Jeez – I spend a couple weeks away, and there’s two huge new threads here about sexual orientation. This was my brief comment about something I saw recently in the paper about Ted Haggard, and how he’s trying to get back into the fold. Reposted on http://www.smugbaldy.com
In a recent article, AP columnist David Crary claims that the scandal involving the Reverend Ted Haggard and his extra-marital contact with a gay prostitute has “renewed the debate” about something that has widely been discredited in psychological circles: Reparative Therapy.
“Haggard is Exhibit A of how people can’t change their sexual orientation,” said Wayne Besen, a gay-rights activist and author. “With all that he had to lose—a wife, children, a huge church—he had to be who he was in the end. He couldn’t pray away the gay.”
Proponents of reparative therapy, however, claim that sexual orientation is changeable through the use of any of several techniques, many (though not all) of which are based on a Christian religious perspective. Indeed, while some therapists use individual or group counseling or activities, many therapists utilize prayer, fasting, and religious instruction. In some cases therapists attempt to cure homosexuality through the use of electroconvulsive therapy or aversion therapy [Ref].
Opponents of reparative therapy claim that sexual orientation is unchangeable, and as such, any efforts to change one’s orientation will not only be met with failure, but will also likely cause harm to the individual. In addition, opponents criticize the science behind reparative therapy because of a lack of peer review as well as the potential for clinical research bias. Essentially, current research does not support the central claim put forth by reparative therapy proponents – that homosexuality is innately negative, and as a result, homosexuals want to change. In addition, critics point out that reparative therapy doesn’t speak to the issue of female homosexuality at all – which is another indication of clinical bias in its proponents. [Ref.]
The American Psychological Association makes it’s position very clear:
The term “reparative therapy” refers to psychotherapy aimed at eliminating homosexual desires and is used by people who do not think homosexuality is one variation within human sexual orientation, but rather still believe homosexuality is a mental disorder. The most important fact about “reparative therapy,” also sometimes known as “conversion” therapy, is that it is based on an understanding of homosexuality that has been rejected by all the major health and mental health professions. The American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Counseling Association, the American Psychiatric Association, the American Psychological Association, the National Association of School Psychologists, and the National Association of Social Workers, together representing more than 477,000 health and mental health professionals, have all taken the position that homosexuality is not a mental disorder and thus there is no need for a “cure.”
The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, published by the American Psychiatric Association and defining the standard of the field, does not include homosexuality as a mental disorder. All other major health professional organizations have supported the American Psychiatric Association in its declassification of homosexuality as a mental disorder in 1973. Thus, the idea that homosexuality is a mental disorder or that the emergence of same-gender sexual desires among some adolescents is in any way abnormal or mentally unhealthy has no support among health and mental health professional organizations.
My take on this whole renewed debate is simple: There really isn’t a debate. Never has been.
Instead, on one side we have had agreement from all the respected professional mental health associations since 1973 that homosexuality and bisexuality are normal variations within human sexual orientation. On the other side, we have individuals and groups with political and religious interests in maintaining and consolidating social power, and they are clearly not above leveraging fear and pseudoscience to achieve their goals. This “debate” isn’t about whether Ted can come back into the fold of heterosexuality, but rather about whether we are all dumb enough to believe that he should want to, or be forced to try to do so in the first place.
In addition, I believe that nothing speaks more eloquently of the circular logic that supports reparation therapy than this: If, in any argument involving homosexuality, we were apply the same logic to heterosexuality instead, does the argument still hold water? For example, if we accept the premise behind reparation (or conversion) therapy that sexual orientation is changeable through Christian counseling techniques, then it should be quite possible for heterosexual individuals to become homosexual or bisexual if they pray, fast, or meditate enough. Oops – wait a minute – here comes the kicker. Proponents will quickly point out that this isn’t possible, because only non-hetero orientations are changeable. Heterosexuality is what they call “innate sexual orientation” and it is not changeable – so once you’re hetero, you never go back because of its “special” status. Clearly, this argument falls apart because it requires more than simple logic to support it – we also need to accept that heterosexuality is some sort of special sexual orientation that cannot be changed while any other orientation can be.
If you apply this little device to just about any claim made about sexual orientation: Lifestyle choice (When did you choose to become heterosexual?), political agenda (there’s a vast, heterosexual conspiracy), family raising (heterosexuals are the best parents) – you see that the claims just don’t hold water: Nobody decides to become heterosexual, there is no cabal of heterosexuals pushing the hetero political agenda, and the last time I checked, 99 percent of parents that abuse and murder their partners and children are heterosexual.
There’s a simple explanation for all this and health professionals have been repeating it for over 30 years: Human sexual orientation is a continuum – and all variations of human sexuality are normal – even heterosexuality.