Sep 15, 2007

plus ça change: is sexual orientation malleable?

My brother's miniblog makes it sound so simple:
Can Homosexuals Change?

APA: Absolutely not. New research: yup.
But it's just not that simple. From the research in question:
"Most of the individuals who reported that they were heterosexual at Time 3 did not report themselves to be without experience of homosexual arousal, and did not report heterosexual orientation to be unequivocal and uncomplicated. Sexual orientation for the individuals in this study (and indeed for most of us) may be considerably more complicated than commonly conceived, involving a complex interplay of what we are instinctively attracted to, what we can be attracted to with proper attention and focus, what we choose to be attracted to based on how we structure our interpersonal environments, our emotional attachments, our broader psychological functioning, (of course) our religious and moral beliefs and values, and many more factors. We believe the individuals who presented themselves as heterosexual success stories at Time 3 are heterosexual in some meaningful but complicated sense of the term."
"Meaningful but complicated" after four years of therapy and concerted effort--and only in about a third of the small, self-selected group.

In fact, that's the problem with the research: reader Lynn David points to a particularly troublesome passage in the study's first chapter [pdf].
"Of the ministries that agreed to participate, some referred all of their participants to us (as described later) while others clearly referred only a sample, again introducing unknown variation in our sample. Some of the most influential studies ever conducted on homosexuality (e.g., the iconic studies by Evelyn Hooker, Alfred Kinsey, Bell and Weinberg, and Bailey and Pillard) have presented conclusions based on convenience samples, samples of no known representativeness. We believe that our sample is a fair representation of religiously motivated individuals seeking sexual orientation change, but of completely unknown representativeness of all homosexually oriented persons."
So people who really, really, really want to change can change--somewhat.


To borrow the phrase, sexuality is indeed "meaningful and complicated." Dogmatism about its biological nature, its ethical import, and its psychological malleability isn't warranted on any side. Fundamentally, though, the moral question comes first. Even if we could, through patience and therapy, make gays turn straight--or straights turn gay--it wouldn't make it right.

1 comment:

LD n00b said...

I bet in like 30 years the shrinks will figure out that dedicating your life to hating gays has a phycological reaction that turns you into a gay pediphile.

(gota love it when the "experts" take millenia to figure out the obvious!)