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Homosexuality and psychology have a closely intertwined history. Since its inception, psychology has dealt with the issue of homosexuality and sexual orientation. This article seeks to give a broad description of this history and covers some of the current issues.


The history of psychology and homosexuality begins with the advent of psychology itself. The diagnosis of homosexuality as a psychological disorder or perversion, and thus as a predisposition, ironically contributed to its final classification as a separate sexual orientation. From then on, until its declassification as a psychological disorder in the 1970s, the psychology of homosexuality was frequently used to criminalize homosexuality itself. The emphasis shifted: instead of punishing the homosexual act, homosexuals were to be forcibly 'cured' under the law.

The first attempts to classify homosexuality as a disease were made by the fledgling European sexologist movement in the late nineteenth century. In 1886 noted sexologist Richard von Krafft-Ebing listed homosexuality along with 200 other case studies of deviant sexual practices in his definitive work, 'Psychopathia Sexualis'. Kraftt-Ebing, however, proposed that homosexuality was caused by either congenital (during birth) inversion or acquired inversion. With each revision of his book, he wrote more and more about congenital inversion although maintaining the possibility of acquired inversion; thought to be caused by sexual excess, more specifically masturbation. Unfortunately, much of Kraftt-Ebing's ideas did not become popular in mainstream thought, particularly due to Frued's emerging theories that explained homosexuality as a psychological disorder.

In his work 'Sexual Inversion' Havelock Ellis first theorised on the origins of homosexuality, proposing that homosexuals, or 'inverts', were the product of a combination of upbringing and biological factors and that those not predisposed to homosexuality could become so if they had 'weak characters' and were so influenced. However, he also critiqued much of Freud's theories and argued that psychic mechanisms would only be found in a small number of inverts. Despite popular belief, Ellis was a pioneer in the modern sexual revolution and his work has been cited by many writers, including Paul Robinson, as the foundation of modern sexual theory. Ellis's work, Sexual Inversion represented homosexuality as a harmless deviation from the norm and referred to many of its positive values for society (including many famous homosexual artists, scientists and theorists).

Various other theories were exposed by sexologists along the lines that homosexuality was a physical disease, a 'third sex' or a psychological aberration. Most concluded that homosexuality was a curable condition. Various 'cures' were proposed including castration, hypnosis and aversion therapy.

Early to mid 1900s

In 1896 Sigmund Freud published his ideas on psychoanalysis. Dealing as it did with sexual urges, psychoanalysis was frequently used in the treatment of homosexuality, and much discussion of psychoanalysis was devoted to the issue of homosexuality as a paraphilia, or sexual disorder. For example, psychoanalysts theorised that castration anxiety was the basis for male homosexuality.

Because homosexuals were classified as mentally ill they were prevented from entering psychoanalytic training. This had the effect of preventing homosexuals from having a voice in the formation of psychoanalytical theory and this state of affairs persisted.

The rise of psychoanalysis popularised the idea of homosexuality as a disease. This increased the number of homosexuals placed in mental hospitals and prisons. Researchers attempted to use a variety of therapies to "cure" homosexuality, including "aversion therapy, nausea producing drugs, castration, electric shock, brain surgery, breast amputations, etc."[1].

Although psychoanalysis became one of the most vigorous proponents of the 'disease' position on homosexuality, Freud himself had a remarkable progressive attitude for his time. In his 'Letter to an American Mother', he writes:

Dear Ms. X.- Homosexuality is assuredly of no advantage, but it is nothing to be ashamed of, no vice, no degradation, it cannot be classed as an illness; we consider it to be a variation of the sexual function... Many highly respected individuals of ancient and modern times have been homosexuals, several of the greatest men among them (Plato, Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, etc. ). It is a great injustice to prosecute homosexuality as a crime, and cruelty too...

By asking me if I can help, you mean, I suppose, if I can abolish homosexuality and make normal heterosexuality take its place. The answer is, in a general way, we cannot promise to achieve it... What analysis can do for your son runs in a different line. If he is unhappy, neurotic, torn by conflicts, inhibited in his social life, analysis may bring him harmony, peace of mind, full efficiency, whether he remains a homosexual or gets changed...

The Post-War Years

The post-war era was seen as the start of the process to the eventual declassification of homosexuality as a psychological disorder. Evelyn Hooker carried out the first studies on non-patient groups of homosexuals and revealed many misconceptions regarding homosexuality on the part of the psychological community. Previous studies had been carried out purely on patient and prison groups of homosexuals. In particular, Hooker discovered there was no specific psychopathology linked to homosexuality and that there was as much psychological diversity in the homosexual psychology as in the heterosexual. These findings came as a surprise to many in the mental health professions at the time.

Similarly, the Kinsey report also revolutionised thinking on sexuality, and homosexuality in particular.


In 1973 the American Psychiatric Association removed homosexuality from the revised Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) after intense debate. They stated that homosexuality "does not necessarily constitute a psychiatric disorder." Effectively, this saw its official acceptance as a viable sexual orientation and saw the increase in gay liberation throughout the Western world.

Many other associations across the world followed suit soon after. The American Psychoanalytic Association made similar steps and began accepting openly homosexual men and women. However, it wasn't until 1992 that the World Health Organisation ceased to classify homosexuality as a mental disorder, followed by the UK Government in 1994, and the Chinese Psychiatric Association in 2001.


The declassification of homosexuality has largely ended the discussion of homosexuality as a mental disorder, at least among mental health professionals. This has allowed a much wider discussion of the origins of homosexuality, and in general what sexuality is.

Homosexuality as curable psychological disorder

For more details on this topic, see Reparative therapy.

As discussed above, the concept of "curing homosexuality" or "homosexuality as a disease" has been largely dismissed by mental health professionals. However, some religious (or "ex-gay") movements still expound an "alternative" psychology that regards homosexuality as a disorder and one that is curable through "conversion" or "reparative therapy". These include groups like NARTH, Exodus International and Parents and Friends of Ex-Gays (PFOX). This point of view has also spawned the satirical organization Parents & Friends of Ex-Straights.

Psychology of homophobia

For more details on this topic, see Homophobia.

Several psychological studies have been carried out on the psychology of heterosexism, hate of homosexuals, homophobia and anti-homosexual sentiment. For example, studies have found "lower degrees of anti-homosexual bias in people who know openly homosexual people on a personal basis". [2]

See also

External links


  • Understanding and helping individuals with homosexual problems, (LDS Social Services, undated)

mk:Хомосексуалност и психологија

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