Sexuality and Gender

Once Gay, Always Gay?

Author Alan Shlemon Published on 08/01/2013

Alan’s monthly letter for August 2013

Dear Friend,

The “experts” have spoken. Change in sexual orientation is not possible. Homosexuality, we’re told, is an inborn and unchangeable trait, like eye color. Case closed.

This implies that adolescents with same-sex attraction (SSA) or homoerotic dreams are manifesting symptoms of an underlying reality: They are homosexual. Because sexual orientation is fixed at birth (so the theory goes), these desires will endure through their teenage years and into adulthood.

This view is at odds with scientific research, though. Several studies report the opposite—that SSA among adolescents is more likely to change than remain fixed.

One study* followed approximately 10,800 adolescents between the ages of 16 and 22 years old. Of the 16 year-old males who had exclusively SSA, 61% had opposite-sex attraction at age 17. For same-sex attracted females, 81% changed to opposite attraction in just one year.

The study also compared sexual attraction at ages 17 and 22, with similar results. For example, 75% of adolescent males with SSA at age 17 had opposite-sex attraction at age 22.

Dr. Neil Whitehead, a research scientist who worked for the New Zealand government for 24 years and the United Nations for another four years, analyzed this study. He notes that although a small percentage of heterosexual adolescents developed homosexuality, the vast majority transitioned in the opposite direction. Based on the data, 16 year-olds with SSA are “25 times more likely to change towards heterosexuality at the age of 17 than those with a heterosexual orientation are likely to change towards bi-sexuality or homosexuality.” That means that heterosexuality is 25 times more stable than homosexuality. It also seems to suggest that heterosexuality is more of a “default” orientation.

That’s not all. Approximately 3% of the current heterosexual population once claimed to have either SSA or bisexual attractions. That means there are more people who have changed to exclusively heterosexual attraction than there are currently homosexuals and bisexuals combined. As Dr. Whitehead put it, “Ex-gays outnumber actual gays.”

This is a stunning report. Not only does it contradict the widely held belief that homosexuality is unchangeable, but it demonstrates that change is prevalent in adolescence. Moreover, these young men and women experienced change without any known therapeutic or faith-based intervention. It was through “natural” life experiences.

This research seems too good to be true. Some might suspect this study was conducted by Christian investigators or comes from an obscure source. But the data is from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health, a project by the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and mandated by the United States Congress. Its goal is to investigate adolescent health and is the largest and most comprehensive longitudinal survey of its kind.

The researchers that focused on sexual orientation published their findings in the reputable journal Archives of Sexual Behavior in 2007. In fact, they were so shocked by the amount of fluidity in sexual attraction that it caused them to question the concept of sexual orientation altogether.

Though these findings go against mainstream thinking, they come as little surprise to me. In fact, I wrote (co-authored with Greg Koukl) the most recent Solid Ground article titled, “Homosexuality: Nature or Nurture?” Not only do I describe the causes of same-sex attraction in the piece, but I highlight some of the evidence that change is possible among adult homosexuals.

In addition to that article, this month Stand to Reason is publishing my latest book, The Ambassador’s Guide to Understanding Homosexuality. In it, I explain SSA and the possibility of change in more detail. I also cover questions about interpreting biblical passages on homosexuality, whether one can be a “gay” Christian, and explain how Christians are actually very tolerant. In addition, I devote a chapter to practical principles to improve your interaction with homosexuals as well as specific guidelines to answer difficult dilemmas you might face with homosexuals in the church, your family, and your friends.

I’m grateful you’ve stood with me financially this year as I’ve produced these written works. Without your partnership, the 45,000-person readership of Solid Ground would never learn this material. Plus, the book will serve as an even more comprehensive guide on this material. You and I both know this controversial topic must be engaged and not ignored. Thank you.

For truth and compassion,

Alan Shlemon

* Savin-Williams et al., “Prevalence and Stability of Sexual Orientation Components during Adolescence and Young Adulthood,” Archives of Sexual Behavior, 2007.