Skip to main content Accessibility help

British psychiatry and homosexuality

  • Michael King (a1) and Annie Bartlett (a2)



Opposition to homosexuality in Europe reached a crescendo in the 19th century. What had earlier been regarded as a vice evolved as a perversion or psychological illness. Official reviews of homosexuality as both an illness and (for men) a crime led to discrimination, inhumane treatments and shame, guilt and fear for gay men and lesbians. Only recently has homosexuality been removed from all international diagnostic glossaries.


To review how British psychiatry has regarded homosexuality over the past century.


Review of key publications on homosexuality in British psychiatry.


The literature on homosexuality reflects evolving theories on sexuality over the past century. The assumptions in psychoanalysis and the behavioural sciences that sexuality could be altered led to unscientific theory and practice.


Mental health professionals in Britain should be aware of the mistakes of the past. Only in that way can we prevent future excesses and heal the gulf between gay and lesbian patients and their psychiatrists.


Corresponding author

Professor Michael King, Royal Free and University College Medical School, Royal Free Campus, Rowland Hill Street, London NW3 2PF


Hide All
Allen, C. (1958) Homosexuality: Its Nature, Causation and Treatment. London: Staples Press.
Altman, D. (1971) Homosexual Oppression and Liberation. London: Allen Lane.
Bailey, I. M. & Bell, A. P. (1993) Familiality of female and male homosexuality. Behavioural Genetics, 23, 313322.
Bailey, I. M., Pillard, R. C., Neale, M. C., et al (1993) Heritable factors influencing sexual orientation in women, Archives of General Psychiatry, 50, 217223
Bancroft, J. (1969) Aversion therapy of homosexuality. A pilot study of 10 cases. British Journal of Psychiatry, 115, 14171431.
Bancroft, J. (1970) Aversion therapy of homosexuality (correspondence). British Journal of Psychiatry, 116, 676677.
Bancroft, J. (1975) Homosexuality and the medical profession: a behavirourist's view. Journal of Medical Ethics, 1, 176180.
Bancroft, J. (1991) The sexuality of sexual offending: the social dimension. Criminal Behaviour and Mental Health, 1, 181192.
Bancroft, J. (1995) From behaviour modifier to behavioural psychotherapist: the personal journey of a sex therapist. Behavioural Cognitive Bulletin, 3, 713.
Bene, E. (1965a) On the genesis of female homosexuality. British Journal of Psychiatry, 111, 815821.
Bene, E. (1965b) On the genesis of male homosexuality: an attempt at clarifying the role of the parents. British Journal of Psychiatry, 111, 803813.
Bhugra, D. & King, M. B. (1989) Controlled comparison of attitudes of psychiatrists, general practitioner, homosexual doctors and homosexual men to male homosexuality. Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine, 82, 603605.
Bloch, S. (1997) Psychiatry: an impossible profession. Australia and New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry, 31, 172183.
Boswell, J. (1980) Christianity, Social Tolerance and Homosexuality, Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.
Bourdieu, P. (1991) Language and Symbolic Power. Cambridge: Polity Press.
British Medical Association (1955) Memorandum on Homosexuality and Prostitutes Drawn up by a Special Committee of the British Medical Association. London: BMA.
Byne, W. & Parsons, B. (1993) Human sexual orientation, The biologic theories reappraised. Archives of General Psychiatry, 50, 228239.
Byrne, P. (1977) Psychiatric stigma: past, passing and to come. Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine, 90, 618621.
Chapman, D. (1991) Inventing Ourselves – Lesbian Life Stories, pp. 4558. London Routledge.
Church, K. (1995) Forbidden Narratives Critical Autobiography of Social Science. Luxembourg: Gordon & Breach.
Cline, S. (1997) Rodclyffe Hall: A Woman Called John. London: John Murray.
Crompton, L. (1980/1981) The Myth of Lesbian Impunity: Capital Laws from 1270–1791. Journal of Homosexuality, 6, 1125.
Crown, S. (1992) Expert opinion: “When is a pervert not a pervert?” Psychiatric Bulletin., 16, 210211.
Cunningham, R. (1991) When is a pervert not a pervert? British Journal of Psychotherapy, 8, 4870.
Curran, D. & Parr, D. (1957) Homosexuality: an analysis of 100 male cases seen in private practice. British Medical Journal, i, 797801.
Dancey, C. P. (1990) Sexual orientation in women and investigation of hormonal and personality variables. Biological Psychology, 30, 251264.
Davenport-Hines, R. (1990) Sex, Death and Punishment. Attitudes to Sex and Sexuality in Britain since the Renaissance. London: Collins.
Davies, D. & Neal, C. (1996) Pinks Therapy – a Guide for Counsellors and Therapists Working with Lesbian, Gay and Bisexual Clients. Buckingham: Open University Press.
Davison, K., Brierley, H. & Smith, C. (1971) A male monozygotic twinship discordant for homosexuality. A repertory grid study. British Journal of Psychiatry, 118, 675682.
De Beauvoir, S. (1949) The Second Sex (reprinted 1972). Harmondsworth: Penguin.
Dewhurst, K. (1969) Sexual activity and urinary steroids in man with special reference to male homosexuality. British Journal of Psychiatry, 115, 14131415.
Downey, J., Herhardt, A. A., Schiffman, M., et al (1987) Sex hormones in lesbian and heterosexual women. Hormones and Behaviour, 21, 347357.
Drescher, J. (1998) I'm your handyman. A history of reparative therapies. Journal of Homosexuality, 36, 1942.
Eckert, E. D., Bouchard, T. J., Bohlen, J., et al (1986) Homosexuality in monozygotic twins reared apart. British Journal of Psychiatry, 148, 421425.
Eisenger, A. J., Huntsman, R. G., Lord, J., et al (1972) Female homosexuality. Nature, 238, 106.
Ellis, M. L. (1994) Lesbians, gay men and psychoanalytic training. Free Associations, 4, 501517.
Ellis, M. L. & Ames, M. A. (1987) Neurohormonal functioning and sexual orientation: a theory of homosexuality heterosexuality. Psychology Bulletin, 101, 233258.
Ellis, H. & Symonds, J. A. (1897) Studies in the Psychology of Sex, Vol. I: Sexual Inversion. London: Wilson & Macmillan.
Ettorre, E. M. (1980) Lesbians, Women in Society. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul.
Evans, J. K., Bingham, J. S., Pratt, K., et al (1993) Attitudes of medical students to HIV and AIDS. Genitourinary Medicine, 69, 377380.
Faderman, L. (1985) Surpassing the Love of Men: Romantic Friendship and Love Between Women from the Renaissance to the Present. London: The Women's Press.
Foucault, M. (1981) The History of Sexuality. Volume I – An Introduction. Harmondsworth: Penguin.
Freud, S. (1905) Three essays on the theory of sexuality. Reprinted (1953–1974) in The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud (trans. and ed. Strachey, J.). vol. 7. pp. 123246. London: Hogarth.
Freud, S. (1923) Some neurotic mechanisms in jealousy, paranoia and homosexuality, Reprinted (1953–1974) in The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud (trans. and ed. Strachey, J.). vol. 18, pp. 145172. London: Hogarth.
Freud, S. (1935) Anonymous (letter to an American mother). Reprinted in The Letters of Sigmund Freud (ed. E. Freud), 1960. New York: Basic Books.
Freund, K., Langevin, R., Cibiri, S., et al (1973) Heterosexual aversion in homosexual males. British Journal of Psychiatry, 122, 163169.
Freund, K., Langevin, R., Laws, R., et al (1974) Femininity and preferred partner age in homosexual and heterosexual males. British Journal of Psychiatry, 125, 442446.
Fuss, D. (1990) Essentially Speaking: Feminism, Nature and Difference. London: Routledge.
Gladue, B. A. Green, R. & Hellman, R. E. (1983) Neuroendocrine response to estrogen and sexual orientation. Science, 225, 14961499.
Glasser, M. (1977) Homosexuality in adolescence, British Journal of Medical Psychology, 50, 217225.
Goffman, E. (1963) Stigma. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall.
Goffman, E. (1968) Stigma: Notes on the Management of Spoiled identity. Reprinted 1990, London: Penguin.
Golding, J. (1997) Without Prejudice: Mind – Lesbian, Gay and Bisexual Mental Health Awareness Research. London: Mind.
Griffiths, P. D., Merry, J., Browning, M. C. K., et al (1974) Homosexual women: an endocrine and psychological study. Endocrinology, 63, 549556.
Haldeman, D. C. (1994) The practice and ethics of sexual orientation conversion therapy. Journal of Clinical and Consulting Psychology, 62, 221227.
Hamer, D. H., Hu, S., Magnuson, V. L., et al (1993) A linkage between DNA markers on the X chromosome and male sexual orientation. Science, 261, 321327.
Hamer, D. H., & Copeland, P. (1995) The Science of Desire: the Search for the Gay Gene and Biology of Behaviour. New York: Simon & Schuster.
Harrison, P. J., Everall, I. P. & Catalan, J. (1994) Is homosexual behaviour hardwired? Sexual orientation of brain structure. Psychological Medicine, 24, 811816.
Hirschfeld, M. (1920) Die Homosexualität des Mannes und des Weibes. Berlin: Marcus.
Illich, I. (1975) Medical Nemesis. The Expropriation of Health. London: Marion Boyars.
Ingleby, D. (1981) Understanding mental illness. In Critical Psychiatry: The Politics of Mental Health (ed. Ingleby, D.), pp. 2371. Harmondsworth: Penguin.
Jackson, C. (1998) Mad to be gay, Mental Health Care, 1, 222.
Kellett, J. (1998a) The man who did not fancy his financée. Trends in Urology. Gynaecology and Sexual Health, 3, 5051.
Kellett, J. (1998b) Masturbatory shaping. Trends in Urology. Gynaecology and Sexual Health, 3, 48.
Kendell, R. E. (1975) The concept of disease and its implication for psychiatry. British Journal of Psychiatry, 127, 305315.
Kenyon, F. E. (1968) Studies in female homosexuality IV. Social and psychiatric aspects. V. Sexual development, attitudes and experience. British Journal of Psychiatry, 114, 13371350.
King, H. (1995) Conversion, disorder and hysteria. In The History of Clinical Psychiatry: The Origin and History of Psychiatric Disorders (eds Berrios, G. & Porter, R.), pp. 442450. London: Athlone Press.
Kitzinger, C. (1987) The Social Construction of Lesbianism. London: Sage.
Klein, M. (1931) The Psychoanalysis of Children. London: Hogarth.
Krafft-Ebing, R. von (1892) Psychopathia Sexualis (trans. Chaddock, C. G., from 7th German edition). Philadephia, PA: F. A. Davis.
Krajeski, J. (1996) Homosexuality and the mental health professions. A contemporary history. In Textbook of Homosexuality and Mental Health (eds Cabaj, R. P. & Stein, T. S.), pp. 1731. Washington, DC: American Psychiatric Press.
Laing, R. D. (1967) The Politics of Experience. London: Penguin.
Lang, T. (1940) Studies on the genetic determination of homosexuality. Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease, 92, 5564.
LeVay, S. (1995) The Sexual Brain. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
LeVay, S. (1996) Queer Science. The Use and Abuse of Research on Homosexuality. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
Limentani, A. (1977) The differential diagnosis of homosexuality. British Journal of Medical Psychology, 50, 209216.
Loraine, J. A., Ismail, A. A. A. & Adamopoulos, D. A. (1970) Endocrine function in male and female homosexuals. British Medical Journal, 4, 406408.
Loraine, J. A., Adamopoulos, D. A., Kirkham, K. E., et al (1971) Pattens of hormone excretion in male and female homosexuals. Nature, 234, 552555.
Maletzky, B. M. & George, F. S. (1973) The treatment of homosexuality by ‘assisted’ covert sensitisation. Behaviour Research and Therapy, 11, 655657.
Marks, I. (1981) Review of behavioural psychotherapy, II; sexual disorders. American Journal of Psychiatry, 138, 750756.
McColl, P. (1994) Homosexuality and mental health services. British Medical Journal, 308, 550551.
McConaghy, N. (1969) Subjective and penile Plethysmograph responses following aversion-relief and apomorphine aversion therapy for homosexual impulses. British Journal of Psychiatry, 115, 723730.
McConaghy, , (1970) Subjective and penile Plethysmograph responses to aversion therapy for homosexuality: a follow-up study. British Journal of Psychiatry, 117, 555560.
McConaghy, , (1975) Aversive and positive conditioning treatments of homosexuality. Behaviour Research and Therapy, 13, 309319.
McConaghy, , (1976) Is a homosexual orientation irreversible? British Journal of Psychiatry, 129, 556563.
McConaghy, Armstrong, M. S. & Blaszezynski, A. (1981) Controlled comparison of aversive therapy and covert sensitization in compulsive homosexuality. Behaviour Research and Therapy, 19, 425434.
McCullch, M. J. & Feldman, M. P. (1967) Aversion therapy in management of 43 homosexuals. British Medical Journal, ii, 594597.
McCullch, M. J. & Feldman, M. P. (1970) Aversion therapy of homosexuality (correspondence). British Journal of Psychiatry, 116, 673676.
McDougall, (1970) Homosexuality in women. In Female Sexuality and New Psychoanalytic Views (ed. Chasseguet-Smirgel, J.). Ann Arbor, MI: Michigan University Press.
McDougall, (1979) The Homosexual Dilemma. In: Sexual Deviation (ed. Rosen, I.). Oxford: Oxford University Press.
McDougall, (1995) The Many Faces of Eros – A Psychoanalytic Exploration of Human Sexuality, pp. 3238. London: Free Association Books.
McFariane, E. (1997) Diagnosis Homophobic – The Experiences of Lesbians. Gay Men and Bisexuals in Mental Health Services, London: PACE.
Maudsley, H. (1874) Responsibility in Mental Disease (2nd edn). London: Kegan Paul.
Maudsley, H. (1895) The Pathology of Mind: A Study of its Distempers, Deformities, and Disorders. London and New York: Macmillan.
Meyer-Bahlburg, H. E. L. (1982) Hormones and psychosexual orientation: implications for the management of inter-sexuality, homosexuality and transexuality clinics. Endocrinology and Metabolism, 11, 681701.
Meyer-Bahlburg, H. E. L. (1984) Psychoendocrine research on sexual orientation: current status and future options. Progress in Brain Research, 71, 375397.
Miller, C. (1996) Stages of Desire, Gay Theatre's Hidden History. London: Cassell
Money, J. (1988) Gay, Straight and Inbetween. The Sexology of Erotic Orientation. New York: Oxford University Press.
Morris, P. A. (1973) Doctors' attitudes to homosexuality. British Journal of Psychiatry, 122, 435436.
O'Connor, N. & Ryan, J. (1993) Wild Desires and Mistaken Identities: Lesbianism and Psychoanalysis. London: Virago.
Orwin, A., James, S. R. N. & Turner, R. K. (1974) Sex chromosome abnormalities, homosexuality and psychological treatment. British Journal of Psychiatry, 124, 293295.
Pfeiffer, E. (1922) Ein geheilter Fall von Homosexualität durch Hoden-transplantation. Deutsche Medizinsche Wochenschrift, 48, 660662.
Plummer, K. (ed.) (1981) The Making of the Modern Homosexual, London: Hutchinson.
Porter, R. (1997) The Greatest Benefit to Mankind. A Medical History of Humanity from Antiquity to the Present, pp. 702705. London: Harper Collins.
Power-Smith, P. (1992) Encounters with older lesbians in psychiatric practice. Sexual and Marital Therapy, 7, 179185.
Quinodoz, J. (1989) Female homosexual patients in psychoanalysis. Journal of Psychoanalysis, 70, 5563.
Raboch, J. & Nedoma, K. (1958) Sex chromatin and sexual behaviour: a study of 36 men with female nuclear pattern and of 194 homosexuals. Psychosomatic Medicine, 20, 5559.
Rado, S. (1940) A critical examination of the concept of bisexuality. Psychosomatic Medicine, 11, 458467.
Rado, S. (1969) Adaptational Psychodynamics: Motivation and Control. New York: Science House.
Rich, A. (1980) Compulsory heterosexuality in lesbian existence. Signs, 5, 631660.
Ripa, Y. (1990) Women and Madness, the Incarceration of Women in the 19th Century. Cambridge: Polity Press.
Rogers, A. (1998) Consenting adults. BMA News Review, May, 27.
Rodo, I. (ed.) (1996) Sexual Deviation. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Sengoopta, C. (1998) Glandular politics: experimental biology, clinical medicine, and homosexual emancipation in the early twentieth century. ISIS, 89, 445473.
Showalter, E. (1987) The Female Malady: Women, Madness and English Culture 1830–1980. London: Virago.
Slater, E. & Cowle, V. (1971) The Genetics of Mental Disorders, London: Oxford University Press.
Stapleton, R. M. V. (1975) Picking up the pieces after aversion therapy. British Journal of Sexual Medicine, 2, 3436.
Storr, A. (1964) Sexual Deviation. Harmondsworth: Penguin.
Saaz, T. S. (1960) The myth of mental illness, American Psychologist, 15, 113118.
Tanner, B. A. (1973) Shock intensity and fear of shock in the modification of homosexual behaviour in males by avoidance learning. Behaviour Research and Therapy, 11, 213218.
Weeks, J. (1977) Coming Out: Homosexual Politics in Britain from the 19th Century to The Present. London: Quartet Books.
West, D. J. (1968) Homosexuality (3rd edn), p. 247. London: Pelican.
Wolff, C. (1971) Love Between women. London: Duckworth.
Woodward, M. (1956) The diagnosis and treatment of homosexual offenders. British Journal of Delinquency, 9, 4459.
World Health Organization (1992) The ICD–10 Classification of Mental and Behavioural Disorders. Geneva: WHO.

Related content

Powered by UNSILO

British psychiatry and homosexuality

  • Michael King (a1) and Annie Bartlett (a2)


Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed.

British psychiatry and homosexuality

  • Michael King (a1) and Annie Bartlett (a2)
Submit a response


No eLetters have been published for this article.


Reply to: Submit a response

Your details

Conflicting interests

Do you have any conflicting interests? *