Developmental Theories: Differences Are Learned
Developmental theories focus on a person’s upbringing and personal history to find the origins of homosexuality. Developmental theories tend to be constructionist; that is, they see the development of homosexual behavior as a product of social forces rather than being innate in a particular individual. First we will discuss the most influential development theory, psychoanalytic theory, and then we will examine gender-role non – comformity, peer-interaction theories, and behavioristic theories of homosexuality.
Freud and the Psychoanalytic School
Sigmund Freud seemed to be of two minds about homosexuality (1953). On the one hand, he believed that the infant was “polymorphous perverse”—that is, the infant sees all kinds of things as potentially sexual. Because both males and females are potentially attractive to the infant, thought Freud, all of us are inherently bisexual. He therefore did not see homosexuals as being sick. In a famous letter to a concerned American mother, he wrote that homosexuality “is nothing to be ashamed of, no vice, no degradation, it cannot be classified as an illness” (1951, quoted in Friedman, 1986). He even found homosexuals to be “distinguished by specially high intellectual development and ethical culture” (1905, quoted in Friedman, 1986).
On the other hand, Freud saw male heterosexuality as the result of normal maturation and male homosexuality as the result of an unresolved Oedipal complex (see Chapter 2 for a more complete discussion). An intense attachment to the mother coupled with a distant father could lead the boy to fear revenge by the father through castration. Female genitalia, lacking a penis, could then represent this castration and evoke fear throughout his life. After puberty, the child shifts from desire for the mother to identification with her, and he begins to look for the love objects she would look for— men. Fixation on the penis allows the man to calm his castration fears, and by renouncing women he avoids rivalry with the father.
Like Freud’s view of female sexuality in general, his theories on lesbianism were less coherent, but he basically argued that the young girl becomes angry when she discovers
she lacks a penis and blames her mother (we discussed the Electra complex in Chapter 2). Unable to have her father, she defensively rejects him and all men and minimizes her anger at her mother by eliminating the competition between them for male affection.
Freud saw homosexuality as partly autoerotic and narcissistic; by making love to a body like one’s own, one is really making love to a mirror of oneself. Freud’s generally tolerant attitude toward homosexuality was repudiated by some later psychoanalysts, especially Sandor Rado (1949). Rado claimed that humans were not innately bisexual and that homosexuality was a psychopathological condition—a mental illness. This view (not Freud’s) became standard for the psychiatric profession until at least the 1970s.
Another influential researcher who followed Rado’s perspective was Irving Bieber. Bieber and colleagues (1962) studied 106 homosexual men and 100 heterosexual men who were in psychoanalysis. He claimed that all boys had a normal, erotic attraction to women. However, some had overly close and possessive mothers who were also overintimate and sexually seductive. Their fathers, on the other hand, were hostile or absent, and this triangulation (try-ang-gyuh-LAY-shun) drove the boy to the arms of his mother, who inhibited his normal masculine development. Bieber thus blamed homosexuality on a seductive mother who puts the fear of heterosexuality in her son. But Bieber’s participants were all in psychoanalysis and thus may have been particularly troubled. Also, fewer than two-thirds of the homosexuals fit his model, and almost a third of heterosexuals came from the same type of family and yet did not engage in homosexual behavior.
The psychoanalytic views of homosexuality dominated for many years. Evelyn Hooker, a clinical psychologist, was a pioneer in gay studies who tried to combat the psychoanalytic view that homosexuality was an illness (see Chapter 2). Hooker (1957) used psychological tests, personal histories, and psychological evaluations to show that homosexuals were as well adjusted as heterosexuals and that no real evidence existed that homosexuality was psychopathological. Although it took many years for her ideas to take hold, many modern psychoanalysts have shifted away from the pathological view of homosexuality. Lewes (1988) demonstrated that psychoanalytic theory itself could easily portray homosexuality as a result of healthy development and that previous psychoanalytic interpretations of homosexuality were based more on prejudice than on science.
Question: Is there any therapy that can change a person’s sexual orientation?
Many Americans believe that sexual orientation is determined by social and environmental factors and that a homosexual can change his or her sexual orientation through therapy or religious faith (Newport,
1998) . Reparative (rep-PEAR-at-tiv) therapy, or conversion therapy, has included techniques such as aversive conditioning, drug treatment, electroconvulsive shock, brain surgery, and hysterectomy (Haldeman, 1994). More recent forms of reparative therapy have led to the development of "ex-gay ministries," which use religion to change a gay or lesbian into a heterosexual (Christianson, 2005). Reparative therapy is based on the assumption that homosexuals must be cured or fixed.
Although the psychoanalyst Irving Bieber (Bieber et al., 1962) reported changing the sexual orientation of 27% of his sample of gay men, more recent psychoanalytic studies have had far less impressive success, and the duration of such "conversions" is questionable. Today reparative therapy is not supported by any reliable research (Bright, 2004), and the majority of professional organizations are opposed to the use of such therapies (Jenkins & Johnston, 2004).