The Daily Agenda for Thursday, December 27

Jim Burroway

December 27th, 2012

Masturbate Your Way To Heterosexuality: 1970. The basis of Behavioral Therapy is that the experience of rewards and punishments were a determining factor for a wide range of human behaviors. In the late 1960s when Behavioral Therapy rivaled classic Freudian psychoanalysis as the predominant school of thought in the mental health professions, BTs began to exhibit some of the same kinds of hubris that they had accused psychoanalysts of exemplifying, especially when BTs began classifying all forms of human thoughts and feelings as “behavioral” and, therefore, amenable to modifications through punishment and rewards. As we now know, much of those punishments were appallingly cruel, torturous, and ineffective. (One example is illustrated in our award-winning report “What Are Little Boys Made Of?”, about the tragic aftermath of Kirk Murphy’s treatment at the hands of a Behavioral Therapist by the name of George Rekers.)

But some patients, if they were lucky I suppose, underwent Behavioral Therapy that emphasized the “reward” end of the punishment/reward dichotomy. Some of those patients were clients of Dr. John N. Marquis, a psychologist at the Veterans Administration Hospital in Palo Alto, California. His paper appeared in the December 1970 issue of the Journal of Behavior Therapy and Experimental Psychiatry, in which he argued that by encouraging clients to think of opposite-sex partners while masturbating, he could change their “behavior” — remember, to Behavioral Therapists, sexual orientation was nothing but “behavior” — to heterosexuality. He didn’t rule out aversion therapy (i.e. electric shock, etc.) if he thought it was needed — “often… aversive conditioning to the perverse stimuli are indicated…” — but he felt that it was best to hold that off until at least some level of “behavior” — by which he meant attractions — was exhibited towards the opposite sex. And how was that accomplished?

The client is instructed to masturbate to the point where he feels the inevitability of orgasm using whatever fantasy is most arousing. Then he is to switch to the appropriate fantasy. He is warned that he may experience some difficulty at first, but that he will not lose his sexual arousal at that point. After he has successfully shifted to the appropriate stimulus four or five times (this is arbitrary but seems to work) he is instructed to start moving the introduction of the appropriate fantasy backward in time toward the beginning of masturbation. An attempt is made at the outset to get a commitment from the client never to continue picturing the inappropriate fantasy through the occurrence of an orgasm, whether in masturbation or overt sexual behavior.

That was the procedure. Dr. Marquis also had some practical advise:

If the client is generally tense he is instructed to relax before masturbating, because sexual arousal and anxiety are incompatible. If he reports feeling guilty after masturbating he is instructed to relax after masturbating as well. It may be suggested that he increase the frequency of masturbation in order to speed the process of reorientation or to decrease the frequency in order to increase drive level if he masturbates more than once a day. It is often helpful to suggest the use of a lubricant to enhance physical stimulation.

Marquis wrote that he had been prescribing this therapy for patients since 1965, and that “all of the cases described below were seen because they were suffering human beings seeking help, and not as experimental subjects.” That, of course, is crucial: it’s your first clue that this is by no means a controlled, scientific study. He provided detailed case studies of two of his patients, and brief descriptions of twelve more. All but one were “successes” to varying degrees, although only one case had anything remotely resembling a long-term follow-up. And that only happened because Marquis happened to run into that former client and his new wife three years later at a cocktail party. At least some of those successes were dubious, and not all of them involved gay people. One was a pedophile, another woman enjoyed “sado-masochistic masturbation” which, Marquis explained, were not “normal heterosexual fantasies” (although he doesn’t mention whether her fantasies involved men or women), and one was someone we would today see as just another socially-awkward nerd:

Case 13. A 24-year-old male computer programmer who was very shy had had intercourse rarely but had frequently masturbated to fantasies and pictures of beautiful girls. As a result he was completely unattracted to girls who were not strikingly beautiful. This was a serious problem since he was homely and inarticulate. Orgasmic reconditioning led to considerable improvement, but he remains a little bit too particular.

As you can see, the measurements that would constitute “considerable improvement” are what real scientists would call “anybody’s guess.” The only thing we can know from this study is that Marquis believes that most of his clients are able to masturbate to a “normal heterosexual fantasy.” We know nothing about any actual changes in his clients’ preferred masturbatory fantasies, let alone any actual or even perceived changes in sexual orientation. But that flimsy standard is precisely the kind of evidence that the National Association for Research and Treatment of Homosexuality holds in very high esteem. When NARTH published their 2009 “journal”, they claimed to have “examined more than 100 years of professional and scientific literature from 600-plus studies and reports,” all of it proving, in their minds at least, that “sexual orientation can be changed.” And of course, Marquis’s paper made the cut.

[Source: John N. Marquis. “Orgasmic reconditioning: Changing sexual object choice through controlling masturbation fantasies.” Journal of Behavior Therapy and Experimental Psychiatry 1, no. 4 (December 1970): 263-271.]

If you know of something that belongs on the agenda, please send it here. Don’t forget to include the basics: who, what, when, where, and URL (if available).

And feel free to consider this your open thread for the day. What’s happening in your world?


December 27th, 2012


Jim Burroway

December 27th, 2012

Sorry. The correct date is 1970. I made a last minute substitution last night and didn’t get the date updated.


December 27th, 2012

You know who else thinks sexual orientation is behavioral? FRC, AFA, the Roman Catholic Church, FoF, NARTH. . . .


December 27th, 2012

“Then he is to switch to the appropriate fantasy.”

Dr. Marquis, the fantasy that got me to “the inevitability of orgasm” IS the appropriate fantasy. At that point, my only real concern is . . . ahem . . . “inevitabiling.”

I have a feeling Dr. M never masturbated. He seems a little too detached from the experience, shall we say.

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