(404) 874-8536 johnballew@gmail.com

Changing Sexual Orientation?

A few years ago a study presented by a psychiatrist at Columbia University claims a success rate of up to 66 percent in changing “motivated” homosexuals into heterosexuals.  The research consisted of 45-minute telephone interviews with 143 men and 57 women who had sought help from religious organizations and mental health professionals claiming success in changing sexual orientation.  The study has not been accepted for publication anywhere – not even professionally reviewed, in fact, but simply presented at the May 9 meeting of the American Psychiatric Association.

Another study presented at the same conference produced very different results:  6 individuals out of 202 changed their orientation in that study, a 3 percent “success” rate.  178 individuals, or 88 percent, completely failed to alter their sexual orientation.

The changeability of sexual orientation is a political issue in our society.  The officially sanctioned orientation (heterosexuality) bestows benefits ranging from lower taxes for straight couples to social and religious approval.  Having other sexual orientations – being gay, for instance – makes you susceptible to termination of employment at the whim of your boss in many states.

Under these circumstances, it makes a big difference if the unsanctioned orientation is a fact of life or merely a “choice.”  When the conversation gets framed in terms of “motivation,” as it was in this study, gay folks simply look like slackers who simply haven’t tried hard enough.

Sexual orientation is not only an issue of whether you are sexual with men or women (or both men and women).  Orientation includes not only sexual behavior, but also attractions and desires, whether acted on or not.  You can act heterosexual – many of us tried that at one time or another – but that certainly doesn’t make you heterosexual.  Similarly, heterosexual men may be sexual with other men in environments where women aren’t available (the military, prison, etc), but that doesn’t make them gay.  Sexual orientation is also a matter of emotional and social attraction as well as behavior.  It encompasses how we self identify and proclaim ourselves to the world.

Some people are miserable in their same-sex attraction.  If your religion tells you that God is going to send you to hell for eternity – and if you believe that – then of course you are going to consider your attraction to someone of the same sex a soul-threatening dilemma.  Similarly, if your family attacks you because you are “that way,” or if you live with discrimination or violence at work or school, you may feel that your sexual orientation is a loathsome burden.  Of course, your orientation is not really the problem:  the problem is the bigotry you encounter from church, family and society.  It can be less threatening to think of something inside of you as the source of the pain than to challenge authority.  That’s especially true of you are being told that change is possible if you are sufficiently “motivated.”

A few people who are primarily homosexual in orientation but who have some degree of bisexuality about them can probably change their behavior and start sleeping with the socially approved gender given enough coercion.  This is often temporary, or fraught with “relapses.”  Ex-gay poster boys caught in gay bars are a staple of headlines in gay publications and blogs, as are right wing politicians caught with a same-sex lover.

Some people become so despondent because of the bigotry they encounter (not because of their orientation) that they truly suffer.  Studies demonstrate that staying in the closet increases your risk of alcoholism, depression and self-destructive behavior.  People struggling with this sort of unhappiness need to find a gay- supportive psychotherapist.

The answer is not to try to change your sexual orientation.  The answer is to love and affirm yourself, find ways to reach out and learn more, and embrace your life.

About John

I have been  licensed by the State of Georgia as a professional counselor for more than 25 years.  My areas of specialty are relationships, intimacy, sexuality, anxiety and depression.  My passion is helping people build happier lives and stronger relationships. 

I know it isn’t always easy to talk about problems.  My approach to counseling is nonjudgmental and compassionate.  If you have questions, I welcome the opportunity to talk with you about working together.

Let's get started.

Whether you've worked with a therapist before or are exploring counseling for the first time, you probably have questions.  It is important to have the information you need to make a good decision when selecting a therapist.  I welcome your questions -- about your specific situation, about me or about my approach to therapy. Making things better can start with an email, or you can call me at (404) 874-8536.