History of Homosexuality as a Psychiatric Disorder

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Up until the nineteenth century, same-sex sexual activity, was classified as mental illness in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DMS). Up until 1973, when it was replaced by the American Psychiatric Association (APA) with the diagnosis of “sexual orientation disturbance”. Homosexuality is a concern that has traversed great psychological revolution to realize the changes that most enjoy today as the right to determine their sexuality. The homosexuals in the past had faced persecution, intolerance, and discrimination from society by the strong assertion that they were mentally sick.

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For much of the first half of the twentieth century, many homosexuals were willing to express themselves publicly, welcoming the psychiatric effort by confirming to be sick by social definition and authorities rather than being a criminal for their sexuals. This paper will examine the history of homosexuality as a psychiatric disorder and review the evidence that supports how homosexuality is not normal, and often characterized as “unusual”. Consequently, it will focus up to the point of the history of APA’s deletion of homosexuality as a psychiatric disorder to a sexual preference as well as the effect on the removals on homosexuals from its list of mental disorders. Understanding the historical perception of homosexuality is therefore critical in describing the events; declassification of homosexuality from the list of DSM mental disorders by APA.

Homosexuality from Christianity Perspective

Early attitudes towards homosexuality in the Western world rose upon the beliefs of Christianity ideals, as Christians were the first to condemn homosexuality. According to the European Christians, the same-sex relationship was sinful and ungodly behavior. The christian belief is that sex is a union between a male and a female, and meant only for recreational purpose. By the 16th century, England upheld Christian doctrines over secular rules (Bayer, 1987). The court said that the punishment for homoseuxality would be capital because it was a felony. As Western culture shifted power from religious to secular authority, homosexuality behaviors were treated as “sins”, received increased scrutiny from the law, medicine, psychiatry and humans right activism. A similar negative view of homosexuality existed in the 19th century medical community as well. Homoseuxal men and women had to come a considerable historical distance before their lives assumed this public dimension.

Psychoanalytic View on Homosexuality

Great psychological thinkers in the early days remained convinced that homosexuality was indeed a mental disorder. Sigmund Freud, the father of psychoanalysis and Jean-Martin Charcot who was the best neurologist of 1800s, were collectively in a quest for the cure for homosexuality. Jean-Martin often classified homosexuality as a genetic disorder that was inherited from parents and not acquired; after realizing that the disease failed to respond to hypnosis (Bayer, 1987). Richard von Krafft-Ebing was a German psychiatrist who went contrary to the findings of Jean-Martin Charcot because he also specialized in the sexual advance study. He held a robust opinion that the environmental factors combined with a genetic predisposition to influence sexual perversions of everyone, homosexuality included. He still concluded his research by making strong assertions concerning the Darwinian theory of evolution (Kirby, 2003). To him, any other form of sexuality whose purpose was not for procreation was to stay classified as psychopathic. The reasoning backed his argument that homosexuality lacked evolutionary adaptation and would form premises for the extinction of humankind since they were not evolutionarily adaptive.

Amidst the intellectual and scientific study of homosexuality, most of which classified it as a disorder, British sexologist, Havelock Elis and Dr. Magus Hirschfed considered homosexualit as a regular sexual variance. (Terry). The latter even organized for sexual rights movement in Germany in the early 20th century to advocate for the declassification of homosexuality as a mental disorder. Their believers, however, minorities in man European and American societies. Homosexuality faced a severe blow in 1952 when APA officially took to publish a Diagnostic Statistical Manual classifying homosexuality as an abnormal mental and sexual behavior (Kirby, 2003). It was also later published as a sociopathic personality disturbance that focused on discrediting the homosexual and tainting their public perception in 1968. This classification further stigmatized the homosexual community. Thus, increased their fight to be accepted as normal in mainstream society by medical diagnosis that they were abnormal in their mentality and sexuality. Later on, the APA debated homosexuality and then deleted it from the DSM. According to Michael Kirby in his journal The 1973 deletion of homosexuality as a psychiatric disorder, the APA initially deleted the genus and substituted a new classification for homosexuals as it describes as “sexual orientation disturbance” (Kirby). They based their scientific finding that most gay people were either conflicted or disoriented about their sexuality.

According to the classification, the homosexuals needed medical care and psychological counseling to orientate them back to the standard societal sexual behavior. The gay and lesbian community collectively faced a general perception that they were sick and that their argument would not hold. They were forced to accept the new criminatory normal in Europe and America. Freud’s ideology would be used to support the claim that homosexuality was psychopathic (Kirby). The final Freud’s study before his death generalized the bisexual nature of human. He asserts that dominance of homosexuality over the bisexual or heterosexuality was a deviant from the normal sexual orient. However, when he received a letter from an American woman that cared to enquire about the sexuality of her son, Freud rescinded that it brought no advantage to a homosexual, but it was also something for one not to be ashamed of because it was a disorder just like any other. Sigmund Freud’s conclusion, however, contradicted most of the previous studies that aimed to find a cure. He observed that the disease could not get treated.

Throughout the history of incarceration in the United States, prison sex has been a point of interest and curiosity for prison authorities and casual observers. Regina Kunzel in his book Criminal Intimacy examines the role that prison sex had on the development of a “modern” sexuality, especially the presence of homosexuals behind bars. According to Kunzel, homosexuality among prisoners was understood to arise from psychological factors, not from the prison environment (Kunzel). As homosexuality in prison became increasingly dissonant with influential understandings of sexuality, its representation is becoming more ubiquitous.

Empirical Studies in Favor of Homosexuality

In 1939, after the death of the great Sigmund Freud, many psychoanalysts came out to denounce the view that psychoanalysis would be used to cure homosexuality (Kirby, 675). The post-Freud intellects claimed that homosexuality was a reparative approach that humankind took to replicate sexual pleasure given that heterosexuality was becoming more threatening and burdensome in the 1990s.
A unique kind of argument arose in the early 1990s trying to describe the causative factors of homosexuality. Irving Bieber, for instance, explained that homosexuality resorted from the toxic relationship between men and their mothers (Bieber). He, therefore, suggested that they were to get re-educated with the assertion that homosexuality was a sexual experience especially when it came to its medication. Bieber, therefore, conducted a study on a group of gay males and was able to discover a cure for 27% of them through behavioral psychoanalysis (Lewis, 2010). His research later remained inconclusive because he was unable to realize a similar result when he conducted a series of other studies.

Perhaps the first researcher to empirically study homosexuals was Dr. Evenlyn Hooker, who questioned the inclusion of homosexuality in the DSM as a “sexual deviation” (Kirby). She administered standard psychological tests to carefully selected groups, and was able to match gays and heterosexuals according to their levels of education, IQ, and age (Lewis, 2010). She brought clinicians to verify the difference between the gay and the straights. Her study was the first to prove that there was no mental disorder in the gay that made them different from heterosexuals. Her premise left a room for a more in-depth study on sexuality and not again considering the gay community as psychopaths. Her discoveries relied on the claims of Franklin Kameny, human rights activists who challenged the medical fraternity in the years 1962-1964 to prove that indeed homosexuality was a mental disorder (Lewis, 2010). Eventually, her work was one in a series of investigations that led to the removal of homosexuality from the list of mental disorders in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.

Homosexuality Struggles to Date

With the claim that researchers and psychoanalysis were looking for a cure for homosexuality, the victims got subjected to all forms of harsh treatment. In the early 1960s, the psychiatrists tried electric shock, lobotomy, hypnotic medications, abstinence and sexual aversion without success (Lewis, 2010). Later in the 20th century, advocacy for psychoanalysis therapy was on the rise as a remedy for gays. 1973 reflects the years when actual hospital admissions were made to cure homosexuality; most of which did not respond — a wave of gay movement momentum begun to pick up in early 1989. The gays demanded the end of discrimination on homosexual communities.

The struggle had just begun for the gay community’s even after homosexuality had been removed from DSM (Lewis). The gay would face public harassment, beatings, and humiliation. Medical specialists remained divided on the matter claiming that indeed getting to remove homosexuality from DSM was enough to study did not back a test resolution whose arrived. The process was however won through the ballot in 1974 with a 58% of psychiatrists voting in favor that homosexuality was not a mental disorder (Lewis). In 1987, a revised DMS removed homosexuality as a disorder and explained it briefly as a sexual orientation disturbance that would only remain so if the victim was struggling and conflicted about his sexual identity. By the onset of 1995, the WHO had officially declared homosexuality not to be a disorder.

Not only that, Jennifer Terry on her An American Obession book revealed how the century-old obsession with homosexuality is deeply tied to changing American anxieties about social and sexual order. According to Terry, sexual science and medicine were more harmful than helpful. By doing researches on this particular to discover the curiosity of homosexuality have helped to publicize its existence, leading to the mobilization in the freedom of movement that would shatter the homosexuals, eventually resulting in its stigma. Consequently, it could be seen that the medical and scientific community approached the subject in a heavy burden of biases that they often demonized homosexuality rather reaching for a more accurate and enlightened views about it.


Scientists and physicians generally considered homosexuality as a mental illness that they should be seeking for a cure. Later studies in 1992 realized that homosexuality was a widespread phenomenon than it was thought. The prevalence rate in adults rose to as high as 10 %. Therefore the suggestion was that in the classification of sexuality, homosexuality and heterosexuality would be considered end extremes with bisexuality being in the middle. Homosexuality today is only faced with the responsibility of averting public opinion and entirely getting accepted in the society. Regular campaigns and media sponsored promotions of the ideology has grown in recent days to try and persuade the society to accept the homosexual as equals and not mentally ill.

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History of Homosexuality as a Psychiatric Disorder. (2021, Mar 19). Retrieved from https://papersowl.com/examples/history-of-homosexuality-as-a-psychiatric-disorder/