Intended for healthcare professionals


Treatments of homosexuality in Britain since the 1950s—an oral history: the experience of patients

BMJ 2004; 328 doi: (Published 19 February 2004) Cite this as: BMJ 2004;328:427
  1. Glenn Smith, research fellow1,
  2. Annie Bartlett, senior lecture2,
  3. Michael King, professor of primary care psychiatry (m.king{at}
  1. 1Department of Mental Health Sciences, Royal Free and University College School of Medicine, Royal Free Campus, London NW3 2PF
  2. 2Department of Psychiatry, St George's Hospital Medical School, Jenner Wing, London SW17 0RE
  1. Correspondence to: M King
  • Accepted 2 December 2003


Objectives To investigate the circumstances since the 1950s in which people who were attracted to members of the same sex received treatments to change their sexual orientation, the referral pathway and the process of therapy, and its aftermath.

Design A nationwide study based on qualitative interviews.

Participants 29 people who had received treatments to change their sexual orientation in the United Kingdom and two relatives of former patients.

Results Most participants had been distressed by their attraction to their own sex and people in whom they confided thought they needed treatment. Although some participants chose to undergo treatments instead of imprisonment or were encouraged through some form of medical coercion, most were responding to complex personal and social pressures that discouraged any expression of their sexuality. While many participants found happiness in same sex relationships after their treatment, most were left feeling emotionally distressed to some degree.

Conclusion The definition of same sex attraction as an illness and the development of treatments to eradicate such attraction have had a negative long term impact on individuals.


  • Funding GS was supported by a grant from the Wellcome Trust History of Medicine Section

  • Competing interests None declared

  • Ethical approval: Received from Royal Free Hospital NHS Trust Research Ethics Committee.

  • Accepted 2 December 2003
View Full Text