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Psychology of Homosexuality


By Carman Bradley

If the homosexual orientation is not “originally” and “predominately” rooted in something physical, biological or genetic, what other factors differentiate the development of homosexuals from heterosexuals?  A number of clues have been discovered.

In 1952, Dr. Irving Bieber began directing a research team in a nine-year project studying male homosexuality. In all, 77 analysts, each a member of the Society of Medical Psychoanalysts, provided information on two patient samples consisting of 106 male homosexuals and a comparison group of 100 male heterosexuals. The result was the most authoritative study of its kind.[i]  No one has ever gathered so much finely discriminating detail on so many homosexuals, treated in depth by so many different doctors, and put through so many evaluations.[ii]  Dr. Bieber writes:

We have come to the conclusion that a constructive, supportive, warmly-related father precludes the possibility of a homosexual son....[iii]

Another psychiatrist, after many years of study and practice treating male homosexuals, noted, "Homosexuals consistently describe their fathers as a weak, shadowy and distant figure, or an angry, cold or brutalizing one."[iv]  Dr. Elizabeth Moberly received her Ph.D. in psychology from Oxford University for her study of homosexuality. She found "that the homosexual - whether man or woman - has suffered from some deficit in the relationship with the parent of the same-sex; or 'homosexual,' relationships."[v]  Sharon Wegscheider, a certified alcoholism specialist, a family therapist, a member of Virginia Satir's AVANTA network, and president of ONSITE, provides an illustration of how this can happen when she describes the patterns that appear in the family of a chemically dependent person. She describes one of the characters in this family as "the Lost Child":

He becomes a loner, looking after his needs himself and staying out of everyone's way...."[vi]  "Since he has never experienced warm human closeness, he is not prepared to make friends and engage in the social give and take of day-to-day school contacts. Yet in the midst of the crowd, withdrawing into himself leaves him feeling lonely, different, inept."[vii]

Each human being learns what it means to be a man or a woman from the adults in his or her childhood family.  The same-sex parent provides a lasting model of what he is to be, and the other parent an object for his first important relationship with a person of the opposite sex.  These are powerful teachings if they occur.  The Lost Child, however, has never felt close to either of his parents; he has been too insulated from them to experience this kind of learning. Consequently, he reaches puberty with no clear sense of his own sexual identity or how to relate in a healthy way to those of the opposite sex.  As adolescent sexuality increasingly colors all aspects of the daily world he occupies, he is engulfed by yet another kind of confusion.  True to his pattern, he withdraws.  He rarely dates and in his loneliness suffers growing doubts about his own sexual normalcy."[viii]  Thus Ms. Wegscheider lists among the common characteristics of the Lost Child, problems with sexual identity and confusion about sex roles and sometimes about sexual preference:

Alcoholism and drug addiction are only two of many family experiences which can lead to confusion in sexual identity and sexual preference.  Many things less severe than chemical dependency can result in a deficit in our relationship with our same-sex parent. A sensitive child can be easily hurt.  My father was a fine man who had no problem with alcohol or drugs.  He did, however, want me, his first born, to be exactly like he was: strong, tough, a fighter, and a doctor.  These were things God had not equipped me to be.  I felt that I was not what my father wanted, and that he did not love me.  So I put up a wall between us and missed the love I needed to develop a healthy gender identity.  Had you asked about our relationship, I would have told you, ‘It's fine.’ But, if I was being complete, I would have added the revealing words, ‘but we're not close.’ [ix]

Cambridge England psychologist, Dr. Moberly suggests other situations that may cause difficulty:

The illness of the child, especially when this involves hospitalization, i.e., a large measure of separation from parental care.

The illness of a parent. Even when this does not involve hospitalization, it may mark a period of inability to care for the young child, which may in turn affect the child's capacity for attaching to the parent.

The birth of a sibling, especially when this involves the mother's absence due to hospitalization, or a conspicuous lessening in the amount of care she gives to the child she has already.

The temporary, prolonged, or permanent absence of a parent.

The separation or divorce of the parents.

The death of a parent.

Adoption, fostering or living in an orphanage.

Being brought up in a succession of nurses, governesses, etc., i.e., a constantly changing succession of 'parental' figures.[x]

To illustrate Moberly’s observations on the psychology of homosexuality, we need only look at the two principal lovers in Oscar Wilde’s life – a set of circumstances well documented in history.  First, when Oscar was fifteen, the boy who is recognized to have led Wilde into gay sex was born, in Canada, under the name Robbie Ross.  Robbie’s father, John Ross had become Solicitor-General of Upper Canada, at the age of thirty-three, in 1851.  His father’s early death in 1871 greatly impacted Robbie.  The tragedy left Elizabeth Ross not only as a young widow, but a single mother with five small children, Robbie being the youngest aged two.  Money from her father’s estate left her comparatively wealthy and with the means to move back to England that year.  Montgomery Hyde writes:

When it soon became clear that little Bobby was a rather small and frail child, Elizabeth’s protectiveness became all the more pronounced.  This infuriated his sisters, Mary and Lizzie, who began to see him as a mummy’s boy.  Interestingly, though, his two brothers, Jack and Aleck – ten and nine years older than him respectively – both displayed a rather paternal attitude towards him. [xi]

Back in England, Elizabeth had plans for her own life, which included travel on the Continent, as well as finding a place in London society.  She soon dispatched Robbie to a prep school within easy distance of London: Sandroyd, at Cobham in Surrey.  Sandroyd was designed to prepare young boys for future study at major public schools such as Eton or in some cases the Royal Navy.  Later Robbie would stay at the Wilde residence.  Writes Hyde:

His small size and rather weak constitution ill-suited him for sports.  He rarely mentioned his schooldays in later life, or if he did, his comments were not recorded.  It is highly likely, though, that with his looks he would have attracted quite a lot of amorous attention from older boys, or indeed, some of the masters.  While any such experience, physically consummated or not, need not necessarily affect the sexual development of an individual, something certainly happened somewhere, either at school or on his travels abroad, to make him not just enthusiastically but contentedly homosexual by his late teens.[xii]

Second, is Wilde’s lover Bosie Douglas.  John Sholto Douglas (Bosie’s father) was the ninth Marquis of Queensbury.  Hyde describes John Douglas as an eccentric Scottish nobleman; he may have been mentally unbalanced.  His principal preoccupations were sport and atheism, and he knew much more about his horses and dogs than about the human members of his family.  Apart from his ill-fated quarrel with Wilde, he is chiefly remembered as the author of the rules, which govern amateur boxing.   But his profession of atheism had already won for him a contemporary notoriety.  As a representative peer of Scotland he refused to take the oath in the House of Lords on the ground that this necessary preliminary was mere “Christian tomfoolery”.  In his private life he bullied his wife, who subsequently divorced him, on 22 January 1887, on the grounds of his adultery with Mabel Gilroy.  He neglected his children, preferring instead the society of his mistresses and his sporting cronies.  He was arrogant, vain, conceited, and ill-tempered.[xiii]  It is one of the great ironies of history that the undoing of the aesthetic Oscar Wilde was by an obsessed gay son and his devout atheist father, and not as commonly assumed by the homophobic Christian right or a puritanical society.

In correspondence to his son “Queensbury” registered his complaint over his son’s “intimacy with this man Wilde.”  Bosie’s only response to this letter was to send him a telegram, which read simply: “What a funny little man you are! Alfred Douglas.”  Queensberry replied:

If I catch you again with that man I will make a public scandal in a way you little dream of; it is already a suppressed one.  I prefer an open one, and at any rate I shall not be blamed for allowing such things to go on.[xiv]

Queensbury told Bosie that all future cards would go in the fire unread.  He then repeated the threat of a thrashing. “You reptile,” concluded this paternal epistle, “You are no son of mine, and I never thought you were.”[xv] Wilde met Bosie in 1892; Wilde was 38 and Douglas 22.  Leaving aside briefly the issue of homosexuality, ask yourself as a parent or potential parent: Where you would stand, if your 22 year old daughter started a sexual relationship with a married man, sixteen years her senior, with two children and a wife?  What would a Christian pastor advise?

Perhaps this would come as little surprise to psychologists thinking like Moberly, but two years after the death of Constance Wilde, and after his own father’s death, Bosie arose from his homosexual “blindness” to contract a runaway marriage with a poetess Olive Custance, an heiress, who soon found that even her substantial fortune was insufficient to keep him in the style to which he was accustomed.[xvi]

While the experiences, listed by Dr. Moberly, do not always result in homosexual feelings, they can, in a sensitive child, cause a hurt which leads to such problems.  To develop in a healthy way, a child needs love from its parent (or a consistent parent substitute) of the same-sex.  Dr. Moberly writes:

Needs for love from, dependency on, and identification with, the parent of the same-sex are met through the child's attachment to the parent.  If, however, the attachment is disrupted, the needs that are normally met through the medium of such an attachment remain unmet.[xvii]

If these needs go unmet over a period of time, the child develops mixed and contradictory feelings towards its same-sex parent and tries, through a process of detachment, to survive without the love he or she deeply needs. The emotionally hurt youngster says of the same-sex parent, "I don't want to be like you." These feelings are transferred to all members of the same-sex so that the person experiences, at the same time, a deep desire for intimacy with persons of the same-sex and a strong desire to flee such intimacy. When puberty comes, these feelings get confused with erotic intimacy and a homosexual struggle begins.

Homosexual behavior is a mistaken attempt to meet a real need for non-sexual, same-sex, parent-child love. This need has been falsely understood as sexual, but homosexual behavior actually lessens the possibility of getting the real need met, because it involves guilt, deepens feelings of inferiority, and increases the ambivalence experienced in the same-sex relating.  As Dr. Earl D. Wilson has noted, "The anonymous sex which many homosexuals experience seems only to strengthen the reparative urge and leave the person more desperate."[xviii]  All this reduces a person's ability to have those healthy relationships with members of the same-sex, which are vital to coming to freedom from homosexuality.

As Dr. Moberly puts it:

Homosexuality is the kind of problem that needs to be solved through relationships.  The solution of same-sex deficits is to be sought through the medium of... non-sexual relationships with members of the same-sex.  It is the provision of good same-sex relationships that helps meet unmet same-sex needs, heals defects in the relational capacity, and in this way forwards the healing process.[xix]

Here a good same-sex counselor may also be needed to help work through deep-seated hurts from the past.

According to Neil Whitehead, “Homosexuality fits much more naturally into that group of human behaviors which are psychological in nature.”  Moreover, he says incidence studies argue for a high environmental influence in homosexuality:

A large Chicago study asked where people had been brought up during ages fourteen to sixteen years and whether they had any male homosexual partners during the last year.  The percentages differed for different degrees of urbanization; 1.2 per cent of the males surveyed who had been raised in rural areas reported having homosexual partners during the last year; 2.5 per cent who had been raised in medium-sized towns reported having homosexual partners, and 4.4 per cent who had been raised in large cities reported being active homosexuals.  For women, the percentages were 0.7 per cent, 1.3 per cent and 1.6 per cent, respectively.  In other words where you are brought up is quite an important factor in whether you end up having homosexual partners.[xx]

Whitehead noted that if homosexuality was genetically influenced, and for the sake of argument the rural rate of 1.2 per cent was used as the base, then in the cities, the balance (3.2 per cent) would be exclusively due to social factors.  This means for males, that the environmental factor (3.2 per cent) is far more important than the alleged genetic factor (1.2 per cent).[xxi]

Whitehead also looked at the diversity of homosexual expression and culture and concluded again, there was little evidence of a genetic foundation.  In 1994, an Italian-American geneticist, Cavalli-Sforza, published a huge genetic atlas, the outcome of a monumental study of the genetic characteristics of different ethnic groups.  His conclusion was that, in spite of superficial differences (e.g. skin color), the different races are essentially the same genetically.  In fact, something between 99.7 per cent and 99.9 per cent of the genes in any two unrelated people are the same.[xxii]  If all ethnic groups share similar genes two assumptions can be drawn about genetically determined behavior: it will be predictable, specific in nature and similar all over the globe; and it will be present at roughly the same incidence in all cultures.  If we look at homosexuality, we find none of the characteristics of genetic properties:

There is a huge variety of homosexual practices between cultures and even within them.

The incidence of homosexuality has varied considerably in different cultures.  In some cultures, it has been unknown; in others, it has been obligatory for all males.

There have been, and are, rapid changes in homosexual behavior – even over a lifetime.  Not only that, but entire types of homosexuality have disappeared over the course of just a few centuries.

In fact, anthropologists have found such huge variants in heterosexual and homosexual practice from culture to culture…that they mostly want to say that all sexual behavior is learned.[xxiii]

A study by Yale University surveyed 190 different cultures, discovering that there was a wide range of heterosexual activity.  There was no breast stimulation in six cultures; no kissing in nine; in two others, sexual excitement was correlated with scratching or biting; in one, urination was part of foreplay; in another, guest sex was practiced (i.e., it was good hospitality to offer your wife to a visitor).  Among the Lepchas, all young girls were sexually experienced by eleven or twelve, and even as young as eight.  Bestiality occurred only erratically in cultures; in some it was unknown; in others, it was tolerated.  A survey by Paul Gebhard of the Kinsey Institute noted that fetishism, voyeurism, exhibitionism, and well-developed sadomasochism were very rare or absent, appearing only in more “advanced” societies.[xxiv]  The exponential rise in gay sexual liaisons – 20, 50, 200, 500, 1000, witnessed in the 1970s was not the result of genetics but the outcome of highly commercialized sex and gay liberation culture.  We must ask ourselves, what portion of this past forty years of GBLTQ history was constituted from individual choice?

According to Whitehead heterosexuality requires a conducive nurturing environment to develop properly.  In the 1950’s, the World Health Organization asked British psychoanalyst John Bowley to research the mental health of homeless children.  His response was a monumental book, Attachment and Loss.  Bowley found that extreme emotional deprivation in early childhood produced children with very cold personalities who were unable to form lasting relationships.  They also craved affection.[xxv] Psychologists differ over the details of the process, but all concede the importance of attachment to the parent of the same-sex (or a surrogate), the start of a dependent relationship, and imitation and modeling of that parent for formation of a sense of gender identity.  A “bad” father who creates conflict is worse for the boy’s masculinity than no father at all.[xxvi]

Whitehead described the separate gender identities of very young children (3-4 years).  By the age of eight, roughly 85 per cent of both sexes believe their own sex is best.  Boys or girls who cross the line are mercilessly teased.  Says Whitehead, “’No-girls-allowed’ activities are common to boys, in the attempt, some psychologists believe, by the boy to consolidate his gender identity following the shift in identification to his father.”  R.A. Latorre wrote, the sexual orientation “soaks in from the outside.”  A similar process happens for girls.  The peer group has a similar role to that of the same-sex parent.  Mixing mainly with their own sex strengthens a child’s sense of being male or female, and the differences deepen.[xxvii]  This importance of parental and peer influences on later sexual behavior is revealed in the following scientific research:

Kendrick and colleagues at the Babraham Institute in Cambridge allowed ten ewes to raise goats from birth and ten nanny goats to raise lambs from birth.  The fostered kids and lambs grew up in mixed flocks of sheep and goats but the kids fraternized mainly with lambs and adopted their play and grooming habits, and lambs fraternized mainly with kids.  Once mature they ignored their own species and tried to mate 90 per cent of the time with the foster mother species.  They kept this up every day during the observation period of three years, and even after years of mixing with their own species, the males did not revert (but females did).[xxviii]

Concludes Whitehead, “If the sexuality of these lower animals was so influenced by learning, human sexuality will be more so.”  Psychological literature on homosexuality clearly reveals breakdowns in learning processes critical to the development of heterosexuality.  Rather than bonding and identifying with same-sex parents, imitating and role-modeling, numerous studies of homosexuals show early breaches, negative relationships, and resistance to identification and modeling.  One comprehensive study of homosexuality found 84 per cent of homosexual men said their fathers were indifferent and uninvolved compared with 10 per cent of heterosexual men, and that only 10 per cent of homosexual men identified with their fathers in childhood, compared with two-thirds of heterosexual men.  M. T. Sagir and E. Robins found only 23 per cent of lesbians reported positive relationships with their mothers and identification with them, compared with 85 per cent of heterosexual women.[xxix]

In a review of literature, van den Aardweg says poor relationships with peer groups are even more common in the backgrounds of male homosexuals than poor relationships with fathers.[xxx]  Bell et al. comment that children with reduced same-sex parent identification are more likely to develop “gender non-conformity” (“sissiness” in boys and “tomboyism” in girls; the sense of feeling “different” from their peers).[xxxi]  Nicolosi remarks that “the masculine qualities conveyed in healthy father-son relationships are confidence and independence, assertiveness and a sense of personal power.”  Without these attributes, he will not fit well into childhood male peer groups.  Male homosexual clients characteristically say they were weak, unmasculine, unacceptable.  That’s when the name-calling starts – “sissy,” “girl.”  Saghir and Robins found that 67 per cent of homosexuals were called sissy or effeminate by others, (compared with three per cent of heterosexual men), and that 79 per cent of these men in childhood and early adolescence had no male friends, played mostly with girls, and rarely or never played sports.[xxxii]  A similar pattern is seen in lesbianism.  Young girls resistant to mother identification and modeling do not fit well into female peer groups.  Saghir and Robins’ found 70 per cent of homosexual women were “tomboys” as children, compared with 16 per cent of heterosexual women.  Sixty three per cent wished they were boys or men, compared with seven per cent of heterosexual women.   The attitude persists into adulthood:

One of the two findings that differentiated lesbian women from heterosexual women was the feeling in lesbian women that they were less feminin and more masculine.  ‘They express disinterest in feminine accessories and fashion, prefer ‘sporty’ and tailored clothes, and shun make-up and hairdos.  They see their social and domestic roles as being incompatible with those of other women.  They behave more competitively and are oriented toward career and accomplishments with little interest in raising children or in domestic pursuits.’[xxxiii]

Several major studies have highlighted more childhood and adolescent homosexual activity in pre-homosexuals and adolescents.  Van Wyk and Geist, looking at a sample of 7669 white male and female Americans, say both lesbians and homosexuals were more likely to have had intense pre-pubertal sexual contact with boys or men.  They draw a link between sexual abuse and later lesbianism, but they also say that most lesbians learned to masturbate by being masturbated by a female.  Young girls retreating from distressing male sexual contact experienced release in female sexual contact.  According to Whitehead, male homosexuals were more likely than heterosexual men to have been masturbated by other men or boys, they comment, and “once arousal to the particular type of stimulus occurs, it tends quite rapidly to form a pattern.”[xxxiv]

Ex-gay support groups report that between 50 per cent and 60 per cent of homosexual men coming for help have been abused sexually.  Finkelhor found young men sexually abused by older males were about four times more likely to engage in homosexual activity as adults.  Nichols reported male sexual abuse of lesbians is twice as high as in heterosexual women.  Gundlach and Reiss report a similar figure.  Ex-gay groups report high levels of male sexual abuse (up to 85 per cent) in female homosexuals who come for help.  Peter and Cantrell found more than two thirds of lesbians reported being forced into sexual experiences with males after the age of twelve, compared with only 28 per cent of heterosexuals.[xxxv]

Ex-gay groups suggest that poor father and peer group relations lead boys to seek companionship.  Adolescent sexual intimacy with another man leads to later association of sex with male interest, affection and acceptance:

One former homosexual, Michael Saia, says homosexual men are not looking for sex when they have their first sexual encounter.  He says they are looking for acceptance, understanding, companionship, strength, security, and a sense of completeness.  Sex becomes the way to get it. ‘I was starved of affection,’ said Bob.  ‘I didn’t like the sex at first, I just wanted someone to really love me.  I told myself, OK, if this is what I have to do to get the touch, I’ll do it.  Then it got to where I liked it.  So…’ [xxxvi]

Dr. Moberly, sees sexual abuse as a secondary contributor to homosexuality.  She posits the main cause as early “defensive detachment” from the parent of the same-sex that interferes critically with the identification process that produces a sense of gender in children.[xxxvii]  Says Whitehead, difficulties in attachment and identification lead to feelings of alienation in same-sex peer groups and from then on homosexual development follows a fairly predictable course:

A deep need for same-sex affection, affirmation, acceptance, and a sense of gender identity; masturbation and/or fantasy around a certain admired same-sex figure; a sexual encounter; the beginning of habitual responses; self-identification as homosexual; ‘coming out;’ finding partners; the homosexual lifestyle; civil rights.  Most people with homo-emotional needs and homosexual responses, however, do not ‘come out’ to friends and family or live a visibly homosexual or activist lifestyle.  In one of the largest studies of a homosexual population, Bell, et al., said homosexuality could not be traced back to ‘a single psychological or social root.’  However, they gave the highest values to a constellation of factors: negative relationship with the parent of the same-sex, ‘childhood gender non-conformity,’ and adolescent homosexual arousal and activity.[xxxviii]


Copyright © 2008 StandForGod.Org

[i] A. Karlen,  Sexuality and Homosexuality: A New View (New York: Norton, 1971), p. 573.

[ii] Ibid., pp.572 and 573.

[iii] I. Beiber et al., Homosexuality: A Psychoanalytic Study (New York: Basic Books, 1962), p.303.

[iv] C. Socarides, "Homosexuality is not just an alternative life style," in Male and Female: Christian Approaches to Sexuality, R.T. Barnhouse, U.T. Holmes, eds., (New York: Seabury Press, 1976), p.145.

[v] E. Moberly, Homosexuality: A New Christian Ethic (Greenwood, South Carolina: Attic Press, 1983), p.2.

[vi] S. Wegscheider, Another Chance: Hope and Health for the Alcoholic Family (Palo Alto, California: Science and Behavior Books, 1981), p.127.

[vii] Ibid., pp.129 and 130.

[viii] Ibid., p.130. 

[ix] Ibid., p.136.

[x] E. Moberly,  Psychogenesis: The Early Development of Gender Identity (London: Routledge and Keegan Paul Ltd, 1983), p.78.

[xi] H. Montgomery Hyde, The Trial of Oscar Wilde (New York: Dover Publications, 1973), p.166.

[xii] Ibid.

[xiii] Ibid., p.69.

[xiv] Ibid., p.75.

[xv] Ibid., p.70.

[xvi] Anne Clark Armor, Mrs Oscar Wilde: A Woman of Some Importance (London: Sidgwick & Jackson, 1983), p.229.

[xvii] E. Moberly, Homosexuality: A New Christian Ethic, op. cit., p.5.

[xviii] E.D. Wilson, Counseling and Homosexuality (Waco, Texas: Word Books, 1988), op. cit., p. 59.

[xix] E. Moberly, Homosexuality: A New Christian Ethic, op. cit., p.42.

[xx] Neil and Briar Whitehead, My Genes Made Me Do it! (Lafayette, Louisianna: Huntington House, 1999), p.43.

[xxi] Ibid., p.44.

[xxii] Ibid., p.97, cited in Vines G., “Genes in black and white,” New Scientist, July 1995, pp.34-37.

[xxiii] Ibid., p.98.

[xxiv] Ibid., pp.98 and 99.

[xxv] Ibid., p.52.

[xxvi] Ibid., p.56.

[xxvii] Ibid., p.58.

[xxviii] Ibid., p.59.

[xxix] Ibid., p.66, cited in Saghir, M.T., Robins, E., Male and Female Homosexuality, A Comprehensive Investigation (Baltimore, Maryland: Williams and Wilkins, 1973).

[xxx] Ibid., cited in Nicolosi, J., Reparative Therapy of Male Homosexuality (Northvale, New Jersey: Jason Aronson, 1991).

[xxxi] Ibid., cited in Bell, A.P., Weinberg, M.S., Hammersmith, S.K., Sexual Preference: Its Development In Men and Women (Bloomington, Indiana: Indiana University Press, 1981).

[xxxii] Ibid., p.67, cited in Saghir, M.T., Robins, E., Male and Female Homosexuality, A Comprehensive Investigation.

[xxxiii] Ibid. 

[xxxiv] Whitehead, p.8.

[xxxv] Ibid., p.68.

[xxxvi] Ibid., p.69.  Cited in Saia,M., Counseling the Homosexual (Minneapolis, Minnesota: Bethany House, 1988).

[xxxvii] Ibid., p.69, cited in Moberly, E.R., Homosexuality, A New Christian Ethic (Cambridge: James Clarke & Company, 1983).

[xxxviii] Ibid., p.70.