Narth fact sheet: Female homosexual development

Narth recently released a fact sheet that is relevant to some information I posted regarding reparative therapy research.

The paper has some bright spots but overall reverts to the same reparative drive theoretical formulation for which NARTH is known. On the NARTH website, Dean Byrd praises the APA for taking a more nuanced perspective toward causation and same-sex attraction, but in this paper, NARTH does not follow the APA’s lead.

The paper begins by attempting to make a case for sexual fluidity by quoting mainstream researchers. I suspect researchers such as Michael Bailey, Ken Zucker, and Lisa Diamond will be uncomfortable with how their work is integrated in this piece. The unnamed NARTH author then suggests that the reason research supporting developmental causes is minimized today is due to bias against these findings. For some reason, Rogers Wright is quoted in this context. However, Rogers is referring to psychotherapy and not research on causal factors. Regarding the research on environmental factors, the paper says:

There is, in fact, a wealth of older research identifying many common developmental, temperamental and family patterns connected to homosexuality. This research has never been scientifically refuted.

The citations for this statement are a 10 year old paper by Mark Yarhouse and a 15 year old book by Goldberg. Yarhouse and I were making a case for reorientation therapies broadly speaking several years ago. However, our model now calls for a cautious and realistic assessment of the literature on change and causal factors. Our sexual identity therapy framework is based, in part, on the observation that we do not know what causes sexual orientation in any general sense, nor do we know what, if any, factors might lead to fluidity. Our model stresses value congruence rather than change in orientation.

In fact, “the older research” has been addressed as inadequate to explain the complexity of sexual orientation (e.g, Bell, Weinberg & Hammersmith, 1981; see this post about Fisher and Greenberg’s review of psychoanalytic literature, and this post as well). In the context of the NARTH claim, I would like to ask anyone to produce the three best studies which support the “common developmental, temperamental and family patterns connected to homosexuality.” I am serious about this. Preferably I would like proponents to post them in a comment for discussion but these references may also be emailed to me.

Based on this lead, I expected the author to make a case that the observation of sexual fluidity for some meant that therapy could be helpful in promoting change of orientation. However, the paper did not quite come to that conclusion, saying

The concept of sexual fluidity, defined as the spontaneous evolution or transformation of one’s sexual preferences, is different from the concept of changeability involving intentional effort directed towards altering or changing one’s sexual preferences. As mentioned, many researchers attest to the reality of female sexual fluidity. This does not directly translate into proof that any woman can easily change or alter her same sex attraction. It does however confirm that sexual feeling and behaviors are not absolutely immutable or unchangeable. The degree to which a woman can or will experience change will be uniquely determined based on her history and motivation to do so.

While I appreciate the distinction between spontaneous fluidity and intentional attempts to change, I do not think significant evidence has established that motivation is a catalytic component for such fluidity. Certainly some women testify that they sought change and experienced it but others sought change and did not. We do not know that change is determined by “history and motivation.” This sentence almost sounds like change is related to motivation in some dose-dependent manner – the more motivation, the more the change. This can be a very frustrating and defeating message for people who are quite motivated and yet continue to experience same-sex attraction.

The paper then indicates via quote from George Rekers that gender nonconformity and a feeling of being different is associated with adult homosexuality. This is the same data Bem appeals to in crafting his erotic becomes exotic (EBE) theory. Although less so for females than males, these are true observations. In 1995, Bailey and Zucker summarized the research on gender nonconformity and adult sexual orientation this way:

As our analyses demonstrated for both men and women, research has firmly established that homosexual subjects recall substantially more cross-sex-typed behavior in childhood than do heterosexual subjects. By rough criteria, effect sizes were large for both men and women. Indeed, they were among the largest effect sizes ever reported in the realm of sex-dimorphic behaviors.

However, instead of stopping there, the NARTH paper leaves research and goes to theory and clinical anecdote by suggesting:

Typical in the history of women with same sex attraction are failures of attachment with the mother resulting in disidentification (rejection as role model).

The research cited does not suggest that gender nonconformity leads to failures of attachment, but the lay reader might not catch the shift from data to theory. The NARTH paper cites no studies which demonstrate higher levels of attachment failures, nor higher levels of disidentification with mother. The reference is to a speech given by NARTH Board Member, Janelle Hallman at a NARTH conference.

Then Elizabeth Moberly’s theories are referenced as evidence. Dr. Moberly, who was not a clinician nor did research on sexual orientation, proposed the basic reparative drive theory which holds:

…that the homosexual-whether man or woman has suffered from some deficit in the relationship with the parent of the same-sex: and that there is a corresponding drive to make good this deficit-through the medium of same sex or “homosexual” relationships.”

The NARTH paper also claims poor fathering, marital distress and sexual abuse play a role in lesbian development. Feminist researchers are quoted out of context to make a point about the need for positive attachments among women. However, the reader is not informed that no research has linked poor mother-daughter attachments to later lesbian development

In a second part of this critique, I will take the sexual abuse statistics separately. Let me say now that I reviewed the studies referenced, and I cannot determine how the NARTH author arrived at a statistic of 50% of lesbians, on average, have been sexually abused. One must take into account representative sampling when offering such data. I am looking for something more recent but one 1994 study using a representative sample of lesbians found that 21% of lesbians reported sexual abuse as a child.

The NARTH paper concludes this way:

Women who deal with same sex attraction, possess a history of disindentification with their mothers, and therefore with their femininity. This leads to a longing for connection with the feminine that becomes sexualized in adolescence or adulthood. Without a secure attachment to mother, she fails to identify with mother as a female role model losing the opportunity to develop trust and a healthy gender identity. Because of an empty or distorted view of her feminine self she has an inability to connect in a healthy way with other girls. Her sexual development is arrested.

It is possible that the NARTH author believes that since the paper mentions biological, psychological and social factors in the same paper that a “bio-psycho-social model of causation” is being advanced. However, a review of the paper finds no such model where these factors are integrated with research support.

Despite the use of some research studies in this paper, the conclusion leaves data and moves to the reparative drive theory first articulated by Elizabeth Moberly. Back in March, I posted about Dean Byrd’s review of the APA paper on sexual orientation. Then I wondered

…when NARTH would make an APA-like statement about theorized environmental factors such as child abuse and same-sex parenting deficits. What if NARTH acknowledged “what most scientists have long known: that a bio-psycho-social model of causation best fits the data?” Wouldn’t there be a need for a statement cautioning readers of their materials that evidence for parenting playing a large or determining role is meager? Paralleling Dr. Byrd’s assessment of the APA pamphlet, shouldn’t NARTH say with italics, “There is no homogenic family. There is no simple familial pathway to homosexuality.”

Still wondering.

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  • Mary

    I think it’s a good idea to have the opinions and observations from those who work with many idividuals. This gives those of us who are in the midst of changing, or whatever, to evaluate many perspectives – try on different hats if you will. I can honestly say, I see parts of myself in one person’s ideas (but not all), I see parts of myself in another person’s ideas (again not all)

    If we diminish any of the literature available, we diminsh the client’s resource to investigate and possibly add their own twist to things. It is all cumulative research in the making.

    I do believe that in some people it is a reparative drive. For some, I think it’s squarely an addiction that was fed over and over again that the client finally succumbed to. For others, I see – like Nicolosi points out – just a trust issue. And yet again with others, I see gender nonconformity being a factor (not identifying with the oppsite gender but doing o.g. actvities – thus causing separation from your peers etc…)

    I see alot that when mixed up right and with the proper temperment, you’ll see homosexuality develop.

    Hate to say it – but I even see some EBE at work in some people.

    What bothers me, are those people, trying to understand for the first time to grasp th ideas behind homosexuality, to unify all theories into one that the lay person can sort of get their mind around – I’m talking about those in ministry, church leadership positions etc… And also, the few out ex gays who write can sometimes focus too much on their own perspective – leading people to some wrong conclusions about the whole of homosexual development.

    Um…. since they are such a small group – it is misleading about the broader experience of many.

  • Mary

    Warren – why not check this out and see what you think.LOL!!!!!!!!!

    http://www.ontopmag.com/article.aspx?id=2254&MediaType=1&Category=26

  • David Blakeslee

    I think Narth feels some responsibility to address female same sex attraction. Since Narth is largely populated by therapists, rather than researchers, they inevitably discuss things in terms of environmental factors.

    It is an understandable error if Narth was actually called the National Association of Developmental Theorists.

    It is important to note that NARTH has been focused on male same sex attraction for a very long time and only in recent years have they focused on females. I think Nicolosi’s environmental model with men is guiding NARTH in their analysis of SSA in women.

    …They basic questions are can people either change their attractions or make their behavior conform to their values? The developmental theory is strongly related to trying to answer the first question in the affirmative and may be unnecessary for the second question.

  • Mary

    David B,

    You might want to read Janelle Hallman’s work.

    She was independent of Narth in many repsects before totally joining – I think a couple ofyears ago.

    Anyhow, it has been a common mistake for many people to use the gay model for women and obviously – it doesn’t work.

    IMHO, gay men and lesbians are two different kinds of research. It may be homosexuality – but oh soooooo different in terms of subject matter. Different bodies, different brains, different social expectations and perspectives, etc… Different creatures all together.

  • Lynn David

    Different creatures all together.

    Still all-in-all human.

    And then David Blakeslee wrote….

    It is an understandable error if Narth was actually called the National Association of Developmental Theorists.

    Would not that rather be the Delusory Association of Developmental Theorists [or Deceptive, Dimwitted, Doltish, etc…]?

    Perhaps better known as the D.A.D.T.

  • Lynn David

    BTW…. the guy spoken of in this On Top article would put all psychologists, Ex-gay therapists, or Exodus people out of business.

  • Mary

    Lynn David,

    If you are saying that lesbianisn and gay men’s sexuality are the same thing, I’d disagree. The only time they are in agreement is when others lump them together to discriminate (good or bad) them from heterosexuals. Hence, the title Gay and Lesbian Center in almost every large city. Or GLBT, or LGBT. There is a difference otherwise it would say HBT.

  • Pathia

    Is there an equivalent study anywhere that shows how common women have ‘bad’ relationships with their mothers? I mean, some of this seems exactly like the ‘distant father’ in that it’s so omnipresent that if it were what caused homosexuality over half the population would be gay.

  • Mary

    Keeping in mind that there must be several things in place. Genetics/personality/temperment is huge.

  • Michael Bussee

    It is odd to see the words “NARTH” and “FACT” in the same headline.

  • David Blakeslee

    feminine and masculine pathways for arousal are due to biological factors, cultural training and probably parent/peer effects.

    Since the two sexes are biologically different it is important to treat research on SSA in each population as a discrete entity and not conflate gays and lesbians in research as “homosexuals.”

    It is an error of false homogeneity of the sample (no pun intended).

    These are heterogenous groups which behave in ways not easily blended, but have overlapping political goals…that may be the main thing they have in common.

    I do think a change in Narth’s name along the lines of a developmental model would help better communicate the strengths and limitations of this organization.

  • Michael Bussee

    David: I think it would take a LOT more than a NARTH “name change” to “better communicate the strengths and limitations of this organization.

    It would take a true dedication to science, not ideology. It would take and understanding on NARTH’s part that theories are not facts and that religious prejudice and science do not mix.

    NARTH would have to strongly denounce Cameron’s views, diconnect from EXODUS, stir completely clear of politics, and unload “experts” like Berger and Schoenewolf — among other things..

    Changing names or terminology won’t cut it. You can put lipstick on a pig, but it’s still a pig.

  • David Blakeslee

    It is an organization whose members are primarily theorists who mostly hold to a developmental model.

    People, whom you may or may not like, not pigs.

    Narth would not need to exist at all if the APA had not so politicized this issue the last 40 years.

    Narth’s calling should be to be rigorously thorough factual and objective. Hopefully accountability for NARTH whill facilitate this.

    Nevertheless, APA still has much work to do.

  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/warrenthrockmorton/ Warren

    The APA sexual orientation task force reports soon and we will see where things stand. As Dean Byrd pointed out, the APA has become more nuanced.

    The open question is: When will NARTH?

  • Michael Bussee

    David. You missed the point. I was not calling the PEOPLE of NARTH “pigs” — I was using the analogy that no matter how who dress up something ugly, it’s still ugly — and keeping people like Cameron, Berger and Schoenewolk is ugly. Even Throckmorton call’s Cameron’s views “abhorrent”. Why won’t NARTH?

  • Michael Bussee

    Furthermore, I do not think it is fair to blame the APA for something as awful as NARTH. I agree that “Narth’s calling should be to be rigorously thorough factual and objective.” The important word here is “should”. But, to use a similar analogy, “yeah, and pigs might fly”.

  • Michael Bussee

    And by that, I mean of course, not that NARTH members are pigs, but that the chances of NARTH becoming truly factual and objective are about as likely as Hell freezing over.

    NARTH is, and always has been, an anti-gay, unscientific, ideologically based movement that tolerates hatemongers and wackos like Cameron, Berger and Schoenewolf. Yet, they blame their lack of credibility on others and continually whine that the APA will give them no respect. Respect has to be earned.

  • http://www.boxturtlebulletin.com Timothy Kincaid

    And the theme of this thread might be summized as:

    If you put lipstick on a pig, will it fly?