When it comes to homosexuality, for many people the recurring idea is that it’s something unnatural. But what does unnatural really mean? The definition of the term is something that goes against natural or human laws, especially in relation to morality.

Homosexuality is something that has always been  exclusively associated with human beings, their psyche and their behaviour. A male is born with a predisposition to mate with a female, since the aim is the reproduction of the species. This is something determined by nature. But is it really like this?

In the animal kingdom there are many examples of homosexuality that completely dismantle the theories that associate these practices with a purely cognitive trait of human beings. In fact, in some species, homosexuality represents an evolutionary advantage.

Scientific studies and references

In 1995, zoologist Konrad Lorenz published a study in which he studied the behaviour of 1,500 animal species. He observed that 450 of these exhibited sexual intercourse, courtship, emotional bonds, partnership and even child-rearing behaviour between homosexual individuals. From primates to intestinal parasites.

A decade later, a study conducted by Dr. Nathan Bailey at the University of California, published in Trends in Ecology & Evolution, confirmed that examples of sexual behaviour between same-sex individuals could be found in all species of the animal kingdom.

These behaviours were different for each species, but in most cases they were an advantageous, evolutionary mechanism. For example, in the case of dolphins, males use sex to bond  with other males and form alliances. In other species, such as fruit flies and insects in general, homosexuality occurs because of their inability to differentiate between sexes.

Giraffe Ithala KZN South Africa by Luca Galuzzi | [CC BY-SA 2.5]
Giraffe Ithala KZN South Africa by Luca Galuzzi | [CC BY-SA 2.5]

Gay geese and evolutionary theory

Geese are monogamous animals. They spend their lives with a single mate and only look for another if the first one dies. In Canada, according to some sources, up to 30% of these mates are homosexual.

The biologist Kurt Kotrschal, following on from the studies of Konrad Lorenz, has devoted many years to studying these animals. His research supports the idea that homosexuality is useful for the species. In 1963, Lorenz stated that male mates are more likely to occupy a higher level within geese colonies. This allows them to fertilise solitary females, while continuing with their same sex partners. This is one of the theories that reports the evolutionary advantage of homosexuality, but it is not the only one.

These studies explore the idea of homosexual behaviour as an evolutionary response to environmental changes. The environment is what determines these changes, driving species to change their sexual and affective behaviours.

Pair of Canadian Geese (Branta canadensis) on the shore. By Ger Bosma Photos | Shutterstock.com
Pair of Canadian Geese (Branta canadensis) on the shore. By Ger Bosma Photos | Shutterstock.com

Other animals with homosexual behaviour

In the case of American bison, polecats or elephants, both males and females have been observed courting and mating with others the same sex. In the case of giraffes, 9 out of 10 couplings occur between males. Bonobos form matriarchal societies, where 60% of sexual relations occur between females. In lions, 8% of mating observed are among males, and in the case of dogs, numerous research studies affirm the existence of patterns of homosexual behaviour.

As for birds, all species that form parental relationships do so, to a greater or lesser extent, with members of the same sex. As many as a quarter of black swans are homosexual. Penguins have even struck up same-sex relationships in zoos in different parts of the world. Studies have shown that up to 85% of lesbian pairs are found in populations of western seagulls. And they’re not the only ones. Pigeons, vultures, ibis, lizards, sheep, macaques, hyenas, flies, dragonflies and countless other animal species are challenging the notion that homosexuality is “unnatural”.

Male Lions. By Laurence Barnes
Male Lions. By Laurence Barnes

The social taboo against science

It is interesting to note how the strong rejection of homosexuality by most societies throughout history has disadvantaged the emergence of a very different reality. A reality in which relationships between individuals of the same sex occur in all species and are part of their evolutionary development.

Thierry Lodé, a biologist specialising in animal sexuality, explains how the scientific community, influenced by the Judeo-Christian heritage, has for a long time viewed homosexual practices in animals as a pathology or disturbance.

In most cases, studies on this subject were avoided for fear of rejection by the scientific community and the wider social context marked by machismo and homophobia. Even today, it remains a taboo subject in many parts of the world where homosexuality is forbidden or even punishable by death.

Two wild adult African Penguins (Spheniscus demersus). By Andrew M. Allport | Shutterstock.com
Two wild adult African Penguins (Spheniscus demersus). By Andrew M. Allport | Shutterstock.com

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