Dr. Lisa Diamond is a Professor of Psychology and Gender Studies at University of Utah. She is an expert on human sexuality. In 2008, she published a groundbreaking study, Sexual Fluidity: Understanding Women’s Love and Desire. Diamond received her Ph.D., in 1999 from Cornell University.
Anti-gay activists like to claim that homosexuality is unnatural. What is your scientific view?
Every single society that has ever been studied scientifically by anthropologists and scientists do find evidence of same-sex sexuality. Every single animal species that has ever been studied finds evidence of same-sex sexuality.
What is your opinion about reparative therapy and “ex-gay” programs?
There have been a number of studies that looked very rigorously and very scientifically at reorientation therapies, reparative therapies, and they have found a number of serious flaws. First of all they tend to misrepresent themselves to clients. The American Psychological Association has some pretty strict rules about ethics. And you cannot sort of market a therapy to a client under false pretenses. You have to be, in order to be a member in good standing of the American Psychological Association, you have to be accurate and honest with your clients about what they can experience as a result of the therapy. And the APA has found that the majority of these therapies are being misrepresented. The therapists are saying, we can change your orientation, when in fact all of the data — all of the data — suggests that that’s not the case.
Sometimes they are successful on helping people to change their behavior, just like any of us can alter our behavior at will. But they say that the same-sex attractions will disappear, they don’t. So, that’s problematic in that it’s unethical, because they are leading people to think that they may experience something that they will not experience.
And, the methods that they use to achieve this aim that they can’t achieve, tend to be very aversive. They use techniques sometimes involving the administration of drugs to induce nausea, aversion therapy, they tend to leave individuals feeling worse about themselves. Having the same feelings that they had before, but having a whole bunch of extra bad feelings along with them. And so they really violate this notion of ‘first do not harm.’ So, these therapies are marketed inaccurately, they don’t actually have the effect that the therapist claims that they will have, and they do additional damage by using these sort of aversive techniques that leave people feeling greater shame, greater guilt, feeling worse about themselves as a result. So, they do, do harm.
You have been a real trailblazer in speaking out against those who distort scientific work for political gain. What drives you to hold these charlatans accountable?
It may be nice to have this ideal where scientists can just produce their work and not worry about how it’s interpreted. We have a society that actually puts a lot of store in scientific findings. And scientific findings are often cited as the basis for public policy. So, I think that it’s incumbent upon any of us to produce science that we know is being used to support political arguments to be as clear as we can about what would constitute an appropriate use of that research. I know that there are a lot of scientists who would say, “you know what, I just produce the data, how it’s used is not my problem.” But, I think knowing that we have a culture that actually treats scientific findings very seriously in terms of support for public policy, that would be inappropriate. We have to be very vocal about what constitutes an unscientific use of the data and that’s why I think it’s important to speak out.
Your research shows that some women experience a shift in sexual orientation. Pseudo-scientific groups like NARTH say that this is evidence that “ex-gay” programs can alter sexual orientation. What is your reaction to this claim?
The women who I’ve studied who’ve experienced changes in the way that they characterize and experience their sexuality over time are quite clear about the fact that they don’t experience those changes as willful. And, if anything, sometimes they actively resist them. So, the notion that they are chosen simply because there is variability is simply not consistent with what I find. If NARTH had actually read the study more carefully they would find that that isn’t supported by my data at all.
When I started my study, I knew that it was potentially controversial and I knew that it was potentially open to distortion. I have bent over backwards to make it difficult for my work to be misused and to no avail. You know, when people are motivated to twist something for political purposes, you know, they are going to find a way to do it.
If NARTH co-founder Dr. Joseph Nicolosi was in this room right now, what would you say to him?
Dr. Nicolosi, you know exactly what you are doing. I have been more than explicit in my work about what constitutes a misuse of my findings. What conclusions can and cannot be drawn from my research. So, there is no chance that this is a misunderstanding or simply a different scientific interpretation of the data. That’s simply not possible. This is a willful misuse and distortion of my research. Not an academic disagreement. Not a slight shading of the truth. It is willful distortion. And it’s illegitimate. And it’s irresponsible and you know that and you should stop.
Would you prefer NARTH and other anti-gay organizations stop quoting your work?
My choice would be that they don’t use it at all. But if there is any upside to this at all, it is that it actually introduces some people to real science and these topics which can give them a lot better information than the non-science that is being perpetrated on a lot of these websites.
I’m pretty accustomed at this point to the fact that these types of distortions will occur. My hope is that by doing something like this we can hopefully have a more scientifically literate society and consumer culture that will get better at recognizing distortions when they occur. And will not simply take the citation of a scientific paper as evidence that that paper has been appropriately used.
My hope is that readers and thinkers in general will take a look at the work that’s been presented on NARTH and say, maybe I’d better take a look at that work myself before I take at face value what they are telling me that it says.