Fabulously Observant: Can gays be 'cured' after all?

Rabbis and therapists divided over libido-reducing injections.

David Benkoff 224.88 (photo credit: Courtesy)
David Benkoff 224.88
(photo credit: Courtesy)
A prominent opponent of "change ministries," Wayne Besen, calls them "the only effective form of ex-gay therapy." At least one gay man says they have been helpful in curbing his appetite for gay sex. Is this a miracle cure for homosexuality? Not exactly. One measure that so far has not really been a part of the "cure-for-homosexuality" debate is injections to reduce the libido - the same treatment administered to some serial rapists and child molesters. I know a fellow Orthodox gay Jew who like me who is interested in following Jewish law about sexuality and asked a doctor to prescribe the injections to help prevent him from pursuing gay sex - and they've been successful. So I asked several rabbis, therapists and others what they think about this plan for Orthodox gay Jews having a hard time following Jewish sexual laws on their own. The reactions were decidedly mixed. One of the world's leading experts at medicine and Halacha is talmudist-biologist Rabbi Moshe Tendler, professor of medical ethics at Yeshiva University. He said he would need to know more about the pharmacology of the treatment, but that if it could be used "safely and intelligently," then "by all means surely that should be looked upon as the will of God." Tendler said that if a person was seriously tempted to commit a grave sin such as gay sex, "in such a circumstance, it would be permissible to take an injection in order to prevent it." It would not be obligatory, however. Still, he said, if you "feel you're losing control and this is a method that would give you control, by all means it should be done." Rabbi J. David Bleich, who teaches Talmud, law and ethics at Yeshiva University, said the injections approach "sounds reasonable" and is "absolutely permissible" if administered by a medically responsible physician - ideally with the person's rabbi and doctor working together. On the other hand, he said, "I don't think this is the ideal way of dealing with this, but it may be the way that works, particularly in the short term." He suggested therapy as the best way of dealing halachicly with same-sex desires. But in my experience from talking to dozens of gay Jewish men who have tried, therapy is not very successful in making a gay man straight. However, it can help someone (as it helped me) bring his behavior in line with his values. I spoke to a few experts in psychotherapy, including Dr. Nachum Klafter, the director of psychotherapy training at the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine. Of the injections, he said, "I personally don't feel that's how I want to help people; that's not the type of treatment I provide. In general, I see my role as helping a person attain a greater level of behira [freedom] over their lives. To simply turn off someone's sex drive from my way of thinking is not a form of treatment." Adam Jessel, a therapist in Jerusalem who often works with men struggling with unwanted attractions and runs groups for men who are "struggling with homosexual attractions and related issues," said he hadn't heard of this particular use for injections to slow the libido. He objected to the idea of the injections, because he said "it's like saying there's no way to increase your attraction to women or reduce your unwanted attraction to men," although he was sympathetic to the idea of using the pharmacological approach to give "a breather to give time for therapeutic interventions to work." Besen is the executive director of a group called Truth Wins Out, which responds to the claims of people like Jessel. He said that the injections show "how unnatural it is for people to give up sex and why it is psychologically unhealthy... However, it is the only effective form of ex-gay therapy, as the traditional Christian version does not have a good track record." He did, however, say that he thinks "fully informed individuals should be able to make this choice for themselves." I agree with Besen's comments about individual choice. But I fear that if this solution spreads within the Orthodox community, people will lose autonomy if they feel pressure from parents, rabbis and teachers to have the injections. People's ability and right to make halachicly acceptable decisions about their own bodies is important, and it would be wrong to urge someone to undergo a medical procedure because of their same-sex attractions. Still, for someone who is having a hard time keeping his pants on, the injections should be an option, as long as the decision is made fully in consultation with both doctors and rabbis. DavidBenkof@aol.com