What’s the difference between breastfeeding promotion and gay conversion therapy?

discrimination gay concept. Two rainbow eggs in the form of a homosexual couple. And condemning people around

Imagine if every time a gay man or woman interacted with the healthcare system he or she was offered gay conversion therapy, instructed that heterosexuality was normal and forced to sign a consent form for medical care that proclaimed “Hetero is Best”?

Ugly, right?

As GLAAD explains:

Anti-LGBTQ activists have argued for years that sexual orientation is a choice and changeable – but only for people attracted to the same sex, not heterosexuals. They often claim “homosexuality” is not real, but rather a form of mental illness or an emotional disorder that can be “cured” through psychological or religious intervention. Anti-LGBTQ activists claim that being attracted to the same sex is a curable condition, and therefore people attracted to the same sex do not need or deserve equal treatment under the law or protection from discrimination.

Now consider that every time a pregnant women or new mother interacts with the medical system, she is pressured to breastfeed, instructed that breastfeeding is normal and forced every time she opened a can of formula to read that “Breast is Best.”

Both assume that individuals cannot figure out what is right for themselves and must be pressured into the “best” choice.

Why?

Breastfeeding professionals and advocates have argued for years that breastfeeding is nothing more than a choice and those who can’t or don’t want to breastfeed could do so if they really tried. They often claim that breastfeeding difficulties aren’t real, but rather a mindset foisted on women by the formula industry, a mindset that can only be counteracted with aggressive efforts to promote breastfeeding. Professional breastfeeding advocates often claim that women who choose formula feeding do not need or deserve equal treatment by medical professionals, hospitals and public health campaigns.

Ugly, right?

How do these efforts impact those who are supposed to be “supported” by them?

GLAAD:

The American Psychiatric Association has condemned the “treatment” of “homosexuality,” saying, “The potential risks of ‘reparative therapy’ are great, including depression, anxiety and self destructive behavior, since therapist alignment with societal prejudices against homosexuality may reinforce self-hatred already experienced by the patient.”

Similarly, it’s pretty clear that aggressive breastfeeding promotion has significant psychological risks to the mother above and beyond the risks to babies from insufficient breastmilk. Aggressive breastfeeding promotion can lead to postpartum depression, pospartum anxiety and self destructive behavior since such efforts reinforce the self hatred already experienced by many of these women.

Why do advocates engage in these pressure campaigns?

Gay conversion therapy is pressed on gay people by parents, religious leaders and others who truly care about them. There’s no question that it is much easier to be a heterosexual in our society, that gay people face terrible prejudice and that religious leaders fear for the immortal souls of those who are gay. In addition, parents and religious leaders often erroneously conclude that it is a licentious society that encourages young people to be gay.

As a result, they force gay people into conversion programs because they love them and want what’s best for them. It literally never occurs to them that gay people can figure out for themselves what is best.

Breastfeeding professionals and advocates promote breastfeeding so aggressively because they really feel it is best for babies and best for mothers. They claim all sorts of benefits of breastfeeding and all sorts of risks of formula feeding. In addition, breastfeeding professionals and advocates are sure that it is formula companies that pressure women to give up breastfeeding or choose not breastfeed in the first place.

As a result, they lock up formula, promote breastfeeeding contracts and force pregnant women and new mothers into programs like the Baby Friendly Hospital Initiative because they truly care about babies and mothers and want what’s best for them. It literally never occurs to them that mothers can figure out for themselves which feeding method — breastfeeding, bottle feeding or a combination of both — is best for their babies, their families and themselves.

Gay conversion therapy is FAR WORSE than aggressive breastfeeding promotion efforts. Sexual orientation, of course, is never a choice whereas breastfeeding sometimes is. On the other hand, being gay comes with more risks to safety and wellbeing in our still homophobic society than the faux “risks” of formula feeding. The worries of parents and religious leaders sadly reflect reality and imagining that things could be “better” if only gay people accepted that heterosexuality is best is hardly irrational.

But gay conversion therapy is immoral, unethical and anti-scientific. And although it is worse than aggressive breastfeeding promotion, it shares many commonalities.

1. Both presume choice when there is no choice.
2. Both share a fundamental misunderstanding of biology and evolution; just because something is natural doesn’t make it perfect.
3. Both assume that the biological norm is what all people should strive to attain.
4. Both imagine that “glamorization” of gay lifestyles by the entertainment industry or of formula feeding by the formula industry are far more influential than they are.
5. Both rest on the belief that individuals cannot figure out what is right for themselves and must be pressured into the “best” choice.

Gay conversion therapy is anathema and has been rightly condemned by medical professionals including the American Psychiatric Association, the American Psychological Association, the American Medical Association, the National Mental Health Association and the American Academy of Pediatrics. This represents a profound change from their previous positions on the issue.

Aggressive breastfeeding promotion is also to be deplored. It should be condemned by both medical and mental health professionals. I have no doubt that it will ultimately be properly condemned; in the meantime we should be doing everything possible to hasten that day and to support all women regardless of how they choose to feed their babies.

  • Zornorph

    Where you say” On the other hand, being gay comes with more risks to safety and
    wellbeing in our still homophobic society than the faux “risks” of
    breastfeeding.” I think you mean the risks of NOT breastfeeding.

    • Amy Tuteur, MD

      Thanks! Fixed it!!