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Reparative Therapy

In the future nation of Texas, Republicans have adopted a platform that includes support of "reparative therapy" for gays who voluntarily choose that path. Many Republicans in Texas believe gayness is a lifestyle choice that can be "fixed" with voluntary therapy.

CNN reports that the biggest scientific and professional organization in psychology says, "To date, there has been no scientifically adequate research to show that therapy aimed at changing sexual orientation ... is safe or effective."

This is a tough issue for science-loving libertarians. On one hand, science doesn't support the safety and effectiveness of so-called reparative therapy. And allowing it to exist sends a toxic message to society about what is "normal."

On the other hand, psychological therapy is ineffective for a variety of other topics and we don't ban people from trying those. So there's a freedom question.

My opinion on topics of this type is show me the data. If the data doesn't exist, I am biased toward individual freedom even if it carries some risk. So I favor banning therapists from claiming "cures" of gayness because there is no data to support such claims, but I wouldn't stop an informed adult from giving it a try.

This brings me to a more interesting question: Would therapy of this sort work?

As regular readers know, I'm a certified hypnotist and a student of the practice for decades. The topic of hypnosis isn't terribly deep, and mastering it isn't much harder than becoming a Starbucks barista. But if you haven't had the training it can all seem mysterious. So what follows is my self-assessed expert opinion (barista level) on the question of whether "therapy" can rewire an individual's sexual preferences.

Answer: yes

There are lots of qualifiers to that answer.

For starters, sexuality is not binary. Sure, some folks are probably born with deeply embedded gay or straight wiring and it will never change. But there's a big grey area in the middle where people are attracted to humans of either gender.

Human brains are born with tendencies and preferences but experience can rewire us. You might be born with a natural attraction to cute animals, but if a dog attacks you when you are a child, that preference gets rewired in a minute. And if you want a new favorite color, a hypnotist can probably make that happen for you too.

Sexual preferences are presumably among the deepest and hardest to change. But my semi-expert opinion is that perhaps 20% of the public could be trained to rewire their sexual preferences. And a 20% success rate would be competitive with psychological therapy for other topics.

And by the way, the effectiveness would work both ways. You can probably make 20% of straight people cheerily turn gay or bisexual if for some reason they were motivated to do so.

Would it be ethical to rewire someone who volunteers for it? I'd say yes, assuming we are talking about an informed adult and no one else is getting hurt. 

Would it be safe? That's probably a mixed bag. I can imagine some people being psychologically worsened by the process and others being glad they did it. But I think society would be worse off for allowing reparative therapy to exist because of the message it sends about what is "normal" for humans. Emotionally, the idea of changing someone's sexuality to conform to society's expectations seems evil to me, and it reminds me of the Nazis. But that's just a feeling. Should my feelings become your law?

My best guess is that reparative therapy would work for some people while damaging others. In other words, it would be similar to how psychological therapy in general works.

Should so-called reparative therapy be legal?


Scott Adams

Co-founder of CalendarTree.com

Author of this book


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Jun 28, 2014
It's an old bit of writing. I said it was relevant and that Scott might find it interesting. Not that it was on this exact topic.

Fact is that I thought of myself as rigidly straight, penis-in-vagina, nothing else is worth considering. Over time, that has evolved and changed, mostly due to my environment. Up until I was 19, never had any interest in anyone who wasn't a cis female. Wasn't some "in the closet" thing, never even gave guys a look.

Gradually, that changed over time. I've dated a couple of guys, a couple of transgirls, quite a few cis women too. I still tell people I'm "straightish" when they ask what my sexuality is, because if I say I'm bi, it makes people think I'm equally interested in both, which is pretty untrue still. But the fact is that I went from never even looking at guys curiously to putting my dick in one, because my environment led me to finding that acceptable.

Unless me having gay sex was a kink/perversion too, in which case, !$%* if I know.
Jun 28, 2014
ragnaroksbringer: Preferences on how to have sex have next to nothing to do with sexual orientation.

There is nothing wrong with kinks or perversions, but they are fundamentally different from who you can be attracted to.
Kinks and perversions are also much more fluctuating and can be learned or unlearned.

So, your post misses the point.
Jun 28, 2014
I haven't used this account to comment on anything you've written in years (maybe ever, I honestly just checked to see if I had an account and I did), but this piece actually reminded me of something I wrote a few years ago that might be interesting to you: http://thepoeticpaladin.deviantart.com/art/On-Sexuality-276187984

I uh. I was bad at writing back then (worse even than now). So please don't judge too harshly on that note. But it seemed relevant.
Jun 25, 2014
Why is this a tough issue for Libertarians? I don't speak for all Libertarians but as long as nobody is attempting to force me or anyone else to change their sexuality then why does the issue concern me at all, unless of course my tax dollars are paying for it, in which case I am against it.

I don't know a ton of gays but the ones I do know seem perfectly content with it so I can't imagine them being interested in a "cure", and if anyone is, then they are obviously having issues and the "treatment" might be beneficial regardless of the outcome, even if it is just to solidify their belief in who they are.
+2 Rank Up Rank Down
Jun 25, 2014
Seems like the "Double IQ" effect of the medication is wearing off, Scott.

[You might need a hit, double-poster. -- Scott]
0 Rank Up Rank Down
Jun 25, 2014
Seems like the "Double IQ" effect of the allergy medication is wearing off, Scott.
+4 Rank Up Rank Down
Jun 25, 2014
You know we go to huge lengths to make sure that someone who wants a sex change operation is actually ready to change sexes. For very good reason.

Assuming it WAS possible to swing some portion to the population toward a different gender bias, then I think it would be very important to find out if they are actually ready to make that attempt and thoroughly understand what that means.

Unfortunately most (possibly all?) of the reparative therapy is based on the notion that being gay is a sin and abomination, as indicated by its very name of the therapy. So I don't think anyone is floating the idea with these folks that maybe life would be just as great or better with their current gender.
+3 Rank Up Rank Down
Jun 25, 2014
You are absolutely right, but a big part of the reason why this therapy causes so much reluctance is in the NAME:
"therapy" implies that it is a cure for a DISEASE. I think we agree that homosexuality is not a disease.
"reparative": need I say more?
-1 Rank Up Rank Down
Jun 25, 2014
My other problem is that by saying it *might* work is that there's way too many fraudsters out there who'll see it as a lucrative business opportunity.

There's nothing like being in an expensive, government-backed profession that doesn't have to guarantee any results.

"Oh, you probably just need more sessions...!"

+2 Rank Up Rank Down
Jun 25, 2014
Scott: "Sexual preferences are presumably among the deepest and hardest to change. But my semi-expert opinion is that perhaps 20% of the public could be trained to rewire their sexual preferences. And a 20% success rate would be competitive with psychological therapy for other topics."

The problem I have with this reasoning is that the people who seek this therapy probably aren't in the middle 20%.

The people who are most upset about being gay are probably the ones with the deepest wiring.
Jun 24, 2014
One other thing I noticed and thought I should comment on. How you ask a question affects the answer. How you frame the issue implies a desired response, either for or against.

In this case, observe Scott's final question: "Should so-called reparative therapy be legal?" Now, compare that with this question: "Should the state be allowed to make so-called reparative therapy illegal?"

Both those questions are asking the same thing, but with a completely different spin. That is why pollsters have to be careful how they structure their questions, because a poorly-structured question implies the answer, and can widely affect the responses received.

It's also how Scott poses many of his issues on this blog. It is helpful to consider, when reading Scott's blog posts, how he words both his statements and his questions. It could be argued that before answering any of his questions, you place the opposite spin on them, and think about both sides before answering.
Jun 24, 2014
I'm going to assume you're treating this as a thought experiment.

You should know that the biological wiring for sexual orientation is set in utero during fetal development. Think of how that is set as equivalent to your "moist robot's" firmware. Maybe there's a small range of movement, but it doesn't have the versatility of the "software" of higher functions (not surprisingly, this range is broader in women than men). There is A LOT of data on this by the way, published in peer-reviewed papers over decades of research. So when you say that you side with the research, I can only assume you haven't read any or you wouldn't make the claim you did in your post.

To your original point: The damaging effects of trying to change someone's sexuality are, to date, horribly disruptive and ineffective. Even if it worked in 5% of cases no reasonable mental professional should adopt a treatment that they knew had a 95% chance of making their patient's life many times worse, when an alternate course of treatment (accepting who they are) has a very high chance of making their lives better.
Jun 24, 2014
Gay advocacy groups have spent a lot of effort to convince people that being homosexual is not a choice, that gays are just born that way. Okay, I'm convinced. Sure. No problem. But we also know that humans are moist robots, subject to the programming and chemical states of their brains. We already know how a lot of behaviors can be affected via application of drugs or damage to specific areas of the brain. Some people these days are starting to talk seriously about something that was just science fiction for a long time, using some kind of therapy or treatment to "cure" violent criminals of the desire to be violent. If that's going to be a thing, it's not too much of a stretch to consider the possibility of affecting someone's hardwired sexual tendencies. Of course their are moral implications to all of this, but let's say the treatment is voluntary, nobody's going to line up gay people and force them at gunpoint to do this.

Hopefully these things will stay in the realm of the theoretical and we won't have to actually deal with it.
Jun 24, 2014
With respect to your comments on the value of psychological therapy: Data, including meta-analytic data pooling across many studies, demonstrates that the value of psychological therapy is about 80%. (See, for example, the work of Scott Miller). That is, about 80% of patients will gain statistically significant benefit from being in therapy. I don't agree with your 20% number, unless you were to hold out a standard of "100% cured." In which case, I'd say that 20% is an overestimate.

+3 Rank Up Rank Down
Jun 24, 2014
We've adequately beat-up upon something easy -- while agreeing that we should allow foolishness as long as no one is hurt.

But what about other questionable practices:
- homeopathy (not even plausible beyond placebo effect),
- acupuncture (I believe studies have shown it no better than placebo),
- herbal remedies (may have medicinal value, but if so, also carry risks of side effects and interactions that are not regulated or monitored by medical professionals).
- other forms of alternative medicine.

Even if we allow them, what about forcing insurers to cover them? This is the tricky stuff.
Jun 24, 2014
Entirely unclever unfortunately.
Just thought that even bull could get stuck in the filter.
-1 Rank Up Rank Down
Jun 24, 2014
"Huh, vad comes out of a male cows anus is a cuss word?"

A male cow?
Was that an ultra-clever on-topic reference? :-)
Jun 24, 2014
I'm curious about your belief that hypnotherapy could change sexual orientation. From bi- to heterosexual? From bi- to homosexual? From heterosexual to bi? From homosexual to bi? Or all the way from heterosexual to homosexual or homosexual to heterosexual? Have you done this? Do you know someone who has done this? Are there studies? Otherwise, in the words of a smart cartoonist, "Show me the data."

A mythical country that wants everyone to be the same should only support therapies that make everyone bi. And, "twice the chance of finding a date for Saturday night."

[I live in a country in which 60% of the residents believe they will be issued an actual physical harp in the afterlife. There's no obvious limit on how far the human brain can be rewired by a skilled operator working with a willing subject. Rewiring someone's sexuality would be on the easy end of the spectrum because the Pavlovian reward mechanism is so easy to set up. (Look at X and experience an induced orgasm. Repeat.) That's my semi-expert opinion, but I have no study data to back it. I would put my confidence level at 95% that 20% of motivated subjects could be rewired. -- Scott]
Jun 24, 2014
Huh, vad comes out of a male cows anus is a cuss word?
Jun 24, 2014
Quite scary that everyone here seems to equate sexual orientation with preference to whom you have sex with.

A homosexual person is only capable of feeling attraction (falling in love, getting physical response by just being close to someone etc) to a person of his or her own gender.
A bisexual can be attracted to both.
A Heterosexual only to the opposite sex.

All categories can enjoy having sex with each other.
Some don't enjoy having sex with anyone.
Some like having sex with one gender and fall in love with another.

Removing a kink (strong sexual preference) without severe trauma is very difficult.

Changing physiological responses to pheromones?
Seems nigh on impossible to me.
At least without buddhist monk-like levels of emotional control.

I think all forms of treatment should be required to present information as to why science consider them to be !$%*!$%*!$%*!$%*!$% they have to try to explain to their potential patients that they suck.

If the patients still want to go ahead?
They've deserved the emotional trauma due to being idiots.
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