Last updated on: 8/30/2017 | Author:

Paul R. McHugh, MD Biography

University Distinguished Service Professor of Psychiatry, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine
Con to the question "Is Sexual Orientation Determined at Birth?"

“While some people are under the impression that sexual orientation is an innate, fixed, and biological trait of human beings — that, whether heterosexual, homosexual, or bisexual, we are ‘born that way’ — there is insufficient scientific evidence to support that claim. In fact, the concept of sexual orientation itself is highly ambiguous; it can refer to a set of behaviors, to feelings of attraction, or to a sense of identity. Epidemiological studies show a rather modest association between genetic factors and sexual attractions or behaviors, but do not provide significant evidence pointing to particular genes. There is also evidence for other hypothesized biological causes of homosexual behaviors, attractions, or identity — such as the influence of hormones on prenatal development — but that evidence, too, is limited. Studies of the brains of homosexuals and heterosexuals have found some differences, but have not demonstrated that these differences are inborn rather than the result of environmental factors that influenced both psychological and neurobiological traits. One environmental factor that appears to be correlated with non-heterosexuality is childhood sexual abuse victimization, which may also contribute to the higher rates of poor mental health outcomes among non-heterosexual subpopulations, compared to the general population. Overall, the evidence suggests some measure of fluidity in patterns of sexual attraction and behavior — contrary to the ‘born that way’ notion that oversimplifies the vast complexity of human sexuality.”

Cowritten with Lawrence S. Mayer, “Sexuality and Gender: Findings from the Biological, Psychological, and Social Science,” The New Atlantis, Fall 2016

Involvement and Affiliations:
  • Program Director and Internal Advisory Board Chair, Paul McHugh Program for Human Flourishing, 2015-present
  • University Distinguished Service Professor of Psychiatry, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, 1998-present
  • Recipient, National Academy of Sciences Institute of Medicine’s Sarnat International Prize, Oct. 2008
  • Henry Phipps Professor and Director, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, 1975-2001
  • Psychiatrist-in-Chief, Johns Hopkins Hospital, 1975-2001
  • Professor and Chairman, Department of Psychiatry, Oregon Health Sciences Center
  • Former Clinical Director and Director of Residency Education, New York Hospital, Westchester Division
  • Former Professor of Psychiatry at Cornell University School of Medicine
  • Board Certified in Psychiatry, 1968
  • Board Certified in Neurology, 1967
  • MD, Harvard Medical School, 1956
  • Undergraduate degree, Harvard, 1952
  • After being treated by McHugh, author Tom Wolfe dedicated his 1998 novel Man in Full to him
  • In 1979, he helped stop sex-change operations at John Hopkins Hospital by his reasoning that being transgender is a mental illness
  • Appointed by United States Conference of Catholic Bishops to the National Review Board for the Protection of Children and Young People in 2002
Quoted in:
  1. Is Sexual Orientation Determined at Birth?