April 14, 2004

Study casts doubt on
Freudian idea of homosexuality

An old Freudian idea that’s contributed to beliefs that homosexuals aren’t fit for marriage should be scrapped, according to a new study by California State University, Sacramento child development professor Mark Biernbaum that will appear in the May/June Journal of Homosexuality.

Contrary to Freud’s theory, gay and lesbian individuals are not psychologically immature, according to Biernbaum’s study. They haven’t simply failed to grow into mental adulthood, which Freud believed caused them to seek partners of the same sex much like children seek playmates of the same sex.

Biernbaum found instead that gay and straight 18- to 25-year-olds with similar backgrounds responded almost identically to a questionnaire designed to test psychological maturity. That finding also rules out the idea that immaturity makes homosexuals more prone to mental illness.

“You can’t make the link between psychological immaturity and homosexuality. It doesn’t exist,” Biernbaum says. “Yes, gay people do seem to be much more at risk for mental illness, but I think it must be due more to societal factors than psychological factors.”

Biernbaum’s current research and a series of other studies have found that homosexual youth are at increased risk for a host of mental health problems – including suicidal thoughts, depression and anxiety.

Biernbaum says his findings should influence how psychiatrists and other mental health professionals treat homosexual clients.

More generally, he says, the findings could help alter broad public perceptions.

“A lot of what’s behind this whole debate about gay marriage is Freud’s concept that homosexuals are promiscuous and aren’t capable of a grown-up romantic relationship,” Biernbaum says. “I really think all the recent media coverage showing gay couples as real people sends an important message, both to society and to homosexual youth who may be having trouble finding their way.”

In addition to not differing on psychological maturity, the study found no differences found between the two groups regarding their views on adult romantic relationships.

Biernbaum’s study included 56 young people in the Seattle area ages 18-25; homosexual youth were matched with a heterosexual peer on a number of demographic factors as well as on their views about mature, romantic relationships. It compared their responses about how they handle conflict and whether they felt symptoms of mental illness.

The study was part of more extensive research about college student adjustment.

Biernbaum acknowledges that the portion of the research dedicated to homosexuality was limited in scope, and suggests additional research is needed. An important strength of his work is matching of young people from similar backgrounds. Most similar research has compared small groups of homosexual youth to large groups of heterosexual youth.

More information is available by contacting Biernbaum at (916) 278-4587. Media assistance is available from CSUS public affairs at 916) 278-6156.


California State University, Sacramento • Public Affairs
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