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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