A steady drumbeat of misinformation from mental health organizations, old media organizations and big tech has convinced many that attempts to change homosexual attractions and identity are “harmful” and “ineffective.”

Such assertions are based on a lack of evidence and on false beliefs that “being gay” is inborn, immutable and a person’s true identity. But they’ve led to legislation to block counseling for those with unwanted homosexuality in cities and states across the country.

But a new, two-year study affirms what numerous reports and research have already demonstrated: Sexual attractions and identity can be fluid, and some people are helped by therapy for unwanted homosexual thoughts, feelings and behaviors.

The research, from Carolyn Pela, Ph.D. and Philip Sutton, Ph.D., analyzed the same-sex attraction experiences, opposite-sex attraction experiences, sexual attraction identity and well-being of 75 men engaged in “sexual attraction fluidity exploration in therapy” (SAFE-T). The men were evaluated at 6-month intervals over a two-year period.

Pela, the principal investigator for the study, is a professor and Assistant Dean at Arizona Christian University, while Sutton is a licensed psychologist.

Their report, “Sexual Attraction Fluidity and Well-Being in Men: A Therapeutic Outcome Study,” showed men in the study had strong religious convictions, as is true of many who experience same-sex attractions and seek counseling, with 30% motivated by their faith. Traditional marriage was a motivation for 37% of the participants.

The study reported that while other ethnic groups and religions were represented by the sample, “The typical participant was 18–35 years old (52%), Roman Catholic (57%), religious (75% attended church once or more per week), and White (83%).”

They were treated with “Reintegrative Therapy, “described as a specific combination of evidence-based, mainstream treatment interventions for trauma and addiction.” The therapy “includes the use of EMDR and mindful self-compassion, emphasizing client autonomy and self-determination,” Pela and Sutton wrote. 

EMDR, or Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing, is a psychotherapeutic process where clients recall traumatic images or events, then process those with the therapist while moving their eyes rapidly from side-to-side or alternately tapping their right and left hands. EMDR is said by practitioners and research to often bring more rapid healing and resolution than traditional talk therapy by itself.

The research found that as a group, the men showed an improvement in well-being, “both a statistically significant and a clinically significant change in the well-being scores of the participants.”

Pela and Sutton also found that opposite-sex attractions “increased statistically significantly during SAFE-T” and that same-sex attractions “decreased statistically significantly during SAFE-T.” The participants also demonstrated “statistically significant fluidity of SAI [sexual attraction identity] toward heterosexual identity.”

The researchers stated, “Overall, the results of this study document that exploring sexual attraction fluidity in therapy can be effective, beneficial, and not harmful.”

“These findings are consistent with almost a century of clinical reports and qualitative and retrospective studies which document that SAFE-T has been successful in helping patients or clients to intentionally diminish SSAE and develop or increase OSAE in a beneficent and non-maleficent manner,” they added.

Pela and Sutton explain that activists and politicians have discouraged people from seeking therapy for unwanted homosexual thoughts, attractions, behaviors or identity. These ideologues have worked “to remove the rights of individuals to receive, and mental health professionals to give, therapeutic support for pursuing” sexual attraction fluidity exploration.

While this study does have limitations, it follows in the path of a long line of research and testimonies showing sexual attractions can change and people do leave homosexuality. Some pursue chastity and purity while remaining single, while others pursue faithfulness and purity within marriage.

It also follows many studies showing no therapeutic technique is ever 100% effective, and that therapists can be hopeful for their clients, but can’t promise complete healing for any issue.

The authors point to numerous other studies demonstrating sexual attraction fluidity and say, “This past research and the present study document that continued warnings by the American Psychological Association and other mental health associations against clients using SAFE-T are misinformed, unprofessional, and even unethical in terms of meeting the legitimate self-determination needs of clients.”

Pela and Sutton also push back against the slew of legislative attempts to undermine free speech, religious freedom, and client autonomy and self-determination by prohibiting therapists from offering help for those with homosexuality. They argue that professional organizations have failed to speak out on this legislation by informing activists and politicians “that research does not document that SAFE-T is harmful, and that all mainstream psychotherapy has a risk of harm.”

Such silence and misinformation “is no longer acceptable,” they emphatically state.

Related articles and resources

Sexual Attraction Fluidity and Well-Being in Men: A Therapeutic Outcome Study, Carolyn Pela, Ph.D., and Philp Sutton, Ph.D.  

Do People Change from Homosexuality? Hundreds of Stories of Hope and Transformation

Focus on the Family’s Position: Counseling for Unwanted Homosexuality

Freedom from Homosexuality – What’s the Controversy?

Is Therapy to Leave Homosexuality Damaging? New Review Says, ‘No Proof of Harm’

Therapy Bans Threaten Religious Freedom, Free Speech and Parental Rights

What Research Shows about homosexuality

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