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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


Rank Up Rank Down Votes:  +36
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+37 Rank Up Rank Down
Jun 23, 2014
Lots of nonsense is legal. There's no reason to make it illegal unless someone is being harmed. Astrology is legal. Voluntarily consulting an astrologist for life advice is legal. Threatening and bullying someone else to go to an astrologer should be illegal. Having your children kidnapped and held hostage at an astrology camp until they act the way their astrological sign says they should act should probably be illegal if it's not already.

Publicly endorsing astrology as part of your party's political platform would be a form of political suicide, as it should be for reparative therapy.
+1 Rank Up Rank Down
Jun 23, 2014
If they're going to be legal, then Reparative Therapy clinics should be forced to also display a sign reading 'For Entertainment Purposes Only'
Jun 23, 2014
Isn't that the same kind of thing that indirectly killed Alan Turing?
Jun 23, 2014
I agree there's a big gray area in the middle, but I don't see why we need to pull the middle to the poles. Didn't you make the case that bipolar thinking was wrecking society?

We could promote a third gender, the asexuals. They'd consist of natural asexuals plus eunuchs. They'd be naturally high achievers since they'd be able to focus, and could be tiebreakers on gender issues facing society.

Intelligent robots could be members of this asexual gender once technology allows them to reach a certain IQ level.

Incentives to become eunuchs could be phased out once a certain population is acheived.

Creating a middle gender might also influence males and females to exaggerate their sexuality, and technologies would be perfected to allow them huge sexual organs.
Jun 23, 2014
It goes to the value we place on self, and on the things that we believe make up the self.
Take transgendered people. They identify themselves as a gender that is different from the one indicated by their physical anatomy. For many transgendered people it is enough to live with this incongruity by adopting gender norms that match their identity. Others take the opportunities provided by modern medicine to change their physical anatomy to match their identity.

But this brings up the question, with advances in psychology and neurology, people may someday have the choice to either change their anatomy to match their brains, or to change their brains to match their anatomy. It would obviously be wrong to force anyone to do either, but it is not obviously wrong to me to allow people to choose this.

In our culture, a persons sense of self is considered sacred above all things. We tell people to 'be themselves', and 'express themselves'. But to think that this is the only valid worldview is something I consider both arrogant and dogmatic. Some cultures value community or family above the self, and seem no less happy for it.

I think that most people should have things that they would like to improve about themselves, and vices that they may wish to rid from their personalities. My own worldview has a touch of idealism that tells me that it is possible for me to change my own self to one that matches my ideals. Others may consider this a dangerous delusion, and would tell me that I should just accept what I consider personal flaws as parts of my identity. I assert my right to reject that worldview.
+16 Rank Up Rank Down
Jun 23, 2014
I've heard a lot of rhetoric on homosexuality in the last 10 years, from all sides, but this is, I have to say, a pretty original viewpoint. You deserve points for that.

[Thank you. -- Scott)
Jun 23, 2014
The whole debate is really about therapy for children(under 18). I don't think many sexually-active gays would seek this as adults, unless coerced in some way. Might make a funny movie. Uncle Sterling leaves 1 billion, but only if nephew can prove he's not gay(or better yet become gay)...hilarity ensues. Tagline: What would you do(or whom!) for 1 Billion dollars?!??!?

Also a closely related issue is that of transsexual children. Sex-reassignment surgery is much more difficult is one has already gone through puberty, especially for secondary characteristics. If, however, one is given hormone-altering drugs before and near the onset of puberty, the transition is much easier.

There are also puberty-blocking drugs that can be reversed, unlike the hormone drugs which usually cause sterilization.

Or course, how do you know someone is trans as opposed to gay at 10 years old? Or neither?
Jun 23, 2014
Between consenting adults, much is (or should be) legal. If I want you to convince me that I am "Elmer Fudd, milwonaire. I own a mansion and a yacht", and if you are not morally troubled by attempting it, I see no ethical reason against it, even if it causes trouble for me and the IRS.

Clearly, who we find attractive is a complex issue. We find some physical attributes more appealing than others. For data, there are those who are attracted to, or indifferent to, sizes of chests, bottoms, legs, height, hair color, age. Similarly there are variations in personality "types" -- the strong, silent type; the person who speaks his/her mind; the gregarious adventurous sort; the homebody -- just to name a few.

We label these combinations 'attractive' or 'unattractive' or 'indifferent' in a "natural" manner (meaning that they occur spontaneously, without rhyme or reason apparently as a precursor). So it's not a stretch to throw "gender" into that mix.

Can the intensity/direction of those various "pulls" be altered? Certainly. That's provable
Can the pull be reversed entirely? Probably not, at least not in all cases. But that's further from provable (except by showing cases where it failed to be reverse, I suppose).

Is it unethical? Considering the current stigma associated with being gay, I can't see why anyone would _choose_ to be gay (an indication that it ISN'T a "choice"), and if the (psychological) pleasure that they'll get from not being gay is greater than (physical) pleasure that they get from being gay (assuming that one can measure and compare disparate pleasures), then I see no cause to prevent them from trying to be something that they are not "naturally", if they wish.

On the flip side, "compulsion" is not "choice", and the more difficult society as a whole, and the government and friends/family in particular, make it for a person to live life as a gay person, the more "compulsion" they put on that person, even if it is de facto instead of de jure.
+19 Rank Up Rank Down
Jun 23, 2014
I agree with pretty much all you said. The complexities are the details:
-Should health insurance pay for it? Including government funded? Now you're talking about spending MY money on something that's probably foolish, potentially dangerous, etc.
-Do parents get to put their kids in therapy for it?

Yes, I think it should be a legal choice for adults (almost everything that doesn't hurt anyone else should be), but it shouldn't go beyond that.

Similarly, I'm against government paying for sex changes for criminals. If you want a sex change, that's your prerogative, but not my responsibility. Where do you stop? Have you seen how people mutilate their bodies with surgeries and piercings/implants (ghoulishly)? If an inmate says "I believe I should have been born a devil-beast" is it our responsibility to pay for his transformation?
+20 Rank Up Rank Down
Jun 23, 2014
Attempting to change a persons sexual orientation is foolish, pointless, dangerous to the person, and harmful to society. But of course it should be legal.
Jun 23, 2014
If we let reparative therapy be legal its possible it will improve to the point where its safe and effective.
-3 Rank Up Rank Down
Jun 23, 2014
But if Governor Good Hair from Texas said it this is true then it must be right? It couldn't be possible for that much good hair to be on a real stupid head.
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