Minding Your Health - Why Sexual Orientation Reparative Therapy Is Bad News for Everyone

A few months ago, California state legislators introduced Senate Bill 1172, geared toward eliminating the discredited practice of sexual orientation change efforts (SOCE) or reparative therapy among minors. Reparative therapy is a service that claims to be able to change an individual’s sexual orientation. It has primarily been offered by religious-based counseling groups. The practice is discredited because research does not support that reparative therapy is effective. In fact, research supports the idea that reparative therapy has a greater chance of causing harm than helping an individual. This practice is not only popular in California, but is also being used in Missouri and Kansas, even though it goes against the ethical code of nearly every major medical authority in the nation.

Although research has indicated that some aspects of sexual expressivity can be fluid, those findings still do not refute what we know today about one’s sexual orientation. The American Psychological Association defines sexual orientation as “an enduring pattern of emotional, romantic, and/or sexual attractions to men, women or both sexes” (http://www.apa.org/helpcenter/sexual-orientation.aspx). Therefore, it is important to differentiate among sexual behavior, sexual orientation and sexual identity. For example, a man who identifies as heterosexual and is married to a woman, but has had a history of same-sex sexual behavior might have a sexual orientation leaning more toward males than toward females (even if those feelings are not explicitly sexual). In this case, the man’s sexual orientation may not align with his sexual identity or sexual behavior.

Sexual identity, on the other hand, is how an individual is labeled by others or labels his or her own expressions of attraction. Some reparative therapies have been able to influence an individual to shift his or her sexual identity from gay to heterosexual, and at times have also been able to modify their client’s sexual behavior (through same-sex abstinence). The problem is that those same therapies have not been successful at re-orienting one’s patterns of attraction or, in other words, changing someone’s sexual orientation (which is what they claim to do). Not only that, but research has shown that repressing these feelings can lead to a slew of other psychological challenges, including higher risk for suicide, depression and anxiety.

The California state bill is focused solely on not allowing the practice to be used on minors (who cannot choose their own course of therapy). This is because the practice has significant potential for causing more harm than good. Opponents of the bill believe it is an attack on religious freedom. The problem is that while an adult can choose his or her own risks, a child is subject to the beliefs held by his or her parents. This argument is similar to the idea that it is our social responsibility to intervene when a child’s parents choose to ignore modern medical intervention (i.e., a child who has appendicitis needing medication or surgery) in exchange for a faith-based intervention, which puts the child’s life at significant risk. You can follow the progress of this bill at leginfo.legislature.ca.gov/faces/billNavClient.xhtml?bill_id=201120120SB1172&search_keywords= and find more information at www.change.org/petitions/protect-youth-from-being-forced-into-ex-gay-therapy-sb1172
Other news items of note include:
Jesse Ventura, former Minnesota governor, has come out against the anti-gay marriage amendment. “The constitution should not be used to oppress people. The constitution is used to protect people. Love is by far bigger than government can ever be,” Ventura said (www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/09/14/jesse-ventura-vote-no-minnesota-governor-pro-wrestler-same-sex-marriage-antigay-amendment_n_1884626.html).
Here is another great article talking about why activism in support of gay marriage is important. Anthony Michael Kreis, from Atlanta’s Human Rights Campaign, states, “To simply acknowledge the generational inevitably of marriage equality without assuming a personal duty to advance change is a moral failure of dire consequence. It coldly ignores the daily injury to same-sex couples’ right to be free of discrimination and exercise basic legal, social, and economic needs. It turns a blind eye to the quiet suffering that LGBT children will unnecessarily endure, pushing them to tragically question their own self-worth and their rightful place in a society that fails to recognize their basic human dignity” (www.huffingtonpost.com/anthony-michael-kreis/is-marriage-equality-inev_b_1876010.html).
For so many years, military leaders argued that allowing openly identified LGBT individuals in the military would have a significant negative impact. Yet a comprehensive study published in September indicates that there have been no negative effects on the U.S. military one year after the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy was repealed ( www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/09/10/dont-ask-dont-tell-study_n_1868892.html).

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