Can Sexual Orientation Be Successfully Changed?


General Reference (not clearly pro or con)
The American Psychiatric Association, in its May 2000 position paper "Therapies Focused on Attempts to Change Sexual Orientation," stated that:

"As a general principle, a therapist should not determine the goal of treatment either coercively or through subtle influence. Psychotherapeutic modalities to convert or 'repair' homosexuality are based on developmental theories whose scientific validity is questionable.

Furthermore, anecdotal reports of 'cures' are counterbalanced by anecdotal claims of psychological harm. In the last four decades, 'reparative' therapists have not produced any rigorous scientific research to substantiate their claims of cure. Until there is such research available, APA recommends that ethical practitioners refrain from attempts to change individuals' sexual orientation, keeping in mind the medical dictum, do no harm."

May 2000 - American Psychiatric Association 

The American Psychological Association, a national organization of professional psychologists, issued the following statements in its article titled "Resolution on Appropriate Affirmative Responses to Sexual Orientation Distress and Change Efforts," posted on its website, APA.org, in Aug. 2009:

"There are no studies of adequate scientific rigor to conclude whether or not recent SOCE [Sexual Orientation Change Efforts] do or do not work to change a person's sexual orientation. Scientifically rigorous older work in this area... found that sexual orientation... was unlikely to change due to efforts designed for this purpose. Some individuals appeared to learn how to ignore or limit their attractions. However, this was much less likely to be true for people whose sexual attractions were initially limited to people of the same sex.

Although sound data on the safety of SOCE are extremely limited, some individuals reported being harmed by SOCE. Distress and depression were exacerbated. Belief in the hope of sexual orientation change followed by the failure of the treatment was identified as a significant cause of distress and negative self-image...

[S]ome individuals modified their sexual orientation identity (i.e., group membership and affiliation), behavior, and values... They did so in a variety of ways and with varied and unpredictable outcomes, some of which were temporary... Based on the available data, additional claims about the meaning of those outcomes are scientifically unsupported."

Aug. 2009 - American Psychological Association 



PRO (yes)

The Catholic Medical Association stated in its 2005 online publication, "Homosexuality and Hope":

"Reviews of treatment for unwanted same-sex attractions show that it is as successful as treatment for similar psychological problems: about 30% experience a freedom from symptoms and another 30% experience improvement...

Those who claim that change of sexual orientation is impossible usually define change as total and permanent freedom from all homosexual behavior, fantasy, or attraction in a person who had previously been homosexual in behavior and attraction...

For a Catholic with same sex attraction, the goal of therapy should be freedom to live chastely according to one's state in life. Some of those who have struggled with same-sex attractions believe that they are called to a celibate life. They should not be made to feel that they have failed to achieve freedom because they do not experience desires for the other sex. Others wish to marry and have children. There is every reason to hope that many will be able, in time, to achieve this goal. They should not, however, be encouraged to rush into marriage since there is ample evidence that marriage is not a cure for same-sex attractions. With the power of grace, the sacraments, support from the community, and an experienced therapist, a determined individual should be able to achieve the inner freedom promised by Christ."

2005 - Catholic Medical Association 



Joseph Nicolosi, PhD, President of NARTH, et al., wrote in a 2000 study published in Psychological Reports, that:

"We present the results of a survey of 882 dissatisfied homosexual people whom we queried about their beliefs regarding conversion therapy and the possibility of change in sexual orientation...

Of the 882 participants, 726 of them reported that they had received conversion therapy from a professional therapist or a pastoral counselor...

Before treatment or change, only 2.2% of the participants perceived themselves as exclusively or almost entirely heterosexual, whereas after treatment or change, 34.3% perceived themselves as exclusively or almost entirely heterosexual...

As a group, the participants reported large and statistically significant reductions in the frequency of their homosexual thoughts and fantasies that they attributed to conversion therapy or self-help. They also reported large improvements in their psychological, interpersonal, and spiritual well-being."

2000 - Joseph Nicolosi, PhD 



New Directions Ministries stated in an article published on its website titled "Homosexuality and the Possibility of Change, An Ongoing Research Project" (accessed Jan. 12, 2005):

"Among the 31 studies we reviewed, we found a total of 45 persons who experienced a full sexual orientation shift. Some studies also provided evidence that some homosexual persons are able to 'acquire' heterosexual behaviour (86 persons). By this we mean that they gained the ability to interact sexually in satisfying ways with someone of the opposite sex. And we found evidence for partial shifts in sexual orientation (287 persons). In a partial shift, an exclusively homosexual person acquires heterosexual attractions and desires, but with some degree of homosexuality remaining...<br><br>

Our research has shown the statement 'homosexuals can't change' to be a generalization. Various sources provide evidence for a partial or full shift in sexual orientation. Such evidence does not mean that every homosexual person should change. It does not mean that everyone can change. It does not mean that change is easy. It does mean that, at least for some people, change of sexual orientation is possible."


Jan. 12, 2005 - New Direction Ministries 



Robert L. Spitzer, MD, Professor of Biometric Research at Columbia University, wrote in his study "Can Some Gay Men and Lesbians Change their Sexual Orientation? 200 Participants Reporting a Change from Homosexual to Heterosexual Orientation," published in the Oct. 2003 issue of Archives of Sexual Behavior:

"This study tested the hypothesis that some individuals whose sexual orientation is predominantly homosexual can, with some form of reparative therapy, become predominantly heterosexual...

The majority of participants gave reports of change from a predominantly or exclusively homosexual orientation before therapy to a predominantly or exclusively heterosexual orientation in the past year. Reports of complete change were uncommon...

Thus, there is evidence that change in sexual orientation following some form of reparative therapy does occur in some gay men and lesbians."

[Editor's Note: Dr. Spitzer retracted this study in Apr. 2012 in a letter to Ken Zucker, the editor of Archives of Sexual Behavior, quoted by the Truth Wins Out website in its Apr. 25, 2012 report "Exclusive: Dr. Robert Spitzer Apologizes to Gay Community for Infamous 'Ex-Gay' Study":

"I offered several (unconvincing) reasons why it was reasonable to assume that the subject's reports of change were credible and not self-deception or outright lying. But the simple fact is that there was no way to determine if the subject's accounts of change were valid.

I believe I owe the gay community an apology for my study making unproven claims of the efficacy of reparative therapy. I also apologize to any gay person who wasted time and energy undergoing some form of reparative therapy because they believed that I had proven that reparative therapy works with some 'highly motivated' individuals."]

Oct. 2003 - Robert L. Spitzer, MD 



CON (no)

US Surgeon General David Satcher, MD, PhD, wrote in a July 9, 2001 article "The Surgeon General's Call To Action To Promote Sexual Health and Responsible Sexual Behavior":

"Sexual orientation is usually determined by adolescence, if not earlier, and there is no valid scientific evidence that sexual orientation can be changed."

July 9, 2001 - Office of the Surgeon General 



The American Psychological Association wrote in its online article, "Answers to Your Questions About Sexual Orientation and Homosexuality" (accessed Dec. 7, 2004):

"The reality is that homosexuality is not an illness. It does not require treatment and is not changeable."

Dec. 7, 2004 - American Psychological Association 



The American Psychiatric Association Commission on Psychotherapy by Psychiatrists wrote in a 2000 article, published in the American Journal of Psychiatry:

"[A]necdotal reports of 'cures' are counterbalanced by anecdotal claims of psychological harm. In the last four decades, 'reparative' therapists have not produced any rigorous scientific research to substantiate their claims of cure.

'Reparative' therapy literature also tends to overstate the treatment's accomplishments while neglecting any potential risks to patients."

2000 - American Psychiatric Association 



The Human Rights Campaign, in their 1999 publication "Mission Impossible: Why Reparative Therapy and Ex-Gay Ministries Fail," stated:

"The psychological, medical and psychiatric establishments agree that sexual orientation cannot be changed, and that so-called 'reparative therapy' aimed at altering gay peoples' orientations does not work and may, in fact, be harmful...

The purveyors of 'reparative therapy' are well outside mainstream research and thinking in the psycho-therapeutic world."

1999 - Human Rights Campaign 



Gregory M. Herek, PhD, Professor of Psychology at the University of California at Davis, stated in his article "The APA Resolution on Appropriate Therapeutic Responses to Sexual Orientation," posted to his UC Davis website (accessed Jan. 12, 2005):

"It is highly doubtful that the so-called 'conversion therapies' and 'reparative therapies' are actually able to change a person's sexual orientation. Claims about their success are based on scattered anecdotal reports, not on rigorous scientific studies that have been subjected to review by other scientists.

Some individuals with a strong motivation to become heterosexual – often based on intense religious beliefs – claim to have changed their sexual orientation as a result of these therapies. Even if their claims about changing are accepted, however, there is no evidence that such change was brought about by the therapy. The change – if it occurred – may well have happened without therapy. And for every story about someone whose sexual orientation was supposedly converted to heterosexuality, there are many other reports of people who tried unsuccessfully to change and who endured a great deal of psychological pain and suffering in the process."

Jan. 12, 2005 - Gregory M. Herek, PhD 



Qazi Rahman, PhD, Lecturer in Psychobiology at the University of East London, was quoted in an Oct. 2, 2003 article titled "Row as Researcher Claims Gays Can Be 'Straightened,'" published in the Guardian:

"My main concern is the method. He [Spitzer] relied on self-reports from a select sample of individuals. They were not your average gay or lesbian man -- they were mostly from ex-gay ministries and organisations involved in reparation.

I strongly believe in academic freedom. The results should have been disseminated -- whether they should be published in a reasonably prestigious publication I'm not so sure."

The Guardian continued by noting:

"Doctor Rahman said that the existing research indicated that the seeds of sexuality are sown in the 'hard wiring' of the brain before birth."

Oct. 2, 2003 - Qazi Rahman, PhD