Can Homosexuals Become Straight?
May 9, 2001 -- Boy meets girl, girl meets boy, and the two fall in love. Few would think that a natural inclination could or should be changed through psychiatric treatment.
Yet some homosexual men and women seek to alter their sexual orientation through "reparative therapy" -- a form of treatment that specifically seeks to alter the thoughts, feelings, and fantasies that constitute sexual desire. Despite anecdotal reports of success by some individuals, reparative therapy -- whether it works, whether it is scientifically valid, whether it is ethical -- has been the object of heated debate; the American Psychiatric Association has denounced reparative therapy, saying it has no sound scientific basis.
But now a startling new study by a psychiatrist who was instrumental in removing homosexuality from the psychiatric profession's list of disorders in 1973, suggests that some people who are highly motivated may be able to change their sexual orientation.
Early reports of the study, presented at the annual meeting of the American Psychiatric Association yesterday, created a maelstrom of media publicity and efforts by APA officials to reiterate the association's position.
"The APA opposes any psychiatric treatment, such as reparative or conversion therapy, which is based on the assumption that homosexuality per se is a mental disorder or based upon an assumption that the patient should change his or her homosexual orientation," said APA President Steven Mirin, MD. "The risks of reparative therapy are great since therapist alignment with societal prejudices against homosexuality may reinforce self-hatred already experienced by the patient."
By the time psychiatrist Robert Spitzer, MD, of Columbia University School of Medicine, presented the results of his study today, a packed house of observers already knew -- or thought they knew -- what he was going to say.
What he had to say was that 200 individuals surveyed through a telephone interview claim to have changed their sexual orientation.
In a wide-ranging interview with the 200 subjects, Spitzer sought to ascertain how homosexual people felt they were prior to therapy, and how heterosexual they felt they had become afterward. Some results:
- More than 80% of males and 60% of females indicated they were sexually attracted to members of the same sex often or very often as teenagers; 60% of males and 40% of females say they were never or rarely attracted to the opposite sex as teenagers.
- Before therapy, 99% of males and 88% of females say they looked with lust or daydreamed about having sex with a member of the same sex.
- After therapy, 32% of the males and 5% of the females reported same-sex fantasies or daydreams.
- After therapy, 29% of males and 63% of females reported no or only minimal homosexual feelings, including attraction, lustful thoughts, fantasies during masturbation, or homosexual behavior.