Are people born homosexual?

The republishing of 2001 research has rekindled this smoldering debate and created a firestorm within academia, reports the London daily Independent.

A study based on interviews with 200 men and women who claimed to have switched their homosexual preferences demonstrates some “gays” are capable of becoming “predominantly” heterosexual through psychotherapy.

“In some of the subjects, the reports of change in sexual orientation were substantial, credible and believable,” said Robert Spitzer, the professor of psychiatry at Columbia University in New York who conducted the study.

“The subjects’ self-reports of change appear to be, by and large, valid, rather than gross exaggerations, brain-washing or wishful thinking,” Spitzer said in a summary of his analysis, according to the Washington Post.

Spitzer’s research has been republished in the current issue of Archives of Sexual Behavior.

The 200 subjects, mostly from the U.S. and Canada, participated in “self control” therapy which entailed avoiding tempting situations, stopping erotic thoughts from developing or mixing socially with straight men and women in non-sexual situations.

According to the findings, all 143 men and 57 women claimed the therapy altered their view of the same sex to some extent. All reported maintaining the change for at least five years.

“The current, politically correct view is that this therapy never works. I think it doesn’t work a lot of the time but in some people it does,” said Spitzer. “I do believe that people who are bothered by their homosexuality have a right to have this therapy.”

Spitzer is considered an authority on the subject. In 1973, he was instrumental in having homosexuality removed from the American Psychiatric Association’s list of mental illnesses. He maintains most homosexuals are happy with their sexual preference, but a minority are not and seek to change.

Critics of “reparative therapy” pan the study as flawed and argue the technique is only effective in getting people to resist their instincts.

Spitzer disagrees.

“This study provides evidence that some gay men and lesbians are able to also change the core features of sexual orientation. Almost all of the participants reported substantial changes in the core aspects of sexual orientation, not merely overt behavior,” he said.

John Bancroft, a sexologist at Indiana University’s Kinsey Institute in Bloomington said he wanted to know the specifics of what the therapy involved.

“At best, it has been a long process, with a substantial minority still continuing in ongoing therapy after many years,” he said.

Bancroft is also suspicious about the sample used because it consisted of men and women who sought treatment – primarily from religious organizations – because of their religious beliefs.

Supporters meanwhile hail the research for dispelling the notion homosexuality is “hard-wired” at birth, and therefore irreversible.

“Gay” advocates scoff at the notion of counseling to reshape sexual identity.

“It’s simplistic and insulting to someone’s intelligence to say you can be completely straight or completely gay,” Cathy Renna, a spokeswoman for the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation told the Post. “So many factors come into who we are as individuals.”

Spitzer’s findings sharply contrast with those of an earlier study conducted by New York City psychologists Ariel Shidlo and Michael Schroeder.

In this study, only six of 202 “gay” men and lesbians who had been through counseling reported changing their sexual preference to heterosexuality. These subjects were interviewed between 1995 and 2000 for an average of 90 minutes. According to the interviews, 178 failed to change their orientation and 18 reported becoming asexual or conflicted.

What’s more, the majority of subjects were left with a mistrust for mental health professionals and had to relearn how to form intimate relationships, according to the Post,. Many said they were misled by counselors into thinking homosexuality was caused by child abuse, bad parenting or a disorder.

“There are some people who became very injured by failing the therapy and entered a post-treatment reconstruction phase where they spent years trying to recover from the process,” Schroeder told the Post in a telephone interview. “There is a lot of self-blame.”

As if to head off such criticism, Spitzer cautioned in his report that the results of his study “should not be misused to justify coercive treatment.”

For its part, the American Psychiatric Association refuses to take sides in the debate. Since reversing its stance in 1973 and declaring homosexuality is not a mental disorder, the group has also maintained that homosexuals do not need therapy.

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