Sexuality can change – so why ban help for those who aren’t glad to be gay?

So the government, obviously at a loose end with all the Brexit arrangements going swimmingly, has announced an intention to ban ‘gay conversion therapy’. Precisely what will be banned remains unclear, but it seems to be any therapeutic intervention aimed at altering a person’s ‘sexual orientation’, in other words the relative strength of their sexual attraction to their own sex and the opposite sex. You might have thought that in a free country we would be free to pursue therapy like this. We can seek treatment if we’re unhappy about our biological sex, or with the size of our breasts or penises, so surely we can seek help if we’re unhappy with our sexual preferences. But apparently not.

Many appear to be of the view that it is only people under the malign influence of conservative religion who could have any wish to avoid being gay. But in fact all it really needs is for someone to want to settle down and have a family in the usual biological way. Not an uncommon aspiration, you would have thought.

Modern studies reveal an intriguing picture of human sexuality, one which is much more complex than the ‘some people are gay and some are straight’ binary myth that permeates popular culture and, increasingly, government policy. A 2003 study by Paul Dickson, for example, found only a third of those who identified as lesbian in their early 20s reported still being attracted only to women a decade later. This instability of homosexual orientation has been found to be particularly marked in women. Other studies have counterintuitively revealed that lesbians are many times more likely to become unintentionally pregnant, and gay men are many times more likely unintentionally to have impregnated a (female) sexual partner, than their heterosexual peers – indicating, of course, much greater engagement in straight sex than their orientation identifier would suggest.

The evidence is clear, then: same-sex attraction can change over time, and also co-exist with opposite-sex attraction (even among those who don’t identify as bisexual). Given this ambivalence, we can easily imagine therapy being sought by those who wish, for the sake of establishing and sustaining a normal family life, to rein in unwanted sexual desires for people of the same sex, in a similar way that someone might seek help for porn addiction or other sexual distractions from marital monogamy. Another group who might seek support are those who find they have undergone (or are undergoing) an involuntary change in sexual orientation and want help understanding what is happening to them and how they might respond to it practically.

But does such therapy work? Given that same-sex attraction is not simply genetic (twin studies have established this point, though it appears epigenetics plays a role) it would seem that it should be susceptible to therapeutic intervention. However, this is a very controversial matter. The main reason it is controversial – though you wouldn’t know it from the confident way activists and policymakers handle the issue – is that there is an almost complete absence of rigorous studies into its potential effectiveness and harm. In fact, there is only one, by Stanton Jones and Mark Yarhouse in 2011, which concludes that the form of therapy examined in the study does not appear to do harm overall, and that ‘change of homosexual orientation appears possible for some’. Another, less rigorous, study by Robert Spitzer in 2001 found that the majority of gay men and lesbians who sought ‘re-orientation therapy’ were able to go on to have fulfilling sexual relationships with the opposite sex.

These results are of course encouraging for advocates of therapy. But the truth is that much more research is required, since one rigorous study and another of lower reliability is not enough to settle a question as contentious and passionately disputed as this. The BBC quote one Dr Louise Theodosiou of the Royal College of Psychiatrists stating unequivocally that ‘there’s no evidence base to support this therapy.’ Which is technically true (almost), but only because there is almost no evidence base at all, besides anecdotal horror stories (on one side) and success stories (on the other).

It is right to acknowledge the horror stories, and be honest that practice in this area in the past by the psychiatric establishment and others, and in a few places today including churches, is well below what is ethical and respectful, and in some cases outright criminal. But it would be a mistake to allow poor approaches to psychiatry and counselling in the past (of which this is far from the only example – electric shock therapy and lobotomies were standard treatment for a variety of conditions not so very long ago), and in a few pockets today, to discredit potentially ethical and effective forms of therapy for people who seek them. Otherwise, if we were being consistent, we would have to close down the entire psychiatric establishment, given some of the horrific treatments it has condoned and prescribed historically. But we know that’s not how these things work – we don’t learn from past errors or deal with abuses by shutting down the things which all our best current knowledge shows us can help people.

Given, then, that people do seek this kind of help, the lack of evidence base should surely be a spur to create and fund one, with whatever results that may produce, not ban the practice. Particularly as any ban will inevitably make such research much more difficult in the future. Which may well be part of the aim for the LGBT lobby, but if so it is misguided, as even from their own point of view any ban would be much more secure if it were to rest on solid scientific evidence.

But does anyone want to hear the other side of the story? All signs are that no one in the metropolitan ‘liberal’ elite is interested in the views of the ex-gay community. The government’s survey, out of which this proposal (among 75 others) has flowed, was limited to LGBT+ people themselves and so excluded anyone who identifies as ex-gay or no longer counts themselves under the LGBT banner. The strategy of excluding all evidence and submissions from ex-gays – and this is despite UK case law having established that ‘ex-gay’ is a protected characteristic under the 2010 Equality Act – is par for the course in this area. The BBC’s coverage of the story, for example, was typical in failing to quote from a single person who supports the therapy or feels they benefited from it. The Beeb also has never, as far as I am aware, run a feature on the movement. A recent ex-gay film, Voices of the Silenced, has (aptly enough) been banned from many of the places where it was initially booked to be shown.

If you think all this is just relevant to a few disaffected gay people, think again. It’s all part of the Leftist agenda to establish LGBT identities as inherent parts of human nature. As Dr Theodosiou went on: ‘Your sexuality and your gender ID are inherent and there’s no evidence base and no therapeutic treatment to change what is simply part of someone’s nature.’ Notice here how sexuality is being rolled in with ‘gender ID’ and claims about what is ‘inherent’ in the ‘nature’ of human beings. Activists will not rest until they have established by fiat that LGBT ideology trumps biology, science and our God-given design as male and female. This affects us all.

First published at The Conservative Woman.

(Image credit: Ludovic Bertron/Wikimedia Commons)

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