NARTH article asking why homosexuality isn’t a disorder.

This article by Kathleen Melonakos from the NARTH website was recently reprinted by Lifesite News.

While I think it is important to advocate for healthy sexual conduct, I do question the sources and some of the conclusions of this article. I did not check everything but a few things seem important to note.

First, the article quotes the discredited work of Paul Cameron and relies on his conclusions based on questionable assumptions. One popular response to his work notes the problems with sampling and inference in his articles.

Also, Ms. Melonakos says: As far as I know, there is no other group of people in the United States that dies of infectious diseases in their mid-forties except practicing homosexuals. The evidence for this statement is in a footnote that leads to the 1997 article by Hogg et al that has been widely reported. The finding often quoted that is generalized to homosexuals as a group is:

In a major Canadian centre, life expectancy at age 20 years for gay and bisexual men is 8 to 20 years less than for all men. If the same pattern of mortality were to continue, we estimate that nearly half of gay and bisexual men currently aged 20 years will not reach their 65th birthday.

Rarely do sources that cite the Hogg et al study or that simply assume a mid-40s life expectancy then cite the follow up letter from Hogg et al where the authors provide context for their research. It is important to read this letter to understand the significance of their findings. In this note, they state:

In contrast, if we were to repeat this analysis today the life expectancy of gay and bisexual men would be greatly improved. Deaths from HIV infection have declined dramatically in this population since 1996. As we have previously reported there has been a threefold decrease in mortality in Vancouver as well as in other parts of British Columbia.

and

It is essential to note that the life expectancy of any population is a descriptive and not a prescriptive mesaure. Death is a product of the way a person lives and what physical and environmental hazards he or she faces everyday. It cannot be attributed solely to their sexual orientation or any other ethnic or social factor. If estimates of an individual gay and bisexual man’s risk of death is truly needed for legal or other purposes, then people making these estimates should use the same actuarial tables that are used for all other males in that population. Gay and bisexual men are included in the construction of official population-based tables and therefore these tables for all males are the appropriate ones to be used.

Ms. Melonakos then notes the psychiatric criteria for viewing a syndrome as a diagnosis. The behavior or syndrome must cause subjective distress and/or negative social/life consequences. She asserts that homosexuality satisfies these criteria because many gays are unhappy with their sexual orientation and being gay is a “lethal addiction.” First, the DSM does include a diagnosis for those who are in distress over their sexual orientation (302.90). Second, the evidence is not clear that simply having same-sex attraction or taking on a gay identity requires one to pursue practices that do indeed lead to shortened life or disabling disease. I have previously addressed this issue relating to mental health morbidity.

In short, I do not believe the article makes the case for considering homosexual attraction per se to be a psychiatric disorder. Disordered sexuality of any sort (many partners, risky behavior, comcommitant drug usage, etc.) can be treated under several diagnostic headings, whether the person is gay, straight or bisexual.

More on this article. In it, Ms. Melonakos asks: “Can anyone refute that increased morbidity and mortality is an unavoidable result of male-with-male sex–not to mention the increased rates of alcoholism, drug abuse, depression, suicide and other maladies that so often accompany a homosexual lifestyle?[v] People with this whole cluster of behavior patterns are somehow “normal”?”

This is pretty easily refuted by observing people who engage in male-to-male sex but do not have these disorders. Even in studies showing an increased risk of the disorders cited here, the majority of people studied do not have them. Somewhat, and in some cases, very minor, elevated risk, yes, but “unavoidable” incidence? No. Research does not show that increased morbidity and mortality is an unavoidable result of male-with-male sex.

To better understand the issues in anal cancer, see this National Cancer Institute article. HPV (against which condoms do not protect well) seems to be the major culprit. Men and women who engage in anal sex are at risk as are those who have had other STDs. The 4000% number quoted in the NARTH article seems pretty amazing until you consider that anal cancer is about unheard of in the general population. So instead of less than 1 case per 100,000, the rate is 35 per 100,000 in men who engage in anal sex. The risk is substantially elevated but the cancer is pretty rare. Even though the incidence is rare, I do think health professionals should provide this information to patients and in schools as well.

UPDATE (12/19/06) – NARTH Board member Dave Pruden tells me that the NARTH Scientific Advisory Committee is reviewing this article for accuracy.

1/4/07 -This article has been pulled from both the NARTH and Lifesite News websites.

NARTH article reviews Danish study on childhood correlates of gay and straight marriage

Lifesite News ran an article by Linda Ames Nicolosi summarizing a research report by Morten Frisch and Anders Hviid. I covered this research last month.

While I believe the research points to the potential influence of environmental factors broadly speaking, I think the Lifesite article overstates some of the findings.

Mrs. Nicolosi correctly notes the population size – 2,000,355 native-born Danes between the ages of 18 and 49 but does not clarify that the research did not examine childhood correlates for the unmarried Danes. For gays that would mean that the study examined social factors for the married gays or about 1-5% of the gay population in Denmark (n=1890 men; n=1573 women). The study is still quite large but conclusions cannot be generalized with certainty to unpartnered gay people.

In reading the Lifesite article, one could get the impression that gays and straight were directly compared and interrelated. In other words, if homosexual rates of marriage go up then heterosexual rates go down. Not necessarily so. The childhood correlates were independently compared to gay and straight marriage decisions. People with unknown fathers were indeed less likely to marry heterosexually (“Men and women with “unknown fathers” were significantly less likely to marry a person of the opposite sex than were their peers with known fathers”) but there was no significant relationship between unknown fathers and elevated homosexual marriage. Reduced heterosexual marriage rates do not necessarily mean increased same-sex marriage. I do not think Mrs. Nicolosi’s article is clear on this point.

Another point that is misleading from the Lifesite article is this bullet point: “Men whose parents divorced before their 6th birthday were 39% more likely to marry homosexually than peers from intact parental marriages.” While this is a true finding, Mrs. Nicolosi does not report that there were only 35 men in this category and that the difference in marriage rates between this group and the comparison group was not statistically significant. Thus, although true, one cannot attach much importance to it.

It is also relevant to point out that nearly 83% of the gay men in the study did not experience parental divorce prior to their 18th birthday. Thus, the vast majority of these men enjoyed intact families through their childhood.

As I read the study, there are several provocative findings, including:

1. The fraternal birth order effect did not show up, 2. Cohabitation is correlated with higher probability of marrying homosexually, 3. Divorce has negative impacts on marriage rates for staights, and 4. Elevated rates of homosexual marriage are associated with being born in a metropolitan area versus lowered rates if you live in a rural area.

UPDATE: 1/3/06 – Warner Huston has posted an article about this study on several conservative websites. He draws heavily from the NARTH article I reference above. My comment about his piece is here.

Mental health status and homosexuality

Since the LA Times article appeared in October, I have received several emails asking about various aspects of my views that were reported in the article. Some ask about my view that same-sex attraction does not always stem from poor parenting, others ask about my views on homosexuality and increased risk for pathology. I have covered the parenting issues in prior posts and want to address briefly the matter of risk for pathology.

Some wrote to say that when I was characterized by reporter Stephanie Simon as believing homosexuals can have a “fulfilling life” that I ignore research documenting a higher level of mental health problems among homosexuals.

I disagree that the reporter’s characterizations of my views ignore social science research. On the contrary, my views are quite consistent with what we know about homosexual adjustment. While there are consistent reports of elevations of various mental health problems among homosexuals, there are many homosexually identified people who are untroubled by diagnosable conditions.

For instance, the most recent published comparison of gays and straights on suicidality found that homosexuals were more likely to feel suicidal than heterosexual participants, even with psychiatric history considered. However, the effect sizes on dimensions of self-injurious thoughts and behaviors were small to modest (2-4%). For women, when psychiatric history was considered, the relationships disappeared for all indicators except the contemplation of self-harm. Even for men, the modest effect sizes indicate there is much overlap between straight and gay groups; the results cannot be accounted for by sexual orientation differences alone. (Archives of Sexual Behavior, June 2006).

To withhold “even the possibility” (quote from the LA Times article) of homosexuals experiencing happiness is not warranted by the research we have. In all studies of psychiatric problems among homosexuals, large numbers of homosexuals report no psychiatric distress. In the study of suicidality noted above, the majority of homosexuals reported no indication of difficulty. While rates are frequently elevated among homosexual men, and sometime among lesbians, such elevations do not preclude the possibility of a satisfying life. If so, then we would need to extend such thinking to other groups (both essential human categories and those socially constructed as well) where elevated risks are found. For instance, other groups who have elevated risk for depression include the elderly, women, people of low socioeconomic class, people who smoke, people living in high stress situations, and people with chronic medical conditions. Suicide risk is elevated among Native American teens compared to all youth (2.5 times). Higher rates of psychiatric disorders and substance abuse problems have been reported among physicians. Evidence from a large study of physician suicide indicates that the suicide rate among male doctors is twice that of men in general. The rate among female doctors is four times higher than for all women. (South Med J 93(10):966-972, 2000). Women in general are about three times more likely to attempt suicide than men. Would one deny the possibility of a rewarding life to members of these groups? Surely not.

Thus, it would be inconsistent with the research on psychiatric risk to deny members of at-risk groups “even the possibility” of a “fulfilling life,” whether partnered or not. Higher risk, yes; inevitable mental health maladjustment for all members of a group of people? No.

PS – I want to note that some of the correspondence about the LA Times came via a coordinated effort from NARTH to my college with the intent to appear that the effort was not coordinated.

Name the heterosexual: Answers

Ok, so not many wanted to guess. Can’t say I blame anyone; there wasn’t much to go on. However, these cases present some of the assumptions that conservatives often make when conceptualizing male homosexuality. I used a similar exercise about girls and eating disorders in one of my classes recently. Very few got that right either. I used that one to illustrate how clinicians can make poor judgments based on attachment to a pet theory of causation.

So here is the rest of the story…

James – Straight as can be. If one can believe self-report, no attractions to the same sex ever.

Dallas – Same-sex attracted but does not seek same-sex partners. Tried it, didn’t like it but has unmistakable attractions toward men. Weak opposite-sex attractions, may pursue heterosexual relationship if the “right” girl comes along.

John – Bisexually attracted; would rather have no same-sex attractions.

Gareth – A brief snippet of the boyhood of psychologist Gordon Allport who had a life-long heterosexual marriage. Although nothing I can find suggests he had same-sex attractions, one cannot be dogmatic about it.

ADDENDUM: A commenter said she might be able to do better with the eating disorders exercise. Here it is: who has the eating disorder?

Jill’s mother was constantly dieting and urging Jill, who had more of her father’s stocky build, to diet with her. At 14, Jill’s boyfriend dumped her for another girl, someone thinner.

Sarah’s mother was obese but did not seem troubled by it. Her parents were laissez-faire about most things and didn’t bother Sarah about her looks or weight. Sarah however was not proud of her mother’s appearance.

Jen’s parents were trim and athletic but did not force the children to be into sports. They were allowed to find their own interests and did not put much pressure on their children to achieve in school, just asking them to make good effort. Jen was involved in most school activities and is an A- student.

2005 article by Daryl Bem

Found this article recently by Daryl Bem. Not sure I agree with every point (I am not finished thinking about it) but this article may give some insight into the experience of some ex-gay men who report the experience of being attracted to their wives with some remaining same sex attraction. I think it addresses some of the discussion on this blog.

(2017 update) – For some reason, this 2005 post did not have a link to the Bem article. It was one of the very early posts on the blog and may not have transferred from Blogger to WordPress to Patheos. Because of fresh interest in the concepts involved, I added the link.

New Essay: Are Sexual Preferences Changeable?

Are Sexual Preferences Changeable?
Warren Throckmorton, PhD
July 19, 2005

Wayne Besen tracks down a dizzying array of former ex-gay leaders who later came out of the closet for good, including the two founders of Exodus. From an article by Mark Benjamin on Salon.com, July 18, 2005.

The article containing the above quote is entitled, Turning Off Gays and is the first of a four part series on the Internet site, Salon.com. The series is billed as an investigation into the Christian netherworld of reparative therapy,™ a disputed practice to convert gays and lesbians into heterosexuals. The topic is important to many due to the current curiosity, both scientific and popular, regarding the nature of sexual orientation.

Are sexual preferences changeable? Activist Wayne Besen, quoted above has made a career out of claiming that such change is impossible. As evidence, the Salon article, referencing Mr. Besen, claims that there were two founders of a prominent organization of former homosexuals, Exodus International, and that both of them reverted to homosexuality.

Are these claims accurate? Let me cut to the chase. Mostly, they are not true. In fact, after investigating the matter, I found that there were more than two people on the founding board of Exodus. Of these founders, only one reverted to homosexuality. Furthermore, one of the two men referred to by Mr. Besen was never in leadership with Exodus.

Here are the details….

To read the rest of the essay, go to DrThrockmorton.com. (This website is no longer functional). I am not sure if the above essay exists anywhere in full which is just as well since I don’t stay by the conclusions.)