Francis Collins to head National Institutes of Health

Those who have been reading awhile know I have not been President Barack Obama’s biggest fan. However, he hit a home run with his choice of Francis Collins to head the NIH.

President Obama on Wednesday nominated Dr. Francis S. Collins, a pioneering geneticist who led the government’s successful effort to sequence the human genome, as head of the National Institutes of Health.

Dr. Francis S. Collins, leader of the federal human genome project, was selected to head the National Institutes of Health.

Dr. Collins’s selection, which had been rumored for weeks, was praised by top scientists and research advocacy organizations for whom the health institute is a crucial patron.

Based in Bethesda, Md., the N.I.H. is the most important source of research money in the world; over the next 14 months it will dole out about $37 billion in research grants and spend $4 billion on research programs at its Maryland campus.

Dr. Collins wrote to XGW’s David Roberts and me to clarify his views regarding genetics and homosexuality back in September of 2008. At the time, Collins wanted to make clear his views regarding change and cause of homosexuality which he believed had been miscast somewhat by NARTH past-president Dean Byrd.

In his reply to XGW, Collins said about the NARTH article:

It troubles me greatly to learn that anything I have written would cause anguish for you or others who are seeking answers to the basis of homosexuality. The words quoted by NARTH all come from the Appendix to my book “The Language of God” (pp. 260-263), but have been juxtaposed in a way that suggests a somewhat different conclusion that I intended. I would urge anyone who is concerned about the meaning to refer back to the original text.

The evidence we have at present strongly supports the proposition that there are hereditary factors in male homosexuality — the observation that an identical twin of a male homosexual has approximately a 20% likelihood of also being gay points to this conclusion, since that is 10 times the population incidence. But the fact that the answer is not 100% also suggests that other factors besides DNA must be involved. That certainly doesn’t imply, however, that those other undefined factors are inherently alterable.

In Byrd’s article, he followed Collins’s quote with this statement:

Dr. Collins noted that environment, particularly childhood experiences as well as the role of free will choices affect all of us in profound ways.

This could easily make it seem as though Collins believed childhood experiences and choice were involved in homosexuality and thus, perhaps “alterable.”

In response to mischaracterizations of his views, he wrote the following to Robert and me:

Hello David and Warren,

I am happy to confirm that these e-mail communications from May 2007 and yesterday are indeed authentic, and represent my best effort at summarizing what we know and what we don’t know about genetic factors in male homosexuality. I appreciate your continuing efforts to correct misstatements that seem to be circulating on the internet.

Regards, Francis Collins

I wish Dr. Collins great success at the NIH.

A major study of child abuse and homosexuality revisited

The role of child sexual abuse in sexual orientation has received some attention lately. In January, of this year, a prospective study demonstrated that child sexual abuse was associated with ever engaging in adult homosexual behavior for males but not for females. The study by Widom and Wilson demonstrated that physical abuse or neglect did not associate with homosexuality, nor did sexual abuse predict same-sex cohabitation or current sexual partner. In other words, measures of behavior (living with a same-sex partner ever, or living with one in the last year) that would be more reflective of orientation were not associated with histories of child sexual abuse. For males, ever engaging in homosexual behavior, however, was associated with sexual abuse. Many observers are not surprised by this finding which indicates that sexual behavior is associated with past abuse but enduring orientation may not be.

Prospective studies are quite valuable since they help control for loss of memory, reconstructed memories, self-report issues relating to abuse and other sources of bias. This study used court records and followed up the abused persons 30 years after the fact.

In evangelical circles, sexual abuse is frequently offered as a major cause of homosexuality, if not the major cause. NARTH often points to the traumatic experience as an important factor. Recently, Focus on the Family promoted a paper by Jeff Johnston on the topic. Cited by Dean Byrd in that paper and often cited in this context is a study based on a 2000 doctoral dissertation by Marie Tomeo, titled “Sexual Orientation Development” and conducted at the California School of Professional Psychology. The journal article based on the dissertation was published by the Archives of Sexual Behavior in 2001 with the following reference:

Tomeo, M. E., Templer, D. L., Anderson, S., & Kotler, D. (2001). Comparative data of childhood adolescence molestation in heterosexual and homosexual persons. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 30, 535–541.

The study compared people at a gay pride parade with a straight sample drawn primarily from a university. The abstract reports the highlights:

In research with 942 nonclinical adult participants, gay men and lesbian women reported a significantly higher rate of childhood molestation than did heterosexual men and women. Forty-six percent of the homosexual men in contrast to 7% of the heterosexual men reported homosexual molestation. Twenty-two percent of lesbian women in contrast to 1% of heterosexual women reported homosexual molestation. This research is apparently the first survey that has reported substantial homosexual molestation of girls. Suggestions for future research were offered.

Demonstrating a difference between gay and straight groups on sexual abuse is not novel. Numerous studies have reported at least some difference with only a few reporting no difference in abuse frequency between groups. However, Tomeo did something that was relevant to her overall dissertation topic. She was interested in exploring sexual abuse as a potential causal factor. Tomeo’s prime research hypothesis was that homosexuals would report more sexual abuse than heterosexuals. She also wanted to know when a person identified as gay and when the abuse occurred. This is an important question for studies which seek to attribute cause to abuse. With some people being aware of same-sex attraction at very early ages, one cannot say any subsequent abuse caused their SSA. Simply finding a significant difference between gay and straight groups cannot tell you anything definitive about cause. Here are the first nine questions Tomeo asked her participants:

1. Do you regard yourself as predominantly a heterosexual person or predominantly a gay/lesbian person?

2. If predominantly of heterosexual orientation, at what age did you begin to regard yourself as heterosexual?

3. If predominantly of homosexual orientation, at what age did you begin to regard yourself as homosexual?

4. Before you were 16 years old, did you ever have sexual contact with a woman or girl 5 or more years older than yourself and at least 16 years of age? (YES NO)

5. IF YES, at what age did this first occur?

6. What was your relationship to the person with whom this sexual contact occurred?

7. Before you were 16 years old, did you ever have sexual contact with a man or boy 5 or more years older than yourself and at least 16 years of age? (YES NO)

8. IF YES, at what age did this first occur?

9. What was your relationship to the person with whom this sexual contact occurred?

For a study of causation, these questions clearly have their limitations. For one thing, when one regards oneself as homosexual probably occurs later (sometimes much later) than awareness of same-sex attraction. Perhaps one could offer a theory of identity formation which includes sexual abuse but such a theory would not of necessity be a theory of how one’s attractions take the direction they do.

In Tomeo’s reporting of her study in both the dissertation and the journal article, however, there is a much larger concern. There are contradictions in the paper and the dissertation between the results sections and the discussion sections. A crucial problem is the inability to be certain about when the abuse occurred – before or after awareness of same-sex attraction. In the Archives of Sexual Behavior article, the following statement is made on pages 540-541 (this same statement is identical to her closing discussion in the dissertation):

Sixty-eight percent of the present homosexual male participants and 38% of the present homosexual female participants (68 and 36%, respectively, if including just the homosexual fair participants) did not identify as homosexual until after the molestation. This suggests that if molestation resulted in homosexuality, this phenomenon occurs in a greater proportion of male homosexuals. It may not, however, be a casual factor in either gender. Perhaps children or adolescents with a higher potential for homosexual behavior are more likely to enter a situation that leads to same-sex molestation. It must also be borne in mind that the present homosexual participants may not be representative of homosexual persons. The overwhelming preponderance of homosexual participants was in the gay pride group. There were only three homosexual men and seven homosexual women in the college group.

The clear implication in this discussion section is that the frequency of homosexual identification was a consequence of the abuse. However, in the table which reported the data regarding timing of identification, the authors report the same percentage of males who reported identification as gay before the abuse. Table II on page 538 reports (click the link for a clearer view):

Tomeo et al 2001

Something is not right here. The numbers for females add up to 100% but the male numbers are contradictory. If the table is correct, then the case for causation from this study is somewhat compromised. The table indicates that 68% of men identified as homosexual before their molestation experience.

My colleague Gary Welton and I first discovered this discrepancy nearly three years ago while preparing a scholarly article on the effects sizes of various suggested correlates of homosexuality (one which will be published later this year or early next year). At that time, I contacted Donald Templer, one of the co-authors and advisor to first author Marie Tomeo. I then contacted him again recently in preparation for this post. He has been unable to locate Dr. Tomeo to get clarification. I hope Dr. Tomeo can at some point clarify these matters.

Recently, I ordered the dissertation to check the original study. However, there are discrepancies in this document as well. First, here are the relevant research questions with results.

From page 36 of Marie Tomeo’s dissertation:

The 10th research question addressed, of homosexual women who were molested, what percentage were molested before self-identification as a homosexual woman and what percentage were molested after self-identification as a homosexual woman? Of homosexual women who were molested, 62% were molested before self-identification as a homosexual woman, and 38% were molested after self-identification as a homosexual woman.

On page 37, the other relevant result relates to men.

The 13th research question addressed, of homosexual men who have been molested, what percentage were molested before self-identification as homosexual men, and what percentage were molested after self-identification as homosexual? Of homosexual men who were molested, 68% were molested before self-identification as homosexual, and 32% were molested after self-identification as homosexual.

These results are at odds with the discussion sections of the dissertation and the journal. They are also at odds with the Table from the journal article. For what its worth, Dr. Templer thinks the correct data are in the Table from the journal article.

The bottom line is that the study should not be cited until a follow up correction can be made. The main results — gays report more abuse than straights — may indeed be correct, given the similarity to past studies. However, I do not believe any inferences about causation should be made. Without the actual surveys, there is no way a reader can figure out the results from the journal article and/or the dissertation.

One final thought, the research on sexual abuse among GLBT populations is often misused to make inferences about causation. There are many reasons why this line of research is important but causation is not at the top. Sexual abuse is a profoundly disruptive experience for many people and may contribute to a variety of negative outcomes in adulthood. Finding appropriate clinical and ministry responses may be clouded by focusing on the trauma as a cause of same-sex attraction.

WorldNetDaily suddenly finds year old NARTH article newsworthy

A reader emailed me to say that the American Psychological Association had recently changed the official view on homosexuality causation to endorse an environmental set of causes. The prompt for the email was this article from WorldNetDaily: “‘Gay’ gene claim suddenly vanishes
To arrive at this startling conclusion, the WND writer, Rob Unruh quotes an article published more than a year ago from NARTH titled, “APA’s New Pamphlet On Homosexuality De-emphasizes The Biological Argument, Supports A Client’s Right To Self-Determination.”
In the article, Dean Byrd notes that the APA document shifts emphasis on causes to a more nuanced and complex view. Byrd cites this quote:

“There is no consensus among scientists about the exact reasons that an individual develops a heterosexual, bisexual, gay or lesbian orientation. Although much research has examined the possible genetic, hormonal, developmental, social, and cultural influences on sexual orientation, no findings have emerged that permit scientists to conclude that sexual orientation is determined by any particular factor or factors. Many think that nature and nurture both play complex roles…”

However, oddly, Byrd leaves this last phrase from the APA website out of his quote:

…most people experience little or no sense of choice about their sexual orientation.

Also in the APA paper, reparative therapy is discussed. The APA says
What about therapy intended to change sexual orientation from gay to straight?

All major national mental health organizations have officially expressed concerns about therapies promoted to modify sexual orientation. To date, there has been no scientifically adequate research to show that therapy aimed at changing sexual orientation (sometimes called reparative or conversion therapy) is safe or effective. Furthermore, it seems likely that the promotion of change therapies reinforces stereotypes and contributes to a negative climate for lesbian, gay, and bisexual persons. This appears to be especially likely for lesbian, gay, and bisexual individuals who grow up in more conservative religious settings.
Helpful responses of a therapist treating an individual who is troubled about her or his same-sex attractions include helping that person actively cope with social prejudices against homosexuality, successfully resolve issues associated with and resulting from internal conflicts, and actively lead a happy and satisfying life. Mental health professional organizations call on their members to respect a person’s (client’s) right to self-determination; be sensitive to the client’s race, culture, ethnicity, age, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, religion, socioeconomic status, language, and disability status when working with that client; and eliminate biases based on these factors.

From these paragraphs expressing concern, Byrd pulls out this sentence to portray a greater openness to change therapy than is warranted:

“Mental health organizations call on their members to respect a person’s [client’s] right to self-determination.”

I blogged about this article last year when it came out, commending the APA for their nuanced account of the research to that point. I think NARTH should do what the APA did a year ago and issue a statement about environmental causes. Then I wondered:

…when NARTH would make an APA-like statement about theorized environmental factors such as child abuse and same-sex parenting deficits. What if NARTH acknowledged “what most scientists have long known: that a bio-psycho-social model of causation best fits the data?” Wouldn’t there be a need for a statement cautioning readers of their materials that evidence for parenting playing a large or determining role is meager? Paralleling Dr. Byrd’s assessment of the APA pamphlet, shouldn’t NARTH say with italics, “There is no homogenic family. There is no simple familial pathway to homosexuality.”…
I wrote Dean and asked him about NARTH’s stance. He answered for himself by saying,

I think that the bio-psycho-social model of causation makes it clear that there is neither a simple biological or environmental pathway to homosexuality.

NARTH is widely known for championing a view of homosexuality that requires some kind of trauma as a causal factor. In point of fact, SSA can occur without bad parenting or abuse. Shouldn’t NARTH follow the APA’s lead and issue an official statement such as suggested above?
UPDATE: OneNewsNow and AFTAH have joined the echo chamber.
The ONN account begins:

The attempt to prove that homosexuality is determined biologically has been dealt a knockout punch. An American Psychological Association publication includes an admission that there’s no homosexual “gene” — meaning it’s not likely that homosexuals are born that way.

I wonder if NARTH will correct this misunderstanding of the APA’s publication. In fact, no knockout punch has been delivered to any theory, except perhaps for those dogmatic views that stress one pathway. Let’s see leaving aside extreme biological determinism, who else gets a knockout punch here? The APA statement cuts both ways but NARTH, and the people quoted in this report only want to see it go one way.
The APA (over a year ago) handled the research with integrity. When will NARTH and related groups do the same?

Lisa Diamond: NARTH distorts my research

Today’s Salt Lake City Tribune published an article which brings the private feud between University of Utah professor Lisa Diamond and the National Association for the Research and Therapy of Homosexuality (NARTH) into public view. Diamond went on camera for Wayne Besen in October to complain about NARTH’s use of her research but this article brings the dispute out of the advocacy realm and into the Salt Lake City community. An added significance of the SLC Tribune raising this issue is the presence of NARTH’s Dean Byrd and Dave Pruden in Salt Lake City.
The article begins:

A national group that advocates “treatment” of homosexuality is being criticized for allegedly distorting a Utah researcher’s work to advance the theory that people choose their sexual orientation – a controversial notion rejected by mainstream psychology.

To be sure, at least one NARTH document I have reviewed does use Diamond’s research to mislead readers, but I do not think NARTH as an organization promotes the idea that sexual orientation is a conscious choice. Rather, the reparative notion is that same-sex attraction derives from faulty parenting and not conscious choice.
I suspect the position paper on female homosexuality I critiqued is at issue when reporter Brian Maffly writes:

Lisa Diamond, a University of Utah psychologist whose sexual identity studies suggest a degree of “fluidity” in the sexual preferences of women, said in an interview Tuesday that the National Association for Research & Therapy of Homosexuality, or NARTH, misrepresents her findings. Position papers, some penned by NARTH president A. Dean Byrd, an adjunct professor in the U.’s Department of Family and Preventive Medicine, point to Diamond’s research as evidence that gays’ sexual orientation can be straightened out through treatment – much to Diamond’s dismay.

The NARTH position paper on female homosexuality says this about Diamond’s work in a section on the “Fluidity of Homosexuality Attraction.”

These findings support the research of Dr. Lisa Diamond who concluded, “Sexual identity was far from fixed in women who aren’t exclusively heterosexual.” After following 80 non-heterosexual young women (lesbian, bisexual and unlabeled) over a two-year period, Dr. Diamond found that half of the women “reported multiple changes in sexual identity, and nearly one fourth of lesbians pursued sexual contact with men.”

The NARTH author confuses matters by first saying,

As mentioned, many researchers attest to the reality of female sexual fluidity. This does not directly translate into proof that any woman can easily change or alter her same sex attraction.

However, following the Diamond reference is a statement that twists the concept of spontaneous sexual fluidity for some women in a way that has Diamond upset.

The degree to which a woman can or will experience change will be uniquely determined based on her history and motivation to do so.

This is a non-sequitur. While fluidity has been described over time by research participants, the cause for the fluidity is an open question. The research identified by the NARTH “fact sheet” does not allow this conclusion. We have no idea for any given woman why change occurs. Diamond correctly criticizes NARTH for misusing her work in this way. Maffly continues,

Diamond, who has never met [NARTH president Dean] Byrd, said in an interview that NARTH “cherry picks” findings or references from her work that appear to support their position.

NARTH’s responds as has become typical. They claim they are just interpreting the data differently.

[NARTH founder and past-president, Joe] Nicolosi did not respond to an interview request and Byrd claimed he did not know why Diamond, a fellow U. faculty member, took umbrage with NARTH’s citation of her work.
“NARTH’s view is that people can adapt any way they want and there is freedom of choice,” Byrd says. “If it says ‘fluidity’ it says ‘fluidity.’ How you interpret it is something else.”

The reporter Maffly can be forgiven for his opening lines about NARTH promoting choice given Byrd’s way of discussing the matter. I suspect Byrd means choice of behaviors. Whatever he means by freedom to choose, he is wrong to say there is no guidance from Diamond’s research about how to interpret ‘fluidity.’ A review of her most recent book, Sexual Fluidity, makes clear that some of the women retained their same-sex attraction while discovering opposite-sex attraction. Some women actively fought the change of attraction but resigned themselves to heterosexuality. Her work does not support the statement about change being associated with history or motivation.
UPDATE – 8/31/09: The Salt Lake City Tribune article has been archived and is not available at that link now. Here is a newswire article on the same topic. A UPI story is for some reason archived on this Moldova gateway.
Also, here is an example where NARTH members misused Michael Bailey’s research.

NARTH conference opens today in Denver, CO

Amidst the inevitable protests, the annual conference of the National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality opens today in Denver, CO with the theme, “Sound Scientific Research: In a time of universal deceit, telling the truth is a revolutionary act.” For NARTH, this would be a worthy objective.
Given the theme, one would expect a program with research presentations which support their reparative theory positions. Not so. A review of the program reveals no such sessions. NARTH’s approach to research is on display with their new “fact sheet’ on female homosexuality. My review of it is here and here.
Those looking for actual research regarding homosexuality would do well to consult primary sources among researchers. Those looking for an evangelical approach to matters of sexual identity would do better to avoid the NARTH conference and seek assistance from the Institute for the Study of Sexual Identity.

What did Francis Collins really say about homosexuality?

In his book, The Language of God: A scientist presents evidence for belief, Francis Collins has this to say about homosexuality on page 260:

An area of particularly strong public interest is the genetic basis of homosexuality. Evidence from twin studies does in fact support the conclusion that heritable factors play a role in male homosexuality. However, the likelihood that the identical twin of a homosexual male will also be gay is about 20% (compared with 2-4 percent of males in the general population), indicating that sexual orientation is genetically influenced but not hardwired by DNA, and that whatever genes are involved represent predispositions, not predeterminations.

On the web, there are a number of sources who have quoted the OneNewsNow report that Francis Collins said the following:

‘Homosexuality is not hardwired. There is no gay gene. We mapped the human genome. We now know there is no genetic cause for homosexuality.’”

The problem is – Dr. Collins did not say this. As I noted here, Dr. Collins confirmed to me that he did not make this statement. He did say this:

It troubles me greatly to learn that anything I have written would cause anguish for you or others who are seeking answers to the basis of homosexuality. The words quoted by NARTH all come from the Appendix to my book “The Language of God” (pp. 260-263), but have been juxtaposed in a way that suggests a somewhat different conclusion that I intended. I would urge anyone who is concerned about the meaning to refer back to the original text.

The evidence we have at present strongly supports the proposition that there are hereditary factors in male homosexuality — the observation that an identical twin of a male homosexual has approximately a 20% likelihood of also being gay points to this conclusion, since that is 10 times the population incidence. But the fact that the answer is not 100% also suggests that other factors besides DNA must be involved. That certainly doesn’t imply, however, that those other undefined factors are inherently alterable.

Your note indicated that your real interest is in the truth. And this is about all that we really know. No one has yet identified an actual gene that contributes to the hereditary component (the reports about a gene on the X chromosome from the 1990s have not held up), but it is likely that such genes will be found in the next few years.

Note this part of the quote: “That certainly doesn’t imply, however, that those other undefined factors are inherently alterable.” Sexual attractions may come from the operation of several factors, in different ways for different people. The nature of the cause however, does not directly lead to understanding of how alterable the attractions might be. Perhaps attractions develop with some mix of environment and pre-natal factors. However, once set, attractions for most people seem to be pretty durable.

Go here for the entire post describing the confusion over what Collins said.

Narth fact sheet: Female homosexual development

Narth recently released a fact sheet that is relevant to some information I posted regarding reparative therapy research.
The paper has some bright spots but overall reverts to the same reparative drive theoretical formulation for which NARTH is known. On the NARTH website, Dean Byrd praises the APA for taking a more nuanced perspective toward causation and same-sex attraction, but in this paper, NARTH does not follow the APA’s lead.
The paper begins by attempting to make a case for sexual fluidity by quoting mainstream researchers. I suspect researchers such as Michael Bailey, Ken Zucker, and Lisa Diamond will be uncomfortable with how their work is integrated in this piece. The unnamed NARTH author then suggests that the reason research supporting developmental causes is minimized today is due to bias against these findings. For some reason, Rogers Wright is quoted in this context. However, Rogers is referring to psychotherapy and not research on causal factors. Regarding the research on environmental factors, the paper says:

There is, in fact, a wealth of older research identifying many common developmental, temperamental and family patterns connected to homosexuality. This research has never been scientifically refuted.

The citations for this statement are a 10 year old paper by Mark Yarhouse and a 15 year old book by Goldberg. Yarhouse and I were making a case for reorientation therapies broadly speaking several years ago. However, our model now calls for a cautious and realistic assessment of the literature on change and causal factors. Our sexual identity therapy framework is based, in part, on the observation that we do not know what causes sexual orientation in any general sense, nor do we know what, if any, factors might lead to fluidity. Our model stresses value congruence rather than change in orientation.
In fact, “the older research” has been addressed as inadequate to explain the complexity of sexual orientation (e.g, Bell, Weinberg & Hammersmith, 1981; see this post about Fisher and Greenberg’s review of psychoanalytic literature, and this post as well). In the context of the NARTH claim, I would like to ask anyone to produce the three best studies which support the “common developmental, temperamental and family patterns connected to homosexuality.” I am serious about this. Preferably I would like proponents to post them in a comment for discussion but these references may also be emailed to me.
Based on this lead, I expected the author to make a case that the observation of sexual fluidity for some meant that therapy could be helpful in promoting change of orientation. However, the paper did not quite come to that conclusion, saying

The concept of sexual fluidity, defined as the spontaneous evolution or transformation of one’s sexual preferences, is different from the concept of changeability involving intentional effort directed towards altering or changing one’s sexual preferences. As mentioned, many researchers attest to the reality of female sexual fluidity. This does not directly translate into proof that any woman can easily change or alter her same sex attraction. It does however confirm that sexual feeling and behaviors are not absolutely immutable or unchangeable. The degree to which a woman can or will experience change will be uniquely determined based on her history and motivation to do so.

While I appreciate the distinction between spontaneous fluidity and intentional attempts to change, I do not think significant evidence has established that motivation is a catalytic component for such fluidity. Certainly some women testify that they sought change and experienced it but others sought change and did not. We do not know that change is determined by “history and motivation.” This sentence almost sounds like change is related to motivation in some dose-dependent manner – the more motivation, the more the change. This can be a very frustrating and defeating message for people who are quite motivated and yet continue to experience same-sex attraction.
The paper then indicates via quote from George Rekers that gender nonconformity and a feeling of being different is associated with adult homosexuality. This is the same data Bem appeals to in crafting his erotic becomes exotic (EBE) theory. Although less so for females than males, these are true observations. In 1995, Bailey and Zucker summarized the research on gender nonconformity and adult sexual orientation this way:

As our analyses demonstrated for both men and women, research has firmly established that homosexual subjects recall substantially more cross-sex-typed behavior in childhood than do heterosexual subjects. By rough criteria, effect sizes were large for both men and women. Indeed, they were among the largest effect sizes ever reported in the realm of sex-dimorphic behaviors.

However, instead of stopping there, the NARTH paper leaves research and goes to theory and clinical anecdote by suggesting:

Typical in the history of women with same sex attraction are failures of attachment with the mother resulting in disidentification (rejection as role model).

The research cited does not suggest that gender nonconformity leads to failures of attachment, but the lay reader might not catch the shift from data to theory. The NARTH paper cites no studies which demonstrate higher levels of attachment failures, nor higher levels of disidentification with mother. The reference is to a speech given by NARTH Board Member, Janelle Hallman at a NARTH conference.
Then Elizabeth Moberly’s theories are referenced as evidence. Dr. Moberly, who was not a clinician nor did research on sexual orientation, proposed the basic reparative drive theory which holds:

…that the homosexual-whether man or woman has suffered from some deficit in the relationship with the parent of the same-sex: and that there is a corresponding drive to make good this deficit-through the medium of same sex or “homosexual” relationships.”

The NARTH paper also claims poor fathering, marital distress and sexual abuse play a role in lesbian development. Feminist researchers are quoted out of context to make a point about the need for positive attachments among women. However, the reader is not informed that no research has linked poor mother-daughter attachments to later lesbian development
In a second part of this critique, I will take the sexual abuse statistics separately. Let me say now that I reviewed the studies referenced, and I cannot determine how the NARTH author arrived at a statistic of 50% of lesbians, on average, have been sexually abused. One must take into account representative sampling when offering such data. I am looking for something more recent but one 1994 study using a representative sample of lesbians found that 21% of lesbians reported sexual abuse as a child.
The NARTH paper concludes this way:

Women who deal with same sex attraction, possess a history of disindentification with their mothers, and therefore with their femininity. This leads to a longing for connection with the feminine that becomes sexualized in adolescence or adulthood. Without a secure attachment to mother, she fails to identify with mother as a female role model losing the opportunity to develop trust and a healthy gender identity. Because of an empty or distorted view of her feminine self she has an inability to connect in a healthy way with other girls. Her sexual development is arrested.

It is possible that the NARTH author believes that since the paper mentions biological, psychological and social factors in the same paper that a “bio-psycho-social model of causation” is being advanced. However, a review of the paper finds no such model where these factors are integrated with research support.
Despite the use of some research studies in this paper, the conclusion leaves data and moves to the reparative drive theory first articulated by Elizabeth Moberly. Back in March, I posted about Dean Byrd’s review of the APA paper on sexual orientation. Then I wondered

…when NARTH would make an APA-like statement about theorized environmental factors such as child abuse and same-sex parenting deficits. What if NARTH acknowledged “what most scientists have long known: that a bio-psycho-social model of causation best fits the data?” Wouldn’t there be a need for a statement cautioning readers of their materials that evidence for parenting playing a large or determining role is meager? Paralleling Dr. Byrd’s assessment of the APA pamphlet, shouldn’t NARTH say with italics, “There is no homogenic family. There is no simple familial pathway to homosexuality.”

Still wondering.

Sexual orientation theorizing: Is change possible?

I post often about causal factors in sexuality; such factors are puzzle pieces that interest me (along with other human traits and variations). In addition, the intersection of personal values and sexuality ratchets up the interest level. Thus, the recent article, “Respecting Ex-gays”by John Corvino is a must read.

Corvino wants to take a live-and-let-live approach. He ends his piece with a familiar, but altered soundbite:

So when ex-gays announce, from billboards and magazine ads, that “Change is possible,” I say: Possible? Maybe. Likely? No. Desirable? Not for me, thanks.

He is fine with being gay and wants ex-gays to respect him in the same way he wants to respect their right and responsibility to steward their lives according to conscience.

He notes three problems he perceives among ex-gay ministries in general that will lead me to the next part of this post. First is “their tendency to promote myths about the so-called “homosexual lifestyle” by generalizing from some people’s unfortunate personal experiences.” He notes that testimonies of promiscuity and unhappiness do not describe his life and should not be taken as true of all same-sex attracted people.  Next, he laments “the ex-gay ministries’ abuse of science” saying, “Ex-gay ministries tend to lean on discredited etiological theories—domineering mothers, absent fathers, and that sort of thing.” Finally, he says, “The third and related problem is that many ex-gay ministries promote not merely a ‘change,’ but a ‘cure.’ ‘Cure’ implies ‘disease,’ which homosexuality is not.

Although I might quarrel with degrees, I essentially agree with Corvino’s assessment here. Along with the recent shifts in Exodus away from promoting public policy stances, I am hopeful that the issues of research and use of science will be vigorously addressed as well.

On the point of shifts in views of causation, Dean Byrd at NARTH has an article on the NARTH website giving some cautious kudos to the APA for a revised pamphlet regarding sexual orientation. The subtitle of his article is “The APA has now begun to acknowledge what most scientists have long known: that a bio-psycho-social model of causation best fits the data.”

Contrasting the original edition of the pamphlet with the new one, Byrd believes the current statement is more accurate. The new statement reads,

What causes a person to have a particular sexual orientation?

There is no consensus among scientists about the exact reasons that an individual develops a heterosexual, bisexual, gay, or lesbian orientation. Although much research has examined the possible genetic, hormonal, developmental, social, and cultural influences on sexual orientation, no findings have emerged that permit scientists to conclude that sexual orientation is determined by any particular factor or factors. Many think that nature and nurture both play complex roles; most people experience little or no sense of choice about their sexual orientation.

In response, Byrd opines:

Although there is no mention of the research that influenced this new position statement, it is clear that efforts to “prove” that homosexuality is simply a biological fait accompli have failed. The activist researchers themselves have reluctantly reached that conclusion. There is no gay gene. There is no simple biological pathway to homosexuality. Byne and Parsons, and Friedman and Downey, were correct: a bio-psycho-social model best fits the data (italics in the original).

My first thought after reading this paragraph was that those I know who are researching pre-natal factors have not concluded any such thing, reluctantly or not. Furthermore, the lack of current evidence for biological theories does not disprove a potential, now-unknown biological influence, nor does lack of strong evidence for general inborn factors prove true a bio-psycho-social model. Next, I wondered what that model looked like. As far as I can discern, all bio-psycho-social really means is that there are many factors and we do not know how they interact to yield adult sexual orientation.

Then I wondered when NARTH would make an APA-like statement about theorized environmental factors such as child abuse and same-sex parenting deficits. What if NARTH acknowledged “what most scientists have long known: that a bio-psycho-social model of causation best fits the data?” Wouldn’t there be a need for a statement cautioning readers of their materials that evidence for parenting playing a large or determining role is meager? Paralleling Dr. Byrd’s assessment of the APA pamphlet, shouldn’t NARTH say with italics, “There is no homogenic family. There is no simple familial pathway to homosexuality.” Appeals to those theories criticized by Corvino would be less frequent, right? Hey, changes are happening all over, why not this?

I wrote Dean and asked him about NARTH’s stance. He answered for himself by saying,

I think that the bio-psycho-social model of causation makes it clear that there is neither a simple biological or environmental pathway to homosexuality.

While I think NARTH should go much further, this statement may be the start of a more nuanced position from them. I would not go so far as Corvino did and say that familial factors have been discredited. On point, this is not what the APA said at all. What we should be saying is that there are many lines of research open with many factors under investigation. It appears pre-natal and post-natal factors play different roles for different people. Beyond that, the subject is still under study.

Would this change be so hard?