Is Sexual Orientation Immutable? The Science May Surprise You.

By Sean McDowell Published on March 8, 2018

One of the most common and effective claims for LGBT rights is that people are born with an immutable, permanent sexual orientation.

In our recent dialogue on the Bible and Homosexuality, Matthew Vines argued that the 20th century discovery of sexual orientation is akin to Galileo’s discovery of the telescope. For the first 1,600 years of the church, according to Vines, virtually all Christians believed the earth stood at the center of the universe. But Galileo’s discovery led Christians to reconsider their interpretation. Similarly, the modern discovery of sexual orientation should lead Christians to reinterpret Scriptural prohibitions of same-sex sexual relationships.

The idea that sexual orientation is immutable has been proclaimed so frequently, and so loudly, few people have slowed down to ask a simple question: What does the science actually reveal? The answer might surprise you.

Science and Sexual Orientation

Leading scholars have challenged the “immutability” claim. But few are more prominent than Lisa Diamond, a professor of developmental and health psychology at the University of Utah. She is a respected member of the American Psychological Association (APA) and co-editor in chief of the APA Handbook on Sexuality and Psychology.

And in that Handbook she states, “Hence, directly contrary to the conventional wisdom that individuals with exclusive same-sex attractions represent the prototypical ‘type’ of sexual-minority individual, and that those with bisexual patterns of attraction are infrequent exceptions, the opposite is true. Individuals with nonexclusive patterns of attraction are indisputably the ‘norm,’ and those with exclusive same-sex attractions are the exception.”

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In other words, according to Diamond, conventional categories of sexual orientation (gay, lesbian, bisexual) are not fixed types because there is often fluidity between them. She is a lesbian activist and so cannot be dismissed because of bias. 

 Sexual Fluidity

In a fascinating YouTube speech at Cornell University (2013), Diamond describes her research on sexual orientation, which surprised her. She expected sexual orientation to be immutable but concluded that fluidity is a general feature of human sexuality. Based on her research, she observes that sexuality often changes throughout a lifetime. Here is what she concludes about her research:

I am not suggesting we should throw out categories like gay and bisexual. I think they are useful. But we have to remember as researchers that they are heuristics, they’re short cuts. We are not in fact cutting nature at its joints. We are imposing some joints on a very messy phenomenon. It is useful to use these categories, such as for recruiting people for studies, because they have meaning in our culture. But we have to be careful about presuming they represent natural phenomena like height.

Later in the speech, Diamond describes her relief that a briefing prepared for the Supreme Court, which cited her research, was not utilized in the ruling (it argued that sexual orientation is fluid, and thus cannot be used for gays and lesbians to be granted special status). She said:

Luckily criteria for equal protection status didn’t really come up. The issue of the diversity of the group never came up. Thank God. We dodged a bullet. We can make strong claims for civil rights protections that don’t rely on the immutability and distinctiveness and uniqueness of these groups. As a community, the queers need to stop saying, ‘Please help us, we are born this way and can’t change,’ as an argument for legal standing.

And then she adds:

I don’t think we need that argument, and that argument is going to bite us in the a** because now we know that there’s enough data out there, that the other side is aware of as much as we are aware of it.

In other words, she admits that the evidence points against the prevailing view.

Does this mean we should encourage people to try to change their orientation? No. That is not my point. I am simply noting that the science on sexual orientation is far from settled. In fact, as we have briefly seen, even lesbian activists such as Lisa Diamond admit the evidence contradicts the common understanding. And if science does not support the immutability claim, then the idea that we should reinterpret Scripture as the church did with the Galileo’s discovery of the telescope, as Matthew Vines claims, simply doesn’t follow.


Originally published at Republished with permission.

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  • Patmos

    I learned about the myth of “sexual orientation” at the prompting of The Holy Spirit. When there was the push for the perversion of marriage in my state I kept on having that phrase pop into my mind, and finally decided to investigate it, only to find out that it doesn’t exist. It’s basically a phrase invented by psychologists to try to remove the stigma around sexual perversion. The gift of the coke head Freud just keeps on giving.

    • John Connor

      Care to cite your “proof” that sexual orientation is a myth? Multiple major medical associations disagree with you. Are you saying you know more than them?

  • Gilchrist

    The intolerance of the LGBTQRST fascists is about as interested in this science as they are with the science of humanity’s impact on climate, and the science of DNA being an unquestioning identifier of biological gender. The relativism and secular dysfunction of modernity criticizes those who believe in God, yet can’t even get past accepting the reality of the sciences.

    • Andrew Mason

      If facts challenge the faith of LGBTIQABCers then they argue that the facts are not scientifically valid and thus irrelevant to the debate.

  • CadaveraVeroInnumero

    No questions, I see, raised about the methodology of Prof. Diamond’s research. Or, the “methodology” of drawing down (out) ethical imperatives from “objective” research.

    How does one control the definition (and use) of the term *fluidity* in matters of sex? How, for instance, does one bracket out pedophilia from being a legitimate expression of fluidity, or should it? Should pedophila be included to keep the term “pure” (that is, inclusive of all sexual expression)? The whole point of this elevation of the notion of fluidity is, just that, to make sure no sexual expression is left out. Excluded from the research population or the ethical justification that “what (sexually) is” (because it is capable of being lived, or expressed) is, by the fact it can be expressed, is ethical.

    If the Church must, now, do a Galileo regarding homosexuality, it must first perform a cold-eyed look at what actually occurred in the Affair Galileo. It’s a story that has been too easily manhandled for ends. To equate (make analogous) ethical drawdowns from biology to cosmology or sub-atomic physics (either the science itself or its history/”development”) is full of mischief.

  • Jim Deferio

    This is actually well known that sexuality is fluid. I am surprised that the author didn’t quote Dr. Savin-Williams of Cornell University and his research showing fluidity! NO ONE IS BORN GAY OR TRANSGENDERED.

    Savin-Williams RC, Ream GL. 2007. Prevalence and stability of sexual orientation components during adolescence and young adulthood. Archives of Sexual Behavior 36:385-394.
    * Dr. Savin-Williams of Cornell Univ. is pro-gay but he insists that he must go by research results!

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