Most of us spend our 20s trying to figure out who we are. The teens were bad enough. But at least things begin calming down after we reach the age of 21. Our number one question then becomes “Who am I really?” That’s important to know because it determines a lot about how we live the rest of our lives. You could say the 20s are the “age of personal discovery.”
Sexual orientation is a big mystery for many during this period. Psychologists have been debating the determining factors of that since Freud came on the scene in the latter part of the 19th century. He was the first to lay down theories that got everyone else thinking about it. It very quickly was categorized (for the first time ever) as hetero-, homo- and bi-sexuality; referred popularly today as straight, gay and bi.
But the real research on the subject began in the early part of the 20th century with psychotherapists and behavioral scientists picking it to pieces. Most of their theories centered on early childhood behavior as Freud’s did. But in later years, the determinants have shifted more to hormonal influences during the mother’s pregnancy, particularly chemical exposure and anything else the mother might have been poisoned with; smoking, for example. Neither behavioral nor hormonal theories have been proven definitively as of yet and the truth may lie in a combination of both or never be known conclusively at all.
One neuroscientist, and an acquaintance of mine, is Dr. Jacques Balthazart of the University of Liege in Belgium. He is a leading proponent of hormonal influences and has written extensively on the subject. It was Balthazart who brought to my attention a German researcher, Gunter Dorner of the mid-20th century, who noticed an unusually high number of pregnant women in 1944-45 Berlin who delivered offsprings which eventually turned out to be bi or gay. He was the first to suggest stress might be a factor in sexual orientation.
That got me to thinking about the subject myself. As a theater and film director, I have spent a great deal to time working with actors who must dig deep into their emotional pasts to capture feelings they use to trigger emotional responses in performances. In most cases, this process deals with early childhood experiences. I began to notice those whose mothers–they had been told–experienced extremely stressful pregnancies developed alternative sexual orientations as they matured. An overwhelming number had turned out to be gay.
So I began to formulate my own theory on the subject of a “stressed-out womb” which Balthazart has found rather interesting. He right away encouraged me to write about the theory and to publish it. That I have done in my book, The Womb Obsession: A Theory of Sexual Orientation and Preferences. Here is the description on the book’s jacket:
A unique approach to understanding this elusive area of human sexuality. Building on the previous research and theories of Sigmund Freud, Carl Jung, Otto Frank and various other later psychotherapists and behavioral scientists, Brickell takes us deep into the prenatal experience. Here, powerful hormonal forces originating from the mother travel through the umbilical cord to the womb upsetting its tranquil state of bliss and having critical effects on the developing fetus. The conclusions are not only mysteriously probable, they open up for us an entirely new understanding of these early pre-birth experiences, the effects of which surface later on in our psychosexual development.
The social and sexual revolution of the 1960s changed everything about our modern world liberating each of us to pursue our own inclinations and feelings. And it has made answering ‘who we are’ a lot easier, at least in the area of human sexuality. Whatever our outcome in this area might be, it is our right to explore and determine our own unique destinies. And what a liberating factor that has been for all millennials.
For a truly provocative read, check out Saints and Dragons, Edward Snowden in His Own Words.