to the toilet. Once inside, prior experience or social learning determined the ritualized behaviors displayed in order to establish sexual contact. If successful, sexual reward in one form or another was obtained and the purpose of the toilet visit was attained. The sequence of behaviors leading up to the sexual reward was reinforced and the habit strength increased through the mechanisms of operant learning. If the establishment of sexual interaction and the ensuing reinforcement occurs only on some visits, the partial reinforcement effect may enter into action. In behavior theory, partial reinforcement is the condition where only a fraction of the responses is rewarded, for example one visit of three to the toilet leads to sexual reinforcement, or one lever press of 10 leads to a food pellet in the Skinner box. Responses acquired during the condition of partial reinforcement are particularly resistant to extinction. If sexual reinforcement were obtained irregularly, the habit of making a detour to the toilet would become extremely fixed.
It is likely that most of the married toilet men returned home following an after-work visit. There, the wife may emit stimuli turning her into an efficient sexual incentive before or at bedtime. The man may approach and initiate sexual interaction. Furthermore, in the Humphreys (1970) study, some men, either married or single, had a mistress. On some occasions, the mental representation of having sex with the mistress may appear at work, for example shortly before lunch. In this moment, the mistress turns into a sexual incentive, activating the behavior of inviting her for lunch and a subsequent visit to a cheap hotel.
The preceding account of the incentive motivational and learning mechanisms that might have determined the behavior of the toilet men is extremely simple. Every assertion made in the account can, in principle and probably also in practice, be submitted to experimental test. That is an important advantage compared to other kinds of hypotheses that must await the death of the individual before being tested. Furthermore, there is no need for employing vague categories as causes for behavior and there is no need to suppose stability of preferences. The dominant incentive at each moment is determined by processes such as habituation, negative alliesthesia etc, as mentioned before. Thus, the extraordinary flexibility of human behavior can easily be accommodated in the explanation.
The notion of situational preference is, in fact, the most reasonable explanation for the behavior displayed by the toilet men. It is probably the most reasonable explanation for the behavior of any woman or man.
It does not demand any extraordinary intellectual talent to discover that the incentive motivational explanation proposed above poses several questions that are impossible to answer at the moment. Among these is the issue of the nature of the stimuli functioning as sexual incentives in the human. Already, in Chapter 4, we learned that very little is known about this. However, this lack of knowledge regarding sexual incentives applies to those activating approach to the opposite sex exactly as much as it applies to incentives causing approach to the own sex. One of the many adverse consequences of the focus of human sexual behavior research on homosexuality and sexual dysfunctions is that we know very little about fundamental aspects of ordinary sexual behaviors. This lack of knowledge becomes irritatingly evident when we turn to behaviors preceding actual copulation, such as approach behaviors and associated mechanisms. An attentive reader would already have noted that I have remarked, on innumerable previous occasions, that we know far more about copulatory reflexes than about the events leading up to the display of these reflexes. Again, this is equally valid for same-sex as for opposite-sex behaviors.
Another issue, intimately related to the preceding, is the role of learning for a stimulus' sexual incentive properties. In Chapter 7, I showed that all known learning mechanisms may modify sexual behaviors and that classical conditioning may transform any neutral stimulus into a sexual incentive. Although I do regret that we do not have more empirical data with regard to learning with sexual reinforcement, it is possible that we do not need more data than we already have. It is established beyond reasonable doubt that the performance of sexual responses functions as reinforcement in a way similar to food and drink. Likewise, it is established beyond reasonable doubt that food and drink can reinforce all sorts of learning. Our alimentary and drinking habits are acquired through learning and the incentive stimuli directing choice and intake of food and drink are also learned. There is no reason to believe that sex would be any different.
Considering sexual incentives as learned does not mean that we can control that learning any more than we control the learning of alimentary and drinking habits. Many humans have acquired eating habits they consciously would like to change, for example. For most humans, it is usually impossible to explain how these habits were acquired in the first place, although some invent elaborated stories with the purpose of a posteriori justification. Once acquired, eating and drinking habits are extremely difficult to modify. In my own case, I would like to reduce my total intake of food, thereby reducing the size of my belly. Despite years of efforts, the result is absent. Everyone has heard many stories about failed dieting efforts and the many failures are not always a consequence of a lack of will. Indeed, if our will were free to decide, all dieting programs and all chemicals purportedly making us thinner would not be necessary. As I have insisted upon many times before in this chapter, being attracted to a particular incentive is an entirely deterministic process over which we have no more control than we have over the size of our suprachiasmatic nucleus or anterior commissure.
A change of food habits may be beneficial both to personal and public health. A change of drinking habits might also be beneficial for personal and public health. The high incidence of cirrhosis in France, for example, could be reduced by convincing the French to drink less wine and more grapefruit juice. On the contrary, a change of the sex of our partner would not have the slightest consequence neither for individual nor for public health. Someone could argue that HIV infection is more common among people having sex with their own sex and therefore the abandonment of that habit would improve public health. This might be true in some cases, but again the improvement would be marginal compared to that potentially caused by improved eating habits. My point here is that there is no particular reason for changing sexual incentives even if that were possible. This statement applies both at the individual and at the societal level. Thus, the question that needs to be asked is not whether it is possible to change sexual incentives from one's own to the opposite sex, but rather whether such a change would be desirable or not. Since the answer to this question is negative, the question of whether such a change is possible or not becomes irrelevant.
Although the last few paragraphs are not directly related to the content or empirical bases for the incentive motivational approach to same-sex preferences, they are directly relevant for the issue of willfulness. Considering that the main rationale for much of the research on same-sex preferences was the pursuit of an involuntary cause, it seems important to make clear that willfulness or the possibility of conscious choice are not in any way enhanced by an incentive motivational approach. This point is made with the moralists in mind. To all others, it is sufficient to repeat that the sex of the partner is a strictly individual and completely inconsequential event. The mechanisms deciding the preferred sex may not even be worth searching. Directing our attention to them may seem like a waste of time and effort when we compare their possible impact with the many other problems of some importance that mankind is facing and that require solution. Despite this apparent disdain for research on same-sex preferences, I refuse to end this chapter without a summary of some research supporting the incentive motivational approach.
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