As a Christian I have been very uncomfortable (to put it mildly) with the practice of some Christian groups claiming they can change a person’s sexual orientation through therapy or counselling.
As a pastor I have had many people who have confided in me about their sexual appetite, desires and orientation. As a result I have found myself to be a bit sceptical of the claim that a person’s sexual preferences or orientation are fixed for life. I have known supposedly heterosexual people leaving their heterosexual partner of many years to pursue a same sex lifestyle. I have also known those who have always claimed to be homosexual to have left a homosexual lifestyle and partnership and ended up in a heterosexual partnership and lifestyle.
I have listened to various explanations of an apparent sexual orientation switch, in both directions. Some people have claimed they were never really what they started out as, and others have simply claimed to have changed and found peace, contentment and fulfilment in their new “orientation”.
Not personally having gone through a sexual orientation switch I find it a difficult subject to discuss with people as one thing that does seem very much fixed are the views about this subject.
I find it very interesting therefore that, virtually ignored by the media, the Royal College of Psychiatrists (RCP) has quietly issued a statement marking a small but significant shift in their thinking.
Their previous view expressed in 2007 was that sexual orientation is “biological in nature determined by genetic factors…and/or the early uterine environment…”; and that “there is no substantive evidence to support the suggestion that the nature of parenting or early childhood experiences play any role in the formation of a person’s fundamental heterosexual or homosexual orientation”; or with regard to sexual orientation change efforts (SOCE) that “there is no evidence that such change is possible.”
Now they seem to be moving more in the direction of saying that likely causes of homosexuality are “a combination of biological and postnatal environmental factors.”
Setting aside their comments questioning whether a person is born with heterosexual or homosexual orientation, they are now questioning whether sexual orientation is fixed for life: “It is not the case that sexual orientation is immutable or might not vary to some extent in a person’s life” even though “there is no sound scientific evidence that sexual orientation can be changed.”
By introducing the term ‘postnatal’, the RCP has taken a significant step to acknowledge that research over the last few years has increasingly recognised the importance of nurture and environmental influences in explaining sexual orientation.
Significant is the almost simultaneous publication of recent research by the renowned American sex researcher Dr Lisa Diamond on whether homosexuality is unchangeable and whether homosexual people change. The study by Dr Lisa Diamond is particularly significant as, being a self-identified lesbian she considered by many in her field to be one of the leading experts on female homosexuality.
In 2009 she shook up previous understandings by publishing her findings about the fluidity of female sexuality (see Sexual Fluidity: Understanding Women’s Love and Desire, Harvard Press, 2009).
More recently, in a lecture at Cornell University in October 2013, she presented her more recent discoveries about male and adolescent sexuality. Diamond has come to the conclusion that identity, attraction and behaviour is fluid, is not specific to women, but is rather a general feature of human sexuality. She now questions whether the gay community can any longer advocate for rights based on the concept of immutability (that sexual orientation is fixed) “now that we know it is not true”.
I wonder how long it will be before this shift is more commonly known about or accepted.