Homosexuality: A Psychoanalytic Study of Male Homosexuals

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Homosexuality: A Psychoanalytic Study of Male Homosexuals
Homosexuality- A Psychoanalytic Study of Male Homosexuals.jpg
Cover of the first edition
Authors Irving Bieber, Harvey J. Dain, Paul R. Dince, Marvin G. Drellich, Henry G. Grand, Ralph R. Gundlach, Malvina W. Kremer, Alfred H. Rifkin, Cornelia B. Wilbur, Toby B. Bieber
Country United States
Language English
Subject Male homosexuality
Published 1962 (Basic Books)
Media type Print (Hardcover and Paperback)
Pages 358
ISBN 978-0876689899
LC Class 62-11203

Homosexuality: A Psychoanalytic Study of Male Homosexuals is a 1962 book about the development of male homosexuality by the psychoanalyst Irving Bieber, writing with Harvey J. Dain, Paul R. Dince, Marvin G. Drellich, Henry G. Grand, Ralph R. Gundlach, Malvina W. Kremer, Alfred H. Rifkin, Cornelia B. Wilbur, and Toby B. Bieber.[1] Though the work was influential and earned Bieber the status of psychoanalytic expert on homosexuality, it has been criticized on a variety of methodological grounds and several of its authors' claims were later repudiated by the American Psychiatric Association and the American Psychological Association.


Homosexuality was the product of a ten-year investigation that employed the services of eight psychoanalysts and one clinical psychologist. They compared the analytic treatment of 106 male homosexuals to an unmatched sample of 100 heterosexual male patients in analytic treatment. They gathered data from a 450-item questionnaire, which they developed and submitted to treating therapists. The questions, which were answered by the therapists, concerned the family constellations of patients as reported in therapy. Information was gathered regarding patients' feelings about their mothers, fathers, siblings, and peers, the perceived effect that such figures had on their aggressive, sexual and independent activity, and memories of activities and preferences during childhood and latency.[2]


The study's findings concerned three broad areas: mother-son relationships, father-son relationships, and developmental patterns. A significantly greater proportion of homosexuals had "close-binding-intimate mothers" who were seductive to their sons and also overcontrolling and inhibiting. A significantly higher proportion of homosexuals also reported having detached, hostile, or rejecting fathers whom they hated or feared during their childhoods. Fathers who did not fit that description were sometimes seductive toward their sons, but in all cases profound interpersonal disturbance characterized relations between fathers and sons. None of the fathers of the 106 male homosexuals were warmly related to their sons. It was also found that boys who grew up to be homosexual "fit the stereotype of the sissy during latency and adolescence, fearing physical injury and avoiding aggressive activity."[3]

From their findings, Bieber and his colleagues concluded that a family constellation that included a close-binding-intimate mother and a hostile, detached, and rejecting father strongly predisposed a child to become homosexual. They rejected the idea that constitutional factors play an important role in the development of homosexuality. They also rejected Sigmund Freud's insistence on the centrality of constitutional bisexuality, accepting Sándor Radó's arguments against Freud's theories about bisexuality. They denied that there is any homosexual phase in psychosexual development, having found that 41% of the heterosexual controls reported having had no homosexual "problem." They concluded that "latent homosexuality" does not exist and that homosexuality should be considered "latent heterosexuality." Lewes comments that their rejection of Alfred Kinsey's figures for the incidence of homosexuality seemed supported by their theoretical conclusions. Bieber claimed that 1% or 2% of people were homosexual.[4]


Homosexuality was influential, and its success earned Bieber the status of psychoanalytic expert on homosexuality. According to Kenneth Lewes, who sees Homosexuality as flawed, almost every psychoanalytic article published after 1962 refers to it with approval, with the exception of some discussions in the International Journal of Psychoanalysis and Psychoanalytic Quarterly. Lewes writes that, "For many, it seemed the much-awaited confirmation of psychoanalytic ideas, and, for a while, it signaled an apparent formalization of the psychoanalytic theory about homosexuality."[5] The historian Lillian Faderman writes that the New York Mattachine Newsletter, published by the Mattachine Society, published an article that criticized Bieber as "an abuser of behavioral science" and a perpetrator of lies about homosexuals, but that the article was followed by an editor's note disclaiming its views and calling for "more research in the field of sexual deviation."[6] It has been suggested that Homosexuality informed stereotypes later promulgated by the media.[7] For example, in 1964 Life Magazine featured an article on homosexuals and smothering mothers directly inspired by Homosexuality.[8] Homosexuality is one of the most repeatedly cited studies related to sexual orientation therapy, although its research methodology has been seen as flawed.[9]

Several attempts were made to replicate Homosexuality's findings. One study did not find the pattern of close-binding-intimate mothers in the childhood of homosexuals. Another replicated Bieber's findings with disturbed homosexuals, but found few differences between the childhoods of undisturbed homosexuals and heterosexuals. A series of non-analytic studies of homosexuals who were not patients were published between 1970 and 1973. These rejected Bieber's conclusions, although they nevertheless found a rough corroboration of some of his findings. Poor parental relationships were also reported by these studies, although their authors believed that "this might be a retrospective finding." They found that one fifth of homosexuals had good relations with their fathers and generally could not distinguish homosexuals who were not patients from heterosexuals on the basis of psychopathology. This series of studies was itself subject to attempts at replication, and one of its findings, that masculine homosexuals did not go through a period of adolescent sissiness, was not supported. A 1964 study by an analyst qualified some of Bieber's findings but presented no new data. Evelyn Hooker pointed out in a 1969 study that disturbed family relations were neither a necessary nor a sufficient cause of homosexual object choice.[10] The psychologist Kenneth Zucker and psychiatrist Susan Bradley write that the data of Alan P. Bell et al.′s Sexual Preference (1981) are consistent with those of Bieber's work. They maintain that Bell et al.′s finding that "detached-hostile father" is relatively characteristic of 52% of the white homosexual men in their study and 37% of white heterosexual men is quite similar to what was reported by Bieber et al.[11]

Lewes sees the strength of Homosexuality as "its amassing an enormous amount of data, which satisfied the psychoanalytic need for subtle and sophisticated information gathered from a large clinical experience." However, he also writes that the study is flawed and its results vitiated due to its methodological errors. In his view, the most important error is the sample, which consisted of patients in analytic therapy. Since these subjects had been preselected for psychopathology, the question of the emotional disturbance of the homosexual population at large could not be addressed. Bieber diagnosed the sample as follows: 28 were schizophrenic, 31 were neurotic, and 42 character disordered. While similar proportions obtained in the control group (although only eighteen percent of the controls were diagnosed as schizophrenic), Bieber's comparison in effect involves two groups of moderately to severely disturbed males. Of the homosexual sample, 90% were "eager to conceal" their sexual orientation and 64% wanted their homosexuality "cured". Bieber and his colleagues ignored the difficulties of obtaining a "normal" homosexual sample, which had been pointed out by Kinsey and other writers, and while this omission was criticized at length, Bieber did not accept the objection. Bieber continued to argue for the general applicability of his data, citing studies of homosexual adolescents committed to Bellevue Hospital, of soldiers arrested for homosexual activities during World War II, of prison populations, and a study done among low socioeconomic classes at a municipal hospital. Lewes comments that, "It is dismaying to see a major study repeat the chronic psychoanalytic error of generalizing from disturbed patients to the general population."[12]

Lewes also criticizes the assumptions that informed Homosexuality: Bieber assumed a priori that adult homosexuality is psychopathological and misunderstood Freud's ideas about narcissism, conflating it with autoeroticism. Bieber and his colleagues concentrated on family dynamics, viewing sexual development as based on the effects of interpersonal stress on a biological constitution that naturally pressed to normative heterosexuality. Consequently, they saw any deviance as ipso facto evidence of severe interpersonal trauma. Their attention was shifted from biology, intrapsychic forces, and preoedipal development, and toward events that occurred after the Oedipus complex had been negotiated. Lewes finds the Bieber team's questionnaire "remarkable as a psychoanalytic document for its almost unqualified probing of events that transpired during latency and adolescence", and believes that this makes it important to reexamine their conclusions, since "it is not at all clear if such disturbance is the cause or the result of homosexual object choice." He observes that while this objection was raised from the discipline of clinical psychology and general psychiatry, it was rejected without argument by a member of Bieber's original team.[13]

Homosexuality, by eliciting information about homosexuals' history at latency or after and by concentrating on characteristics of the family after subjects had passed through the Oedipus Complex, implicitly assumed that later object choice had been determined by particular family constellations operating after the complex and interpreted its data in conformity to that assumption. By doing so, it avoided dealing with two alternative explanations: one that sees the family system as maintaining and supporting a previous individual psychic development, and one that views the family system as the result rather than the cause of that development. While 72% of the homosexuals remembered their fathers as detached and hostile, it is not clear whether the father's withdrawal was the cause of the son's failure to have identified with him or the result of the son's sexual advances.[14]

Several of the central claims made by Homosexuality were repudiated ten years after its publication by the American Psychiatric Association and the American Psychological Association, and in 1973 the American Psychiatric Association removed homosexuality from its official list of psychiatric disorders. However, Homosexuality was still read and taught in psychopathology courses in universities in the 1980s.[15] The psychologist Clarence Arthur Tripp, writing in The Homosexual Matrix (1975), criticized Bieber et al. for attributing the "sexual precociousness" of homosexual men to the way "close-binding-intimate" mothers treated their sons, arguing that it was actually the result of the same physical factors that tended to make boys who later became homosexual undergo puberty early and have a larger than average penis size.[16] The historian Peter Gay called Homosexuality an important contribution to psychoanalytic discussion of homosexuality.[17]

See also[edit]



  1. ^ Bieber 1962. p. iii.
  2. ^ Lewes 1988. p. 207.
  3. ^ Lewes 1988. p. 208.
  4. ^ Lewes 1988. pp. 208-209.
  5. ^ Lewes 1988. pp. 206-207.
  6. ^ Faderman 2015. p. 703.
  7. ^ Spurlin 1999. pp. 107-108.
  8. ^ Edelman 1994. p. 166.
  9. ^ Murphy 1997. p. 253.
  10. ^ Lewes 1988. p. 209.
  11. ^ Zucker 1995. pp. 240-241.
  12. ^ Lewes 1988. pp. 207-210.
  13. ^ Lewes 1988. pp. 210-211.
  14. ^ Lewes 1988. p. 211.
  15. ^ Lewes 1988. pp. 184, 207.
  16. ^ Tripp 1975. p. 83.
  17. ^ Gay 1986. pp. 446-7.


  • Bieber, Irving; et al. (1962). Homosexuality: A Psychoanalytic Study of Male Homosexuals. New York: Basic Books, Inc. 
  • Edelman, Lee (1994). Homographesis: essays in gay literary and cultural theory. New York: Routledge. ISBN 0415902592. 
  • Faderman, Lillian (2015). The Gay Revolution: The Story of the Struggle. New York: Simon & Schuster. ISBN 978-1-4516-9411-6. 
  • Gay, Peter (1986). The Bourgeois Experience Victoria to Freud. Volume II: The Tender Passion. New York: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-503741-3. 
  • Lewes, Kenneth (1988). The Psychoanalytic Theory of Male Homosexuality. New York: New American Library. ISBN 0-452-01003-9. 
  • Murphy, Timothy F. (1997). Gay Science: The Ethics of Sexual Orientation Research. New York: Columbia University Press. ISBN 0-231-10849-4. 
  • Spurlin, William J. (1999). McBride, Dwight A., ed. James Baldwin Now. New York: New York University Press. ISBN 0814756182. 
  • Tripp, Clarence (1975). The Homosexual Matrix. New York: McGraw-Hill Book Company. ISBN 0-07-065201-5. 
  • Zucker, Kenneth; Bradley, Susan J. (1995). Gender Identity Disorder and Psychosexual Problems in Children and Adolescents. New York: The Guilford Press. ISBN 0-89862-266-2.