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ss triple helix - summer 2014,  U-turn on aetiology of sexual orientation

U-turn on aetiology of sexual orientation

RCPsych concedes orientation is multifactorial

The Royal College of Psychiatrists (RCPsych), in an extraordinary about-face, has conceded that sexual orientation is not wholly biologically determined. In a new position statement (1) issued in April 2014, they now consider that the causes are 'a combination of biological and postnatal environmental factors'.

The College has also modified its view on whether sexual orientation can change: 'It is not the case that sexual orientation is immutable or might not vary to some extent in a person's life.' They also concede that bisexuals have 'a degree of choice' as to which lifestyle they pursue.

This important statement follows trenchant criticisms of the College made by Core Issues Trust (2) and in this journal (3) which were reflected in the Pilling Report to the Church of England. (4) The dictum, and popular belief, that sexual orientation is fixed and unchangeable is also under attack from leading activists within the gay community itself.

Former Tory MP Matthew Parris (5) and 'Outrage' leader Peter Tatchell (6) argue that sexual orientation is both changeable, and in some people at least, in part a matter of personal choice. In a more recent example lesbian activist Julie Bindel, contends in her new book Straight Expectations that sexual orientation is not innate. (7)

They are not alone. The American Psychiatric Association (APA) has stated, 'some people believe that sexual orientation is innate and fixed; however, sexual orientation develops across a person's lifetime'. A report from the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health similarly states, 'For some people, sexual orientation is continuous and fixed throughout their lives. For others, sexual orientation may be fluid and change over time'. (8)

However, in spite of its recent concessions, the RCPsych persists in its support for the UK Council of Psychotherapy's (UKCP) 'Conversion Therapy Consensus Statement' (9) along with current legislative efforts before Parliament to ban therapy for people who want professional help in reducing same-sex desires.

They imply that such therapy does not work, but if such change is possible, the College has yet to explain why this might not take place in therapeutic contexts. The tides are shifting. The evidence for the effectiveness of so called 'change therapies' (Sexual Orientation Change Efforts (SOCEs)) has been recently reviewed in the CMF publication Unwanted Same-Sex Attraction: Issues of pastoral and counselling support. (10)

  1. Royal College of Psychiatrists' statement on sexual orientation. Position Statement PS02/2014. April 2014.
  2. O'Callaghan D, May P. Beyond Critique. Core Issues Trust, 2013.
  3. May P. When Ideology Replaces Science, Triple Helix 2014; Spring:14-16
  4. Pilling J. Report to the House of Bishops. Working Group on Human Sexuality, November 2013, para 203, 207-218
  5. Saunders P. Christian Medical Comment 2012; 30 April.
  6. Saunders P. Christian Medical Comment 2012; 26 January.
  7. The Independent 2014; 3 July.
  9. Conversion Therapy Consensus statement. UKCP, February 2014.
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