Understanding the Roots of Female Homosexuality
Compiled by Jodi Carlson
How do you define female homosexuality?
Homosexuality is one of the most hotly debated topics in society today. Today’s culture is sending confusing messages about this issue. Television, movies and other forms of media try to convince us it is normal. Because of the dominant pro-gay (or vocal anti-gay) worldviews competing within our culture, voices of reason are silenced or maligned-and wherever questions abound, complexity rules.
Beginning in the late 1960s, the scientific and psychological communities began to do away with a traditional understanding of the developmental causes and treatments of homosexuality. Needless to say, this was politically motivated as gay activists made inroads into these fields. This article on the causes of female homosexuality will strip away the myths and mixed messages, and foster a new understanding and compassion for those struggling with same-sex attraction. The contributors to this article are considered experts in lesbian research and recovery and will present another perspective-albeit a politically unpopular one. Their knowledge is extensive; collectively, they have counseled thousands of women seeking freedom from unwanted homosexuality. In addition to this article, Focus on the Family has a booklet available entitled: “The Heart of the Matter: The Roots and Causes of Female Homosexuality.” You can order this resource online at www.family.org or call us at 1.800.A.Family.
What homosexuality is…
Agendas, biases and prejudices aside, just what is the definition of a homosexual? Dr. Lawrence Hatterer, a nationally recognized psychiatrist who specializes in treating male homosexuality, offers a thorough explanation. Pertaining more to men than women, his definition nonetheless provides a basic foundation for understanding. He defines homosexuality as, “One who is motivated in adult life by a definite preferential erotic attraction to members of the same sex and who usually, but not necessarily, engages in overt sexual relations with them.”1 Female homosexuality, while similar in some ways to male homosexuality, is still more complex. According to Starla Allen, an author and mental health professional, lesbianism “includes all women whose sexual and emotional attractions are fulfilled by women” (emphasis added).2 These emotional and relational longings are the obvious differences between female and male homosexuals.3
Homosexuality is not caused by…
Because of the prevailing-and increasingly accepted-beliefs and assumptions about homosexuality, we must first look at what it is not caused by. Over the years, researchers have tried to prove homosexuality is genetic. Biology matters because the notion that it is genetic gives an excuse to gays and lesbians who say, “We can’t help our sexual orientation…we’re born this way!” By claiming the homosexual drive is hereditary, or worse-God-given-is to allow them to gain public sympathy for a stealth activist agenda. On the surface, the “science” appears convincing-and the media’s spin makes the evidence look solid and the researchers credible. However, a closer look reveals the truth.
In this section we will expose the weaknesses found in a few scientific studies that have sought to explain the cause(s) of homosexuality, and help you clarify any lingering doubts about their validity. If you have further questions please refer to the sources noted in the endnotes.
“People tend to view homosexuality more favorably when they think it is inborn. No wonder gay leaders (not all, but most) push the born gay theory; it furthers the cause.”4 -Joe Dallas, past president of Exodus North America, author and former leader in the Metropolitan Community Church.
Claims of genetic causation have been dispelled
The following four studies (one on males and three on females) were done with the intent of proving genetic roots of homosexuality. The subsequent information reveals why they are unreliable.
Flawed study #1: The twins study
Psychologist Michael Bailey of Northwestern University and psychiatrist Richard Pillard of the Boston University School of Medicine tried to show that homosexuality occurred much more frequently among male identical twins than in fraternal twins.5 They did not prove this. For this study to be valid, the identical twins would have needed to be homosexual in every case, but they were not; only about half of the identical twins examined were both homosexuals. This 1991 study also had a major flaw: All of the twins grew up together which means the researchers failed to consider the role environmental factors could play in homosexual development. Had these researchers compared their findings with a control group of twins raised apart they may have elicited vastly different results. They would certainly have discovered that homosexual identity was shaped by other factors, such as family dynamics and relationships with parents and peers.
Flawed study #2: The Bailey Sister study
In a 1993 study of 85 lesbians and 79 heterosexual women, Dr. Bailey again set out to prove a biological cause of homosexuality by studying the correlation between lesbians and their sisters. In essence, he tried to demonstrate that female homosexuals were twice as likely to have siblings who struggled with same-sex attraction-thus, verifying the existence of a “gay gene.” Dr. Bailey reported that anywhere between 12 and 35 percent of the 79 heterosexual women had sisters who were lesbians, while only 2.4 to 13.8 percent of the 84 homosexual women had sisters who were heterosexual.6 However, there is a large discrepancy between each of the percentages, which from a scientific perspective casts significant doubt on the accuracy and conclusiveness of this study. In other words, it is hard to determine exactly what percentage of the women had lesbian sisters. Additionally, environmental factors were not even investigated, and therefore cannot be ruled out. We know that environmental factors do contribute to the lesbian condition.
Another flaw in Bailey’s research is found in his own words. He says, “What we found was that lesbians were twice as likely to have a gay sister as a gay brother, which is particularly interesting given that the rate of female homosexuality in the general population is probably half that of males (2.3 percent).7 If anything, we would have expected them to have more gay brothers. That suggests to me that there may be separate facts that cause male and female homosexuality.”8
Since the number of homosexual men is significantly higher (about double) than the number of lesbians, would you not expect that if there were a gay gene in the family there would be twice as many homosexual brothers as sisters? Instead, the figures are reversed, which would point toward environmental factors such as relational issues, for example with one’s parents or one’s peers. Causes of male and female homosexuality are similar; however, there are slight differences, and, therefore, probably led to the substantial difference in the percentages between homosexual sisters and brothers.
Flawed study #3: The inner ear study
In a 1997 study by two professors at the University of Texas at Austin, differences were discovered between the cochleae of lesbians and those of heterosexual women.9 The cochlea is the bony portion of the inner ear responsible for hearing. In women, it is typically more sensitive than in men, but in this study, the sensitivity of the cochlea in lesbians was “in between” that of men and heterosexual women. This led the scientists to conclude that biological factors cause female homosexuality.
This research is shady in that its conclusions were based solely upon the difference in sensitivity in the cochlea of women-not men. In addition, the analysis is weak because the study has never been replicated. To merit serious consideration by the medical community, findings should be duplicated several times, and produce the same results. Even so, for unknown reasons, further studies have never been undertaken, perhaps because it is suspected they will not confirm initial findings. Additionally, there is no variation found in the cochlea of heterosexual males compared with homosexual males.
Would it not be safe to expect that for the same reason the cochlea is weaker in lesbians, it is either stronger or weaker in homosexual men? Therefore, we can safely rule out the role the inner ear plays in sexual orientation.
Flawed study #4: The finger-length study
More recently, an article in Science, Williams et al, 10 reported on a study which seems to show a biological basis for lesbianism. These researchers measured finger lengths in heterosexuals, homosexuals and lesbians, and found that certain finger-length ratios in lesbians are significantly less than in female heterosexuals. This suggested a biological basis to lesbianism, with the further implication that sexual-reorientation therapy for lesbians would be difficult or impossible. Although the correlation was only slight, and although the researchers could not explain why some heterosexual women also had the same finger pattern, the study was quickly hailed as further evidence that homosexually-oriented people are "born that way." Neil Whitehead, Ph.D., author of the recent book, My Genes Made Me Do It! responded to the evidence and points out that this claim is significantly misleading.
Dr. Whitehead explains that Williams and the other researchers reported that the mean finger-length ratio for lesbians was significantly less than that for heterosexual women, and did this by comparing the two ratios by a statistical test. They used a large number of interviewees. Dr. Whitehead points out that in such circumstances, although the mean finger lengths may be statistically different, they are often so close that it is not practically useful to say they are different. That is what has happened in this case, he says. “The original normal distributions can be reconstructed from the researchers' data, and the results show that there is obviously a very large overlap in the two populations, and although the two means may be statistically different, the difference is only 1 percent-- which is a small effect, and not diagnostically useful in any sense.” 11
He further points out that the study shows that there are large numbers of heterosexual women who have much more "masculine" finger-length ratios than most lesbians, but this is not considered by the researchers to be related to their sexual orientation. This study is similar to many other misleading reported links between homosexuality and some biologically based phenomena. Although statistical connections may be shown, only a small percentage of subjects with that biological feature actually end up homosexual.
The above studies are four examples of popular research attempting to link homosexuality to genetics. As we have discovered, they are all unreliable. We will further explore other widely accepted theories and conclusions, which have been insinuated rather than proven. These falsehoods, however, receive the most publicity.
No solid scientific evidence exists proving people are born homosexual Beginning in the late 1990s, several scientists who typically search for genetic proof of homosexuality provided evidence to the contrary. They stated that homosexuality is treatable. Here is a little background: In 1973, Dr. Robert Spitzer-an influential psychiatrist-successfully spearheaded an effort to remove homosexuality from the American Psychiatric Association’s (APA) list of mental disorders. He asserted that homosexuality could not be changed and, therefore, should not be treated by therapy. To the amazement of many, 28 years later, on May 9, 2001, Dr. Spitzer altered his stance and presented his findings (to the chagrin of many gay activists and pro-gay proponents in the APA) at the annual meeting of the APA in New Orleans. He now acknowledges that some homosexuals can make a substantial shift toward heterosexuality.12
While many gay-rights activists have questioned the validity and credibility of Dr. Spitzer and his survey, one cannot write off his research. Social commentator and lesbian Camille Paglia says of the psychiatrist’s findings, “[The fact] that Spitzer helped to persuade the American Psychiatric Association to drop the classification of homosexuality as a mental disorder in 1973 makes his current study harder to dismiss.”13
Dr. Joseph Nicolosi, a psychologist and president of the National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality and one who has been a guest a number of times on Dr. Dobson’s radio broadcast, states the following: “We are all heterosexual. Some heterosexuals, however, have a homosexual problem, but it does not mean there are two different kinds of people.”14 Proof of his statement can be seen in many changed lives-individuals living exclusively as heterosexuals who once engaged in homosexual behaviors. Some have been transformed through therapy and Christian discipleship. Treatment for homosexuality should never be ruled out for willing men and women.
“Anyone who says there is no hope (for change) is either ignorant or a liar. Every secular study of change has shown some success rate, and persons who testify to substantial healings by God are legion.”15 -Stanton Jones, Provost of Psychology at Wheaton College
The root causes of lesbianism
Primarily, lesbianism results from relationship issues--such as with one’s mother and father, sexual abuse, and an identity struggle. Other contributing factors include: negative spiritual influences; a breakdown in peer relationships; media influences; public school and university curricula; peer labeling, harassment or alienation; and fear of, or an inability to relate to, the opposite sex.
Each of these is explored in this article. However, before a woman develops same-sex attractions or even entertains a homosexual thought, she likely has been exposed to one or more of the following preconditioning factors.
Definition of Preconditioning Factor:
Trauma that happens to a woman making her susceptible to same-sex desires later in her life.
Female homosexuality actually has very little to do with sex. Rather, female homosexuality is driven by non-sexual, emotional and relational deficits that are usually-but not exclusively-based on one or more of the following preconditioning factors. While we will examine the root causes of lesbianism, please keep in mind that homosexuality is complex and a combination of factors work together to create this condition. It is too simplistic to attribute undue significance to any single aspect. Each preconditioning factor listed here, as well as others not discussed, can destroy a girl’s healthy perception of what it means to be female.
Physical trauma, including but not limited to:
Emotional trauma, including but not limited to:
oUnmet needs for love, acceptance, gender identification and validation
oAbsence of nurturing
oLack of protection
Skewed or unhealthy parental roles:16
Mom-Fails to fulfill her role as nurturer Dad-Fails to protect by being passive and/or unavailable
An unhealthy family environment:
Any dysfunction causing the child to perceive the world as unsafe and threatening
oInsecure, alone, empty
oKeenly aware of surroundings
Relationship issue: The first component of lesbianism
All human beings were created to be in relationship with one another. God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone” (Gen. 2:18). Relationships are vital, but on earth none are perfect, nor will they ever be. Inappropriate homosexual attractions are developed and pursued largely because of the breakdown in a girl’s initial relationship with her family-mother and father directly influence her ability to develop the capacity to connect with others in a healthy manner.17 If you are the parent of a young girl who may be displaying prototypical lesbian characteristics, please understand that each girl is unique and sees herself and the world around her differently. No matter how sophisticated your parenting skills are, a child’s perception ultimately becomes her reality.
Sexual abuse: The second component of lesbianism
Anne Paulk, author, previous Exodus International board member, and former lesbian, conducted a study in 2001 directed at women overcoming homosexuality. Of the 265 women who responded, the results reveal the tremendous weight many preconditioning factors hold:
69.1 percent experienced emotional abuse
55.7 percent received emotional trauma including sexual innuendoes and specific sexual remarks that made her feel violated
66.4 percent were victims of sexual abuse
53.2 percent were verbally abused
39.6 percent felt abandoned
32.5 percent were victims of physical abuse
20.0 percent felt utterly neglected
Of those who were sexually abused, almost 80 percent were molested by males. Forty-two percent of those cases were incestuous. Twenty percent were molested by females.18
The lesbian struggle is not a sexual orientation problem; it is an identity crisis.
An identity struggle: The second component of lesbianism
The lesbian struggle is not a sexual orientation problem; it is an identity crisis. Research shows that relationship, a deep connection with others and self-identity are all inseparable for women. Consequently, when the process of learning who they are is derailed by broken or unhealthy relationships, an identity crisis develops. Typically, rejection, abandonment and separation from Mom, and unavailable, negative or abusive treatment by Dad, combined with other factors, communicate that being a woman is unacceptable, unsafe and ugly. These women often despise being female.19 Lesbians are searching for a basic sense of self, as well as for an identity, and their concept of femininity has been distorted.
The developmental stages: How females develop homosexual attractions: Infancy
The primary influence in a baby girl’s life is her relationship with her mother. Ideally, the infant first bonds with and perceives her as nurturer, comforter and provider of life’s basic elements: food, warmth, protection, safety and love. An infant’s strong physical bond with her mother reinforces a sense of safety and security. Attachment to mother is essential: It is the foundation of her feminine identity.20
A baby can be denied these essentials for numerous reasons. For example, hospitalization may interrupt the initial bonding process without intention. In addition, when a female perceives or experiences rejection, abandonment or separation from her primary female caregiver, particularly as an infant, it may color all of her future relationships. The earlier the separation and neglect is perceived, the more profound the feelings of isolation and desolation21-and the more vulnerable she becomes to sexual identity confusion. Failing to obtain this attachment to mother is not the cause of homosexuality by any means; it simply opens the door for a child’s susceptibility to same-sex attraction in a number of subsequent developmental stages, including the formation of gender identity.
Definition: Gender identity:
A: Those characteristics that are linked to an individual’s intrinsic sense of self, which is based on attributes reflected in the person’s psychological, behavioral and/or cognitive state. Gender identity may also refer to one’s inherent impression of manhood or womanhood . . .22
B: That part of identity concerned with masculinity or femininity.23
Toddlers have a number of specific needs, which are too often overlooked or unidentified. Baby girls in particular need encouragement, boundaries and continual involvement with their mothers. At this point, mother is the primary person a little girl identifies with-girlhood and womanhood are taught through this relationship. If mother is radiating a sense of well-being, peace and contentment as a woman, it is likely the toddler will embrace a true sense of femininity and contentment with being a little girl.24
If mother is perceived as distant, bitter, critical, overbearing and unloving, the daughter may begin to detach and withdraw from her-because being close to her can often mean pain, rejection and emptiness. When the little girl pulls back, she engages in what is known as defensive detachment.25 This is harmful, as it may lay the foundation for the way she reacts to relationships in the future. It also can cut her off and keep her from connecting and forming healthy relationships.
Definition: Defensive attachment:
A: According to former lesbian and now Christian therapist Patricia Graham, defensive detachment occurs when a “legitimate need for same-sex love is repressed. An intimacy and identification with the same-sex parent is obscured in some way, resulting in detachment by the child. Subsequently, there is a distrust or disdain of the same-sex parent by the child and an unwillingness to relate any longer to that parent. Even if love is offered it can not be received by the child.”26
B: A conscious or unconscious decision to protect ourselves by withdrawing our trust and affection.27
A father's role is always critical, but it becomes especially important when his daughter approaches the age of 18 months old. As he continues providing for the mother’s needs, he also must come alongside his daughter and affirm her. This affirmation reinforces a young girl’s gender and identity.28 When her life starts in a friendly environment of warmth, openness and restful attachments, similar relationships will expand over time-in number and depth.29
However, the story changes when the mother’s and father’s roles are not properly fulfilled. “If the theme of separation (or brokenness, distrust or lack of fulfillment) enters into her primal relationship with her parents, the devastation will reverberate into the depths of her soul and identity,” explains Janelle Hallman.30 The basis of relationships throughout her life becomes one of separation. For a boy, it is appropriate to separate from his mother, strongly mirror and identify with his father. In a girl’s developmental process, such separation and detachment at this point makes itself a loud and devastating theme throughout life.31 She can lose the opportunity to practice and develop her relational capacities, which are foundational to becoming a secure woman. According to Anne Paulk’s 2001 survey on lesbianism, 53.9 percent of respondents reported being “tomboys” as little girls, admiring and modeling themselves after males (note: most “tomboys” grow out of this phase and do not become lesbians). These girls identified more with boys and boyish activities than with girls during their elementary school years.32
Growing girls need to respect their female identity. This affirmation can be conveyed through several people, especially peers. As they enter childhood, friends become very important in establishing a foundation upon which identity and nourishing relationships are formed.33 Friendship love-when a girl finds another girl with common interests-is critical to development. Such same-sex friendships affirm feminine identity.34
Healthy friendships can fail to develop for many reasons. Perhaps a little girl is born into a military family and is forced to move frequently. Maybe she lives in a neighborhood where no other children are around. Maybe she has been sexually abused, or the emotional wounds from the lack of connection with her mother have tainted her ability to relate to others. Whatever the case, the implications can be extreme. She may learn to expect rejection and believe she is the cause of broken relationships. Furthermore, her perception may tell her that it is not safe to be female. Even if she has female friends, their actions and words-particularly if they point out masculine characteristics-can scar her deeply, shaping her sense of gender identity. Innocent friends can plant seeds of confusion and chaos that last a lifetime.35
Puberty and adolescence
As a girl transitions into adolescence, she gains more and more independence and her mother’s and father’s attention begin to be replaced by peer relationships. Friends may become a leading influence at this point, and it is important she identify with girls her own age. As she feels a sense of belonging and is accepted and encouraged in her femininity, her identity will flourish. Though many teens typically feel they do not belong in “the group,” participating in activities and seeking common ground with peers remains crucial.
During this stage, the mysterious “other” also becomes apparent. Boys provide girls with a different opportunity to learn about femininity. The simple contrast between boys and girls helps to cement a girl’s identity. It is the first time in the developmental process that girls begin to define themselves by what they are not, and that is a good thing. These same- and opposite-sex peer relationships are invaluable during this stage.36 It is dangerous at this point if a young girl has not had her needs met in previous stages of development. Disconnectedness already may be a theme in her relationships though the true cry of her soul is to bond with others. She may feel empty. She may not know who she is-or she may even hate herself as a girl. Further, she does not know how to relate to her male or female peers. While she does the best she can, the emotional dependency that may plague her in adulthood has been planted. As a girl approaches adulthood, the culmination of the previous developmental stages may blossom into a full-fledged lesbian identity. At this point in her life, female relationships take on highly dependent characteristics.
“Emotional dependency is when a woman deposits her identity and well-being in another woman,” explains Janelle Hallman.37 The adult (and often teen) lesbian believes she is validated, accepted and secure only if she shares a connection with another. Nevertheless, this sort of connection is not healthy. If the relationship is threatened in any manner, she is thrown into crisis. This is because her true self-identity has not been formed; her behavior is a façade.
What is more, by pretending to be someone she is not (the façade), she becomes further and further distanced from her genuine self. Naturally, when the same-sex relationship deteriorates or fails, she despairs because she no longer has anyone validating her as a person. The vicious cycle of searching for her identity through homosexual relationships continues.
Again, the lesbian struggle is not centered so much on a sexual drive as it is on the emotional need for attachment and security. Nonetheless, even as an adult, the underlying theme in a lesbian’s life parallels that of a baby. An infant radiates insecurity just as a lesbian harbors insecurity deep within herself.
For example, what happens when a woman becomes separated in her primary relationship-the one she shares with her partner? The emotional blow may be so devastating that she is filled with hopelessness and may even contemplate suicide. It is similar with a baby. If the mother-infant relationship is severed, the baby actually could die.38 Another similarity to infants found in adult female homosexuals is that of wanting to nestle in another woman’s arms. Though adults performing such acts often become sexually aroused, the basis for doing them in the first place begins in infancy: Babies need to be comforted, to feel loved and to be accepted.39
“Many of us who work in this field describe the core of a lesbian relationship as an emotional dependency.”40 -Janelle Hallman
The way out: Freedom from homosexuality
Understanding the dynamics of homosexuality can provide help and hope for those struggling with same-sex attractions. Many female homosexuals become angry or defensively skeptical when told they can change. They are quite independent and have learned to survive on their own, even if only through a façade. Despite the doubts, change is possible through the power of God.
Let us take another look at a recent study we mentioned at the beginning of this article. Robert L. Spitzer is Professor of Psychiatry and Chief of Biometrics at Columbia University. His provocative new study drew worldwide media attention at the American Psychiatric Association’s annual conference on May 9, 2001.
“Like most psychiatrists,” says Dr. Spitzer, “I thought that homosexual behavior could be resisted-but that no one could really change their sexual orientation. I now believe that is untrue-some people can and do change.” He interviewed 200 subjects (143 men and 57 women) who were willing to describe their sexual and emotional histories, including their self-reported shift from gay to straight. Most had sought change because a gay lifestyle had been emotionally unsatisfying. Many had been dissatisfied with the promiscuous, stormy relationships they had engaged in. A homosexual lifestyle also put them in conflict with their religious values.
“Contrary to conventional wisdom,” Spitzer concluded, “some highly motivated individuals, using a variety of change efforts, can make substantial change in multiple indicators of sexual orientation, and achieve good heterosexual functioning.” Spitzer added that change from homosexual to heterosexual is not a matter of “either/or,” but occurs on a continuum-with a gradual diminishing of homosexuality and expansion of heterosexual potential.41
As early as 1962, after treating more than 100 homosexuals, Dr. Irving Bieber concluded “a heterosexual shift is a possibility for all homosexuals who are strongly motivated to change.”42
Hope is available
If you struggle with lesbianism and feel trapped, there is hope. The journey is long and the landscape may be pitted with obstacles. Despite the potential difficulty, freedom abounds for those willing to take a risk and act upon the information in this article.
As this article has made clear, no one cause of lesbianism can be pinpointed. The same is true about overcoming homosexuality-there is no one tried-and-true way that will work for everyone. God made us all individuals. Each story is different, as is each recovery. However, numerous organizations and people stand ready to help you on the journey toward wholeness. You are the reason they exist. Do not hesitate to contact them.