Dr. Joseph Nicolosi is a clinical psychologist. He is the president of NARTH, the National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality, a 1,000-member organization. Dr. Nicolosi has successfully treated thousands of patients to help men transition from homosexuality to heterosexuality. He is author of several books, including Parent’s Guide to Preventing Homosexuality and Reparative Therapy of Male Homosexuality.
He has spoken at hundreds of conferences worldwide and has appeared on hundreds of radio and television programs around the world as the preeminent authority on reparative therapy. He also heads the Thomas Aquinas Psychological Clinic in Encino, California.
The Good News: What is homosexuality and how do you define it?
Joseph Nicolosi: Homosexuality is a developmental disorder. It has nothing to do with sex. It’s really the person’s search for belonging—what we call the three “As”—attention, affection and approval. These are the normal, emotional, affectional needs, which have been sexualized.
GN: In your book Reparative Therapy of Male Homosexuality , you use the expression “non-gay homosexual.” What exactly is meant by that?
JN: Well, we make a distinction between homosexual and gay . Unfortunately, too many people think they’re synonymous and that’s due to the success of the gay activists who have sold people on the idea that to be homosexual means they’re automatically gay.
But there is a population we’re concerned with, in particular, whom we call the non-gay homosexual, which is to say they have same-sex attractions, they have same-sex feelings, and they even engage in same-sex behavior, but they do not identify with the gay sociopolitical identity. They see themselves as having heterosexual values and want to live a heterosexual life.
GN: Is it possible to change from homosexual to heterosexual?
JN: Yes. There are many studies that show many men and women do come out of homosexuality. We see more and more of the evidence, more and more of those studies; and if the person is highly motivated there is a very good chance that he or she can come out of homosexuality.
GN: How do you help someone who wants to change?
JN: They have to begin to understand the origins of their homosexuality. It’s not about sex. These are emotional needs, and in therapy you direct the client to address these emotional needs. These needs usually go back to the father—not having enough of the father’s love, enough of the father’s affirmation, and they begin to get these needs met in more authentic ways, ways that really transform a person rather than the sexual, which is a kind of repetitive and nonproductive attempt at meeting those emotional needs.
GN: How long does the treatment take and does it last?
JN: Usually the therapy is about two years. We’re talking about once a week. And long-term studies show it does last. In fact, these people, once they have learned certain skills and insights, actually continue to get better long after they terminate therapy.
GN: What other sources and support are available?
JN: We at NARTH [National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality] have a national referral list of therapists around the country who see homosexuality as a developmental disorder and as a treatable condition. Someone can call our main office to see if there is a therapist available for them. Besides the professional assistance, we have ministries for ex-gays like Exodus International and a few other ministries around the country.
GN: What are the basic causes of homosexuality?
JN: The basic cause of male homosexuality is an emotional detachment from the father or the father figure and that becomes the foundation of insecurity about the person’s own masculinity and his desire to make that male connection, that male bonding. When that is frustrated, the male homosexual finds that he can do it through sex, but, of course, sex does not give the quality of attachment that is necessary.
GN: Are there any other contributing factors?
JN: One of the things that we are seeing that contributes is sexual child abuse. About one third of the men in therapy with me report having been sexually molested as little boys by older males—which would include an adolescent male—and that is much higher than the average population. Many studies show sexual molestation between a boy and an older man as being the history of gay men.
GN: Do genetics play a role?
JN: There’s been a lot of talk in the media about genetics or the biological origins, but none of those studies have really proved anything conclusive. There seems to be, what we concede to be, what we call a temperamental disposition. This is to say that the boy has a temperamental, sensitive, introverted and artistic side, but we need a family environment to really take that temperamentally vulnerable boy and push him in the direction of homosexuality.
GN: In your book you use the term “gender identification.” Please explain what this is and why it’s important.
JN: Gender identification is for a boy to really gender identify with masculinity and for a girl to really develop her gender identity, which is to say her femininity. These are fundamental traits of human nature. There is so much talk today about how a person can develop without the definitions or without the parameters of gender, but that is not true. We all need gender as a fundamental support to our personal identity. That is the foundation of the homosexual problem and in the course of treatment that is exactly what we focus in on as being the target to develop.
GN: How do parents sometimes thwart this natural process?
JN: Boys need to be supported and affirmed in a masculine identity. Even though the boy or girl is biologically “hard-wired,” to use a term, to be male or female, they still need the active support and encouragement of the family. Boys need masculinity to be affirmed by the family, by the mother and father, and likewise for the girl in terms of her femininity, especially by the same-sex parent—that is to say, the father for the boy and mother for the girl.
GN: In your book you state that an absent father is not the primary cause of homosexuality. Rather, it is the boy’s defensive detachment against male rejection. What is defensive detachment?
JN: Defensive detachment is really the psychological armor, barrier or defense of the personality which keeps homosexuality alive. You might see defensive detachment as a sort of cell that protects the person and also protects the homosexuality inside. It’s an anticipation of being hurt and rejected by other men. And this comes from the earlier rejection by the father.
The predicament of the male homosexual is that he is sexually attracted to men but, because of his defensive detachment, keeps an emotional distance from them. It prevents him from getting what he really wants, which is to have those emotional needs met. So the focus of therapy is to get him to drop that defensive detachment so he can allow himself to experience the healing benefits of non-sexual, intimate male relationships.
GN: Is it desirable for fathers to be warm and affectionate with their sons?
JN: It is more than desirous. It is essential. Fathers have to be warm and physically demonstrative. We encourage fathers to hug and to kiss and to wrestle and to have physical contact with their boys because when we listen to these homosexual men, they are so starved for male contact. All of them report almost without exception, “My father never touched me.” “My father never hugged me.” “My father never kissed me.”
GN: Does divorce play a role in causing homosexuality?
JN: In a general sense yes, but in a specific way no, if the father continues to keep a relationship with the son. We say in a general way yes, because the family structure is designed to really enhance all the members of the family, especially the children.
Someone once said what makes a young man spend time with a little boy is when the woman he loves has that little boy. In other words, it’s really his relationship with the mother that connects him with the son. Most fathers who are young men in their mid-to-late 20s aren’t really going to spend time with a little boy unless there is a relational context, meaning the woman in the center keeps the relationship there.
GN: What percentage of Americans are homosexual?
JN: To be clearly homosexual, we believe it’s 11⁄2 to 2 percent—at most 21⁄2 percent. We’ve been hearing 10 percent for the last 50 years, but that was due to the Kinsey study—and it turned out that Kinsey himself was a homosexual. Actually, Alfred Kinsey was a sadomasochist who derived sexual pleasure from receiving pain, which is another story in itself. This is the man that influenced generations through his Kinsey Institute and his biography just came out revealing all this stuff.
Anyway, it’s really not 10 percent—it’s 2 percent. But even though we say that about 2 percent are exclusively homosexual, we are assuming more homosexual experimentation is acted out, especially with young and adolescent people.
GN: Are there comparatively more homosexuals today than, say, 100 years ago?
JN: Again, we make the distinction between homosexual behavior and true homosexual orientation. I think homosexual orientation is still the same but I think there is more homosexual behavior. Also, we are seeing more homosexuals take a more overt role in the culture. We are seeing them more readily on television and in movies.
GN: What research led to the legalization of the gay lifestyle and homosexual acts?
JN: You mean the 1973 decision by the American Psychiatric Association? That was not scientific; that was purely a political decision. It happened in one day. It was motivated out of compassion. The idea was that by normalizing homosexuality, these people would not have to suffer social ostracism and social criticism. While that was a good intention, you don’t compromise science for a sociopolitical end, which is what happened.
GN: Is lesbianism caused by the same factors?
JN: Basically, yes. There are some complicated factors but, basically, lesbianism, just like male homosexuality, is really rooted in an emotional breach between the daughter and the mother.
GN: What can a Christian male heterosexual do to help a Christian struggling with homosexuality?
JN: I think we as Christian men need to realize that these are not simply degenerate, perverted people, but they are basically individuals who are seeking basic, authentic emotional needs that were frustrated in childhood and have developed into a sexualized pattern.
We need not to condone homosexual behavior but to be supportive of those Christians struggling with homosexuality and try to give them the understanding and support and the emotional connection that we can offer them, which will help them in the healing process.
GN: How can ministers help?
JN: By first of all being educated as to what homosexuality is, knowing that there is a population of non-gay homosexuals that we really need to reach out to. The pastor needs to have resources—therapists he can refer to whom he trusts, ministries for ex-gays that can be supportive, books and materials that he can recommend. That’s an obligation the pastor has, I think.
GN: In the last few years, AIDS has become primarily a heterosexual problem internationally. In the United States it still affects gays disproportionately. Why is that?
JN: AIDS affects gays disproportionately because of the behavior that they engage in, behaviors that will spread AIDS. Anal intercourse is the way of spreading AIDS. And there is a great deal of sexual promiscuity and a lot of reckless self-deceiving, self-destructive impulses in gay men and they are killing each other. Paradoxically, all this talk about homophobia and hatred toward gays—when you think about it, who is really killing gays? Other gays! A very sad irony is that they are killing each other through a behavior that should be associated with love. Paradoxical, isn’t it?
GN: How important are religious beliefs and church affiliation in overcoming homosexuality?
JN: I think it is very important. The majority of people who come to us are Christian. The church means something important to them. God is a living, powerful force in their lives. I think that their Christian foundation is a sound support as a motivator—not only in terms of right and wrong, but it actually gives them strength in the process of overcoming homosexuality.
A very interesting thing I have observed over the years is that many of the men, almost without exception I would say, become more religious in the course of therapy. Even if they began not particularly religious, at the end of two years, with all the soul searching and really digging deeply into deep issues, they become more religious.
GN: What can wives do to help?
JN: I think wives, number one, have to understand what is going on, what the husband is really looking for, and have to be supportive of the husband’s attempts. She needs to understand that he needs close male friendships and she might feel threatened by that. Especially if the husband has betrayed her trust in the past, it will be difficult for her to really trust it will be a friendship and nothing more. She has to be educated, she has to be informed, and she has to be supportive of his healing process.
GN: Does pornography play a role in leading people toward homosexuality?
JN: I really think it does. I think that pornography on the Internet is exacerbating the problem. It is not only increasing homosexuality, but it is entrenching those who are already dabbling with homosexuality.
In other words, the greater exposure to pornography is making the healing process more difficult. We see this—men who are still looking at the porn are going to move slower in therapy than those who do not have it in their lives.
GN: You said they need close male relationships. How can men struggling with homosexual feelings have a close male relationship without those feelings becoming sexual?
JN: Well, he’s going to have those feelings. No doubt about it. And he shouldn’t be afraid of those feelings but he has to learn how to translate those feelings into authentic friendship. One of the questions I often ask a man just beginning therapy, I will say to him, “Have you had the experience of being sexually attracted to a guy but when you got to know him as a person and a friend, the sexual attraction disappeared?” And they almost always say, “Yes.” And I ask, “Why do you think that was so?”
They have no answer for it. Because they have translated the mystique and there is no more sexual energy there. It is now a friendship and when you develop that kind of brotherly feeling, the idea of having sex is absurd. That’s exactly the process they have to go through time and time again until all men seem like just other guys and there is nothing sexual about them. GN