Tag Archives: Mark Yarhouse

APA says sexual orientation isn’t biological but from yet to be determined factors


Last week I commented on sexual identity formation in little kids. It spawned a large number of comments, both on and off topic. Hesitantly, I will make another post on the topic of sexual identity–this time from a brochure published by my own clinical association.

The American Psychological Association (APA) has a pamphlet on sexual orientation and homosexuality designed to aid understanding and reduce prejudice. My friend, John Freeman, gave me this to me and pointed out an interesting line which we’ll look at in a moment. But first, let me summarize the pamphlet

Sexual orientation, according to the APA is

“an enduring pattern of emotional, romantic, and/or sexual attractions to men, women, or both sexes. Sexual orientation also refers to a person’s sense of identity based on those attractions, related behaviors, and membership in a community of others who share those attractions.”

Right away it is clear they don’t really distinguish between attraction and identity and orientation and identity. You see the simple equation: attraction=orientation/identity. This is where Yarhouse’s studies with individuals within a gay affirming church give ample concrete evidence that such an equation is simplistic and mischaracterizes a set of complex issues. The reality is that one may recognize an attractional pull without it forming a private or public identity.

The APA document continues with the following,

“According to current scientific and professional understanding, the core attractions that form the basis for adult sexual orientation typically emerge between middle childhood and early adolescence.”

Again we see the attractions = orientation. This fits with the popular identity development theory that one moves from discomfort with to pride in attractions and accepts orientation as a given. Interpretive assumptions are given short shrift here.

Now to the good stuff. The brochure asks the question: What causes a person to have a particular sexual orientation? And here is their answer,

There is no consensus among scientists about the exact reasons that an individual develops a heterosexual, bisexual, gay, or lesbian orientation. Although much research has examined the possible genetic, hormonal, developmental, social, and cultural influences on sexual orientation, no findings have emerged that permit scientist to conclude that sexual orientation is determined by any particular factor or factors. Many think that nature and nurture both play complex roles; most people experience little or no sense of choice about their sexual orientation.

This is an interesting paragraph. The APA rightly recognizes that no one factor is likely to determine later orientation. In fact, we’re not really at a point where we can say one factor is X% of the equation. There is no equation yet. It doesn’t mean we won’t have a better sense of it in the future, but as of yet, the problem is not merely a biological process. So, this opens the door to choice and manipulation of one’s orientation unless one subscribes to behavioral naturalism–something most of us would not accept in other areas of life. Obviously no one is suggesting that sexual orientation is as transitory as a passing fancy. And yet the APA recognizes that even when folks don’t experience themselves choosing orientation, there is an interpretative and choice element however subtle and slow the process.

At this point the brochure turns to the problem of discrimination and its impact on gay and lesbian people. No matter your beliefs about homosexuality, you ought to recognize that there is great stigma and mistreatment for those so identified (and also for those who may not fit stereotyped roles but do not have a gay identity). Then the brochure covers the question of mental disorder. 

Is homosexuality a mental health disorder? No says the APA and I agree based on the definition of mental illness where it has to cause distress. Not all with a gay identity are distressed, period. This really isn’t the issue.

The brochure goes on but I will mention only one last section. They discuss the validity of therapy intended to change orientation. They state there is, “no scientifically adequate research to show that therapy aimed at changing sexual orientation is safe or effective.” First, this sentence is full of highly charged words whose meaning can be debated: adequate…safe…effective. What constitutes adequate? Safe? Effective? There is some data that is not merely anecdotal suggesting that change is possible and not unsafe (see Yarhouse and Jones’ Ex-Gays(IVP). Now, their data isn’t as strong as it could be, isn’t overwhelmingly positive, but neither can it be denied as an anecdote. On the flip side, there isn’t any adequately scientific data suggestive that change therapies are unsafe and ineffective. Both sides of the research agenda have the same set of weaknesses that one would expect in researching this particular population (i.e., convenience samples).

I agree with the APA that we therapist must respect and person’s right to self-determination. But the APA violates this very principle by disrespecting those who have carefully thought about change. It is a paternalistic stretch to say that every person who wishes to change orientation only does so because of biases or because of a fundamentalist upbringing. The APA wants to be sensitive to a client’s “race, culture, ethnicity, age, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, religion…” as long as their religion doesn’t guide them to see sexuality in a different light.

All in all, the APA takes a complex set of factors and ends up with, “It just is, so be nice!” I’m all for reducing mistreatment and violations of constitutional rights. But, I expect my scientific organization to spend my dues in a more balanced manner–faithfully representing what is true, whether attractive or not.  

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Filed under Psychology, sexual identity, sexuality, Uncategorized

JesusCreed on “Ex-Gays”


Starting on 10/2 Scot McKnight is going to start a post series at www.jesuscreed.orgon Stan Jones and Mark Yarhouse’s new book, Ex-Gays? Yesterday, he merely announced that he would start the series and it brought on the usual discussions that one encounters when talking about homosexuality, sexual orientation, etc. (e.g., is it right/wrong? Did Jesus say anything about the matter? What is orientation? Does it really change? Why do we give special attention to this particular activity and avoid things like gossip and adultery?). All good questions, but they may miss the actual issues raised by this particular book.

Personal experiences play a huge role in much of the public conversation about sexuality (we all have broken sexual experiences and friends and family with their own experiences). It will be interesting to see whether readers of JesusCreed will be able to consider the merits of the questions that Jones and Yarhouse ask: Is it ever possible for someone to change their sexual orientation using religious means? And, is it harmful to try?

Chapter one lays out the controversy (i.e., the scientific and political claims in the debate, whether sexual orientation is a thing or a construction) and articulates their view of the relationship between science and faith.

Chapter two provides an overview of a Christian/biblical view of sexuality (what it was designed to be and how it is broken). In short, they report that the biblical text gives sexual intercourse a fixed meaning (an good act between husband and wife) rather than have the act defined by the intent of the participants. “Nonreligious persons today are accustomed to thinking that the meaning of their sexual actions are conferred by their intentions for those acts….But the Christian tradition asserts the opposite: that sexually intimate acts have fixed meanings by their very nature” (p. 49).  God provides the boundaries, but given our fallen nature, every aspect of our personhood reflects humanity’s rebellion against God. They then detail both Christian ethical responses to homosexuality as well as pastoral responses by well-known agencies.

Chapters 3 and 4 are the defense of their rationale and methodologies. Of note is the small sample size. But remember, they want to know whether it is ever possible for someone to change orientation through religious means. They do an interesting discussion of what kind of study they wanted to do and what they actually did in the end (chapter five) and why. They also address matters of researcher bias here. Chapters 6-9 explore how one might measure sexual orientation change and report their results.

Whether you agree or disagree with their sexual ethic, agree or disagree with their interpretation of orientation or their view of what makes for a robust empirical finding, you ought to agree that this is a well-written book that attempts to very slowly walk through the issues (scientific, biases, change, identity and orientation) without slandering opponents and yet maintaining their apologetical stance.

A worthy book to read by anyone. Stay tuned to JesusCreed to see how readers there respond to the issues when it gets to the details of the chapters.   

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Filed under counseling science, Identity, sexual identity