What Does the Research Show about Homosexuality?

Report reviews 600 studies and refutes claims by the American Psychological Association concerning homosexuality.


Homosexual activists and their allies – including those in the mental health professions – have asserted for years that men and women who self-identify as gay or lesbian are unable to change and that they are no different from the general population in terms of psychological, medical, physiological or relational problems. But a new report by the National Association of Research and Therapy of Homosexuality (NARTH) directly refutes these claims.

What Research Shows: NARTH’s Response to the American Psychological Association’s Claims on Homosexuality,[1] is an historical review of more than 600 reports, studies and surveys which arrives at the following conclusions:

I. There is substantial evidence that sexual orientation may be changed through reorientation therapy.
II. Efforts to change sexual orientation have not been shown to be consistently harmful or to regularly lead to greater self-hatred, depression, and other self-destructive behaviors.
III. There is significantly greater medical, psychological, and relational pathology in the homosexual population than the general population.[2]

 

Homosexual to Heterosexual is Possible

In the first section of What Research Shows, the authors begin with a review of reports of sexual reorientation change from the past decade. They then review more than 125 years of clinical and scholarly literature in which “mental health professionals and researchers document many different ways to assist men and women to successfully change from a homosexual to a heterosexual orientation.”[3] The different methods reported include hypnosis, psychoanalysis, behavioral and cognitive therapies, group therapies, and religiously mediated change. They even cite accounts of spontaneous reorientation from the literature.[4]

The authors acknowledge the many difficulties involved in the reports of reorientation, including:

· the difficulty in defining, quantifying or measuring sexual orientation, attractions and identity;
· differing definitions of “success” or “change”;
· changing scientific standards and methodologies;
· the wide variety of techniques and therapies within the mental health community;
· shifting cultural and social attitudes toward sexuality in general and homosexuality in particular.

 

They also acknowledge that some individual studies and reports have limitations or weaknesses and that some older studies and reports may be “less methodologically sophisticated.”[5]

But the authors conclude that there is:

 

[S]o much historically state-of-the-art clinical evidence and empirical research documenting that sexual reorientation is possible, and without a preponderance of quality research evidence demonstrating definitively that such change is not possible, we cannot deny a client’s right to self-determination and professionally assisted reorientation.[6]

In sum, the huge weight of evidence from within the mental health community demonstrates that – while change may be difficult – it has occurred for many.

 

Science? Or Political Correctness?

In contrast to What Research Shows, the American Psychological Association (APA) claims – without any documentation – that attempts to change homosexuality are unsuccessful and possibly harmful. In a question and answer on their Web site, the APA makes the following statement about homosexuality:

 

All major national mental health organizations have officially expressed concerns about therapies promoted to modify sexual orientation. To date, there has been no scientifically adequate research to show that therapy aimed at changing sexual orientation (sometimes called reparative or conversion therapy) is safe or effective. Furthermore, it seems likely that the promotion of change therapies reinforces stereotypes and contributes to a negative climate for lesbian, gay, and bisexual persons. This appears to be especially likely for lesbian, gay, and bisexual individuals who grow up in more conservative religious settings.[7]

What Research Shows makes clear that these assertions by the APA are not rooted in research or clinical experience. NARTH notes that the APA adopted the “Leona Tyler Principle” in 1973, which obligates the organization to make statements based on research and the psychological literature, not on political correctness or social activism:

 

In essence, the principle states that when psychologists are speaking as members of their profession, any advocacy in which they engage should be based on scientific data and demonstrable professional experience.[8]

The APA violates its own standards by making such statements about the efficacy of reorientation therapies without scientific support. Further, the APA does so while simultaneously ignoring much evidence that, for many, a change in sexual orientation is possible.

 

Significantly, What Research Shows states that in many cases the reports criticizing reorientation therapy – and the statements used to support gay activism – often consist of opinions, personal attacks or purely anecdotal evidence. Thus, these reports do not meet the strong scientific standards that the APA claims to adhere to. The authors write:

Finally, we note that research studies and reports commonly cited by – and apparently conducted in order to provide evidence to support – gay-rights activists hardly meet the methodological standards used as the basis for criticizing the empirical evidence for assisted sexual reorientation.[9]

 

Changing Sexual Orientation Not Harmful

In the second section of the NARTH report, What Research Shows assesses whether the APA claim is true – that attempts to change sexual orientation are harmful. The authors acknowledge that there are many research challenges that confront those who seek to assess the helpfulness or harmfulness of attempts to change sexual orientation. Such difficulties include the limited number of studies in this area, the wide variety of therapies being practiced and the “typically modest numbers of clients for each therapy.” Other hurdles to evaluating reorientation therapies include the use of “convenience samples and the individual or pooled testimonies of clients and/or clinicians.”[10]
Despite this, the authors examine the available evidence and arrive at the following conclusion:

 

While client dissatisfaction is a possible and unfortunate consequence of any therapy, efforts to help persons change unwanted homosexual orientation have not been shown to be generally harmful, nor to usually lead to psychological harm.[11]

In fact, the NARTH summary of the report says, “Even when clients have failed to achieve the level of change that they desired, other benefits commonly have resulted from their attempts.”[12]
The APA, in its Web site question-and-answer section about homosexuality, acknowledges the importance of a client’s religious beliefs and the client’s right to self-determination in pursuing a therapeutic goal:

 

Mental health professional organizations call on their members to respect a person’s (client’s) right to selfdetermination [sic]; be sensitive to the client’s race, culture, ethnicity, age, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, religion, socioeconomic status, language, and disability status when working with that client; and eliminate biases based on these factors.[13]

Many men and women with same-sex attractions also hold to the biblically orthodox worldview – which is based upon the understanding that God and designed and created us male and female in His image and established one-man, one-woman marriage as the sole context for sexual relationships. For these Jews and Christians, what Scripture says about their identity as His children and about how they should handle same-sex attractions trumps what our society says about “sexual orientation.” Therefore, learning how to steward their sexuality in accordance with their ethics and values is much more important than any same-sex feelings or impulses.

 

Here, the APA should follow its own guidelines and recognize that client self-determination and respect for religious beliefs mean that some men and women will want help in addressing same-sex attractions in a way that aligns with their deeply held faith. Therapists unable or unwilling to provide reorientation therapy should refer to those who are able and willing to offer such assistance.

What Research Shows recognizes that faith may be a motivating factor for change and quotes a reasonable admission from gay-activist and researcher Douglas Haldeman:

 

A corollary issue for many is a sense of religious or spiritual identity that is sometimes as deeply felt as is sexual orientation. For some it is easier, and less emotionally disruptive, to contemplate changing sexual orientation, than to disengage from a religious way of life that is seen as completely central to the individual’s sense of self and purpose…

However we may view this choice or the psychological underpinnings thereof, do we have the right to deny such an individual treatment that may help him adapt in the way he has decided is right for him? I would say that we do not.[14]

 

The Pink Elephant in the Room

The first two claims demonstrated in What Research Shows are important – that homosexuality can be reoriented and that attempts to change are not necessarily harmful. But the third section of research is especially striking – and sobering. The authors conclude – again, after evaluating hundreds of studies in an exhaustive process spanning more than eighteen months – the following:

 

There is a general consensus in the scientific literature that greater pathology exists among homosexually-oriented people than among heterosexuals. In fact, it is difficult to find another group in society with such high risks for experiencing such a wide range of medical, psychological, and relational dysfunctions.[15]

The number of studies that document this disparity and the number of pathologies demonstrated is staggering. Significantly, these serious issues have been largely ignored or explained away by groups like the APA. And just as with the evidence about reorientation, recent research confirms what previous reports and studies show:

 

Recent research using methodologically current quantitative survey criteria confirms the results of less rigorous studies from several decades ago. The pathology is not of a single kind; rather, it has many individual manifestations. It consists of a strikingly greater incidence of a wide range of mental health disorders – specifically substance abuse, depression, and suicidality; but also extending to pathological risk-taking, high breakup rates of relationships, and sexual addiction. No empirical study has ever documented that these higher rates of pathology may be explained solely (or even primarily) by society’s disapproval of homosexuality.[16]

What Research Shows reviews numerous studies that show significantly higher levels for gay- and lesbian-identified men and women for a host of problems. The report offers a “synthesis of the literature derived from hundreds of sources”:

 

  • Despite knowing the AIDS risk, homosexuals repeatedly and pathologically continue to indulge in unsafe sex practices.
  • Homosexuals represent the highest number of STD cases.
  • Many homosexual sex practices are medically dangerous, with or without protection.
  • More than one-third of homosexual men and women are substance abusers.
  • Forty percent of homosexual adolescents report suicidal histories.
  • Homosexuals are more likely than heterosexuals to have mental health concerns, such as eating disorders, personality disorders, paranoia, depression, and anxiety.
  • Societal bias and discrimination do not, in and of themselves, contribute to the majority of homosexual maladaptivity.[17]

 

 

This last point is especially important, since many gay apologists claim that these prevalent problems that are solely the result of so-called “heterosexist bias” or “homophobia.” The report demonstrates, however, that cities and countries which are very accepting and approving of homosexuality show similarly high levels of pathology. And the authors cite the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, which came to the conclusion that:

 

…while factors such as social stigma and discrimination are widely believed to place homosexual men and women at higher risk for developing substance abuse and other difficulties, existing research fails to document this belief.[18]

NARTH also suggests another possibility: “that these conditions may somehow be related to the psychological structure of a homosexual orientation or consequences of a homosexual lifestyle.” And they remark that this hypothesis has “not been disconfirmed.”[19] More study is definitely needed on this issue.

 

For those who claim to have the best interests of the gay community at heart, true social justice, compassion, concern and intellectual honesty dictate that men and women who want to pursue freedom from homosexuality – whether because of their faith or because of the health risks associated with homosexuality – should be afforded that opportunity by the mental health industry, including its associations and educational institutions.



 
[1] James E. Phelan, MSW, Neil Whitehead, Ph.D. and Philip M. Sutton, National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality Scientific Advisory Committee, “What Research Shows: NARTH’s Response to the American Psychological Association’s (APA) Claims on Homosexuality,” Journal of Human Sexuality, 1 (2009): 1-128.
[2] NARTH, “What Research Shows: NARTH’s Response to the APA Claims on Homosexuality” (Summary), pp. 1, 2, and 3, 9 June 2009, <http://www.narth.com/docs/journalsummary.html> (30 June 2009).
[3] Phelan, Whitehead and Sutton, 2009, p. 19.
[4] Ibid., pp. 19-32.
[5] Ibid., “Background” and pp. 9-39.
[6] Ibid., emphasis theirs, p. 37.
[7] American Psychological Association, “Answers to Your Questions: For a Better Understanding of Sexual Orientation & Homosexuality,” 2008, <http://www.apa.org/topics/sorientation.html#whatabout> (30 June 2009).
[8]Linda A. Nicolosi, “NARTH’s Governing Board Unanimously Accepts the Leona Tyler Principle,” 8 February 2007, <http://www.narth.com/docs/ltyler.html> (30 June 2009).
[9] Phelan, Whitehead and Sutton, 2009, p. 37.
[10] Ibid., p. 41.
[11] Ibid., p. 50.
[12] NARTH, 2009, 3.
[13] APA, 2008.
[14] Douglas C. Haldeman, “Gay rights, patient rights: The implications of sexual orientation conversion therapy,” Paper presented at the meeting of the American Psychological Association, Washington, D.C., 2000, quoted in Phelan, Whitehead and Sutton, 2009, pp. 48-49.
[15] Phelan, Whitehead and Sutton, 2009, p. 53.
[16] Ibid., p. 53.
[17] Ibid., p. 87.
[18] Ibid., p. 60.
[19] NARTH, 2009, p. 4.
Johnston is a research analyst at Focus on the Family.
Accessed 7/6/09
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