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21 August 2000
Changeable Sexual Orientation
by George Atkinson

Dr. Warren Throckmorton presented research at the annual American Psychological Association conference challenging the prevailing mental health profession viewpoint that all people are locked into an unchangeable sexual orientation. Throckmorton's research may be insightful because "the health professions largely ignore research demonstrating change from gay to straight."

The presentation of such research, a literature review of nine empirical ex-gay studies, is a rare event at major mental health conferences.

"The prevailing perspective concerning sexual orientation is that it is an enduring, unchangeable personality trait," Throckmorton said. "I found studies, however, demonstrating profound changes in sexual orientation. Various researchers have surveyed individuals who sought to change sexual orientation and found 30 to 35 percent who feel they have changed from exclusively gay to straight."

He continued, "Many others have made lesser but still significant changes. While some clients have not realized reorientation results, the available evidence suggests people do change. The professions may downplay these results due to the assumption that sexual orientation is an innate trait rather than a socially constructed result of life experiences.

"Consumers of counseling services, including parents and students, should be cautious if a counselor urges the client to adopt a sexual identity based on reports of a sexual experience or having thoughts of a certain sexual experience," Throckmorton said.

"My literature review contradicts the policies of major mental health organizations because it suggests that sexual orientation, once thought to be an unchanging personality trait, is actually quite flexible for many people, changing as a result of therapy for some, ministry for others and spontaneously for still others."

The prevailing professional opinion among the mental health professions (e.g. American Psychological Association, American Psychiatric Association, National Association of Social Workers) is the "gays don't change" or the essentialist viewpoint.

There are basically two professional viewpoints on the development of sexual orientation: 1., the prevailing professional view -- people are born either gay, straight or bisexual (essentialist); or 2., the opposite and minority viewpoint -- people are not obligated by their genetic makeup to be gay, but adopt a sexual identity based on their life experiences (constructionist).

"How one views the stories of sexual re-orientation-or sexual-orientation change depends in large measure on one's presuppositions," Throckmorton said. "The professions do not even have a consensus about how to measure or assess sexual orientation so it seems unreasonable to assert that it cannot change."

Throckmorton presented his research, titled, Gays, ex-gays, ex-ex-gays -- Examining Key Religious Ethical and Diversity Issues at the APA annual conference in Washington, D.C.

"I applaud the APA for placing this program before its members. This may demonstrate a shift in the APA's willingness to explore all sides on this matter," Throckmorton said.




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