Can we change sexual orientation?

Arch Sex Behav. 2012 Feb;41(1):121-34. doi: 10.1007/s10508-012-9922-x.


The self-reports of individuals who claim that they have changed their sexual orientation are either dismissed as false or relied upon to promote sexual orientation change efforts. However, these reactions do not capture the complexity of the sexual reorientation phenomenon. This article provides an overview regarding the promise and effort of sexual reorientation and how this knowledge may inform our current understanding of human sexuality. Specifically, a brief history is given of the interventions used to change attractions to same-sex adults and the assumptions underlying these efforts. Information will be given regarding which conclusions can be derived from sexual reorientation studies. The limitations of these studies will be explained to strengthen future research. Hypotheses will be presented regarding the motivations and needs of those distressed by a same-sex erotic orientation and the impact that the hope of sexual reorientation may have for family members, religious leaders, and policy makers. A multivariate model of sexuality and sexual orientation, including scales of attraction and aversion, will be proposed based upon current understanding of sexuality and the distinctions found in sexual reorientation research. In the end, a therapeutic framework will be highlighted that may be used (and researched) to help those distressed by their sexual orientation.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Female
  • Health Knowledge, Attitudes, Practice*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Mental Health
  • Sexuality / psychology*
  • Stress, Psychological / psychology