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U of U Researcher: Group Misrepresented Bisexuality Research

The author of a groundbreaking study on female bisexuality has accused a national organization purporting to “[offer] hope to those who struggle with unwanted homosexuality” of twisting her research to suit its ends.

In an Oct. 30 video interview published on the Web site Truth Wins Out, a site owned by gay rights activist and author Wayne Besen that seeks to challenge ideas that gays can and should change their sexual orientation, University of Utah psychologist Lisa Diamond said the National Association for Research & Therapy of Homosexuality purposely misrepresented her research to suggest that bisexual and lesbian women can change their sexual orientation to straight. In “Female Bisexuality From Adolescence to Adulthood: Results From a 10-Year Longitudinal Study,” Diamond tracked 79 women who identified as lesbian, bisexual and “unlabeled” to see how their sexual orientations changed over a decade. Overwhelming, she found that women who identified as bisexual or unlabeled did not switch to identifying as lesbian or heterosexual. Further, bisexual women were more likely to say they were equally attracted to men and women, even if they had married.

This data lead Diamond to conclude that bisexuality—at least in women—was a separate sexual orientation, not a “transitional” phase between adopting a lesbian identity or heterosexual experimentation. The American Psychology Association agreed, citing Diamond’s work in its January decision to classify female bisexuality as a distinctive orientation.

Further, Diamond’s study discussed the existence of sexual “fluidity” among women—or fluctuations in her subjects’ reported attractions. This was the subject NARTH latched onto in its recently published position paper “Female Homosexual Development.” Here the anonymous author came to the following conclusion after citing Diamond’s work:

The concept of sexual fluidity, defined as the spontaneous evolution or transformation of one’s sexual preferences, is different from the concept of changeability involving intentional effort directed towards altering or changing one’s sexual preferences. As mentioned, many researchers [including Diamond] attest to the reality of female sexual fluidity. This does not directly translate into proof that any woman can easily change or alter her same sex attraction. It does however confirm that sexual feeling and behaviors are not absolutely immutable or unchangeable. The degree to which a woman can or will experience change will be uniquely determined based on her history and motivation to do so.

Near the end of her study, on the contrary, Diamond reached this conclusion:

[B]isexual women’s attractions varied over time, but these variations centered around a relatively stable set point. … [B]isexuality may best be interpreted as a stable pattern of attraction to both sexes in which the specific balance of same-sex to other-sex desires necessarily varies according to interpersonal and situational factors.”

Diamond dismissed NARTH’s conclusions as a deliberate “misreading” of her work, particularly as she said she took great pains to define fluidity in narrow terms, to avoid exactly this kind of misinterpretation.

“It’s as if they read the abstract and didn’t read any of [the paper],” she said in a telephone interview. “They are basically citing my work to support their claim that sexual orientation can be changed. That’s not what my research was at all.”

Rather, Diamond explained that the women in her study often experienced attractions that “contradicted” their sexual orientation. These attractions, she said were “unexpected, not consciously controlled, not viewed as chosen” frequently resisted by women and often based on an emotional connection to a person. Often, she added, they were also temporary, with women returning to their stated orientation eventually.

“The orientation itself is always there and that’s what [NARTH] is sort of ignoring,” she said.

NARTH has long been considered a controversial organization by gays and professional therapists alike. Its co-founder, California-based psychologist Joseph Nicolosi, is a proponent of reparative therapy, or psychological treatment that aims to “cure” homosexuality—treatment the APA and most other professional organizations do not support. Indeed, Nicolosi, along with NARTH co-founder Charles Socarides, established the organization in 1992 to protest the APA’s removal of homosexuality from its list of mental illnesses nearly two decades previous.

A. Dean Byrd, an adjunct professor in the University of Utah’s Department of Family and Preventive Medicine, is NARTH’s current president. He defended NARTH’s use of Diamond’s research in a Salt Lake Tribune interview.

“NARTH’s view is that people can adapt any way they want and there is freedom of choice,” he said. “If it says ‘fluidity’ it says ‘fluidity.’ How you interpret it is something else.”

Diamond maintained that the use of her research was more calculated than mere scientific disagreement.

“Dr. Nicolosi, you know exactly what you are doing,” Diamond said in the video on the TWO site. “… It’s willful distortion. And, it’s illegitimate and it’s irresponsible and you know that. And you should stop.”

A NARTH office also exists in the same Salt Lake City building that houses Evergreen International, an ex-gay group administered by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. According to executive director David Pruden, the proximity of the two offices does not indicate a relationship between the two organizations, but is merely coincidence. When Byrd, a friend of Pruden’s, mentioned that he was looking for space to house NARTH’s Salt Lake City office, Pruden said space in the building that houses Evergreen’s offices was available.

Although friends with Byrd, Pruden said that the Evergreen ministry has no connection to NARTH, despite the Tribune’s report that 2007 tax doccuments listed Pruden as NARTH’s sole paid staffer.

“That would come as a shock to [NARTH’s] three employees,” he said.

Rather, Pruden said he has at times done contract work for NARTH, billing them for his help with such things as planning conferences for the organization. He added, however, that he is a member of NARTH, out of personal interest and his academic and clinical background.

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