LGBT Lessons for Straight People: Dear Dr. Phil
Recently, we were asked by our friends over at Queers United to help spread the word in asking people to write to Dr. Phil and demand accurate and positive information regarding LGBT individuals. I can’t read Dr. Phil’s mind nor can I read the minds of those at Queers United, but I can read my own as well as the scientific and psychological literature on this topic. The word is that the Dr. Phil show is planning two new episodes, “Teen Experimenting With Bisexuality?” and “Struggling With Sexual Identity?”
So what does “Geekgirl,” the mom and molecular biologist, have to say about this?
Dr. Phil, the well-known talk show host with a degree in psychology, has done shows in the past on topics such as transgendered children and same-sex marriage. Both shows included “experts” from both “sides” of the topic. I put experts in quotes because the experts on one side just happened to be from Focus on the Family. It seems to me that when real people with real lives are at stake, that isn’t the time to bring out the political debate. It’s the time to bring out the scientific facts and most current psychological research.
I want Dr. Phil to talk about the struggles of real LGBT people. LGBT teens struggle greatly with their identity, some may not be sure but many are sure. Their real struggle is dealing with bullying and teasing, fear of rejection from family and friends, discrimination and marginalization. Most of my gay friends, and I have gay friends that range from 20 to 60, tried to be straight. Some tried so hard they were married for many years.
As far as teens experimenting with bisexuality, there has certainly been news coverage of this. Dr. Phil is a little behind the New York Times, which discussed the increase in bisexual experimentation in same-sex high schools. We all know the song “I Kissed a Girl and I Liked It.” So are we on the brink of moral decay and the collapse of civilization because small numbers of teens have found it trendy to experiment sexually with someone of the same gender?
Here are a few news flashes. First, experimenting with someone of the same sex is not new. I’m 54. Without going into details, I went to high school too. Trust me, half the kids in my graduating class were not virgins. Who doesn’t know stories of boys engaging in, ahem, circle jerks?
But what are the real facts regarding experimenting with bisexuality? Surprisingly, I found only one scientific study on this subject. (That doesn’t mean this is the only one. It just means, this is all I found in Science Direct, a database with a large number of psychology publications.) In the year 2007, an article entitled “Correlates of early overt and covert sexual behaviors in heterosexual women” was published in the Archives of Sexual Behavior; Volume 36 pgs. 724-40. The researchers, Bickham PJ, et al; were from the Department of Psychology at Marshall University, Huntington, West Virginia. They found that in a survey of 417 heterosexual women, 25% of the women had either sexually experimented with other women or masturbated using images of females by the time that they were 18.
But I did hit a mother load of teens experimenting with the opposite gender. In 2005, researchers from Bowling Green University in Ohio studied adolescent sexual activity with respect to non-romantic partners; published in Social Science Research 34 (2005) 384–407. In a nutshell, the researchers already knew that the majority of teens have sex from prior publications. Majority means over 50% had engaged in heterosexual behaviors. The researchers wanted to know how many of these relationships were of a romantic nature versus a casual encounter.
Analyses of the 1995 National Survey of Family Growth indicate that almost one-quarter (23%) of adolescent girls retrospectively reported their first sexual experience with someone whom they just met, with individuals with whom they were ‘‘just friends’’ or had gone out with ‘‘once in a while’’ (Elo et al., 1999; Manning et al., 2000).
That’s right. 23% of adolescent girls had sex with someone they had just met, were just friends with or went out with once in a while. If they are willing to have casual sex, you can bet that they routinely have sex with the boys that they are dating. These were heterosexual encounters. Casual sex.
As a mom, a biologist and an LGBT advocate, I don’t see where gender fits into the picture. Adolescents have always experimented with sex. Here is what I think matters and what I will be writing to Dr. Phil.
Let’s teach our teens, all teens – straight or LGBT, the facts about sex. The biology of sex, preventing pregnancy, sexually transmitted diseases, different sexual behaviors and the associated risks. Let’s also teach them that sexual behavior has an emotional and psychological side. Casual and anonymous sex can do both physical and psychological damage. Let’s teach them facts will help them make good decisions. Understanding the complexity of sexuality, being certain that they will “still be respected in the morning”, being honest with themselves and their partners about their feelings – or lack of feelings – will help them not be emotionally hurt or betrayed.
Let’s also teach our children that sexual orientation is not a choice, it a variation found naturally in nature. LGBT people are not impaired. It is society that causes stress for LGBT people, not their biology. Bullying and teasing are not ok.
Dr. Phil, do you know that one in three teen girls in the United States is estimated to get pregnant at least once before age 20? This is from the website 4parents.gov. The end result is either an abortion or becoming a parent at a very young age. Neither is good for a teenager. I can’t quite imagine that Dr. Phil would put a “pro-teen pregnancy” expert on his show.
Dr. Phil, do a show on these topics. Tackle something important, not something just for the sake of sensationalism.
A Note from Jay: While some may believe that religious ideology is more accurate than science, there is no place for such rhetoric in psychology. It is imperative that the show provide inclusive research and scientific data rather than fear and politics, while confronting the psychology of sexual experimentation and the struggles of LGBT people. It is indisputable that if society was not pressuring LGBT people to be “straight” and marginalizing our community, many of the struggles over sexual orientation would not exist. Groups like Focus on the Family are the leaders in causing this social disconnect and, ultimately, the deaths, damage and “self-loathing” within our community.
Please take a moment to visit Queers United for additional information on the inaccurate and hateful psychology previously used on the Dr. Phil show.
geekgirl: Geekgirl (Jude) is a straight woman, a mom and has been married for 32 years to the same wonderful man. She believes in Buddhism and attends the United Church of Christ. She is a molecular biologist, her best friend is a lesbian, and she believes that every human deserves equal rights, respect and a life free from hate, fear and discrimination. The only thing she hates is pickles. Her science blog can be found at LGBT Latest Science.