Can Sexual Orientation Be Changed?
In fact, in 2009, the American Psychological Association overwhelmingly voted to adopt the position that no solid evidence exists that therapy can change sexual orientation and that research did exist indicating "that efforts to produce change could be harmful, inducing depression and suicidal tendencies."
But What About People Who Claim Success?
You might have heard people say things like, "If a gay person really wanted to change, he could." Or, "lesbians just had bad experiences with guys. All they need is to meet the right one. Then they'd be straight."
Despite what people think, being GLBT is not a choice, and it is not something that can simply be changed through force of will. Though it is true that people can change their behavior, that's not the same as changing their sexual orientation. For example, a gay guy might decide to date girls because of social and family pressure, but that doesn’t mean he's no longer gay.
The practice is thought to have originated with gynecologist, William Masters and psychologist, Virginia Johnson. The two made names for themselves as pioneers of sexuality research in the 1960s, and are best remembered for their identification of the four phase human sexual response cycle.
What they are less remembered for is their innovation of the idea of “homosexual conversion,” which they wrote about in a book called, Homosexuality in Perspective.
Masters and Johnson biographer, Thomas Maier wrote in Scientific American:
"Prior to the book's publication, doubts arose about the validity of their case studies. Most staffers never met any of the conversion cases during the study period of 1968 through 1977, according to research I've done for my new book Masters of Sex. Clinic staffer Lynn Strenkofsky, who organized patient schedules during this period, says she never dealt with any conversion cases. Marshall and Peggy Shearer, perhaps the clinic's most experienced therapy team in the early 1970s, says they never treated homosexuals and heard virtually nothing about conversion therapy."
Religion Steps In
Despite the fact that most people in the sexual health field soon abandoned the idea of conversion therapy, some religious groups hostile to gay rights jumped on the bandwagon. As About's Guide to Gay Life explains,
"Ex-gay ministries started in the early 1970's with a group called Love in Action, under the principle that through prayer gay people could be "cured" of their same-gender feelings and converted to heterosexuality. Shortly after, the co-founder of Love in Action, Rev. Kent Philpott, wrote the landmark book The Third Sex?, which described the conversion process of six gay people to heterosexuality.
Attention surrounding The Third Sex? resulting in the first ex-gay conference, of which the largest ex-gay ministry, Exodus International was created. The ex-gay movement grew with the creation of several ex-gay organizations that all believe homosexuality can be repaired."
Teens and young adults whose families do not accept them tend to be the largest group affected by ex-gay programs. Some go to "counseling" or even summer camp programs willingly because they are so unhappy and uaccepted in their communities. Others are forced into "treatment" by their parents.
Recently, Samuel Brinton, a University student in Kansas posted a video in which he described the extreme physical abuse he suffered at the hands of his father, a man who claimed to be trying to turn the teen straight through conversion therapy.
Though there is very little evidence that reparative therapy does what it claims, there is plenty showing the emotional and even physical harm that it can inflict.