What is Ex-gay?
The ex-gay movement originated in the 1970s in the US with groups that claimed to re-orientate sexuality. The most famous ex-gay organisation is Exodus International, which is an umbrella organisation for many smaller ‘member ministries’. The ex-gay movement has been affiliated with fundamentalist Christianity, but in fact there are groups for Anglicans, Catholics and Mormons and other groups as well as evangelical Christians.
Ex-gay programs have evolved significantly over the years. In the aftermath of the ‘gay cure app’ scandal (where an Exodus app was banned from the Apple store), representatives of Exodus stated that ‘curing’ homosexuality is no longer their goal. The argument goes that Exodus itself doesn’t heal anyone but Jesus does. God can perform miracles so of course he can change you if you work hard enough.
To avoid negative publicity, ex-gay programs generally do not call themselves ‘ex-gay programs’ anymore. The sort of rhetoric that is used in its place includes ‘help with unwanted same sex attraction’ (SSA) or ‘healing sexual brokenness’ or even ‘post-gay’. In fact, the programs are quite secretive and will hardly ever speak with the media.
Cutting through the rhetoric, ‘change’ or ‘freedom from homosexuality’ is clearly still the goal.
What is reparative therapy?
Reparative therapy is a neo-Freudian theory of human sexuality. It proffers the view that sexual desire for persons of the same sex can be ‘managed’ or in some cases ‘healed’. The ultimate goal is that the individual enters a heterosexual relationship, or if that is not possible, that the person maintains a celibate lifestyle.
The theory is that homosexuality is merely a psychological condition or disorder that stems from ‘unhealthy’ relationships with parents or from childhood sexual abuse.
In particular, the reparative therapy model focuses on the early parent-child relationship otherwise known as the ‘same-sex love deficit’. Failure to bond with the same-sex parent leads to de-masculisation or de-feminisation which becomes ‘sexualised’.
“Due to incomplete development of aspects of his masculine identity, the homosexual seeks to “repair” his deficits through erotic contact with an idealized other.” – Joseph Nicolosi, Reparative Therapy of Male Sexuality – A New Clinical Approach.
Reparative therapy in practice includes counselling, psychotherapy, prayer therapy, and support groups. Participants are encouraged to participate in ‘gender appropriate’ activities to fulfil the same-sex love need. Groups may also engage in fasting, singing hymns and prayer.
What is aversion therapy?
Aversive therapies including electro-shock therapy must be distinguished from ex-gay or reparative therapy. These highly controversial therapies used against gay men were still reportedly used in the late 1970s in Australia. The subject would be strapped into electrodes that gave off an electric current when a sexual image of a man was displayed. We found no evidence of this sort of practice continuing in Australia.
Can programs that offer to help those with ‘unwanted same sex attraction’ harm the participants?
In 2000 the APS (Australian Psychological Society) made a statement concerning the psychological harm that may be caused by ex-gay programs.
Although there has not as yet been a lot of research in this area, there is a large amount of anecdotal evidence to suggest that these programs can cause psychological harm to the participants.
In particular these programs have been linked to:
•Obsessive/addictive behaviours e.g. sexual addictions
Often the groups provide a great deal of support from people who are like-minded in their view that sexuality is disordered. The psychological harm does not usually present until the participants have left the group and the support network is no longer there.
Why do the participants experience mental health issues?
Again, this is purely anecdotal but some of the reasons we have heard are:
•Feelings of failure;
•Feelings of being lesser in God’s eyes;
•Feelings of hopelessness;
•Feelings of shame.
But isn’t it a personal choice a person wants to try to change?
It has been argued that there is a ‘freedom of choice’ and that if a person is displeased with his or her sexuality he or she should have an opportunity to seek ‘change’. However, we would argue that many things that are potentially harmful have some regulation or warnings attached.
Currently there is nothing to stop counsellors offering help with sexuality issues from a Christian perspective. There is no regulation of ex-gay groups in their current incarnation. In fact, we have heard that pastors, priests and other church leaders regularly refer individuals to these programs without providing any Christian LGBT support group referrals.