This post is a follow up to the one about Neil and Briar Whitehead’s article titled, “Brain Plasticity Backs Up Orientation Change” published on the Anglican Mainstream.
In their article, the Whiteheads liken sexual reorientation to learning to play a musical instrument and proclaim that science leads us to this assumption:
Our assumption now should be, change is possible in many behaviors – sexual orientation not excluded – and extraordinary effort will produce extraordinary change.
In their article, the Whiteheads frequently quote and recommend a book by Norman Doidge called “The Brain that Changes Itself.” To prove their contention about sexual reorientation, the Whiteheads use quotes from Doidge’s book saying:
Doidge’s conclusion about sexuality is that “Human libido is not a hardwired invariable biological urge, but can be curiously fickle, easily altered by our psychology and the history of our sexual encounters.” and “It’s a use-it-or-lose-it brain, even where sexual desire and love are concerned.” This would apply both to same-sex attraction and opposite-sex attraction.
These quotes come from a chapter titled “Acquiring tastes and loves” and describe human sexuality as being pretty flexible compared to other species. Doidge says “human libido is not a hardwired invariable biological urge” on page 95 and is plucked from the middle of a sentence. Here is the whole sentence:
The plasticity of this man’s sexual tastes exaggerates is general truth: that the human libido is not a hardwired invariable biological urge, but can be curiously fickle, easily altered by our psychology and the history of our sexual encounters.
Who is the man Doidge refers to here? While he is not named, he is described.
One homosexual man had successive relations with men from one race or ethnic group, then with those from another, and in each period he could be attracted only to men from the group that was currently “hot.”
Dr. Doidge was talking about a gay man and the variability within his sexual orientation — not about easy movements from one orientation to another. The gay man was not changing his sexual orientation but his attraction preferences. The Whiteheads leave out this aspect of the story.
The Whiteheads say that Doidge is talking about same-sex attraction and opposite-sex attraction. However, in the quote provided, Doidge is talking about a gay man. The Whiteheads further obscure Doidge’s views by failing to quote what he does say about sexual reorientation. On page 95 Doidge writes:
Even sexual preference can occasionally change. Though some scientists increasingly emphasize the inborn basis of our sexual preferences, it is also true that some people have heterosexual attractions for part of their lives — with no history of bisexuality — and then “add on” a homosexual attraction and vice versa.
I wonder why the Whiteheads did not quote these two sentences. This is directly on point. Quoting this section and another on page 341 would have presented Doidge’s views more clearly. This is clearly not the same perspective as is portrayed by the Whiteheads.
On page 341, Dr. Doidge provides a reference for his view about adding on sexual responsiveness to an existing orientation. He first says, it is well known that straights can engage in homosexual relations when members of the opposite sex are not present and gives prison and the military as examples. However, he then quotes an authority with no research references.
According to Richard C. Friedman, researcher on male homosexuality, when male homosexuals develop a heterosexual attraction, it is almost always an “add on” attraction, not a replacement (personal communication).
This is far cry from what the Whiteheads would have us believe about brain plasticity and sexual orientation and even about what Norman Doidge says in his book. They could have quoted what Doidge said but didn’t in favor of quotes which misrepresented what the author said. And they really did not need to wonder what Doidge thought since he spelled it out.
13 thoughts on “NARTH authors again mislead readers: More on brain plasticity and sexual orientation”
I’ve seen a lot of 360s. Not so many of the 180s however.
It is a great skill in music…not so hot in science.
Pickin’…and a grinnin’
I know that was not your intent, however, it is the intent of others and that was the point I was making. The intent seems to always have to do with making them right rather than thinking of what is right for the person they are describing. This verse helps me put it into perspective and I realize again how impossible it is to put any kind of difinitive limitation on anyone.
I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
your works are wonderful,
I know that full well.
Ann, you know me. That was certainly not my intent. I hope you know that I have no desire to diminish any person’s individuality or spirit.
As I said, there may be other, more profound and more important changes — ones that are even more meaningful and more life-changing than sexual orientation change. Some of these changes may be very private in nature.
I was only pointing out that these things are not sexual reorientation from “one orientation to another.” I believe that God can do anything — and that such a change may be possible. Very, very rare and not yet documented scientifically — but possible.
While this study of plasticity was certainly flawed, I’m not yet ready to toss out the baby with the bathwater. There seem to be a few kernels of truth (Yikes…I seem to be caught up in a metaphor mode…) within that may be worth exploring. I don’t envision them being explored here due to our attitude of polarization but I trust that some readers and commenters will chew on a few of these kernels and extract some valuable insight from them.
For me, I’ve been reminded of how, less than a decade ago, I hated karaoke with a passion. I’d stop in at a neighborhood bar or restaurant and see that it was karaoke night…and I’d flee immediately. If meeting friends, I’d either convince them to leave too or tell them I’d catch up with them some other time. Mine wasn’t just an indifference to karaoke but a strong distaste.
So, it’s been a strange journey for me to see myself doing a 360. And I’ve always figured that even a 180 deserves some introspection. Why did I once hate it so much? Why do I now find it so satisfying? (When I was considering the move back to Pennsylvania, the ‘availability of karaoke venues’ was high on my priority list. LOL. I’d daresay that for most people, that factor wouldn’t have even merited consideration.) Even with something as basic as karaoke, the answers aren’t simple. There isn’t a one sentence, one reason explanation for anything. I’ve discovered both conscious and subconscious factors that were responsible for energizing my strong feelings both against and then for karaoke. I see no reason, as yet, to conclude that the direction of sexual desire cannot be similarly influenced.
I remain open to the possibility that people can and do experience a 180 or even a 360 sexually. Someday, if we are able to reduce the impact and effects of the great polarization, we may be able to recognize them and learn from their experiences. Of those I know who once identified as gay or transexual and who happily married heterosexually, the majority have wisely chosen not to violate the sanctity of their relationships by speaking publicly about the most intimate parts of their relationship. It’s advice I gave to anyone I knew who was diving into the waters of heterosexuality; it’s a position I respect for anyone who has gone there.
The things you listed above might be true for many, however, people take exception to being described by another in a way that diminishes their individuality and spirit. I think those who want to describe anything about themselves that is this personal to others, they do. When it is being described by another, no matter who is doing the describing, we can be assured that biases and personal motivations will seep in.
Warren rightly pointed out:
Here are some other things that are not what Warren referred to (above) as a change ” from one orientation to another”:
Changing what you call yourself. Adopting a non-gay identity. Living in accordance with one’s religious values. A reduction in the intensity or frequency of homosexual attractions.
Celibacy. Avoiding sex with other men but privately masturbating to gay fantasies. Overcoming a sexual addiction — say to cruising bookstores, for example. Already bisexually attracted men who choose not to act on their homosexual attractions.
Developing (or already having) some sexual feelings for only one special woman while continuing to have a generalized attraction to the same sex. Noticing that there are some female attributes that are lovely or appealing — without the sexual interest.
I am sure I have left out a few. These are all “changes”, to be sure. There may be other, more profound and more important changes — ones that are even more meaningful and more life-changing than sexual orientation change. And many may be very happy with them.
I do not mean to minimize how difficult — and how rewarding — some of these changes may have been for those who made them. But they are not, to use Warren’s words, a change for “one orientation” to another.
I have an idea: Why don’t we get the APA to set up a special Task Force to review the literature on Sexual Orientation Change Efforts (SOCE) — and see if there seems to be any good, solid, scientific evidence that such efforts really do produce a change in sexual orientation.
Shock treatments, aversion methods, medication, religiously-based support groups, therapy of various kinds have all been tried. Surely, by now, if the brain were so plastic, one would expect to see lots of examples in the litereature of true sexual orienation change from homosexual or heterosexual. I wonder what such a task force would find?
I ask again, why on earth would NARTH keep doing this? Don’t they realize that smart and observant people are watching? And why would they keep Cameron around — citing his “research” — when even Exodus, a non-scientific organization, had the good sense to dump him?
NARTH has, for as long as I can recall, whined and whined and whined that they can’t get any respect. And yet, they keep doing the same thing — over and over and over again. Shooting themselves in the foot and complaining that someone else hurt them.
What do they expect?
Sounds like a lot of straight guys. I wonder what blondes would be like? Brunettes? As Warren pointed out the gay man was still gay. That’s not an example of sexual reorientation. That’s boredom.
P.S. The Whiteheads use Cameron’s work? NARTH still uses Cameron, too. Need we say more? Vomit-worthy is right
Thank you for these exposés, Dr. Throckmorton. I appreciate it.
I have always wondered whether the Whiteheads had ever taken a moral account of their use of the scandalously fraudulent work of Paul Cameron in their book, “My Genes Made Me Do it!” © 1999.
These latest revelations leave no doubt as to the intentionality of their deception.
It’s really vomit worthy.
Of course, like so many other misquotes my NARTHites, FotFers, etc., all they will say is that it’s a difference of interpretation. Too bad a overtly needful world-view on their end is the cause of their incessant misuse/misquoting of the literature.
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