Change and Same Sex Attraction in Women

Just as Galileo was forced to recant when faced with massive pressure, Dr. Robert Spitzer has walked back from his study of the possibility of change for those with same-sex attraction, saying he misinterpreted his findings.[1] He is elderly and ill and probably never expected the kind of vilification he received for simply noting that for some people with same-sex attraction (SSA) change is possible. However, just as the earth still moves, the fact is that change of one’s SSA and behavior has happened, even if reporting on those changes is now considered a secular heresy.

The secular orthodoxy holds that persons with SSA are born that way, can’t change, and attempting to try is fraught with danger. Most of the discussion of change has focused on SSA in men, although there is substantial, unchallenged evidence that change of SSA in women — whether spontaneous, through therapy or as the result of religious conversion — is common. A study of the results of therapy for women with SSA, Kaye et al. “Female Homosexuality (1967), looked at the case histories of 20 women with SSA and found that eight became exclusively heterosexual. The authors encouraged “therapeutic optimism:”

“We find, roughly, at least 50% probability of significant improvement in women with this syndrome who present themselves for treatment and remain in it.”[2]

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While one could argue that in 1967 these women wanted to change to conform to societal expectation. In her 1988 book Female Homosexuality: Choice without Volition: A Psychoanalytic Study, Elaine Siegle challenged such a conclusion. Siegle was asked by a feminist lesbian group to treat several members of their community.  She never considered SSA to the problem.  It was neither her goal nor her clients’ to change their pattern of sexual attraction. However, to the surprise of both: 

“As the conflicts were resolved and distanced from, anxiety was reduced and life became more joyful and productive for all these analysands…Although I never interpreted homosexuality as an illness, more than half of the women became fully heterosexual. This was taken by referral source as a ‘betrayal of the sisters.’”[3]

Her experience with these patients forced her to change her view of SSA:

“To be a liberal and liberated woman and yet to view homosexuality as the result of untoward development seemed at times a betrayal of all I then believed…allowing myself to be seduced into perceiving female homosexuality as a normal lifestyle would have cemented both my patients and myself into a rigid mode that precluded change of whatever nature.”

While change through therapy is well documented, spontaneous change also appears to be common. In her book Sexual Fluidity: Understanding Women’s Love and Desire, Lisa Diamond explores the phenomenon of spontaneous change. A firm supporter of LGBT rights, she recruited 89 women who reported SSA and followed them for 10 years, interviewing each one at two year intervals. Initially of the 89, 47 considered themselves lesbian, 30 bisexual, 27 non-heterosexual or unlabeled. By the end of the study 2/3 of women had changed their self-label at least once, some more than once, and changes took place in all directions. A number had married men or were engaged. Diamond assumed that for some additional change could occur in the future.

Some women could be considered “LUGs,” (lesbian until graduation)… “women who identify as lesbian only in the accepting progressive environment of college.” After college many of these women went on to marry men. On the other extreme, Diamond presents ‘Lori’ who identified as bisexual, but had a double mastectomy, takes testosterone and has a convincingly male appearance, but kept her feminine name. She admits being attracted to gay men, but at the last interview in a relationship with a bisexual woman, but thinking about stopping the testosterone so that she could get pregnant.

When Diamond gives lectures, she frequently encounters women who tell her that her findings about sexual fluidity reflect their experience, but they had felt that there was something wrong with them, because they did not follow the excepted pattern of exclusive, permanent lesbianism.

Diamond recognizes that there is tremendous pressure from gay activists to take the determinist view of SSA:

“Given the recent resurgence of conservative antigay activism (much of it focused on banning same-sex marriage), it may well be that for now, the safest way to advocate for lesbian/gay/bisexual rights is to keep propagating a deterministic model: sexual minorities are born that way and can never be otherwise. If this is an easier route to acceptance (which may in fact be the case), is it really so bad that it is inaccurate?

“Over the long term, yes, particularly because women are systematically disenfranchised by this approach …For too long, women with discontinuous, changing patterns of same-sex and other sex desire have been written off as atypical and inauthentic.”

While Diamond totally misrepresents the position of reparative therapists, many of them would be in substantial agreement with Diamond’s theory that SSA is not unchangeable or biologically determined, but a dynamical system in which “a persons initial traits and subsequent environments are in constant, mutually influential interaction with one another…”  They would also agree that while SSA is not biological, neither is it “choice.”

Janelle Hallman, The Heart of Female Same-Sex Attraction, has counseled women who find that their SSA is at odds with their religious faith. She would agree that there is no single cause for SSA. Hallman writes:

“In general, I see one or all of the following four developmental categories as being extremely conflicted in women with SSA: attachment, formation of self, gender identity, socialization.”[4]

She found that some women experiencing SSA were looking for mothering, some for deep acceptance by other women. Others had experiences which convinced them that men were not safe.

While no one is suggesting that change of one’s SSA is easy or that there is any guarantee of desired results, there is no evidence that the determinist model is valid. This said, no one can predict which girls will be vulnerable; however, many young women caught up in same-sex relationships are bright, compassionate young women, who are particularly sensitive to injustice.

There are things which parents can do to protect their daughters. First, girls need a lot of love and physical affection from their mothers. They also need to feel they are loved, admired, and protected by their fathers. At an appropriate time girls can be taught that intense loving friendships with other girls are healthy, but that such relationships should not be sexualized.

Parents need to recognize the danger of what is inaccurately labeled “comprehensive” or “evidence-based” sex education, as well as courses which promote radical feminist/pro-lesbian ideology. These may cause young girls to misinterpret healthy, intense, same-sex friendships or admiration for female role models as evidence of lesbianism. Parents should not allow their daughters to be exposed to this kind of indoctrination, even if it comes from a seemingly innocent source such as a Girl Scout troop. It is not enough to remove their daughters from such programs. Parents should also educate their daughters on the value of chastity, marriage, motherhood, and strong feminine values. Just as parents immunize their daughters against contagious diseases, they should immunize them against pro-SSA propaganda. 

[1] Robert Spitzer, “Can some gay men and lesbians change their sexual orientation? 200 Participants reporting a change from homosexual to heterosexual orientation.”   Archives of Sexual Behavior, (2003) 32 (5); 403-417
[2] Harvey Kaye, et al, “Homosexuality in Women”  Archives of General Psychiatry, (Nov. 1967)17 : p. 626-634
[3] Elaine Siegle Female Homosexuality: Choice without Volition: A Psychoanalytic Study, (Analytic Press: Hillsdale NJ, 1988)
[4] Janelle Hallman, The Heart of Female Same-Sex Attraction (IVP Books:Downers GroveIL, 2008)


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