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
Publisher Basic Books
Publication date
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. Bieber et al. found that homosexual men were more likely to report having "close-binding-intimate mothers" who were seductive and also overcontrolling and inhibiting, and detached, hostile, or rejecting fathers whom they hated or feared during their childhoods. They concluded that a family constellation that includes a close-binding-intimate mother and a hostile, detached, and rejecting father strongly predisposes a child to become homosexual.

The work was influential and earned Bieber the status of psychoanalytic expert on homosexuality. However, it has been criticized on a variety of methodological grounds, including the fact that its conclusions were based in part on psychoanalysts answering questionnaires about their patients. Homosexuality received negative reviews in gay publications. Several of claims made in Homosexuality were later repudiated by the American Psychiatric Association and the American Psychological Association.


Homosexuality resulted from 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.[1]


The book's 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, and Toby B. Bieber, discussed the views of other psychoanalysts, including Sigmund Freud, Karl Abraham, Anna Freud, Melanie Klein, Edmund Bergler, Harry Stack Sullivan, Gustav Bychowski, Karen Horney, Clara Thompson, Sandor Rado, Lionel Ovesey, and Abram Kardiner, on homosexuality. They also discussed the contributions of other authors such as Richard von Krafft-Ebing, Havelock Ellis, Edward Carpenter, Magnus Hirschfeld, Alfred Kinsey, and the authors of the Wolfenden report.[2]

Publication history[edit]

Homosexuality: A Psychoanalytic Study of Male Homosexuals was published by Basic Books in 1962.[3] In 2012, the book was republished by Literary Licensing, LLC.[4]



Homosexuality was influential.[5] It is one of the most repeatedly cited studies related to conversion therapy.[6] Life magazine featured an article on homosexuals and smothering mothers directly inspired by the book.[7]

Mainstream media[edit]

S. L. Myers, writing in The New York Times, described Homosexuality as a major study.[8]

Gay media[edit]

Homosexuality received a negative response from the gay movement, which attacked it in a way influenced by the critiques of earlier works such as Bergler's Homosexuality: Disease or Way of Life? (1956).[9] It received a negative review from W. Dorr Legg in ONE magazine,[10] a mixed review from Florence Conrad in The Ladder,[11] and was reviewed in the Mattachine Review,[12] and discussed in the New York Mattachine Newsletter.[13] It was criticized by Fritz A. Fluckiger in The Ladder in July 1966,[14] and again in August 1966,[15] and by the gay rights activist Jim Kepner in Tangents.[16] Later discussions include those by Tom Moon in Frontiers and Randolph Baxter in GLBTQ Social Sciences.[17][18]

Legg considered Homosexuality "probably the most formidable presentation of the psychoanalytic approach to homosexuality in print", and wrote that its "sober tone and generally fair statement of opposing views" would make the work persuasive to many. Nevertheless, he concluded that the book was "essentially unscientific and therefore socially irresponsible", and that its authors were intellectually naive. He argued that psychoanalysis itself is fundamentally flawed, and referred his readers to a critique of psychoanalytic methodology edited by the philosopher Sidney Hook, which in his view exposed its "essentially unscientific character". He criticized Bieber et al. for ignoring data that contradicted their assumption that adult homosexuality is a form of psychopathology, for making other unjustified assumptions that conflicted with biological evidence, for basing their conclusions exclusively on clinical subjects, and for being unaware of "basic principles of personality development well-known to any sociologist, or anthropologist".[10]

Conrad wrote that the book was a pioneering work and would "undoubtedly have a wide professional audience" and impact both professional and lay opinion, and that the questionnaire used in the study was carefully worked out. She believed that the failure of its authors to define what they meant by "psychopathology" was a source of possible harm and misinterpretation, and reduced the work's usefulness, and noted that the term was not necessarily understood by psychoanalysts in the same way as other professionals. She argued that their conclusion that male homosexuality is due to fear of heterosexual relations was an inference made from data that could have been interpreted differently. She noted that "the diagnosis is based on facts which were often true for a bare majority of the cases". She criticized Bieber et al. for discussing whether homosexuality should be considered a disorder without taking into account "the current personality or adjustment status of homosexuals", maintaining that this was a weakness of their study in comparison to the work of Evelyn Hooker and the authors of the Wolfenden report.[11] The New York Mattachine Newsletter article criticized Bieber as "an abuser of behavioral science" and a perpetrator of lies about homosexuals, but the article was followed by an editor's note disclaiming its views and calling for "more research in the field of sexual deviation."[13]

Fluckiger called Homosexuality the "most widely disseminated and discussed" study of homosexuality in the United States, and considered it likely to continue to be influential following its publication in paperback. He wrote that Bieber et al.′s assumption that heterosexuality is the only normal form of development was "no longer taken for granted by knowledgeable sex researchers", and argued that their conclusion that homosexuality is sick was a disguised moral judgment. He accused Bieber et al. of selectively using evidence to support their view that their findings about homosexual patients could be generalized to homosexuals in general, citing biased and poor quality studies that lacked control groups, and ignoring evidence not consistent with their views, even when it came from their own study. He argued that comparing heterosexual and homosexual patients could at most show only that the two groups had differing kinds of pathology, and that having psychoanalysts answer questionnaires about their patients made it possible for preconceived ideas to influence their interpretation of evidence. He wrote that Bieber et al. ignored relevant discussions of researcher bias, and mistakenly believed that analysts' training prevented bias. Citing the sociologist John Gagnon, he suggested that accurately reconstructing the life histories of individuals might be impossible, and criticized Bieber et al. for dismissing this issue. He also argued that their statistical procedures were open to numerous possible criticisms, and noted that for most questions there were no statistically significant differences between heterosexuals and homosexuals, and that what differences were found were small. He wrote that it was necessary to ask why some sons who did not have detached fathers became homosexual, and that the fact that most sons of detached fathers did not become homosexual placed the relevance of paternal detachment in question.[14]

In his second discussion of Homosexuality, Flucikger again argued that the work suffered from statistical problems. He also accused its authors of being biased and having a "stereotyped view of masculinity". He considered their effort to discuss patterns of family relationships to be "in principle well taken", but nevertheless found the result flawed, being limited to the system of "mother-father-patient son" and excluding relationships with siblings. He noted that the fact that boys with many different family backgrounds became homosexual men does not mean that early environmental influences do not influence sexual object choice, but was unpersuaded by Bieber et al.′s discussion of the issue. He wrote that while Bieber et al. included bisexuals within their homosexual sample, this group did not appear to fit Bieber et al.′s hypotheses about the role of parent–child relationships. He maintained that while Bieber et al.′s suggestion that homosexual men look for sexual partners with large penises as part of a magical "reparative search" to compensate for their feelings of inadequacy might have some merit, such a search was not necessarily pathological, and that similar irrational and reparative drives were involved in heterosexuality.[15]

Kepner wrote that Bieber's conclusions reflected his starting assumptions. He questioned Bieber et al.′s procedure of having psychoanalysts answer questionnaires about their patients. He criticized Bieber for exaggerating the extent to which homosexuals tend to have dominant mothers, observing that Bieber found that many homosexuals did not have dominant mothers, contrary to what Bieber's views would have predicted, and that nearly as high a proportion of heterosexuals had dominant mothers. He criticized Bieber for failing to find it significant that analysts sometimes gave different or even contradictory answers when questions were repeated on multiple questionnaires or within a single questionnaire. He wrote that there was little difference between the answers heterosexuals and homosexuals gave about their relationship with their parents. He concluded that Bieber failed to show that having a dominant mother causes homosexuality, and that the "imprecise or open-ended thesis" that having a distant father helps cause homosexuality could be neither proven nor disproven. He questioned Bieber's claims to have helped homosexual patients become heterosexual, writing that there was no mention of the extent to which the patients were homosexual at the start of treatment. He rejected Bieber's claim that only about 1% of the American population was homosexual and 4% bisexual, writing that it was based on unreliable military records, and Bieber's view that homosexuality is an illness, which in Kepner's view was based simply on the opinion of biased psychoanalysts.[16]

Moon argued that the study was flawed and created myths about the role of early parent-child interactions to the development of homosexuality, and that the gay community should reject Bieber's conclusions.[17] Baxter identified the book as an influence on the later practice of reparative therapy.[18]

Scientific and academic responses[edit]

Homosexuality received positive reviews from Eleanor Clark in Social Work and the psychiatrist Stuart M. Finch in the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry.[19][20] The book was also reviewed by Samuel Futterman in the International Journal of Group Psychotherapy,[21] Myron Herman in Social Casework,[22] and in Sociology & Social Research.[23]

Clark considered Homosexuality an important work, writing that in their discussion of homosexuality Bieber et al. "present a very meaningful understanding of the underlying dynamics of this symptom and factors relevant to etiology." She praised their research method, describing the questionnaires used as "ingenious" and "unique in their detailed, sensitive quality." She credited Bieber et al. with reducing complicated psychoanalytic concepts to "meaningful, simply stated, exact items which could be categorized and statistically analyzed", and with eliminating "many hackneyed and often misunderstood terms". She considered it an advantage that "the information was provided by psychoanalysts who based their judgments on intimate, long-range knowledge of the patients." She also credited Bieber et al. with carefully examining the results of their efforts to treat homosexuals. She concluded that Homosexuality would be useful to social workers, and would help efforts to prevent homosexuality, and advance the study of "intrafamilial relationships".[19]

Finch described Homosexuality as a sincere and interesting book. He credited its authors with successfully combining psychoanalytic and statistical approaches, and with supporting the established psychoanalytic positions that "an early disturbed mother-child relationship is a precursor to eventual homosexuality" and that "a disturbed father-son relationship aids and abets the development of homosexuality." However, he considered their view that latent homosexuality is not common to be debatable.[20]

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. Hooker pointed out in a 1969 study that disturbed family relations were neither a necessary nor a sufficient cause of homosexual object choice.[24]

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.[25]

Psychoanalytic response[edit]

The success of Homosexuality earned Bieber the status of psychoanalytic expert on homosexuality. The work was referred to with approval in almost every psychoanalytic article published after 1962, with the exception of some discussions in The International Journal of Psychoanalysis and The Psychoanalytic Quarterly. Kenneth 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]

Evaluations in books[edit]

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. Tripp also referred to a "New York psychiatrist who for a number of years has headed a large psychoanalytic research program on homosexuality" admitted to Pomeroy that he knew of only one patient he had helped to become heterosexual and was on such poor terms with him that he did not feel free to contact him so that he could verify his claim to have changed his sexual orientation,[26] a comment that alluded to Bieber and his study of homosexuality.[27]

The gynecologist William Masters, the sexologist Virginia E. Johnson and the physician Robert C. Kolodny, writing in Masters and Johnson on Sex and Human Loving (1985), maintained that Sexual Preference (1981), a study by the psychologist Alan P. Bell and the sociologists Martin S. Weinberg and Sue Kiefer Hammersmith, provided no support for Bieber's theory of homosexuality.[28] The historian Peter Gay called Homosexuality an important contribution to psychoanalytic discussion of homosexuality.[29] The sexologist Richard Green, writing in The "Sissy Boy Syndrome" and the Development of Homosexuality (1987), described Homosexuality as one of several studies, including Bell et al.′s Sexual Preference, to have found strained relationships between fathers and homosexual sons. He added that a "gnawing question" in such studies is what percent of heterosexuals give answers more typical of homosexuals and what percent of homosexuals give answers more typical of heterosexuals, and that such "contradictory" outcomes require explanation.[30] The psychoanalyst Richard C. Friedman wrote that Bell et al.′s findings in Sexual Preference were "in basic agreement with regard to childhood gender identity / gender role abnormalities in pre-homosexual children" with Bieber et al.′s findings, despite the different perspective of its authors.[31]

Lewes considered 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 wrote 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 commented that, "It is dismaying to see a major study repeat the chronic psychoanalytic error of generalizing from disturbed patients to the general population."[32]

Lewes also criticized 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 found 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 observed 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.[33]

He also argued that the study, 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, and thus 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.[34]

The philosopher Frederick Suppe wrote that Sexual Preference failed to duplicate the findings of Bieber et al. He wrote that while Bell et al. did not use the same specific questions that Bieber et al. employed, they did use "questions directed at the same concerns." He noted that Bell et al.′s data regarding subjects′ negative feelings toward and relationships with their fathers were based on open-ended interview questions, adding that it would have been preferable had they employed the same "structured-answer questions" used in Bieber et al.′s earlier study.[35] The psychologist Kenneth Zucker and the psychiatrist Susan Bradley write that the data of 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.[36] The philosopher Timothy F. Murphy described Bieber et al.′s research methodology as flawed.[6] William Spurlin suggested that Homosexuality informed stereotypes later promulgated by the media.[37]

See also[edit]



  1. ^ Lewes 1988, p. 207.
  2. ^ Bieber et al., pp. iii, 3–10, 12, 15–16.
  3. ^ Bieber et al., pp. ii, iv.
  4. ^ Bieber et al., pp. iv.
  5. ^ a b Lewes 1988, pp. 206–207.
  6. ^ a b Murphy 1997, p. 253.
  7. ^ Edelman 1994, p. 166.
  8. ^ Myers 1991, p. D21.
  9. ^ Bayer 1987, p. 79–80.
  10. ^ a b Legg 1962, pp. 23–24.
  11. ^ a b Conrad 1962, pp. 17–20.
  12. ^ Mattachine Review 1963, p. 20.
  13. ^ a b Faderman 2015, p. 703.
  14. ^ a b Flucikger 1966, pp. 16–26.
  15. ^ a b Flucikger 1966, pp. 18–26.
  16. ^ a b Kepner 1968, pp. 13–19.
  17. ^ a b Moon 2005, p. 35.
  18. ^ a b Baxter 2007, pp. 1–4.
  19. ^ a b Clark 1962, pp. 120–121.
  20. ^ a b Finch 1963, pp. 409–411.
  21. ^ Futterman 1963, pp. 111–112.
  22. ^ Herman 1963, pp. 92–93.
  23. ^ Sociology & Social Research 1962, p. 509.
  24. ^ Lewes 1988, p. 209.
  25. ^ Lewes 1988, pp. 184, 207.
  26. ^ Tripp 1975, pp. 83, 243–267.
  27. ^ Moor 2002, pp. 25–36.
  28. ^ Masters, Johnson & Kolodny 1985, p. 351.
  29. ^ Gay 1986, pp. 446–447.
  30. ^ Green 1987, pp. 58–59.
  31. ^ Friedman 1988, p. 41.
  32. ^ Lewes 1988, pp. 206–210.
  33. ^ Lewes 1988, pp. 210–211.
  34. ^ Lewes 1988, p. 211.
  35. ^ Suppe 1994, pp. 223–268.
  36. ^ Zucker & Bradley 1995, p. 240–241.
  37. ^ Spurlin 1999, pp. 107–108.


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