June 23, 2014
Warning: This blog is written for a rational audience that likes to have fun wrestling with unique or controversial points of view. It is written in a style that can easily be confused as advocacy for one sort of unpleasantness or another. It is not intended to change anyone’s beliefs or actions. If you quote from this post or link to it, which you are welcome to do, please take responsibility for whatever happens if you mismatch the audience and the content.
In the future nation of Texas, Republicans have adopted a platform that includes support of “reparative therapy” for gays who voluntarily choose that path. Many Republicans in Texas believe gayness is a lifestyle choice that can be “fixed” with voluntary therapy.
CNN reports that the biggest scientific and professional organization in psychology says, “To date, there has been no scientifically adequate research to show that therapy aimed at changing sexual orientation … is safe or effective.”
This is a tough issue for science-loving libertarians. On one hand, science doesn’t support the safety and effectiveness of so-called reparative therapy. And allowing it to exist sends a toxic message to society about what is “normal.”
On the other hand, psychological therapy is ineffective for a variety of other topics and we don’t ban people from trying those. So there’s a freedom question.
My opinion on topics of this type is show me the data. If the data doesn’t exist, I am biased toward individual freedom even if it carries some risk. So I favor banning therapists from claiming “cures” of gayness because there is no data to support such claims, but I wouldn’t stop an informed adult from giving it a try.
This brings me to a more interesting question: Would therapy of this sort work?
As regular readers know, I’m a certified hypnotist and a student of the practice for decades. The topic of hypnosis isn’t terribly deep, and mastering it isn’t much harder than becoming a Starbucks barista. But if you haven’t had the training it can all seem mysterious. So what follows is my self-assessed expert opinion (barista level) on the question of whether “therapy” can rewire an individual’s sexual preferences.
There are lots of qualifiers to that answer.
For starters, sexuality is not binary. Sure, some folks are probably born with deeply embedded gay or straight wiring and it will never change. But there’s a big grey area in the middle where people are attracted to humans of either gender.
Human brains are born with tendencies and preferences but experience can rewire us. You might be born with a natural attraction to cute animals, but if a dog attacks you when you are a child, that preference gets rewired in a minute. And if you want a new favorite color, a hypnotist can probably make that happen for you too.
Sexual preferences are presumably among the deepest and hardest to change. But my semi-expert opinion is that perhaps 20% of the public could be trained to rewire their sexual preferences. And a 20% success rate would be competitive with psychological therapy for other topics.
And by the way, the effectiveness would work both ways. You can probably make 20% of straight people cheerily turn gay or bisexual if for some reason they were motivated to do so.
Would it be ethical to rewire someone who volunteers for it? I’d say yes, assuming we are talking about an informed adult and no one else is getting hurt.
Would it be safe? That’s probably a mixed bag. I can imagine some people being psychologically worsened by the process and others being glad they did it. But I think society would be worse off for allowing reparative therapy to exist because of the message it sends about what is “normal” for humans. Emotionally, the idea of changing someone’s sexuality to conform to society’s expectations seems evil to me, and it reminds me of the Nazis. But that’s just a feeling. Should my feelings become your law?
My best guess is that reparative therapy would work for some people while damaging others. In other words, it would be similar to how psychological therapy in general works.
Should so-called reparative therapy be legal?
Co-founder of CalendarTree.com
Author of this book