Can Homosexuals Change?

Supporters of same-sex marriage notched up a public relations coup earlier this month with the news that Dr Robert Spitzer had recanted his views on the possibility of changing a homosexual orientation. “Psychiatry Giant Sorry for Backing Gay ‘Cure’” was the front-page headline in the New York Times.

Spitzer was indeed a giant. In 1973 he was responsible for deleting homosexuality from an official list of psychiatric disorders. Over the next few decades this effectively normalised homosexual behaviour. But in 2003, something unexpected happened. He published a study in the Archives of Sexual Behavior which showed that some homosexuals could change. He immediately became a traitor to the gay community and a hero for social conservatives.

But now Dr Spitzer, who has just turned 80 and is suffering from Parkinson’s disease, has repudiated this study. He has just published a letter of apology in the Archives of Sexual Behavior: “I believe I owe the gay community an apology for my study making unproven claims of the efficacy of reparative therapy,” he wrote. “I also apologize to any gay person who wasted time and energy undergoing some form of reparative therapy because they believed that I had proven that reparative therapy works with some ‘highly motivated’ individuals.”

The gay community and the New York Times have hailed the letter as a devastating blow to the notion that homosexuals can change. A leading gay advocacy website, ThinkProgress, declared that “Any organization that claims his prior work as valid proof that sexual orientation can be changed is lying with malicious — and harmful— intent.”  

What’s the real story? MercatorNet interviewed Gerard van den Aardweg, a Dutch psychologist who has written extensively on homosexuality.

MercatorNet: Were you surprised by Dr Spitzer’s apology to the gay community?

Gerard van den Aardweg: At first, yes. But after a short while, not very much, for the following reasons.

Some time after his 2003 article I had a conversation with him on the telephone. I asked him if he would continue his research, or even if he would try to guide a few people with homosexual problems and who sought “alternative” professional help, that is, help and support to change as much as possible from homosexual to heterosexual interests.

In his interviews with people who had walked along that path, he certainly had learned a lot, among other things, the great need among many homosexually inclined persons for this kind of help. I felt that Dr Spitzer was the kind of psychiatrist who could do much good for some of these persons. So why not give it a try?

His reply was adamant. No, he would never touch the whole subject ever again. He had nearly broken down emotionally after terrible personal attacks from militant gays and their supporters. There was an outpouring of hatred.

A man can indeed be broken by such a traumatizing experience. At the time, I thought that his stance was perhaps not the most courageous one, but it was certainly understandable. After all, his cautious recognition of the reality of changes in some people with a homosexual orientation already represented an enormous about-face. He had been one of the leading figures of the lobby which in 1973 succeeded in normalizing the definition of homosexuality in the Diagnostic Manual of the American Psychiatric Association. Now the hero of the gay movement had suddenly become a Judas.

But fear is seldom a good counsellor. My guess is that Dr Spitzer in 2003 only dabbled in the water, because he didn’t dare to dive. Unfortunately, his neutral, withdrawn attitude towards the subject of homosexuality did not protect him from fierce pressure to distance himself from his “betrayal”.

In psychiatric and psychological circles it is already very difficult for an ordinary professional to maintain himself and endure hostility, taunting, and marginalization if it becomes known that he or she thinks homosexuality is a disturbance (of whatever sort) and not irreversibly programmed. For a prominent psychiatrist as Dr Spitzer, with his gay-friendly past, this must have been a torment.

So this is my surmise. Not having the conviction and inner dynamic to wholly convert to the pre-1973 position that homosexuality is disordered sexuality, he finally succumbed to pressure.

MercatorNet: Does Dr Spitzer’s recantation really deliver a devastating blow to “ex-gay” organisations and prove that reparative therapy is 20th century snake oil?

I don’t think it is such a serious setback. In the world of ex-gays it is a well-known phenomenon that persons who at first were enthusiastic later feel disillusioned. They might feel that change is not as rapid or deep as they wanted, or they come to doubt whether it is worth all the effort, or they have too superficial an understanding of the emotional and personality or character malformation underlying same-sex attractions.

That is true for people with same-sex attractions (SSA) themselves and sometimes for professionals. I could illustrate this with the case of a Dutch psychiatrist who, though in his heart believing SSA is a psychological disturbance, yet, in a stressful period in his life, publicly regretted his former “disturbance” statements.

In any case, Dr Spitzer has not said that his observations and impressions about change in the individuals he interviewed were false, or that they had lied to him. In his article, he himself brought up this hypothesis, but he was convinced what he heard was on the whole reliable.

His retraction does not change his results and his results are the only thing that counts. This whole retraction affair is in fact merely a question of media manipulation, not a matter of science. Some nuclear scientists may have regretted their work when they saw its consequences in the field of nuclear weaponry. However the knowledge they acquired was not affected by their regret. (In Dr Spitzer’s case, the results were in fact benign, of course.)

Apart from all this, the need of many persons troubled by SSA is so persistent and universal, as is the common sense insight that something is amiss with homosexuality, that therapy and other constructive efforts will always go on — if not within academic psychology and psychiatry, then outside of it.

MercatorNet: In his brief letter to the Archives of Sexual Behavior, Dr Spitzer mentions two serious flaws in his 2003 study – that the study design was flawed and that memories of change are scientifically unreliable. Do you think that the study was really flawed?

That the design was flawed is not a new argument. Spitzer made it crystal-clear in his original article that he only wanted to call the attention to the fact that “some” people can deeply change from homosexuality to heterosexuality. The fact that he interviewed volunteers from the ex-gay and therapeutic community was clearly stated.

Now he says his selection was flawed (as in fact are all selections of SSA people in the literature!). But what does this mean? That “I did not demonstrate that all homosexuals can radically change”? No one has ever maintained that. That “Some people with SSA do radically change and others, and more than one of them, substantially change”? That is what he found, no more, no less. His remarks on the skewed distribution of his sample do not invalidate this conclusion.

Memories of change are unreliable? What does he mean?

That, for instance, people who were “profoundly changed” were fantasizing about their past emotions and conflicts? Then his remark is the same as the standard gay contention that those who are changed have never been “really” homosexual.

Well, in that case he proved in 2003 that efforts to change at least can free troubled people from the “delusion” that they were homosexual, and from the concomitants of such delusions, like same-sex cruising, obsessions, partnerships etc. This implies that we need to define homosexual orientation as a same-sex attraction that can never change. Which also implies that you need to have sustained efforts to change to know whether your SSA is real or pseudo.

I do not believe Dr Spitzer believes this argument himself.

A few years ago, I sent him a report on an ex-lesbian woman who after many years was still completely free of same-sex feelings whatsoever, even though she had severely suffered from them until in her mid-30s. Of course Dr Spitzer did not reply that she had merely imagined the infatuations, lesbian jealousies, erotic obsessions, depressions, inferiority feelings and so on. He found the story very interesting, but he asked “but how frequently does this occur?” A good question, of course, but however rare it may be, the reality of her memories (as examined by a sceptical psychiatrist) is beyond doubt.

Suppose memories of former sexual (or other emotional) states cannot be trusted. This means that an enormous part of psychological and psychiatric research, where memories play a role, should be rejected. Naturally, memories of one’s previous sexual life can be inexact, exaggerated, distorted, and embellished. But there is no justification for the contention that in principle they are untrustworthy. Dr Spitzer is clearly seeking a “scientific” justification for his recantation.

MercatorNetWhen he published the original article, some psychiatrists invoked the Nuremberg Code of ethics to denounce it as morally wrong. Was it? 

Morally wrong? Not at all. The idea that psychotherapy or other counselling procedures in cases of SSA and studies of their effects in clients or patients who voluntarily participated in such interventions violates a person’s integrity is simply bizarre. There is a stronger case for saying that propaganda for homosexual promiscuity among minors (with consequences such as STDs, HIV infection, enhanced suicide risks, and much psychological misery) is profoundly unethical.

MercatorNetI’m a bit puzzled by the public attention given to Dr Spitzer’s change of heart. The original article seemed to make a fairly modest point – that it is possible for some homosexuals to change their orientation after some form of reparative therapy. What’s so disturbing about that?

You are right. And I think most ordinary people will see it that way. The whole thing is a media beat-up to support the agenda of the gay movement and the social and political powers that want to impose it on the population. In the US, gay marriage has become a hot political issue. For supporters, it is a PR coup when a prominent psychiatrist like Dr Spitzer suggests he has found evidence for the two gay dogmas: you are born that way and you cannot change.

MercatorNetNew York University constitutional law professor Kenji Yoshino has claimed that Spitzer’s recantation shows that homosexual orientation is immutable. If this is the case, then any form of discrimination against gays will be illegal, just like race, sex, non-marital parentage, and so on. Your comments?

Professor Yoshino confabulates. Dr Spitzer has not contended, let alone proven, that homosexuality is immutable. He only tries to relativize his results. If it were immutable, no conclusion could reasonably be drawn about its legal, moral, or whatever status. The comparison with race, sex, etc. has not a leg to stand on. Allegedly immutable traits, attitudes, or orientations that you are born with can still be disturbances or defects. Would Professor Yoshino advocate the same for people with “immutable” inclinations towards paedophilia, for instance?

MercatorNetMy impression is that very little is known about changes in sexual orientation. But now people are afraid to discuss the topic. Is that the case?

There is much more knowledge and experience in this field than most people realize. Too often it appears that we are groping in the dark regarding the causes, dynamics, and change-possibilities of homosexuality. That is certainly untrue. There is a lot of solid insight and there is a body of well-established facts.

As for change, the Spitzer statistics still belong to this pool of evidence. Profound and lasting changes do occur in a minority of people who make prolonged efforts. Substantial improvements happen more often. Other studies give about the same picture. These are modest results, but hopeful.

People do fear to express their opinions about homosexual behaviour. Professionals fear dissenting from the prescribed ideological “wisdom” about homosexuality. Politicians fear to say anything in public that would irritate the gay community, etc. The ideology of militant gays is being imposed on the West. It implies that the search for the truth about homosexuality, its causes and changeability, has almost become a forbidden activity.

Gerard van den Aardweg is a Dutch psychologist who specialises in homosexuality and marital problems. 

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  • merno

    Yes we fear, fear, fear to be discriminated against for our personal belief of the whole ordeal.  On a personal level, I have two second generation family members from different families that have issues; one is a homosexual, the other a pedophile.  The common denominator I see in both is that their heterosexual PARENTS could be the cause because they flaunted strange sexual behaviors.  One is a 60’s-70’s nudies camp / Playboy / naked body beautifulI mentality (pedophile came from here); the other I believe is a closet polygamist living with his divorced wife and 3 children and his new girlfriend and their child (homosexual came from here).  I believe in the domino effect on children and much starts in their childhood.  So my theory is these two children (and possibly millions more) are victims of their parents’ immoral sexual behavior, or deviant sexual behavior.  Just my observation from a “personal” level.  Very sad indeed.  I believe these psychotherapists that work with these people crumble to the inner feelings of their patients as their sorrow is intense.  But giving a kid a cookie from the cookie jar when his hand is in it, is not necessarily the answer.  Bandaids don’t work.  Psychotherapists need to be tougher and get to the cause.  I believe the cause is the sexually immoral culture of our heterosexuals today, with virtually no limits.  It’s morphing out folks!!!!   Hold onto your hats to see what the next 40 years brings us with all the enabling from psychotherapists and our progressive immoral culture, thanks to Hollywood.

  • chaco

    I agree with merno; that childhood formation has much to do with one’s tendencies. The avoidance of shame, on the part of those who deviate from the historical/ traditional use of sexuality, is the main reason much of the population doesn’t want to confront the issue. It’s easier to just “Go along” because it avoids bringing their own sexuality into question. Fr. Mitch Pacwa from EWTN shares the observation; “Those of Faith are more tolerant than those who propose tolerance but who in practice, only seek to destroy those who differ from their view.” Sometimes Truth is simple; I see sex as a Physical/ chemical stimulation very similar to drug addiction. Is there any debate as to one’s willingness to reason about their addiction until they are “Off the Stuff” ? I’d think it is a foregone conclusion that it’s impossible to have a conversation with honest integrity until the addiction (including the addiction to memories) is removed.  Employing honest integrity, with those who use intimidation as their main means of discerning Truth, would be impossible without the courage displayed by our Lord’s cross.

  • Priscilla

    Said the escaped abortion. 

    You need to deal with your anger sister.

    It’s not your mother’s fault you were not wanted. 

    She knew what you’d become and only wished to save the rest of the race having to tolerate your existence. 

    Ego te absolvo. 

  • merno

    And this is another peculiar one.  Those who disagree with my simple opinon based on factual observances of a couple innocent people’s lives, call me “angry.”  I don’t get it!  Seems very hypocritical to me to cry “minority” because of the way one is treated, and then the first instance they get, they start insulting and calling me names.  Vicious and two-faced.  I see the devil at work, doing what he does best.  Just sad.

  • my association with a homosexual man and his significant other showed me that homosexuallity is not hardwired – one of the men was a twin whose brother was not homosexual . , isnt memories addiction the same as fantasy ,which re-enforces itself by chemo-erotic brain responce?

  • The fear is there because of the bullying by the major media and academia. The approach is not unlike the tactics employed by the Brownshirts, the Red Guard and other less notable fascist militant groups in the past.

  • There are are a lot of corrupting elements within society but to push it all off onto heterosexuals in general is a copout! Blaming others is not the avenue to personal psychological healing. It starts with owning your behavioral flaws.


    After working in an inner city county hospital that had 600 gunshot wound victims in one year i made the decision to stop dating and turn my life to prayer and meditation. whether we are heterosexuals or homosexuals are we contributing to making the United States a better place? With the amount of abortions and the aids crisis we need to look inside and ask ourselves how we are conducting ourselves. are we letting our passions run away to the point of eventually regretting the decision? sure it was great for a while but then what happens afterwards? maybe we should all turn inward and ask God to open our hearts and get us to a better place so we can improve ourselves and our lives and other peoples lives.  

  • Fredwade4

    They can change and I have seen it through reparitive therapy, inner healong and deliverance from evil spirits.
    Rick Fitzgibbons, MD in Philadelphia has done great work in the area of homosexuality and has published much in this area.

    Fr. Ed Wade,CC


    teach people spiritual exercises to move beyond sexuality to change. can the catholic church teach meditation, prayer or maybe the spiritual exercises of ST. IGNATIUS OF LOYOLA give people hope for change instead of just criticizing. this whole argument has been going on for years. i am sick to death of it. it is time to focus on the family and give others hope. no matter how much research everyone does all the saints know from st. antony of the desert to st. francis of assisi to st. teresa of avila, who use to levitate in her chair, paramahansa yogananda said st. teresa of avila was the levitating saint. he also said meditation is like taking a lear jet back to God. all the saints and sages know you will never change without spending time in silence, prayer and meditation. research is a distraction away from true change. read everybody. learn how to meditate and pray.
    the answer is within you! 

  • James H, London

    merno’s not ‘pushing it all off onto heterosexuals’, he’s illustrating that immorality begets immorality. Duh!

    My father’s cousin is screamingly camp, in fact he and his boyfriend were a family joke for decades (since the early 70s at least). He tells the story of how his (otherwise strict, Presbyterian Scottish) parents were wife-swapping long before the Swinging 60s; he knew because he walked in on it as a child. What chance did he have?

  • plowshare

     You need to deal with your hate, Priscilla.  Your “Ego te absolvo” is a band-aid where radical surgery on the sentence that preceded it is called for.

  • Pargontwin

    This is not surprising.  Back in the early 1970s, it was big news that a medication had been developed that could help in treating homosexuality, still officially regarded as a  psychological disorder at the time.  I don’t remember the name of the medication anymore, but you only heard it in the headlines that one day, and then it was never mentioned again. 

    My personal opinion is that it IS a psychological disorder, and that opinion is based on my own observations of gays I have known, both male and female.  Most of them have had serious negative experiences with members of the opposite sex at one point in their lives, and I’m not talking about repeated broken hearts; I’m talking abuse.  Others are following the pattern of seeking a “companion” who is like an abusive parent, only in these cases, the abusive parent was the same sex as the individual; I suppose they feel that the opposite-sex parent betrayed them by not acting to stop the abuse.  The rest are those who have been misled into thinking they were gay because of an attraction to a member of the same sex who had traits usually ascribed to the opposite sex.  Once again, this is only what I have run into in my own experience; I’m sure there are many more, much less readily identifiable, causes. 

    Whether or not they can actually change is still up in the air.  In the meantime, like the rest of our oversexed society, they need to be taught, and come to believe in their hearts, that ANYONE, gay or straight,  who is not properly married to a member of the opposite sex is obliged to remain celibate.  To this end, I highly applaud groups like Courage, which specifically support gays who are attempting to attain that goal.  Perhaps there are even similar organizations for heterosexuals who are attempting to get off the “hookup” merry-go-round. 

  • Huskerid

    I doubt if we’ll ever completely understand the roots of same-sex attraction other than to say we are a fallen people with many disorders. In my case, I am convinced that the lack of a father figure in my life to give me confidence in the company of men and boys made me what one writer calls a “kitchen window boy” — one who watches from afar the healthy interaction between boys and, in many cases, as he reaches puberity eroticizes those feelings. We are all attracted to the opposite, and in the case of a boy who never is accepted in the world of boys and men and is more comfortable with girls and women, the boys are the opposite, hence the attraction.
    I believe that changing that orientation is difficult and rare. And I don’t believe the orientation in and of itself, as the catechism teaches, is a sin. That said, I know there are many men and women of faith who recognize their SSA as a disorder and seek to live God’s law of chastity. Many are single and many, like myself, are married. I have a wonderful wife, children and granchildren. My SSA is a cross that I bear, but we all have those.

  • Sdfkkk

    I am disgusted by this article, and by some of the comments below!!! You cannot compare a homosexual to a pedophile!!! Being gay is not a curse or an illness, and it cannot be cured, the same way you can’t cure someone from being straight! You people just need to widen your minds, God loves everyone.

  • Onewhoknows

    I am disgusted by this article, and by some of the comments below!!! You cannot compare a homosexual to a pedophile!!! Being gay is not a curse or an illness, and it cannot be cured, the same way you can’t cure someone from being straight! You people just need to widen your minds, God loves everyone.