“This same-sex attraction was unwanted and caused huge amounts of distress and mental anguish including suicidal thoughts.”
I was born in Hamilton NZ, and at the age of 18 moved to the UK to live.
I am bisexual. At least that’s how some people would describe me – though I wasn’t born this way. For a long time I was exclusively attracted to people of the same sex, I was gay. I find now though, that my sexual desires have changed – I have chosen to try order them in line with my religious faith – though it hasn’t been an easy process.
There are some though who want to prevent people like me from having help or access to therapy to manage such change – including the UK government.
They stated in their 2018 LGBT Action Plan that it ‘will fully consider all legislative and non-legislative options to prohibit promoting, offering or conducting conversion therapy’ – calling it an abhorrent, harmful and wrong practice.
What does it consider abhorrent? In a report it cites medical and hormonal interventions and even corrective rape being used as techniques to ‘cure’ homosexuality. In the UK there has never been a conviction for a ‘corrective’ rape, and medical interventions to ‘cure’ homosexuality were last practised in the 1950s. Yet these outdated, and indeed abhorrent examples, are cited as justification to criminalise those offering or even promoting appropriate therapeutic support for people with unwanted same-sex attraction (SSA) today, like myself.
The key word is unwanted. Among those who experience SSA, there is a subset of people who wish to exercise their right to self-determination and autonomy by seeking a change in the direction and intensity of their sexual attraction.
But is such change beneficial, or even possible?
In a review of the best and most reliable data of changes to sexual orientation, Lisa Diamond and Clifford Rosky (of the University of Utah) claim in their research that studies ‘unequivocally demonstrate that same-sex and other-sex attractions do change over time in some individuals. The degree of change is difficult to reliably estimate, given differences in study measures, but the occurrence of change is indisputable.’
Sexual attraction, at least in some, is indisputably fluid and changeable. The government plan though to prohibit access to therapies that might help manage such change, claiming it is harmful. But where is the evidence? Prof Michael King (UCL) and Prof Robert Song (Durham) wrote in a briefing note for a debate on the issue, that due to a lack of randomised controlled trials ‘there is no scientific evidence that change therapies are damaging.’
Read that line again.
There is no scientific evidence that change therapies are damaging.
Those advocating a ban would argue that there is also no scientific evidence that change therapies are beneficial – this also is true. Both sides use anecdotal evidence to support or oppose the use of sexual orientation change efforts. There are reports that therapy has been helpful for some, alongside reports that it has not helped others. This is uncontroversial and true of nearly all talking therapies, but not a reason to prohibit them.
From the age of around 11, I felt an almost exclusive sexual attraction to others of the same sex. This SSA was unwanted and caused huge amounts of distress and mental anguish including suicidal thoughts. I did not receive any formal counselling or therapy and was not aware that such therapy might have been available.
Now 36 years of age, I am still aware of my SSA, but my predominant sexual desires have changed towards that of the other sex. I am happily married and committed to sexual expression exclusively in that setting – anecdotal evidence that a change in sexual orientation is possible and beneficial.
So, why do the government claim so strongly that ‘conversion therapy’ is abhorrent and harmful, when there is no high-quality scientific evidence-base for the claim?
I believe that they are kowtowing to an ideological agenda. Those seeking to change the intensity or direction of their sexual attraction do not fit the social narrative of celebrating all things gay.
For those with a Christian faith like I have, according to the UK Equality Act 2010 and Article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights, it is a protected right to choose to live my life in accordance with my personal and religious values. But groups like Stonewall have made it one of their aims to lobby ‘central government to publicly condemn this practice [‘conversion therapy’] and take further steps to ensure the practice is unavailable.’
Such aims deny the right to self-determination and autonomy – a cornerstone of a liberal society.
The strong language used by the British government that such therapy is morally wrong seems to be based on a perception that people are forced to change their ‘sexual identity’ against their will, or on the idea that ‘conversion therapy’ involves practices tried in the 20th century (involving electro-shock and drug therapies) or ‘conversion camps’ like that depicted in the film Boy Erased. Thankfully, such practices have been replaced by non-coercive and client-led ‘talking therapies’ of different kinds.
In the age of autonomy, it is claimed we are free to live a life that is in line with the beliefs we hold. For Bible-believing Christians like myself, that means ordering my sexual desires in line with God’s will.
Nancy Pearcey writes in Love Thy Body: ‘The problem is that when sexual desire is seen as the defining feature of our identity, it becomes rigid and inviolable. To question someone’s identity is taken as an attack on their selfhood and worth. If the person refrains from acting on their sexual feelings, they are accused of repression and self-hatred. But why place sexual feelings at the center of our identity?’
I affirm that no one ought to be coerced towards one particular sexual orientation, promised a ‘cure’ for their sexual attraction as if it were some sort of illness or assured that change is always possible. However, the government’s plans to ban ‘conversion therapies’ are implying:
- that one’s sexual identity is the unchangeable centre of their identity, and
- those with strong convictions – religious or otherwise – who wish to order their sexual choices in line with their beliefs, are acting abhorrently or causing harm.
Both are overly simplistic, and ignore the complexities of human belief, practice and sexuality. I have found navigating unwanted SSA to be difficult and demanding, which is why people need to have the freedom to seek professional therapeutic help to manage such feelings.