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Beliefs and statements about homosexual orientation

History and obstacles preventing study

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A brief history of professional beliefs about homosexual orientation:

Until the mid 1950's the scientific study of human sexuality was in its infancy; research into sexual orientation was almost unknown. Homosexuality had been condemned by religious leaders for centuries. Almost all gays and lesbians remained securely in the closet. Homosexual behavior was a criminal act in most states of the U.S. It was branded a sexual deviation by mental health professionals.  Homosexuality was listed as a mental disorder by the American Psychiatric Association in their Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Psychiatric Disorders.

During the early 1950's, Psychologist Evelyn Hooker was inspired to undertake research into sexual orientation after having befriended Sam From -- a gay student who attended one of her psychology classes at UCLA. He didn't seem to fit any of the familiar stereotypes of a gay male. With a grant from the National Institute of Mental Health, she compared two groups of subjects: one homosexual and the other heterosexual. Author Ryan Johnson wrote:

"Both groups were matched for age, intelligence quotient (IQ) and education level, and were then subjected to three psychological tests. These three tests, the Rorschach, Thematic Apperception Test (TAT) and the Make-A-Picture-Story Test (MAPS), were then analyzed by psychologists, and the results were tabulated. The results of Hooker's experiment yielded no significant differences in answers..." 1 between the two groups.

In 1957, Hooker published a report called "The Adjustment of the Male Overt Homosexual." It showed that "homosexuals were not inherently abnormal and that there was no difference between homosexual and heterosexual men in terms of pathology." Dr. Hooker later headed the Task Force on Homosexuality of the National Institute of Mental Health for many years.

According to one commentator:

"As a result of Hooker's study and others that corroborated her findings, the American Psychiatric Association removed homosexuality from its Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Psychiatric Disorders in 1973; two years later, the American Psychological Association followed suit and declared that homosexuality was not a mental disorder. In fact, in July 1994, the American Psychological Association issued a statement concluding that 'homosexuality is neither mental illness nor moral depravity. It is simply the way a minority of our population expresses human love and sexuality'." 2

Evelyn Hooker died on 1996-NOV-18, but had lived long enough to see the acceptance of homosexuality as a normal, natural sexual variant by most religious liberals, social liberals, professional mental health associations, and youth. She also saw the establishment of a new area of scientific study: sexual orientation in humans.

As of 2006, all of the professional organizations in the field state that homosexuality is a normal, natural, and fixed sexual orientation, with the exception of a small group, The National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality whose beliefs appear to be heavily influenced by conservative Christian interpretation of the Bible.

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Obstacles preventing accurate studies of sexual orientation:

Unfortunately, the study of sexual orientation has many obstacles, not the least of which are bias, lack of accurate measurement techniques and self-delusion:

bulletBias:  Few if any scientists motivated to study human sexuality enter the field without strong biases. It is extremely difficult for a researcher to remain totally objective and impartial on a matter as intimately personal as sexual orientation.

Our finding in an unrelated medical field may be instructive here: we searched for information on when in gestation a fetus is capable of feeling pain. Many pro-life physicians believe that a fetus can feel pain as early as 7 weeks - part way through the first trimester. Many pro-choice physicians believe that it is not until certain synaptic connections are formed within the fetal brain at about the 28th week of pregnancy that pain can be sensed. This is well into the third trimester when very few pregnancies are terminated. There may be some pro-choice researcher in the world that says 17.5 weeks or less; there may be some pro-life researcher who said 17.5 weeks or more. But we have been unable to find any.

Human sexuality is similar:
bulletConservative Christians often define homosexuality as something that people do; it is  a chosen preference. It is a disorder caused by poor parenting and/or sexual molestation as a child, which be overcome through therapy and prayer.
bulletGays, lesbians, religious liberals, and most therapists believe homosexuality is something that people are; it is a pre-determined orientation that is normal and natural for them, just as heterosexual orientation is normal and natural for heterosexuals. And they feel that it is fixed and unchangeable, perhaps genetically determined like gender and race. With such an extreme polarization, it is rare for a researcher to be completely unbiased. There appears to be no middle ground.
bulletResearch studies: In the decades prior to Evelyn Hooker's pioneering work, researchers committed a fatal error when studying homosexuals. They recruited their subjects from prisons and therapists offices. They ended up studying individuals who had been in trouble with the law and who experienced emotional problems relating to their sexual orientation. It was only when Hooker recruited subjects from the general gay and lesbian population that this bias was overcome. Decades later, in the late 20th century, researchers repeated the same error when studying the homosexual behavior and orientation of youth.
bulletMeasurement: There is no consensus on the precise meaning of the terms "homosexual" or "heterosexual." Some measure sexual orientation in terms of an individual's fantasies; others in terms of a person's self-description; or the gender to which the person is attracted; or their behavior, etc.

Consider a statement like: "if identical twins are separated at birth and raised in isolation from each other, and one is gay, then there is a 50% chance that the other is gay." A number of studies have concluded this. But the statement is not precise, unless we can first decide what the term "homosexual" really means. What if one twin is clearly gay, while the other twin was deeply in the closet and refused to admit that he is a homosexual? What if the twin is celibate, has homosexual fantasies but never had a homosexual relationship?

Continued on next essay

References used:

  1. Ryan D. Johnson, "Homosexuality: Nature or Nurture," AllPsych Journal, 2003-APR-30. Online at: http://allpsych.com/ He refers to Evelyn Hooker as "Karen Hooker" in his essay.
  2. Anon, "The Biological Basis of Homosexuality," at: http://www.geocities.com

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Home > "Hot" topics > Homosexuality > Basic data > Beliefs & statements > here

Copyright © 1998 to 2009 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally written: 1998-FEB-5
Latest update: 2009-NOV-04
Author: B.A. Robinson

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