Musings on Mormonism



Science readings on same-sex attraction lately

I don’t like to be a rabble-rouser about issues that many find sensitive, controversial, or otherwise uncomfortable, but I also have a sometimes voracious appetite for the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. Once I am able to satisfy that appetite regarding some matter, I experience some inclination to share my findings, especially when they can help dispel misinformation and misunderstandings observed among others.

Obviously, same-sex attraction (SSA) is a big issue these days, which is to say, many in the public sphere, and to a somewhat lesser extent in the private sphere, talk about it with some frequency. Probably the vast majority of these people do so as part of an earnest attempt to promote good, as they see it. For instance, one of my sisters recently pointed me to this blog post, a sincere and heartfelt attempt to think through a challenging issue (you can even see my comment, most of the way down the page).

Now, as one who considers himself a man of science, I have spent a lot of time digging into the scientific literature on matters surrounding SSA, and such efforts have been very fruitful. This may not come as a humongous surprise to you, but it has really revealed how fragmentary, and in some cases even deliberate, the transmission of scientific information on SSA has been; most people, including both producers and consumers of “the media”, have little interest, understanding, or training in getting all the gory details (or is it boring details?) of what the seemingly constant flow of scientific knowledge says about this and that. At most, people typically are willing to discuss just bite-sized versions of a few select studies here and there every now and then. This is very understandable, and yet, I have happily found that you can learn an awful lot by reading what systematic, rational investigation has uncovered on even complex, confusing issues like SSA.

That said, I’ve been going through this article for the past few hours, and it has been very interesting, albeit pretty technical. There’s a lot I could say about it, which most people would find really boring and/or confusing (and of course, for anyone unprepared for sterile, detached scientific analysis, it would not be very meaningful). I’ve included the text’s conclusion section below, but mostly it boils down to this:

  • people for whom SSA is an issue generally experience a higher prevalence of mental health conditions, around 3x more, compared to those who are other-sex attracted (OSA).
  • negative societal influences probably do not play as much of a role in these hardships as many commonly believe. Even for the very serious problem of suicide, “perceived discrimination involving oversensitivity rather than actual discrimination”, relational breakups, and substance abuse-related depression appear to be significantly more important factors than societal pressures.
  • given the apparently internal nature of these co-morbidities, there appears to be a very important role for therapy to play for those clients with unwanted SSA (Note: although the article didn’t get into it, the idea that SSA is all biological and immutable, end of story, isn’t backed by as much scientific evidence as you might think, whereas evidence for the pre-eminence of psychosocial factors in SSA is stronger than you might think. I’ll have to get into that more another time).

On a final note, it should go without saying that none of these findings should ever justify any sort of cruelty or unkindness shown to those affected by same-sex attraction. Although it may be practically impossible to eliminate all behaviors which could be potentially construed as hurtful, nevertheless kindness and understanding should always be fundamental goals of human interaction in all cases.

From the article:

SSA people have a lamentably high variety and intensity of mental health conditions, and there is evidence that this is much less due to societal pressure and attitudes than commonly supposed. Conversely, disorders are much more due to particular psychological coping mechanisms than usually supposed. The gender-reversed nature of these conditions argues a link to the SSA itself. Causes of suicide among SSA people are probably a result of perceived discrimination involving oversensitivity rather than actual discrimination, but are also due to relationship breakup and depression linked to substance abuse. They are unlikely to be much improved by societal change—the origins are within the SSA person and can probably be investigated within the therapeutic process.

Gay, lesbian, and bisexual populations are demanding the right to be free from all events that trigger their unusual sensitivity. However, that demand threatens to swallow the entire legal system, educational system, religious denominations, and professional bodies in many countries, and there is very little evidence it will make a significant difference to the mental health or suicidality of homosexuals. Therapy is more likely to have a positive impact and should be provided with attention to meeting the goals of the client and not taking lightly the varying needs and issues that may need to be addressed.

The body of literature on co-morbidities may also demonstrate a possible reason that some people are dissatisfied with their orientation and/or lifestyle and may seek change. Therapists should be sensitive to such requests—not simply dismissing them, but providing therapeutic assistance to help dissatisfied clients pursue their desired goals.


Comments

  1. * TR says:

    If this really is a topic that interests you, I would recommend reading other peer-reviewed articles about homosexuality. A simple search on scholar.google.com should make clear that the theories held by NARTH (which appears to have prepared the article that you discussed) represent a minority view of small group of researchers compared volumes of research which contradicts their theories.
    In other words, nearly all researchers would agree that this article is backwards in both its assumptions and conclusions.

    | Reply Posted 2 years, 4 months ago
  2. * C-Dawg says:

    First off, I have not read the entire article. (No time to do that while trains are flying to and fro about the house!) However, what rouses my skepticism regarding the true-blue validity here is the researcher’s confirmation bias. He is coming from a place of religious conviction that, I would imagine, distorts his findings/interpretations to some degree. I have my own biases, certainly. But I feel that, on the whole, my lack of concrete religious identity allows me to filter information about highly emotional issues in a more effective (read: less biased) way. Just my .02, B.

    | Reply Posted 2 years, 4 months ago
  3. * Bryce says:

    Hi C-Dawg!

    It’s true, biases exist, and no one is immune. However, I’m not sure in what way you mean to suggest Whitehead has succumbed to them in his interpretations of the research findings he cites. But, it is certainly conceivable that his interpretations were not necessarily the correct ones. Some of his findings are pretty straightforward – for instance, Table 2 on p. 58 of this link shows pretty clearly the nearly 3x greater incidence of mood and anxiety disorders for gay men, compared to heterosexual men.

    Other parts of his paper, however, are less quantitative and more about piecing together and synthesizing others’ findings, which I concede is a more interpretive process. Still, when you are able to collect enough puzzle pieces like this and this, you can start to create a plausible bigger picture which makes sense, and in my view (as an admitted non-expert) Whitehead has done that in his paper.

    As for religious convictions clouding one’s judgments, I think that criticism is convenient, but no one ever takes the time to back it up with clear examples in the text. In almost every objection I’ve received today, the person invokes either NARTH or implies some nefarious/judgment-clouding religious zealotry…but never points to an example to support the claim. Again, that simply amounts to an ad hominem attack (we can’t trust this person’s judgment because he is religious*) or an associational fallacy (I don’t like the idea of NARTH, and this guy is somehow involved with NARTH, so I know I don’t like whatever this guy’s ideas are either). Ironically, these unsupported criticisms just support a belief I already have about people who eschew a religious identity: they still have their own articles of faith, even if they cannot be categorized in a particular religious tradition. If this is true (and I keep finding evidence which makes me think it is), then we shouldn’t take scientists seriously either, if it can be shown that they adhere to ultimately unprovable beliefs or values.

    For the record, though, I am not totally a believer in the efficacy of all the different approaches to therapy for unwanted SSA, nor do I think it is strictly necessary for significant sexual orientation shifts over a person’s lifetime. That said, I think it has the potential to be helpful for some people. I’ll write about it some time.

    *which they know based solely on the google search they just did on Whitehead, while they could have instead been considering the evidence he presents (although I do realize that science articles are nearly the worst reading materials to which one could be subjected)

    | Reply Posted 2 years, 4 months ago


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