Challenge Response: Sexual Orientation Never Changes

Here's my response to this week's challenge:

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This week’s challenge comes from a question that I often get. “Doesn’t the fact that there are numerous former homosexuals who have since gone back to living gay lives somehow prove that changing someone’s sexual orientation is impossible?” 

The short answer is “No, it doesn’t prove that.” Sure, there are those cases, and will continue to always be people that claim they were once former homosexuals who have since gone back to living gay lives. But this does very little to prove anything about the effectiveness of sexual orientation change efforts. 

The main problem with this challenge is that people who raise it fail to apply the same standard of effectiveness to sexual orientation change efforts as they do to other treatments, behaviors, and conditions. For example, many people who are struggling with alcoholism attend AA (Alcoholics Anonymous). Many people go through their program to help them overcome their temptation and struggles with alcoholism. 

Some people suggest that AA’s success rate is no more than about %20 effective. That’s pretty low. Does the fact that some people fail to succeed in their ability to overcome alcoholism, or the fact that many people even after successfully going through that program, continue to drink, and some people even revert back to alcoholism, somehow prove that AA’s efforts are a complete failure or never work? Of course not. It doesn’t do anything to prove that. It simply proves that some people are unable to maintain the change they have received through their program. 

The same is true with depression or obsessive compulsive disorders. Lots of people attend therapy and counseling to overcome depression. If some people continue to remain depressed after that treatment, counseling, or therapy, does that mean it’s not effective? No, of course not. Does it mean that no one else can ever overcome depression? Absolutely not. 

Some people who get therapy and counseling for obsessive compulsive disorders may sometime later end up engaging in obsessive compulsive behaviors. Does that mean that therapy for depression and obsessive compulsive behaviors is never effective? Of course not. 

Even if a lot of people eventually revert back, it doesn’t prove anything. That’s the case with all sorts of behaviors, treatments, and conditions. The point is, some people revert back to their old ways, but it doesn’t do anything to disprove the broader effectiveness of these sorts of therapies. They sometimes still do work, and that’s the point. That’s why it’s ridiculous to expect effectiveness without any possibility of relapse when it comes to people who are trying to change same-sex attraction. 

Sure, there are people who will revert back. But this does very little to prove that sexual orientation change efforts are never effective. Yes, we should expect that some people who have changed, who are no longer homosexuals, will go back. That’s normal. That’s the case for every condition, psychological behavior, and every treatment that will be applied to people. But this does not prove, therefore, that people can never change. It doesn’t even prove that those people who did change and have then later gone back to living gay lives, never experience genuine change in the first place. 

In reality, if sexuality is fluid, which is what most secular studies show, then we would expect that some people who have experienced measurable and genuine change, would also revert back to living gay lives. Again, the fact that you don’t have %100 success rate – that there are some people who relapse and go back to living as gay men and women – does not in any way effect that fact that some people do experience genuine change. 

The only way that this challenge can be sustained is if you apply a different standard for the effectiveness of sexual orientation change efforts than you do with change efforts when it comes to any other psychological condition or behavior.

Alan Shlemon

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