Dr. Phil Weighs in on Sexual Orientation

January 26, 2004 | by | Topic: The Content of CharacterPrint Print

America’s newest diet counselor and author of “The Ultimate Weight Solution” has weighed in with his views of sexual orientation. What do the scales say? While Dr. Phil McGraw has pretty hefty advice on some matters, he’s definitely a lightweight on this one. Let’s get real and I’ll explain.

Dr. Phil’s website recently posted a question from a woman whose 22-year-old daughter was involved in a lesbian relationship. The reader wondered if her daughter could have learned this behavior, thus allowing a possibility that her current lesbian relationship could be a phase. Dr. Phil’s reply: “Homosexuality is not a learned behavior. A sexual orientation is inherited; you are wired that way.” He acknowledges that people can experiment with behavior but if they are “really gay” then they will “find a place in that life and in that community.”

As one who spends time studying such matters, this advice puzzled me. Surely, Dr. Phil knows that the research concerning genetic factors in homosexuality is inconclusive. Has he never heard of LUGs (lesbians until graduation) that recently populate college campuses’ If anything the research shows an environmental component must be involved in the development of homosexual orientation. To wit, a recent study of genetically identical twins in the Journal of Personality & Social Psychology found that the participants were quite dissimilar when it came to sexual orientation. Consider the study’s male identical twin pairs: if one twin was gay, then only 20 percent of the time was the other twin gay. Female twins were alike only 24 percent of the time. With 76 percent to 80 percent discordance rates, environment must play some, and I suspect, pretty significant role in creating the differences.

Dr. Phil’s advice to the lesbian’s mother is even more puzzling when you consider his new role as America’s weight loss guru. Why? Well, both body type and weight loss are widely known to have a significant genetic component. For instance, a recent study reported in the International Journal of Obesity Related Disorders found that when put on a weight loss program identical twins were highly related (.85 to .88) in the amount of weight and body fat lost. Ever wonder why some people lose weight easily and some don’t? The research points more clearly to genetic factors than to type of diet program chosen. By his sexual orientation standard of genetic influence, Dr. Phil should be advising people who have trouble losing weight to accept themselves and “find a place in that life and in that community.”

I think Dr. Phil wants to have his sugar free cake and eat it too. He says homosexuality is inherited and unlearned but the evidence points to a weak genetic influence. However, he promotes “The Ultimate Weight Loss Challenge” complete with a book, food guide and online “booty camp” to aggressively change a trait that is highly related to genetic factors. Why the difference? In today’s media market, it might hurt ratings if he came out with a book called, “The Ultimate Sexual Orientation Change Challenge.”

Changing from gay to straight may not be easy or culturally acceptable but one cannot entirely blame one’s genes for that fact. Genetics undoubtedly influence temperament and body type a great deal, but in most areas we don’t acquiesce to the helpless notion that we solely and mindlessly the product of genetic determination. Why are so many willing to cast away freedom when it comes to discussions of sexual attraction?

I think it is a fine idea to manage one’s eating in accord with one’s beliefs and health goals. Why does this culture think it is so bizarre to do the same with sexuality? It surprises me that a person with the no nonsense approach of Dr. Phil would succumb to such blatant rejection of personal autonomy.

Dr. Phil may be helping obese people lose weight but there is no reason for him to cause people struggling with unwanted homosexual feelings to lose hope.

Warren Throckmorton

Warren Throckmorton

Dr. Warren Throckmorton is an associate professor of psychology and fellow for psychology and public policy with The Center for Vision & Values at Grove City College. Dr. Throckmorton is past-president of the American Mental Health Counselors Association and is co-author (with Dr. Michael Coulter) of ”Getting Jefferson Right: Fact Checking Claims about Our Third President.” He can be contacted through his blog at www.WThrockmorton.com..

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