Straight to Gay?
May 16, 2006 7:57 AM   Subscribe

Is it possible to move up and down the continuum of human sexuality? That is, can gays turn straighter or straights turn gayer? And how would you go about doing it?

Let me say right out that I do not think homosexuality is evil, unnatural, or any of that garbage (I don't think that about heterosexuality either, for that matter). I'm just wondering how malleable sexuality is--can people change where they are on the Kinsey scale? If you're a 5 can you move to a 2? If you're a 3 can you get to a 4? What would you do--aggressive reprogramming? Dating the chosen sex a lot? These seem like silly, ineffective methods but given how other aspects of human nature can be changed it's hard to believe sexuality isn't one of them.

I've found this study by Robert Spitzer. But it has its own methodological problems. Aside from ridiculous ex-gay propaganda, there doesn't seem to be anything else out there due to the controversial nature of the topic. Has anyone found anything I haven't?
posted by schroedinger to Science & Nature (49 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
 
Perhaps the same-sex environment of prisons might suggest variability in sexuality.
posted by Mr. Six at 8:00 AM on May 16, 2006


More on Mr. Six's thought.
posted by peeedro at 8:07 AM on May 16, 2006


You can certainly become progressively more comfortable with any kind of sexual behavior by getting more experience and being more emotionally comfortable with the idea through exposure. It's so difficult to determine the true extent of attraction to either gender, though, because any such test is by definition subjective.
posted by desuetude at 8:12 AM on May 16, 2006


Ditto what desuetude said. If you're a generally straight guy, for instance, you can probably go your entire life in this straight society and not feel any peer pressure to sleep with men, so you might never try it. And you'd think of yourself as 100% straight your whole life.

But if you did try it, you might realize you like it, and start pursuing men as well as women.

Or you could go the other way, being theoretically into both genders, and then realize that for whatever reason, you're not into one of them.

Since we as a society tend to apply the either/or model to sexuality, trying to push people into "gay" or "straight" boxes (and mostly the "straight" one), I think it's hard to distinguish peer pressure/societal expectations from desire, in many ways because I think desire is inherently linked to those things anyway.
posted by occhiblu at 8:16 AM on May 16, 2006


I personally think people are a lot less honest about their ranking on the Kinsey scale.

A friend of mine from grad school 'was a lesbian' and started dating a guy this year; I 'was straight' until 2/2005. A lot of it, my friend and I considered, is that you'll identify with your first big relationship and whatever that means.

There are social constraints to staying in that identification. Bisexuality is often seen as indecisive, promiscuous, or flaky, and it tosses you on the outskirts of most Queer groups and out of the straight group (although you can pass, depending on who you're dating.)

As for 'changing', it has to do with circumstances. The problem with the scale is that it's still discrete - 1, 2, etc, are all points. It's not a point scale. It's a gradient, and depending on one's personal circumstances, it could be different on different times of day. But we are a (serial) monogamous, generally hetero society, so one is encouraged to identify with that point.

Anyhow, I read a special in the Hartford Courant a few weeks ago that suggested that minority women are increasingly forming partnerships due to economic hardship, past distrust of men, as well as some prison situations. (link should work.) One could also look at the history of sexuality in ancient cultures (Greece and China come to mind), where there were social norms that at certain points in one's life it was accepted/expected for certain amounts of homosexual behavior to take place.
posted by cobaltnine at 8:21 AM on May 16, 2006


You might check out the "queer by choice" movement (website) for thoughts/resources about this sort of thing that aren't from the "homosexuality is unnatural and should be changed" camp.
posted by needs more cowbell at 8:23 AM on May 16, 2006


Of course, the scale should maybe be a continuum... however, it's really hard to date a continuum, and so you end up looking discrete despite any efforts otherwise.
posted by vernondalhart at 8:24 AM on May 16, 2006


Any port in a storm?
posted by Thorzdad at 8:25 AM on May 16, 2006


*Confessor nods*

Absent a genetic (or otherwise hard-wired) component which has not been proven to exist in humans, evolutionary biology suggests that sexuality - particularly choice of sexual partners - is among the most malleable of traits. Homosexual behavior has been widely observed among the primates considered to have the most genes in common with humanity, and seems to coexist with more productive heterosexual behavior.

The natural conclusion is that *absent societal indoctrination,* human sexual behavior may very well be comparably fluid.
posted by The Confessor at 8:33 AM on May 16, 2006


This is an oblique take on your topic, but to build on a point suggested by cobaltnine (people aren't honest about their Kinsey score because of social pressure), we chronically underestimate the number of "bisexuals" out there. The best exposition of this phenomenon I've read (but this isn't really my field) is an article that deals with a weird nook of employment law, by Kenji Yoshino, "The epistemic contract of bisexual erasure." Fascinating read. (article about Yoshino).
posted by kosem at 8:34 AM on May 16, 2006


From the Yoshino interview in the second link:

"If the realm of bisexual possibility exists, it becomes impossible to actually prove that you're straight or you're gay. If you're straight in a world where bisexuality doesn't exist, then you can prove you're straight simply by adducing cross-sex desire: like, "I have a wife, I have a girlfriend" -- if you're a man -- kind of thing. Right? Whereas, once you introduce a bisexual possibility, the fact that you have cross-sex desire does not [prove] that you don't have same-sex desire. Given that same-sex desire is stigmatized, people who want to identify as straight are going to have a lot invested in making sure that they can prove that they're straight. Because otherwise they'll lose heterosexual privilege."
posted by kosem at 8:39 AM on May 16, 2006


Orientation can't be changed, either accidentally or on purpose. What does seem to be malleable is behavior, i.e., how the orientation is expressed. You can decide to be celibate, for example, for religious or philosophical reasons. But the act of not having sex (or the non-act, I suppose) doesn't change the underlying urge.

At least as it regards men, I don't think the Kinsey Scale is regarded as valid much any more. The reason is that Kinsey studied behavior, which is affected by a whole slew of influences including orientation. There is now, and certainly was in the 1940s, very strong societal pressure against the expression of homosexual orientation in homosexual behavior, particularly for men. So observed and reported behavior could offer only at best a distorted picture of what the actual orientation might be. It's like trying to describe an area's climate when all your observations are performed indoors: your data may be perfectly accurate, but they aren't as meaningful as they should be.

As a gay man, I subscribe to the theory that there are three sexual orientations possible for guys: straight, gay, and lying. My firsthand knowledge of women's sexuality is, naturally, rather skimpy, but from what I've read it seems as if women's sexual orientation is less clear-cut.

To get back to your question, I guess it is possible to change sexual behavior the same way you would change any other behavior: reinforce the desired behavior with reward, and be sure that the undesired behavior is not reinforced. The inherent problem, though, is that sexuality is one of the strongest and most basic urges. Stifiling or redirecting that emotional need is very labor-intensive, and essentially it's a lifelong job. We're talking the sort of effort that would be required for an addict to maintain sobriety for an entire lifetime. The difference is that addiction is an unnatural state of being that grossly diminishes the entire quality of life; sexual orientation is a natural thing that only seeks proper and societally approved expression. So what I'm saying is, why would you want to fix something that isn't broken?
posted by La Cieca at 8:42 AM on May 16, 2006


I just saw this in the paper yesterday:
Orlando Ministry Says It Helps Heal 'Unwanted Homosexuality'
posted by wsg at 8:48 AM on May 16, 2006


La Cieca, I've actually heard a number of lesbian women say the same thing: Men's sexuality seems more hardwired than women's.

But I still think there is *so* much stigma against male homosexuality that it may be skewing the data set. It's not easy, but it's certainly less problematic for a woman to come out as gay than it is for a guy. So the guys who are able to get past that barrier must *really* want to get past it, if that makes any sense, while the barrier keeps the "eh, maybe I'd try it" guys firmly fenced into heterosexuality. As the Yoshino quotation points out, a guy loses a lot of gender privelege when he comes out of the closet. A woman is already dealing with a stacked deck, so the public stakes may be lower.

So I'd agree with what you're saying for guys who already identify as gay, but I still suspect we'd see more homosexual behavior from guys who didn't feel that they were hardwired to only like men. (And I certainly knew a fair number of "very straight" athletes in college who were not restricting all their sexual energy to women, even though many of them had girlfriends.)
posted by occhiblu at 8:52 AM on May 16, 2006


Lost part of that sentence; should be "...but I still suspect we'd see more homosexual behavior from guys who didn't feel that they were hardwired to only like men if there were no societal injunction against homosexuality."
posted by occhiblu at 8:53 AM on May 16, 2006


La Cieca brings up an important point - there's a difference between behavior and desire. It's definitely possible to change where on the scale you sit behaviour-wise. Desire is harder to change.
posted by raedyn at 9:01 AM on May 16, 2006


We're talking the sort of effort that would be required for an addict to maintain sobriety for an entire lifetime.

While I disagree with almost everything that Cieca said (especially with the "men can only be all gay or all straight but women can be anywhere in between" hypothesis) I'd just like to say, at risk of total derail, that maintaining an addiction is in many ways more difficult than maintaining sobriety, that comparing homosexuality to addiction is not only specious and inaccurate but potentially offensive to both addicts and homosexuals, and that likening, even tangentially, "homosexual recovery" to substance abuse recovery is a pretty nasty thing to do.

I mean I get your whole "there's a biological predisposition to both addiction and homosexuality, and denying that through the use of constant cognitive effort is hard" point, but the resulting conclusion - "so don't bother" - is broken.
posted by ChasFile at 9:02 AM on May 16, 2006


Bisexuality is often seen as indecisive, promiscuous, or flaky, and it tosses you on the outskirts of most Queer groups and out of the straight group (although you can pass, depending on who you're dating.)

Amen. Dammit. I'm not straight just because I plan to grow old with my boyfriend.

Orientation can't be changed, either accidentally or on purpose.

I think the problem with this is that we just don't know what orientation is, really. It's not possible to measure orientation isolated from societal pressures and personal bias. Definition of orientation is behavior-driven -- who I want to sleep with.
posted by desuetude at 9:08 AM on May 16, 2006


Occhiblu's right, I can't see how we can get an accurate reading of how bisexual men are if their relationships are so stigmatized.

Given that the opposite seems true for women (at least in the case of femme-femme relationships), one wonders how that's influenced the sexuality of the current generation of young women. Is there a correlation between the increasing emphasis in our culture for women to be sex and sexiniess-positive, as well as the place female sexuality and sexiness occupies in our society over the male counterparts (i.e. naked females are sexy, naked males are funny), and what seems to be the increasing number of women willing to experiment with same-sex relationships? How many women are making out with other women "because their boyfriends think it's hot", and how many are really attracted to women? Maybe it's a little of both? And does the attraction to women stem from a biological urge, or has it developed over their lifetimes due to living in a culture that defines the female form as the focus of all human desire?

Anyway, that's kind of off-topic. I don't think it's possible to repress desire for the gender you're normally attracted to, but I'm wondering if you can cultivate desire for the gender you're not normally attracted to. Certainly the pressures of abuse and prison can instigate this, but what about outside those stressful situations? Like, a straight guy waking up one day, deciding he's going to try to be gay, and working towards that goal?
posted by schroedinger at 9:21 AM on May 16, 2006


I've been sliding up and down the scale (not a euphemism!) all my life. Not just in terms of behaviour, in terms of which gender I find actually fancy - it's never one or the other exclusively, but there have been periods when one gender or the other has won out by a huge margin for years at a time. Whether this means people could change their orientation, I don't know, but as a sometimes non-simultaneous bisexual, if you know what I mean, I'd say it is at least possible to be gay one minute and straight the next.

As a gay man, I subscribe to the theory that there are three sexual orientations possible for guys: straight, gay, and lying.

Which makes you a blinkered bigot. I'd start a civil rights movement, but "We're here! We're not entirely sure what we are and may change the degree to which we are attracted to one gender or the other over the course of our lifetimes! Get used to it!" is kind of hard to chant at a rally. And I always think LGBT sounds like a type of sandwich.
posted by jack_mo at 9:37 AM on May 16, 2006 [3 favorites]


Given that the opposite seems true for women


Sorta, but trust me, a real relationship with a woman is regarded as a whole different thing than "girls look pretty kissing." Bicuriosity is currently somewhat culturally encouraged among young women, but "rejection" of men sexually is not.

don't think it's possible to repress desire for the gender you're normally attracted to, but I'm wondering if you can cultivate desire for the gender you're not normally attracted to.

Of course you can repress desire for the gender you're normally attracted to. Almost everyone who is gay does, at least for awhile.

Of course you can cultivate desire for the gender you're not normally attacted to. I know quite a few "marbles" (MBL = married but lesbian.) Mostly women in their 50s, who genuinely love their husbands (and children), but realized belatedly that they are actually attracted to women.

And I always think LGBT sounds like a type of sandwich.

Heh. Agree. Also, I find the lumping-together to be um, amusing since in my experience, the Ts are the only ones who admit that the Bs exist.
posted by desuetude at 9:42 AM on May 16, 2006


My personal take (as a straight guy) is that sexual orientation is theoretically very malleable, but whether or not it is malleable for any particular individual depends on that individual's history, experience, and psychology. There are documented tribal cultures in which homosexuality was the norm, so unless you're prepared to assert that sexual orientation is a racial trait, I don't know how you could answer a firm no to this question. But that doesn't make attempts to convert people to heterosexuality any less ridiculous than trying to convert someone to no longer enjoying their favorite food.

Also, I find the lumping-together to be um, amusing since in my experience, the Ts are the only ones who admit that the Bs exist.

I've attended several GLBTLMNOP... conferences, and that hasn't been my experience at all. But those are full of people with an active interest in these issues, so maybe it's completely different outside the more academic GLBT community.
posted by scottreynen at 9:51 AM on May 16, 2006


I think that 'orientation' is an oversimplification of human sexuality. But to answer the question, I think it's quite possible (and in tolerant societies, quite normal) to change one's orientation with one's circumstances.

I don't have any links to back me up, just four years at a liberal arts school.
posted by dobie at 9:52 AM on May 16, 2006


comparing homosexuality to addiction is not only specious and inaccurate

Specious and inaccurate, and besides all that, that's not the comparison I made. In fact, I tried drafting a sentence making clear that I was not comparing the two, but I couldn't find an elegant way to say it. So here goes with the inelegant way.

The point of curing or managing addiction is to enhance the general quality of one's life. The addict wants, for example, a stable intimate relationship, a fulfilling job, freedom from fear (of the catastrophic things that can happen during a blackout), freedom from the guilt that he is hurting those who love him, and so forth. He takes on the task of saying "no" repeatedly to a very strong urge to use because he believes the tradeoff is worth it. It's a difficult process because, despite all the pluses of sobriety, he has reinforced his addiction repeatedly through the sensual pleasure of getting high. He is denying himself something he has trained himself to associate with pleasure and a sense of well-being, but he encourages himself with the idea that the things he is gaining (relationships, safety, etc.) outweigh the things he is "losing."

Someone trying to change his sexual behavior is also denying himself something that has been strongly reinforced (i.e., sexual expression, reinforced through orgasm) -- that's the similarity with addiction. One difference is that the addict's behavior is inherently destructive, whereas the sexual expression is merely "unwanted." Another difference is that there is no basic human urge to get high; the urge to sexual intimacy is utterly hard-wired.

Reparative therapy begins with the notion that homosexuality is equivalent to addiction, and then proceeds to treat the "condition" using the same techniques that have been used successfully to treat addiction: therapy, group support, 12-step and so forth. But even if you accept the idea that reparative therapy might work in the sense that a subject might not have sex with men for a period of months or years, it fails utterly in the sense that it prevents him from meeting his intimacy needs. For a person with gay orientation, those needs can only be met by a person of the same sex. So the "cured" homosexual is very likely to act out on this urge to intimacy through what can only be unwanted acts, e.g., anonymous sexual encounters. He has no possibility of really meeting his need for intimacy because he has bought into the fallacy that the only "right" way is the heterosexual way.

Or let me put the "urge" in other terms. Let's say another of our most basic urges is for Flow -- we all have a strong drive to take on challenging tasks that require strong effort to meet success. Some people express that need for flow in self-destructive ways, e.g., very dangerous sports or high-stakes gambling. What they need is a way to channel the need for flow into more productive activities, not a way to deny themselves flow by restricting themselves to boring, repetitive activities. The sexual urge can be expressed in self-destructive ways (e.g., promiscuity), but the solution is not to deny the urge but rather to channel it into a more positive expression. The "cure" for "unwanted homosexuality" is not heterosexuality, but rather fulfilled and happy homosexuality.
posted by La Cieca at 9:54 AM on May 16, 2006 [1 favorite]


I'm always shocked when I see gay guys condemn bisexuals. It's just so absurd.

Orientation can't be changed, either accidentally or on purpose.

Well, this sentence doesn't make much sense. The way you determine somebody's orientation is by examining their behavior. Attempts to distinguish between 'behavior' and 'orientation' are really just ham-fisted attempts to locate orientation beyond the reach of science. If you are going to accept orientation as an empirical (i.e. real) concept then evidence for it must follow similar constraints. Otherwise all your talk of "urge" etc. is just nonsense.

Which of course raises the question of whether anything like 'orientation' actually exists. Personally, I suspect it doesn't. My own suspicion is that eventually the entire concept of 'sexual orientation' will follow the path of what we used to call 'race': a pseudo-scientific classification which ultimately doesn't make much sense. I'd point the asker towards what's generally called 'Gender Theory'. There's quite a bit of writing out there--most of it bad, but c'est la vie.
posted by nixerman at 9:59 AM on May 16, 2006


I've attended several GLBTLMNOP... conferences, and that hasn't been my experience at all. But those are full of people with an active interest in these issues, so maybe it's completely different outside the more academic GLBT community.

Oh, I mean socially, not academically. I was referring to the "gay, straight, lying" concept referenced above, and the many people who have earnestly told me that there's no such thing as bisexuality.
posted by desuetude at 10:14 AM on May 16, 2006


La Cieca, as I said before, what if you're not repressing desire for the same sex but cultivating desire for the opposite one?

And if someone should choose to change their orientation, and it not be because of homophobia or religion or any of that bullshit, who are we to tell them they're wrong? For example, myself, I can't say in moments of extreme frustration at the utter dearth of lesbians where I live I haven't wished I was straight solely because I could get laid more. Not exactly the poster child of the ex-gay movement!

Anyway, I was hoping answers to the question would not focus so much on the ethics of changing sexual orientation, simply on whether it can be done and how.
posted by schroedinger at 10:24 AM on May 16, 2006


the many people who have earnestly told me that there's no such thing as bisexuality

This takes us again to the orientation vs. behavior argument. No one seriously suggests that there is no such thing as bisexual behavior. What I do think is that in many (most?) cases, bisexual behavior in men is an expression of homosexual orientation.

A big stumbling block here is that we have such a strong belief in male/female equality as a political issue that we tend to apply that belief even when it is not an ideal explanation for a particular phenomenon. Which is to say, women's sexuality works differently in some fundamental way than men's sexuality. My opinion is that difference is more fundamental than, for example, the difference between homosexual and heterosexual orientation in men. Or at the very least, it's a different kind of difference.

"Lying" is meant to be humorous and flip. Again, no one seriously believes that bisexual men are actually thinking, "Fools! My occasional sleeping with women has them all convinced I'm not gay! Ha ha ha ha ha ha!" But the joke does point to the idea that there are a lot of men who are primarily attracted to men, but who do not feel comfortable self-identifying as "gay."
posted by La Cieca at 10:29 AM on May 16, 2006


La Cieca, there are also plenty of men that are primarily attracted to women that wouldn't feel comfortable self-identifying as "straight".
posted by dobie at 10:35 AM on May 16, 2006


(La Cieca, I should have referenced the comment with an acknowledgement that this a common saying/joke.)
posted by desuetude at 10:37 AM on May 16, 2006


La Cieca, as I said before, what if you're not repressing desire for the same sex but cultivating desire for the opposite one?

This is not a moral problem, but I do think it raises the question of "why do you want to be something you're not?" If you're dissatisfied with the sexual component of your life, then certainly that dissatisfaction should be examined and, eventually, remedied. I question, though, that the remedy is to try to train yourself to sleep with a different gender than the one you're with now.
posted by La Cieca at 10:51 AM on May 16, 2006


The way you determine somebody's orientation is by examining their behavior. Attempts to distinguish between 'behavior' and 'orientation' are really just ham-fisted attempts to locate orientation beyond the reach of science.

Oh christ, that's absurd. People are complex. Situations are complex. That's like saying that Madonna's not really brunette because she got famous as a blonde.
posted by kittyprecious at 10:52 AM on May 16, 2006


I question, though, that the remedy is to try to train yourself to sleep with a different gender than the one you're with now.

It's not an entirely unuseful concept, though certainly not commonplace advice. I've dated straight girls and a gay guy (not all at once), who had to do a bit of mental tinkering during the relationship. (Neither was bi or changed their overall sexual orientation.)
posted by desuetude at 11:06 AM on May 16, 2006


The full Episteme PDF is here, it's a nice read.
posted by meehawl at 11:33 AM on May 16, 2006


According to this recent research [ny-times] men are either-or and women can be anything on the scale.
posted by jouke at 12:05 PM on May 16, 2006


Anyway, I was hoping answers to the question would not focus so much on the ethics of changing sexual orientation, simply on whether it can be done and how.

I'm very puzzled by this, schroedinger. I'm not sure that sexual preferences are acquired tastes like whiskey, coffee or natto.

If all you want to know is how you might start having pleasurable sexual relations with people of the gender to which you are not accustomed, it seems that the question answers itself. Do it until you a) decide that you like it, or; b) decide that you don't like it. I mean this sincerely: what else could you do?

Reading queer theory will not put you at ease in a woman's arms--or a man's (if that is, in fact your goal--on which I am in no position to express an opinion). It may disturb your notions of gender and rightly problematize "orientation," but that's about it. I don't think that you will find conversion narratives of the type you appear to be seeking (that are not compromised by evangelism), or an instruction manual. This is why I think the literature on bisexuality might be helpful.
posted by kosem at 12:14 PM on May 16, 2006


That NYT article still doesn't address how the men identifying as bisexual came to that identification, and how society's assumptions influence that identification. The researcher even says later that, with women, identifying as bisexual doesn't seem to influence arousal:

"Although only a small number of women identify themselves as bisexual, Dr. Bailey said, bisexual arousal may for them in fact be the norm."

so why assume that how men identify themselves actually maps perfectly onto their desires?

I think when you fall in love, you're not just picturing having sex with the object of your affection. You're also picturing having a life that includes that person in a major way -- going out to dinner, holding hands in the movies, kissing on street corners, going out drinking with friends, reading the paper together over coffee. If you're not living a life where same-sex couples do all those things freely, then you may shy away from wanting to have a relationship with a same-sex partner, even if you may be sexually attracted to them. So you're not going to identify as "bisexual" or "gay," and you may not explore that aspect of yourself.

If you're looking to change/expand/restrict your desires, I think you probably can by moving to an area where your preferred lifestyle is the dominant (or well-accepted) choice. I think the more you see a behavior as "normal," the more acceptable it becomes for you yourself to try it.

I'm not positive that societally endorsed experimentation would lead to a total shift in identification, but I bet it would expand it.

And which is why I think any study that's working from people's self-identifications is going to be at least slightly flawed, because people don't identify their sexuality completely free of societal ideas of what makes "a couple" or "a relationship."
posted by occhiblu at 12:30 PM on May 16, 2006 [1 favorite]


All I have is personal experience.

I guess I am bisexual. As I was growing up and boys and girls were starting to notice each other, I noticed that I wasn't following suit. The girls would say "oh, he's so cute!" and I would react with "Really, why?" All the time I was trying anything I could to catch Mary-Claire's eye. I started listening and paying attention and mimicking what was said "Oh, his eyes are so pretty. I love his jaw. Look at those shoulders".

I've dated men and women. I've enjoyed sleeping with both. I would say that in my behavior (as in the partners I've had for the longest/the most of) I am 70% straight. However, I would say my orientation is more like 70% gay.
I've always felt most of all that it's about the person. And I had this habit of falling for unavailable (usually bicurious) girls. So if you want to change your orientation, I guess find someone you fancy on an intellectual level and see if you can get excited over their naughty bits...if you can and they like your bits, kiss them. Or you can watch or read things that are sexy (like porn) that are predominantly about your non prefered gender and try to get off to it. This and some drugs is how the Mormons cure homosexuality.

Won't it be lovely when people can just sleep with who they want and it doesn't have to be catagorized?

And to the "gay, straight, or lying" thing...well maybe it's because I hung out with the Rocky Horror crowd in high school and the indie/emo crowd now...but I think that's just about the biggest load of bullshit I've ever heard.
posted by nadawi at 12:44 PM on May 16, 2006


any study that's working from people's self-identifications is going to be at least slightly flawed

And yet the study did find that, independent of self-identification, nobody was equally aroused by male-male and female-female porn. The implication is that self-identification as a bisexual or even a history of bisexual behavior does not point to a bisexual orientation, or, to put it a different way, "non-liar" bisexual guys are either straight guys who have sex with men incidentally, or else gay guys who have sex with women incidentally.

Please understand that in no way do I consider this a moral position, or do I intend to dictate whom you can sleep with. But we're talking about "the continuum of human sexuality" here, which seems, in the case of men anyway, not to be so continuous as Kinsey postulated.
posted by La Cieca at 1:18 PM on May 16, 2006


I think KittyPrecious is right - people are complex. Do some gay people live a "straight lifestyle" - yes! Do some straight people live a "gay lifestyle" - of course. BTW, I don't like the word lifestyle anymore than anyone else, I just use it here because I couldn't think of a more appropriate word - Gay people live in all kinds of different ways, as do straight people.

As for Dr. Spitzer and his ex-gay study, you might want to see what he really thought of his ex-gay study by visiting this site:
http://www.sciencentral.com/articles/view.php3?article_id=218392773&cat=1_1

I do disagree that your first sexual contact somehow determines your orientation - It may influence it, but I can't imagine it does so very strongly. I know several gay men who had their first sexual experience with a woman and one straight guy whose first enounter was with another guy - Sexuality is often a very complex issue.

One thing I would like to say regarding so-called ex-gay people though: Just because someone is married, has kids, etc - this does not mean they aren't gay - as the study above regarding bisexuals seems to support.
posted by jayhuck2 at 1:48 PM on May 16, 2006


And yet the study did find that, independent of self-identification, nobody was equally aroused by male-male and female-female porn.

I think the importance of the study has been seriously overblown. Not only was it a small sample, but the researchers may have used really bad porn. Seriously. To a guy who is, say, 70% gay and 30% straight, run-of-the-mill female-female porn, which is quite obviously addressed to what the producers consider the stereotypical straight male gaze, probably won't do the trick.

As for the original question, whether orientation can be changed (and how) I think it can change somewhat over time, and in some people more than in others, but that the mechanisms are quite mysterious and can't be forced. I identify as a gay man, but I seem to drift between a Kinsey 6 and a Kinsey 4, hovering somewhere around 5. I've never drifted all the way over to or across the 3, nor do I expect that this would be possible (for me). I have no idea what accounts for these subtle shifts; they seem to have their own rhythms (though the shifting from 6 to around 4 seems to happen more easily/frequently as I get older).
posted by treepour at 2:18 PM on May 16, 2006


I think there is a scale to sexual orientation. Sexual attraction/behavior can change over time.

I also think the best way to change your sexual orientation is to fall in love with someone who's not of your (formerly) preferred gender. If you love someone, their gender doesn't matter much, in my opinion.

Because at the end of the day, it's really about coming home to someone who you love, and who loves you back, isn't it? And who cares if they're a boy or a girl at that point?
posted by disclaimer at 2:40 PM on May 16, 2006


Disclaimer -

I couldn't agree with your sentiment more. I think the real problem lies in how several conservative Evangelicals have politicized this issue: They have used their political and financial might to push an ex-gay movement that they claim is about love, but is really about undermining the gay community and its search for equal treatment under the law! Do some people choose to marry women, even if their primary attraction is to men - I believe they do. My main point is that domestic partnerships, marriage and the benefits that go with these terms, should be provided to all - Gay, straight or Bi - and the religious right needs to stop using sexual orientation as a political tool - On this, Laura Bush and I agree :)
posted by jayhuck2 at 3:19 PM on May 16, 2006


I think the importance of the study has been seriously overblown.

Thank you! Couldn't agree more. Reacting to porn is of dubious value as a means to measure sexual response. When that study came out, I remember thinking that if they used the typical girl-on-girl porn the study was particularly dumb, as those movies are targeted to arouse straight men, not lesbians.
posted by desuetude at 4:27 PM on May 16, 2006


I realise that I'm a fairly extreme example here, but when I was male I was exclusively attracted to women. I wasn't disgusted by the idea of being with men, but it wasn't something that turned me on in the slightest.

Now I'm a woman myself I find myself attracted to men, women, and people inbetween. Especially inbetween, actually.
posted by ArmyOfKittens at 5:01 PM on May 16, 2006


For what it's worth, I used to be exclusively attracted to men, but these days I don't think there's sufficient innate, non-genital difference between the genders for a preference to mean anything. I find certain traits in people of any gender sexy, and certain traits distinctly unsexy, and don't even think about biological sex as a defining characteristic. So I suppose, to some extent, that's an example of an intellectual realisation affecting sexual orientation.
posted by terpsichoria at 5:09 PM on May 16, 2006


What disclaimer said is precisely what happened to me. After spending a good 20 years as exclusively lesbian I fell for a man. Even though I haven't acted upon it physically with other men besides the one I fell in love with, it did have the effect of making this Kinsey 6 into a 4 in the sense that men are no longer 100% ruled-out in my desires or fantasies.

That said, it's got to be a fairly 'special' man, but having found one, I'm sure there are others that might fit the description for me if I developed caring feelings for them as well.
posted by seancake at 5:45 PM on May 16, 2006


scottreynen: sexual orientation is theoretically very malleable, but whether or not it is malleable for any particular individual depends on that individual's history, experience, and psychology. There are documented tribal cultures in which homosexuality was the norm, so unless you're prepared to assert that sexual orientation is a racial trait, I don't know how you could answer a firm no to this question ...

Without wanting to sound too much like an '80s grad. seminar, I think you've got to be careful when dealing with anthropological case studies. There are problems involved in equating ritualized, apparently 'homosexual' behaviour in traditional societies with sexual orientation in Western cultures.

What's noticeable, both in tribes that practise(d) ritual homosexuality, and the case of Ancient Greece, is that there were, almost invariably, significant differences in age, power, and social status between the parties. Was this homosexuality as we currently understand it, or something more like the ritualized spectacalization of existing social hierarchies, based upon age, rank, and position within one's life-cycle?
posted by Sonny Jim at 8:15 PM on May 16, 2006


This is a great question, and I've often wondered about it. In my case, I've wondered if it's possible that I could ever be attracted to another guy. I would like that to happen. Not because I want to have sex with a guy -- I'm happily married -- but because I'd like to know what it feels like to look at a man and desire him.

To the best of my recollection, I've always been completely straight. I've never had a single fantasy about a man. It's funny, when I was really young, I wouldn't have had trouble saying that. Now that we live in more enlightened times, it embarrasses me. I feel sort of shallow. Well, shallow or not it's the truth. When I look at men, I feel nothing. When people say, "he's hot" or "he's not", I can't connect.

So as someone at one end of the spectrum, I've wondered if it was possible to change. I've learned to like food that I didn't like before? Why not men?

It's much easier for me to relate to women than to men. I've rarely had close male friends. I wonder if that's because -- though few males admit it -- there's a bit of flirtation in most male/male friendships that goes over my head. All of the close male friends I HAVE had have been gay. Maybe this is because I can relate to them somewhat they way I relate to women.
posted by grumblebee at 2:55 PM on May 17, 2006


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