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Reparative Therapy

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.

Answer: yes

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?


Scott Adams

Co-founder of CalendarTree.com

Author of this book


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Jun 24, 2014
What a painful thing it must be to feel so trapped by your own sexuality that you would resort to 'reparative' therapy. My first reaction is that no one who respects their Hippocratic oath would even engage in the practice.

But what if a determined patient arrived at your doorstep? Could you, in good conscience, send them to the quacks and nutjobs who claim success? I don't think you could. You would be oath-bound to do your best, knowing the odds are stacked against you.
Jun 24, 2014
To me, the issue isn't the therapy itself; it's who uses it. If a person walks into a therapist's office and says, "My feelings of attraction to my fellow man are embarrassing and lower my self-esteem, please help me," then it should always be legal to attempt methods that the therapist thinks are useful. If the guy went to a therapist known for "reparative therapy," then obviously he wants someone trying to rewire his brain, and making that illegal is a violation of his rights.

If, on the other hand, a fundamentalist father catches his 16-year-old son kissing another boy and has him locked up by an !$%*!$% who tries to forcibly rewire his brain, that is child abuse and should be prosecuted as such. Context is everything.
Jun 24, 2014
The question you are asking is quite significant, but only for someone who doesn't believe in determinism.

As a 'freewill'er I can give an opinion that isn't completely irrelevant. the question is fraught with peril. Hypnosis itself blurs the boundaries between choice and accountability.

If you think using hypnosis to 'lose weight' is morally acceptable (instead of will powering yourself to stick to your diet), then you should accept any controverting of will if done by personally chosen intention.

If choice is an illusion, then tinkering with our choice process is morally inert. You need choice for any moral content to exist anyway. You need good and evil to both exist for choice to be valid, you need choice for personal accountability. If no accountability none of it matters.

If choice is an illusion than brainwashing is morally neutral. I think that is the basic concept behind hypnosis: intentional brainwashing.
+4 Rank Up Rank Down
Jun 24, 2014
This topic reminds me of a ridiculous classic movie line from the beginning of Stripes:
Russell Ziskey (Harold Ramis): No, we're not homosexual, but we are *willing to learn*.
John Winger (Bill Murray): Yeah, would they send us someplace special?
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xR9HuRUUTbs The anit-reparative therapy. ;p

But seriously.... If an adult thinks they have a problem, and wants help from a licensed therapist, who are we to say "No"? I think a better question is whether the therapy has any value, and whether the government has legal and moral standing to regulate or ban it. I'm glad to hear it is only states that are banning it at this point, not the feds. The topic is too politically charged for me to fully trust what I hear from either side of the argument. Unfortunately, that political charge will probably prevent any true science from taking place or being discussed.

Therapists are governed by codes of ethics and licensing bodies. If they violate those ethics, they can be sanctioned or have their membership/license to practice withdrawn. Plus there are malpractice lawsuits they have to worry about.

Clergy offering counseling do not provide the same legal protections to their parishioners as a therapist. Also, clergy (and other unlicensed humans) are prohibited by law from acting as physicians. Per Wikipedia (the most reliable source ever!), some rather questionable parts of reparative therapy appear to fall under the purview of physicians. Meh.
+6 Rank Up Rank Down
Jun 23, 2014

Yes, it should be legal, but there should be some restrictions and requirements before it's allowed.

It's illegal after the first trimester of your life, no Repair-ative Therapy is allowed after the age 25.
You must walk through a gauntlet of protesters.
The clinic performing such procedure must meet ambulatory surgical center requirements, which impose costly renovations to the facilities.
The doctor performing the procedure must have admitting privileges at a nearby hospital.
You must have a trans-an@l probe before therapy. (If you smile you are excluded.)

You must wait for a period of one to six days, after visiting the provider for the first time and before having the procedure.
You must have your husband's and parent's approval.
The patient must obtain mandatory counseling from an anti-reparative therapy crisis center during this time frame.
You must see a CAT scan of someone's brain before and after therapy.
You must listen to your own heartbeat while watching gay !$%*! It would be illegal to consent if your heartbeat increases during this time.
The Affordable Care Act will not pay for the procedure.

A doctor who performs Repair-ative Therapy is required to read a prepared script to the patient in order to secure informed consent.
These scripts may include medically inaccurate information intended to persuade the patient not to have a procedure, such as the claim that Repair-ative Therapy will not increase the risk of breast snd testicle cancer or of psychological problems, which are not supported by medical organizations.
You must be given information on the ability of the gay to feel pain.
Doctors must give patients false or misleading information about the suicide risk in gay people who do not have Repair-ative Therapy.

A doctor must be liable for related damages, including damage to the gay, for up to ten years after Repair-ative Therapy
Mandatory reporting of Repair-ative Therapy procedures, including the completion of a 37 questionnaire before consent, published in a public online registry.


Just off the top of my head.....

Jun 23, 2014
It pretty clearly should be legal and treated like all pseudo-scientific cures. One of the costs of living in an intellectually free society is that through ignorance or greed some will sell homeopathic remedies as an alternative to antibiotics, faith healers will claim to pray away cancer, and these quacks try to "fix" gays. All of these activities cause harm, but making all non-approved treatments illegal would be far worse. The cure would be worse than the disease.

I am more confused about why Texas Republicans feel the need to make support for this nonsense part of the party platform.
Jun 23, 2014
This argument can include not just "reparative therapy" but the whole spectrum of alternative medicine.

We've already seen ugly legal battles over parents denying their children effective care for a variety of reasons -- religion, anti-vax paranoia, political convictions, faith in a quack treatment, etc. Society also tries to draw a line when supposedly competent adults subject themselves to BS that can hurt or kill them. The libertarian argument of free choice goes only so far when you have choices with consequences not only to the individual but to society at large, and choices whose true risks and costs are actively concealed and even falsified.

I'm old enough to remember when big tobacco, credibility shattered beyond repair by the sheer weight of science and exposes of industry's jaw-dropping marketing practices, shifted to a quasi-libertarian approach: Everybody has a right to smoke, even if it does eventually kill. They even supported deliberately toothless campaigns against minors smoking ("Remember, smoking is only for mature, sexy adults."). It took waves of lawsuits from state attorney generals, huge shifts in public attitudes towards smoking and continuing revelations of just how vile industry practices actually were to make a real dent. Only now, with inflated prices and horrific (but accurate) labeling on the packages chipping away at decades of glamorization and denial of risk, does the libertarian argument of informed decisions begin to apply.

Reparative therapy, homeopathic medicines, whatever celebrity health nonsense is on the bestseller lists, all sold by cultivating anti-science prejudice . . . I can't toe the libertarian line on those.
+27 Rank Up Rank Down
Jun 23, 2014
To date, there has been no scientifically adequate research to show that reading office based cartoons is safe. Or effective.
+9 Rank Up Rank Down
Jun 23, 2014
Scott, I think this is just the tip of the iceberg. Just for fun let's assume that in the future some combination of hormone therapy, hypnosis, operant conditioning, etc. allows very specific control over one's libido. The possibilities are endless. Here's a few...

- Broaden your "type" to include other ethnic groups, body types, or genders to maximize sexual opportunity

- "Chose" to be attracted to a specific individual; e.g. someone older and wealthy; your conventionally unattractive best friend

- "Take a walk on the wild side" for a couples of years to see what the gay or straight lifestyle is like and them go back.

- Become asexual temporarily (per your previous post) to remove distractions, or get through a period of sexual isolation (prison or military deployment).
+3 Rank Up Rank Down
Jun 23, 2014
@Phantom II: I was questioning your use of the phrase "the most reasonable avenue open to them". There isn't enough science to support that claim, just as there isn't enough science to support making it illegal.
Jun 23, 2014

"From the first philosophy, self-mastery through meditation is usually considered effective in overcoming passions and desires, at least by practitioners of such things. "

I'm pretty sure pratcitioners of such things as "pray away the gay" would also consider that to be effective. Practitioners aren't exactly an unbiased source...
Jun 23, 2014
I am curious what exactly this therapy is trying to 'fix'.

For example, for a gay man. Is the problem that he is attracted to men, or is it that he is not attracted to women?

From a stoic or zen philosophy, overcoming all desires, including sexual attraction, would be considered a desirable virtue. To those with this philosophy, it is not only homosexuals that need curing, but anyone for whom sex is a distraction from happiness.

From a utilitarian philosophy, homosexuality might be considered a dysfunction, since the lack of attraction for the opposite sex is a barrier from the sexual organs being used for their natural purpose.

From the first philosophy, self-mastery through meditation is usually considered effective in overcoming passions and desires, at least by practitioners of such things.

For the second philosophy, aphrodisiacs have usually been the realm of quackery and placebo effects, but science has come to the point where a gay man can father a child almost as easily as a straight man could.

Personally, I subscribe to the first philosophy, that sexual desires are a distraction from enlightenment and transcendence, and that homosexuality is no different from heterosexuality in this regard. As proponent of this worldview, I find it odd that some of my fellows would focus on homosexuality as a problem, when sexual self-mastery among heterosexuals is such a joke.
Jun 23, 2014
Deldran - my argument is plain and unambiguous. If someone wishes to take a course of therapy, why should the state make it illegal, if the state has no evidence that it causes harm? Another example, IMHO, of LRC.
+2 Rank Up Rank Down
Jun 23, 2014
Disclaimer, I think folks are much happier being attracted to the folks they naturally become attracted to, rather than having that switched. This opinion not only applies to gender attraction, but to attraction to a hair color, height, skin color, etc. That said...

I believe that an existing theripy works for this purpose, and seems to work quite well, it is apparently religion based, and I would call it "not being gay." The biggest side effect is rampant homophobia. If you were to place sensors on the genitals of the most rapid homophobes, and show them pictures of their gender having homosexual sex, they would become aroused, this is proven by studies again and again. As a heterosexual male, if you show me gay men having sex, it won't do anything for me-which is why I don't care if gay guys exist, get married, etc. It is no threat to my efforts to maintain my sexuality, because I don't have to go to any effort to maintain my sexuality.
For a gay man who has forced himself to be straight, whether for religion, society, or family, it must take a lot of effort to pretend to be straight, which is why they are such vigerous homophobes. How many times have we heard of jocks forcing the gay kid to provide sex for the jock in order to shame them-why does the jock want to get oral from a gay male? Hmm, I wonder...
Even the anti-homosexuality slogans and issues show this. There is no threat to a straight couple's marriage if gay marriage is legal, but if one or both of the folks in a marriage are closeted gays, making gay marriage legal makes it harder for them to continue to repress their true feelings.
As for the aversion/shock treatment/other bunk science methods of "treating" a person's natural sexuality, I really doubt it would work. I have heard of one program, hopefully apocryphal, that gave women shots of heroin while raping them, hoping to associate the drug's pleasure with heterosexual sex, and I could see that working, with the obvious side effect of drug addiction.
+3 Rank Up Rank Down
Jun 23, 2014
@Phantom II: You're talking out of both sides of your mouth. You say it shouldn't be illegal because there is not enough science to support either side of the argument, but you also say "the most reasonable avenue ... is now illegal". I don't think you can argue it's the most reasonable avenue without evidence showing that it is effective.

Personally, I don't think it should be illegal for as long as it is not shown to be harmful (because Freedom), but I wouldn't expect insurance to pay for or subsidize the sessions either.
Jun 23, 2014
I can't see a reason for banning a psychological procedure that informed adults enter into with their eyes open. Forcing someone to undergo such a therapy is, and should be, illegal. Sexual preference is not a mental illness. You don't commit people because of their (consenting adult) libido.

At the same time, look at the hypocrisy here. As you point out, there's nothing to ban straights from undergoing therapy to become gay. Nor is there (and here's a bigger example) any restrictions on transgender surgery. If someone is a male and wants to be a woman, or vice versa, then anything goes. But if someone decides, for whatever reason, that he or she is gay and wants to be straight, the most reasonable avenue open to them to become so is now illegal in California (more about that later).

And about that "statement" by some big psych organization that says ". . . safe or effective." Note the start of that statement, to wit: "There is no scientifically adequate research. . ."

That is an egregious example of a non-statement being made to look like support for outlawing such therapy. What the statement is really saying is, "not enough studies have been done to have any idea if it's safe or effective." But what the wording of the statement implies is that such therapy is neither safe nor effective.

That's the kind of politically-correct boozwah that is a substitute for reasoned scientific research. Regardless of what the scientific evidence may show, the gay lobby is so powerful that it doesn't matter. Here in California, such therapy is illegal. Why is that? If someone wants to undergo therapy, where does the state come off banning it without any evidence?

Plain and simple: it's not being banned based on the science. It's being banned based on the politics. And that is just plain wrong.

And why demonize Texas and Republicans over a fake issue? That kind of bias takes away from your argument.
+4 Rank Up Rank Down
Jun 23, 2014
It should not be called "reparative" because there's nothing to repair.
Once you got fully rid of that, if someone wants a psychological gender change, why not?

Having finished Iain M. Banks' culture series, where gender is a pure lifestyle choice and the normal procedure is to have two kids (one fathered, one born), I don't find it very strange anymore.

However, I don't think it's possible to get rid of the view that such a psychological gender change is somehow a "repair".
Jun 23, 2014
There seems to be clear evidence that certain sexual behaviors -- like pedophilia and violent sexual impulses -- are frequently the result of trauma and we accept them as mental illness. But it doesn't appear that we are able to do squat to fix these.

If predatory, criminal sexual impulses can't be weeded out of damaged people willing to be fixed, by a society with significant incentive to do so, I would say that other kinds of sexual "conversion" are a fantasy.

Should it be legal? Well, I'd say that it bears some resemblance to torture, and we allow consensual torture (in the form of S&M), so... maybe it should be permitted under the same general rules that S&M is permissible -- if S&M would be illegal in a situation, conversion therapy would be illegal in a similar situation. You definitely can't decide on it for someone else, and a person under a certain age would be off limits.
Jun 23, 2014
I'd be pro-reparative therapy under the condition it was voluntary.

As Scott mentioned maybe as much has half the "gay" crowd is bi. Another thing is sexual orientation isn't fixed throughout your life. Some people just move from one to another and back again.

The big problem though is we don't know what causes gayness to happen. Is that that your brain is more like the other gender than it should be? Maybe. Is it because your body is cuing on the wrong set of pheromones? Possibly. Could it be a chemical imbalance? Possibly. Is it something you can have some effect of training your brain for? Hopefully.

Remember, there are a lot of gays who are in the closet and in a relationship and having kids with the other gender. So maybe it's possible for them to learn how to stay in a straight lifestyle if they so choose it. You know, because maybe they value what they have now or don't want their kids to have a broken home.

Human beings are complex and sometimes our heads and our hearts don't always agree with our sexual impulses. What if you believe your religion's teachings on human sexuality are right? What if you believe the best human quality is learning to let go of things or deny oneself of certain pleasures. Not everyone is solely driven by sexual desires.

Some moist robots have programs that are giving them conflicting instructions about what to do.

So for the time being I think it is possible at least to offer treatments sort of like treating Alcohol addiction: it may always be a part of of that person, but you can learn to deal with that aspect of your personality if you choose to. It'll probably never go away with what we know about the brain now, but if you want to live a straight lifestyle, perhaps we can teach you the techniques to help cope with your nature.

Again I believe this should be voluntary.

Another part of being gay is the cultural and political pressures driving it. The fact there is a gay subculture or gay political group complicates matters. Just like some non-gays feel threatened by gays, some gays feel threatened by any prospects of treatments. I think are some vocal gays who make homosexuality a large part of their identity and have a large vested interest in it, so any possible treatments or cures feel like a threat.

I think some gays are just irrationally afraid of the unknown, in this case being non-sexual or heterosexual. Because the unknown can be scary as cr4p no matter where you want to stick your manhood into. This is something a lot of people have, not just gays, but in this case any options for treatment or cures spark that fear in some.

So I think step one should be making those people with fear based objections know that a cure or treatment isn't going to be something that will wipe them all out and is just an option for some to take if they so choose.

But then again, I'm reminded of Scott's post: he mentioned that when he was on his medication, his sex drive went down and he didn't miss it at all. Medication to suppress any sexuality could also be an option, but again it should be voluntary.

At the end of the day, if gays really want sexual freedom (and aren't selfish weasels hiding behind a mantra that spouts a friendly sounding word like freedom or rights) then they need to be okay with the fact that maybe not everyone who is gay is comfortable with it and that those gays who want an option to get out should be given one if it exists.

Don't people have a right to change themselves if they choose? Why should gay people who want to change be denied that right or any hope for treatment or a cure? Isn't denying a gay person a right because he's gay homophobic by definition? From one point of view, you could argue that this Texas initiative is quite progressive.

As an aside, I also think we should look into treating homosexuality because from a scientific prescriptive it might yield benefits and more understanding for the treatment and rehabilitation of people with criminal sexual behavior... like rapists and pig-bloopers. The more angles we look at human sexuality, the more we can learn about the human brain which could benefit us all. One thing we need more understanding of is what drives our impulses. Again, it should be completely voluntary.
Jun 23, 2014
This is just the first domino to fall. Next, all the food producing states will force us all to be reprogrammed to find obesity attractive. Then, the tobacco states are sure to follow by programming us to be aroused by the sound of a phlegmy cough. And wait until New Jersey gets its hands on us. Watch out Snooki!
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