This post is part of a series of guest posts on GPS by the undergraduate and graduate students in my Science vs. Pseudoscience course. As part of their work for the course, each student had to demonstrate mastery of the skill of “Educating the Public about Pseudoscience.” To that end, each student has to prepare a 1,000ish word post on a particular pseudoscience topic, as well as run a booth on-campus to help reach people physically about the topic.
Trying to Fix Something that’s Not a Problem by Kyler Lunsford
Whether you are a woman or a man, sexuality plays a major role in everyone’s life. The development of one’s sexuality is influenced by different dynamics. The most influential dynamic is often one’s gender, which has a major control on one’s sexuality development. Individual sexuality development starts in one’s preadolescent years as one starts to curiously identify himself or herself as male or female. This is only the beginning of the identifying process and as one develops into their adolescent years one becomes more mindful of their own personal sexual identity.
During these adolescent years, teenagers are struggling to find themselves and figuring out their sexual identity and how to relate. One’s sexual orientation refers to an enduring pattern of emotional, romantic, and/or sexual attractions to men, women, or both sexes. The process of mastering rising sexual emotions amid these adolescent years, as well as structuring a feeling of sexual character, is a multifaceted and lengthy process. During this process of identifying one’s sexual character one will learn to manage their sexual feelings (such as sexual arousal and attraction), develop new types of intimacy and learn skills needed to regulate sexual behavior. Many teenagers struggle with their sexuality identity, but this is most often apparent with gay and lesbian teens. A large number of gay and lesbian teens do not engage in heterosexual dating because most of their adolescent is spent with a quiet struggle with their same-sex attractions. It is not until later into their adolescence that they recognize themselves as being gay or lesbian.
Even though the development of one’s sexual identity is developed through the growing/learning process over the preadolescent and adolescent years, the American Psychiatric Association first viewed homosexuality as a disorder. It was viewed as a mental disorder and was thought to be curable with the correct treatment. This treatment was known as conversion therapy (also known as reparative/reorientation therapy), which was aimed to correct one’s sexual orientation from being homosexual to heterosexual. Such treatments included behavioral modification, gay camps, psychoanalysis and reparative therapy.
Behavioral modification is the use of empirically demonstrated behavior change techniques to increase or decrease the frequency of behaviors, such as altering an individual’s behaviors and reactions to stimuli through positive and negative reinforcement of adaptive behavior and/or the reduction of behavior through its extinction, punishment and/or satiation. Some of the techniques involved in homosexual treatments included electric shock therapy (to hands and/or genitals) and drugs that induced nausea during the presentation of homosexual erotic images. This was believed to strengthen heterosexual feelings by relating pain and/or nausea with same-sex arousal. This form of therapy did not increase heterosexual feelings but only suppressed homosexual feelings. These methods, “torture,” were all based on the idea that homosexual is a behavior that is learned and can be reconditioned, but in reality it only shamed homosexuals of their sexuality and made them fearful of their sexual identity.
Another conversion therapy, which has also been termed “gay curing/pray the gay away camps” is where individuals that are struggling with their sexuality, same-sex attraction, attend to help convert or mask their homosexual tendencies and practice a “straight” lifestyle. Attendance of these camps can be voluntary but in most cases is result of parents being disappointed their child is not “normal.” During the time spent at these “gay away camps” attendees are encouraged to look towards a higher power and to pray for ‘God’ to help them change their ways. They are taught that the reason for their ‘gayness’ is in result from many factors that may have been a part of their life or not. For example, they are told that they come from an abusive home, or they lack a healthy relationship with their mother/father or ‘gayness’ was a result from their own fight with depression. All of which are complete nonsense, there are plenty of heterosexuals that struggle with all of these same factors but are viewed to be fine. There are even stories that arise in the media of how attendees come forward and explain that they were starved, tortured and even raped, all of which were implemented to help guide, “cure” their homosexuality. There is no actual proof that any of these spiritual intervention techniques helping with the changing of a gay man/woman’s sexual preference to one of a heterosexual’s sexual preference, although they have proven to increase suicide rates in homosexuals.
Psychoanalysis treatment and reparative therapy of homosexuality are two more types of treatment that was/is viewed to help correct homosexuality. Psychoanalysis is a method of long-termed therapy, which is intended to address and determine unconscious adolescent conflicts that are viewed as being the root of homosexuality. Reparative therapy attempts to convert homosexuals from a gay lifestyle to a hetero-lifestyle. Dr. Joseph Nicolosi implemented an 11 step plan that conditions a man to a traditional “masculine gender role.” These steps are as follows: (1) participate in sports activities, (2) avoid activities considered of interest to homosexuals, such [as] art museums, opera, symphonies, (3) avoid women unless it is for romantic contact, (4) increase time spent with heterosexual men, (5) attend church and join a men’s church group, (6) attend reparative therapy group to discuss progress, or slips back into homosexuality, (7) become more assertive with women through flirting and dating, (8) begin heterosexual dating, (9) engage in heterosexual intercourse, (10) enter into heterosexual marriage, and (11) father children. Although these methods are still practiced by some still today there is not evidence that individuals are “cured” of their homosexuality. The steps do not in any way change one’s sexual preference but rather has the individual mask and avoid their true desires. These methods have both been discredited by many mental health professionals and are not viewed as successful ways of converting gay man and women to being straight.
There has been a lot of research and studies on homosexuality and the attempt of many to change their sexual orientation, their sexual identity, but there is a very low “success” rate. One’s sexuality is not a mental disorder and has since been removed from the disease/disorder classifications of the World Health Organization and the American Psychiatric Association. Homosexuality is not a choice nor is it a learned behavior so these treatments to cure or convert people of their “gayness” do not work and society needs to recognize that they are only hindering the lives of others by discriminating against them.