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Johns Hopkins Psychiatrist: ‘There Is No Gay Gene’


Dr. Paul R. McHugh, the Distinguished Service Professor of Psychiatry at Johns Hopkins University and former psychiatrist–in-chief for Johns Hopkins Hospital, who has studied sexuality for 40 years, said it is a scientific fact that “there is no gay gene.”

“Environment,” however, “is very important,” said Dr. McHugh, author of The Mind Has Mountains: Reflections on Society and Psychiatry. He also explained that the permissive sexual culture in the United States today has confused “desire” with “love,” and that homosexuality is a false or “erroneous desire.”

In an interview with Virtue Online: The Voice for Global Orthodox Anglicanism, reporter Lydia Evans asked Dr. McHugh, “How do you view the popular assumption that science has somehow proven that sexual orientation is determined early in childhood, if not before birth?”

Dr. McHugh, who ended the sexual reassignment surgery program at Johns Hopkins because it was not helping the patients, answered, “Well, as I have said, there is no gay gene. And there are factors more influential than biology.”

“The best data, of course, [comes from the Framingham Study],” said Dr. McHugh.  “If you are a man and you grow up in a rural environment, you are four times less likely to have homosexual relationships than if you grow up in a metropolitan area. That's not left-handedness.”

“If you are a lesbian, you are much more likely to be college-educated,” he said.  “That's not something that happens at conception.”

“My point is that we now know that the environment is very important,” said Dr. McHugh.

Lydia Evans then asked, “On another front, as the sexuality debate within mainline churches seems to have shifted so profoundly in favor of the left, how do you see the debates of the broader culture changing in the next five to ten years?”


Dr. McHugh said, “It really is amazing -- I mean, 50 years ago [homosexual behavior] was a crime, and now we're talking about [same-sex marriage]. Anyone who wants to stick with the tradition is accused of being a biblical literalist or a homophobic racist, because, in part, of the more fundamental change in our society towards permissiveness, that is, easy divorce, cohabitation and concubinage, abortion, pornography ... and euthanasia.”

“The issue of the homosexual is not separate,” he said. “It's all part and parcel of the pandemonium that the permissive movement has brought. We have just licensed all kinds of behavior."

When asked about earlier generations being pressured to marry and have families, Dr. McHugh said these were societal expectations and they were positive.

“Yes, and they were good ones,” he said, “and biblically based, and part and parcel of my commitment to really what amounts to loving relationships.”

“You see, what has happened with the permissive movement is that it has picked up the Freudian confusion of desire and love, making them the same,” said Dr. McHugh. “And with the implication, for example, that I must desire my mother. I don't desire my mother. I love my mother.”

He continued, “Now the fact is that in my marriage, of course, I desired this woman and I felt love for her. Now, 50 years into marriage with her, I still desire her, but now I love her. She's irreplaceable. There is this thing that has come and it's different. This person exists for me as irreplaceable. So, there is this confusion of desire and love. [Homosexuality] is erroneous desire.”


When Lydia Evans asked about how the environment of a church, or religious-minded community, could affect people’s behavior, Dr. McHugh said, “This is the point. You've got to get the churches -- not just the Anglican churches, but the Roman Catholics and the Presbyterians.”

“They've got to start talking again about their foundational opinions,” he said.  “There's an idea of there being different kinds of laws in our world: the natural law, the law of desire -- but there is scriptural law that comes out of the Old Testament. And they've got to get all of this straight.”

Paul McHugh, MD, is University Distinguished Service Professor of Psychiatry at Johns Hopkins Medical School and the former psychiatrist-in-chief at Johns Hopkins Hospital. He also served on the Presidential Council on Bioethics. 

The interview with Dr. McHugh first appeared in Virtue Online: The Voice for Global Orthodox Anglicanism

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