The Origins of Homosexuality:

Insights From The Deep Feeling Psychotherapies

by John A. Speyrer

"As a rule, men take to homosexuality to escape
from the mother; women take to it to gain her."
-- Nandor Fodor, The Search For the Beloved (1949)

"Homosexuality is an early, probably prenatal and irreversible preference.
Adolescence simply throws fuel on the fire."
Matt Ridley, Ph.D.-- Nature Via Nurture (2003)

What do the thousands of experiences of clients undergoing deep regressive psychotherapies teach us about the origins of homosexuality? The writings of its three major theoreticians, Frank Lake, Stanislav Grof and Arthur Janov, are examined in this article. All agree that female homosexuality is a much milder type of sexual alignment than is the male gendre. This article will concentrate on the later.

British psychiatrist, Frank Lake, began practicing LSD regression therapy in the early 1950s. When the use of LSD was prohibited in the 1960's, he began using primal integration therapy as his key to the study and treatment of our unconscious psychotoxins.

He found that some patients under LSD's influence were able to trace the origins of their male homosexuality to a fear of female genitalia because of their overwhelming birth trauma. (See Birth Trauma, Claustrophobia and LSD Therapy). Birth trauma had programmed them to a fear of the female vulva. Many could not return to women for sexual release since they had unconsciously linked the female genital tract with the overwhelming psychological and physical pain of their birth.

Earlier, Lake had written that in those who were able to tolerate LSD, 9 out of 11 said that they insightfully learned that they were homosexual because birth trauma was the origin of their "distrust of women" and their "determation never again to encounter them genitally." Their one time birthing experience was sufficient to turn them away from females as an object of sexual desire. Thus, Lake's study of homosexuals (they were clergymen) revealed to both themselves and Dr. Lake how and why they were programmed to become homosexual. Others have theorized how the thought of sex with a woman brings up unconscious memories of that first intimate contact with a woman - their mother - a contact which they felt almost resulted in their death because during birth they had come close to dying. Sexual intimacy with a woman can become a severe phobia. If it is coupled with a unfulfilled need for one's father of childhood it can tip one's sexual orientation into male homosexuality. Dr. Lake acknowledged that most of what Otto Rank had written about this seemed to have been confirmed with his patient's experience during experiences with LSD. [Lake, ibid.]

In his later life, after facilitating many regressions dealing with pre- and peri-natal material, Dr Lake believed that the ultimate roots of male homosexuality, in many cases, lay in the first trimester of pregnancy. Although Lake did not propose that homosexual origins were hormonal he was open to that possibility. Instead, he hypothesized that maternal feelings were received by the fetus via the umbilical cord. This "umbilical affect" the fetus experienced was ". . . the state of mind and emotional longing in the mother . . . It is this combination of the mother's emotional distress at their life situation [her and her husband's] plus her yearning for the intimate love of her man that are transferred into and impressed upon the foetus." [Tight Corners in Pastoral Counseling, pp. 149-150 - Quoted in Stephen M. Maret's doctoral dissertation, Frank Lake's Maternal-Fetal Distress Syndrome: An Analysis - 1992]

Dr. Maret quotes from Frank Lake:

"Insofar as we are now looking confidently at the first trimester for the origins of schizoid affliction, it is the same first trimester that we will look to discover the origins of homosexuality in men and possibly also in women. The question arises, why, in association with feelings of intense distress and revulsion at being invaded and surrounded by so much female misery, there should also be this heartache for the intimate love of a man. The answer, given at this moment of the reliving of experience early in the womb, by a sufficient number of homosexual men . . . is that this yearning is a result of the transfusion of exactly that state of mind and emotional longing in the mother, from her to the foetus, through the feto-placental circulation. . . . It is this combination of the mother's emotional distress at their life situation plus her yearning for the intimate love of her man that are transferred into and impressed upon the foetus, early in intra-uterine life." Quoted by Maret from Lake's Tight Corners in Pastoral Counselling, p. 149-150.

Frank Lake, later in life, became convinced that most psychopathologies had their origins in the first three months of pregnancy.

He wrote:

"I conclude that though the psychogenic roots of homosexuality in men and women in the first trimester can now be taken as a workable hypothesis, rooted in and related to the maternal-foetal distress syndrome, the dynamics of each person are quite individual and specific. They will certainly have gathered later determinants in subsequent trimesters, in difficult births and in all the successive stages of psycho-sexual development." [Quoted by Maret, ibid., Lake, ibid., p. 152.]

The two paragraphs which follow are from Dr. Stephen M. Maret's dissertation:

"Some recent research finding have lent support to some of Lake's hypotheses regarding the psychogenesis of homosexuality. Several retrospective studies1 have found correlations between stressful maternal life events which occurred during pregnancy and the incidence of adult male homosexuality. Dorner and his colleagues found that out of 800 homosexual males, 'highly significantly more homosexuals were born during the stressful war (World War II) and early post-war period than in the years before or after this stressful period. This finding suggested that stressful maternal life events, if occurring during pregnancy may represent, in fact, an etiogenetic risk factor for the development of sexual variations in the male offspring.'"2

"Another study3 compared the answers of 100 heterosexual men with 100 bi- and homosexual men of the same age to questions relating to maternal stress during their prenatal life. The highest significant correlation was found in homosexual men, followed by bi-sexual men and maternal stress. One-third of the homosexual men reported severe maternal distress while they were in utero (ie. death of someone close, rape, severe anxiety, abandonment by partner), and one-third reported moderate maternal stress. Compared with this data, none of the heterosexual men reported severe stress and only 10% reported moderate stress."4

Czech-American psychiatrist Stanislav Grof began his regressive therapy practice in 1953 (the same year as did Dr. Lake) with the use of LSD. He believes that sexual orientation is determined by both genetic factors and intrauterine environment. He pleads possible bias because homosexual clients who came to him for therapy with other problems were not seeing him specifically for their sexual orientation. Like, Dr. Lake, Grof believes there is a deep unconscious link established with the birthing mother combined with a distant father. A craving for affection from a male figure thus becomes established. The act out typically spills into the sexual sphere. [Grof, Psychology of the Future, p. 116-117.]

An element in lesbianism, according to Dr. Grof, is a need to return to the memory of a release at the time of birth. This replays the close contact with female genitals at birth which is a similar need but which at the same time represents a similar fear which the male homosexual experiences which unconsciously reminds him of repeating the birth trauma. He believes that often a negative experience with a father or father figure in childhood can turn a woman toward another woman for affection and sex. Issues surrounding birth are not as important a dynamic in female homosexuality as it is in male homosexuality, he writes. This might be the reason why lesbianism has more shallow roots than does male homosexuality. [Grof, ibid., p. 117]

Thus, Grof does not believe that the entire origin of homosexuality can be traced solely to problems of birth and around birth. He believes that early childhood events are not the cause of the focus but are seen as necessary conditions for their development and act as reinforcements to pre and peri-natal issues. Oftentimes, he feels that in therapy, it is also necessary to go beyond birth and biographical material and engage transpersonal issues. [Beyond the Brain, pp. 219-220].

Dr. Arthur Janov, discoverer of primal therapy, undoubtedly has more to say about the origins of homosexuality than any other regressive therapy theoretician. He had earlier claimed that primal regressions can cure primal therapy. However, he soon made that position conditional by stating that some cases seem intractable because it may be many years before the traumas which cause the homosexual orientation can be accessed by primal regressions. This is so because the material which is easier and earlier experienced once defenses are lowered usually do not contain the seeds of the client's homosexuality. The origins will be experienced later in therapy after the easier to access and milder traumas have arisen.

Critical of the decision of the American Psychological Association in 1973 to remove homosexuality as a neurosis in its Diagnostic Statistic Manual, Janov called the decision a "disservice to homosexuals. It tells them that they are well when they are wracked with Pain and tension." [The Primal Institute Newsletter, October, 1979, p. 4]

He believes that the one characteristic of those who are homosexual is having suffered severe birth trauma. Dr. Janov writes that long before birth takes place the intrauterine male-female hormonal relationships may be permanently altered. This may establish a tendency towards homosexuality. So even before the person has a chance to interact with their parents, they have already been subjected to forces which lie very early in their development. On occasion homosexuality has been reversed after a person has reexperienced very early and deep pain. Often homosexuality is a symbolic act out of early unmet needs and for that reason there are different scenarios or sequences of events which lead up to the first homosexual act. Imprints, The Lifelong Effects of the Birth Experience, pps. 98-106.

In the January, 1980 issue of The Primal Institute Newsletter, in an article entitled Born Homosexual: Evidence of Prenatal Pain, newsletter editor, William Van Doren explained that primal therapy could change the homosexual's orientation and has been successful in doing so. Those were individuals who suffered trauma in early childhood. In the case of gestationally imposed homosexuality cure is often problematic, although relief from its psychological suffering may be gained.

A number of primally oriented therapists are uncertain or question whether homosexuality reflects a degree of psychopathology. For example, psychologist Paul J. Hannig writes in Feeling People that "Homosexuality does not necessarily constitute a pathological disorder per se and it can be considered one of many forms of sexual behavior." He contends that parental role models and trauma at all stages of development up to the first 3 years of life can influence one's sexual orientation.

Theresa S. Alexander, author of Facing the Wolf: Inside the Process of Deep Feeling Therapy, writes: ". . . I feel that although both the heterosexual and homosexual orientation can have their neurotic acting-out aspects, a homosexual orientation in and of itself is not evident of neurosis necessitating a cure." [p. 149-150] When a homosexual client wondered whether the theory of the therapy should question the essence of his being she became convinced that in therapy the needs of the client should be the first concern.

A recent issue of the Boston Globe (8/14/05) contained an excellent article on What Makes People Gay. Written by Neil Swidey, the article objectively surveys the most recent research on this issue. He asks, "The debate has always been that it was either all in the child's upbringing or all in the genes. But what if it's something else?"

The article examines the issue of identical twins who, by definition, inherit the same genes and yet have a concordance to homosexuality rate of 50% compared with fraternal twins of only 20%. Fraternal twins, of course, do not share the identical genes. Studies show that a uterus which contained a number of other male fetuses previously increases the percentage of births of homosexual males. There might be a tendency for a uterus to retain evidence of having provided incubations for previous male fetuses and to transmit this "information" to subsequent male pregnancies. Evolution makes a bad argument for the genetic transmission of homosexuality since homosexuals have relatively few offspring.

Swidey believes that "the environment most worth focusing in on is the one a child experiences when he's in his mother's womb. . . . ." So what happened between their identical genetic starting point and their births? They spent nine months in utero. In the hunt for what causes people to be gay or straight, that's now the most interesting and potentially enlightening frontier."

What does this all mean? William Reiner, a psychiatrist and urologist with the University of Oklahoma who has studied over one hundred children who feel that they are really the opposite gender of what their biological sex is, believes that: "Exposure to male hormones in utero dramatically raises the chances of being sexually attracted to females," Reiner says. "We can infer that the absence of male hormone exposure may have something to do with attraction to males."

Michael Bailey, a Northwestern University psychologist, co-authored a study of male twins. He says that Reiner's findings represent a major breakthrough, showing that "whatever causes sexual orientation is strongly influenced by prenatal biology."

New York University researcher Lynn S. Hall, who studies homosexual inclinations in identical twins, has investigated whether homosexuality owes its origin to the intrauterine environment. She feels that if one of the identical twins was stressed during the first 3 months after conception, during the period when the brain is rapidly developing, particularly those structures which influence sexual behavior (like the hypothalamus) can be affected. The exact nature of the stress may be an unoptimal position in the womb, inadequate blood flow or any other sub-optimal factors, not in the mother's control.

The conclusion of the Boston Post article is: "While post-birth development may well play a supporting role, the roots of homosexuality, at least in men, appear to be in place by the time a child is born."

1G. Domer, I. Geier, L Ahrens, L. Krell, G. Münx, H. Sieler, E. Kittner, and H. Müller, "Prenatal Stress as Possible Aetiogenetic Factor of Homosexuality in Human Males," Endokrinologie 75 (1980): 365-368; G. Dorner, W. Rohde, F. Stahl, L Krell and W.G. Masius, "A Neuroendocrine Predisposition for Homosexuality in Men." Archives of Sexual Behavior 4 (1975): 1-8.

2Dorner, "Significance of Hormone-dependent Brain Development and Pre-and Early Postnatal Psychophysiology for Preventative Medicine." 426.

3G. Dorner, B. Schenk, B. Schmiedel and L Ahrens, "Stressful Events in Prenatal Life of Bi- and Homosexual Men," Experimental CIinical Endocrinology 81 (1983): 83-87.

4All footnoted material above is from Stephen M. Maret, Frank Lake's Maternal-Fetal Distress Syndrome: An Analysis, (1992) - Doctoral Dissertation - pps. 255

Return to Psychosomatic Symptoms and the Regressive Psychotherapies section of the PPP

Return to The Primal Psychotherapy Page's Homepage