Doctor tried to cure homosexuality by tasping gay man while he had sex with female prostitute

Dr. Robert G. Heath's 1972 paper Pleasure and brain activity in man: Deep and surface electroencephalograms during orgasm details an insane experiment in which a suicidal, drug-addicted gay man was wired up with deep-brain stimulators; the good doctor then paid a prostitute to screw said suicidal, drug-addicted gay man. The experiment's purpose? TO CURE TEH GAY!
...the patient was equipped with a three-button self-stimulating transistorized device... The three buttons... were attached to electrodes in the various deep [brain] sites, and the patient was free to stimulate any of these three sites as he chose... He was permitted to wear the device for 3 hours at a time: on one occasion he stimulated his septal region 1,200 times, on another occasion 1,500 times, and on a third occasion 900 times. He protested each time the unit was taken from him, pleading to self-stimulate just a few more times... the patient reported feelings of pleasure, alertness, and warmth (goodwill); he had feelings of sexual arousal and described a compulsion to masturbate...

One aspect of the total treatment program for this patient was to explore the possibility of altering his sexual orientation through electrical stimulation of pleasure sites of the brain. As indicated in the history, his interests, contacts, and fantasies were exclusively homosexual; heterosexual activities were repugnant to him.

A twenty-one-year-old female prostitute agreed, after being told the circumstances, to spend time with the patient in a specially prepared laboratory.

The tasping gay-curing doc founded the Department of Psychiatry and Neurology at Tulane University, New Orleans, in 1949 and ran it until 1980. His research, partly financed by the CIA and US military, also involved experimentation on "prisoner volunteers." He especially liked to work on black people, because, "they were everywhere and cheap experimental animals."

Oscillatory Thoughts: Self-stimulating the brain for heterosexual sex with a prostitute. Seriously. (via JWZ)


  1. Tasping?  First “prams” for babies, now this?  Boingboing needs to come with a dictionary – Google fails me.

  2. Ah, got it – from Niven’s Known Space “Tasp – A device that can stimulate the pleasure center of the brain via electric induction at varying levels, even at a distance.”

    1. If you didn’t know what tasp meant and you like to read sci-fi, then have we got a treat in store for you! Start with and if that grabs ya then I’ve made the world a better place today.

    2. In the same books Niven also has the term “wireheading”, which is the use of implanted wires (typically by suicidal addicts) to stimulate the pleasure center.  “Wireheading” is almost exactly what was done in the experiment (same exact tech, similar purpose) so would be a better term.

  3. –He especially liked to work on black people, because, “they were everywhere and cheap experimental animals.”–

    Just for correct attribution, I believe that quote is from one of his collaborators, not the doctor himself, according to the linked article.

    1. How is this a right wing thing? The group that supports euthanasia, abortion, selective breeding, cloning, and says humans are no better than chickens isn’t usually right wing. At the time, the psychiatric community believed homosexuality was a disorder. 

  4. My mind just made several leaps away from this mess, and now I’m envisioning ads for nursing colleges offering degree/certification programs allowing prostitutes to do this kind of work.

    1. Ringworld was not a good book. It was a cool setting with no story to occupy it.

      Yeah, but it was a really cool setting. And a mercifully short book.

  5. Wow, really?  I don’t give a rat’s rectum who said it.  The statement is despicable, inappropriate, condescending, culturally insensitive, rude, and it demonstrates a complete absence of personal judgement on every level.  It’s idiots like these that give credible researchers a bad name.

    1. You don’t care whether the person to whom the statement was attributed actually said it?

  6. Footage from this experiment was shown on the BBC series The Brain – A Secret History (  Fascinating series, however extremely disturbing to see footage from this experiment as well as some of the terrible things Pavlov did (he repeated most of his dog experiments on street children).

  7. I have had difficulty finding very much documentation about this sort of brain stimulation. Does anyone have any more collections of articles about this sort of stuff?

    In particular I’m interested in long term effects of direct electrical stimulation (not ‘too busy pushing the button to eat’ type effects, more like scar tissue buildup eliminated the effect after 30 days, or after 3 months of automatic stimulation the subject reports no longer experiencing pleasure, etc).

    1. Delgado’s “Physical Control of The Mind: Towards a Psychocivilized Society” is a good overview of the state of the art back when this stuff was going on. 

  8. So, Dr. Mengele IS alive and living in New Orleans… That explains a lot of stuff… Some of the ass-backwards politicians in the south , Bobby Jindal, David Duke, Louie Gohmert, Rick Perry, KB Hutchison, hhuummm.. this list is starting to sound familiar….hhuummmm… OH YEA, ALL current rethuglicons from the south who constantly spew idiotic mumbo-jumbo, and think a fairy tale just spoke to them personally…

    Keep up the good work doc on the pols…. Others, you may want to dial back a bit, otherwise we’re gonna put you on the same rendition plane that’s waiting for Chimpy at the Dallas airport…

  9. Uh… wow. I wrote that post, and it just got BB’d. That happened.

    I work with a lot of patients who have brain surgery–electrodes implanted inside their skulls. Not ANYTHING like what I wrote about in the post!

    We do work on brian computer interfacing and whatnot. I gave a talk at TEDx Berkeley last year that shows a video of what the brain looks like during the surgery, if people are interested.
    If you want to know more about this kind of research, feel free to ask.


    My research:

  10. So uh… it didn’t work I take it?

    Doing experiments on drug addicts seems to me to be not only immoral but also flawed experimental design. You want to know something about average people you shouldn’t study someone whos brain craves toxic substances.

    That and the doctor is a complete racist and bigot.

    1. “You want to know something about average people you shouldn’t study someone whos brain craves toxic substances.”

      Drug use, especially this patient’s rather omnivorous selection, certainly does make them a questionably representative case; but you make it sound like drug addicts are a different species or something. There are some drugs with pretty significant variations in addictive potential between people(like alcohol, which derives much of its danger from being safe-ish for enough of the population that it works as a cultural/cuisine element; but anybody whose brain doesn’t crave a stiff hit to the pleasure center is far weirder than an addict, even if they’ve found healthier sources of such hits…

    2. The doctor who said the line about black people was Harry Richard Bailey, a colleague (or at least contemporary) of Heath’s. The full line is considerably more racist and unpleasant.

      Bailey eventually killed himself, when it became apparent that he was going to be held responsible for his actions by Australia’s Parliament.

    3. Actually it did partially work. The patient had an extended affair with a married woman, although he also continued sleeping with men. So although he didn’t convert the patient from gay to straight, he effectively changed him from gay to bisexual. That’s much closer to what the patient wanted, and its revolutionary considering he did this in the 50’s with no precedent. So before you start writing condescending things based on your own biases, you might want to check out the facts.

      1. “That’s much closer to what the patient wanted”

        I find this entire line of research questionable, but your lack of context to that statement makes me ill.

        The man was suicidal – could it have anything to do with his orientation in a repressive society?
        Could his desire to change be driven not by what he really wanted, but by a need to be able to show everyone else he was “normal” now?

        Using someone society has marginalized as a guinea pig is wrong.

        I have much more I want to say, but I can’t.  This entire farce is making me so upset that I lack the ability to stay rational.

        1. To T_A_C I said, “Take a big dose of Condescension.  You’ll feel much better.”
          That wasn’t kind. You may rightly be upset. I reacted to your dehumanizing view of what you termed the marginalized. As if they can’t make choices. That sort of paternalism has real consequences for the disadvantaged.

          1. And the choice in that situation for the experimental subject was…

            Get my brain wired with electrodes and be experimented on
            Go back to being arrested, shit on and abused by society for being gay.

            Yes people can make choices, but those choices can be forced and unappealing. 

            As a current card carrying member of said disadvantaged marginalized group my words might not always be the optimal selection.  But I took great offense to the idea offered by John that it was what he wanted, without considering the context of the times.

            But bonus he became bisexual, and had low enough morals to sleep with a married woman for an extended period.

            It is this type of thinking that leads to the whole pray away the gay business.  People being raised in a religious atmosphere and told to be what they are is wrong and dirty.  Rather than provide real help they take these people, who are in pain and suffering, and give them the added burden of not being authentic to who they are so they can make everyone else happy.  That it is just a choice they can make, a switch in the brain that can be flipped, a pill that can be given, a prayer that just needs to be answered.

    1. I suppose the point in Terminal Man is that the brain is much smarter than the system controlling the current. If the current causes pleasure and heterosexual thoughts stimulate current then the brain will provide the appropriate feedback, but that need not have anything to do with the person’s behaviour outside the experiment.

      1. I saw that listing, but saw that it was in a Larry Niven book so I figured that couldn’t be relevant to an actual psychological practice.  Wow. Truth really is stranger than fiction. And more disturbing. 

  11. This sounds, to me, pretty typical of the 60’s and 70’s. I’ve read of the so-called deprogrammers who, as part of their strategy, had prostitutes rape their kidnapped ‘cult’ members to break their religious abstinence. Not surprisingly, these same deprogrammers would also take on try to cure homosexuals with the same tactics.

  12. This is one of those cases where the implications are even worse than the direct horror of the story — setting aside the innate cruelty of trying to “de-gay” someone, can you imagine the sort of world that would be created if science had found a way to alter what people are attracted to? McDonalds already spends billions trying to get you to like Big Macs just using suggestive imagery…

  13. This is very exciting news. I’m at work right now or you bet I’d be Googling the original article in hopes of getting my dirty mitts on the schematics of such a device. I love the subtle intricacies of the tech blueprints of the time… they’re so raw and personal compared to those drawn up by some soulless CAD on Ventura Blvd today. Not that I long for those transistorized ways, mind you, I don’t mean to suggest that to you. It’s closer to say that having to involve Big Science in your experiments like that in order to get your frequencies modulated just seems unnatural to a young person like me. My first inclination is grind out some kind of gnarly phone app, but frankly, I’d need to see a bit more of the demographic data before actually investing myself in a project like that. Man, I can’t wait to get off work today and go home to mine some of this creativity. I am just bursting with ideas right now.

  14. Dr. Robert G. Heath died in 1999 and was remembered for a number of breakthroughs.

    Oh sorry, I didn’t mean to present a more complete view of a complex person with many achievements. My bad, lets get back to outrage. RABBLE RABBLE RABBLE!

    1. Except the “breakthroughs” for which he is remembered aren’t really true and the methods by which he examined them were also unethical! If you read my post, you’d have seen this part about the NYT obit:

      Ok, fine. That’s nice. But what’s weird–and what the New York Times obit doesn’t say–is that the taraxein theory of “schizogenesis” appears to be total crap, despite the fact that Heath held fast to his claims. Furthermore, the ethics of this research are questionable, at best. As Professor Alan Baumeister wrote in his historical analysis “The Search for an Endogenous Schizogen: The Strange Case of Taraxein”:

      “On May 3, 1956… Heath announced that he and colleagues “had induced full symptoms of schizophrenia” in two nonpsychotic prisoner-volunteers… by injecting them with an extract from blood of schizophrenic patients.”

      If you’ve ever done research, or have any sense of ethics, the thought of using prisoners in an experiment to see if you can induce psychosis should set off your humanity-alarms.

        1. No, the nazi scientists actually knew what they were doing. Well, the physicists anyways.

          I don’t really count Mengele and his ilk as scientists.

      1. OK, I have to admit, that sounds scary. It’s not like we didn’t know then of the effects of injecting a persons blood into someone else.  I assume they were at least typed.  

        Having said that, if you can isolate a substance from schizophrenic patients, transfer it to healthy people and they develop schizophrenic symptoms, there really is a lesson learnt.
        Unless it was a lie.  Like the cake.

    2. Thanks for that Dan.  Props for sometimes misguided doctors.  And errors. My grandmothers’ doctor, in his early years was alleged to have made a mistake (family history, so not very reliable) and my gran dies.  He went on to be the pioneer of artificial insemination for humans in the little backwater I live in, here on Airstrip One.

      How many people benefited (and the procedure wasn’t patented) compared to how many people died.  My gran, my call.  She’d have loved it, she was a catholic, the more kiddies the better.

  15. I guess that if you began with the premise that it is possible and desirable to “cure” homosexuality then this would be the logical way to do it. Still pretty despicable though.

  16. Have to admit I was a little disappointed here. When I read the title I was all excited that someone had invented a working Tasp. Sadly, it turns out that it’s just another article about how miserable human beings can be. Hey Boing Boing, what happened to being about “wonderful things”?

  17. Would you like to see the experiment in question? I will say at this point, that you should prepare yourself to be viscerally disgusted and enraged. I am not kidding in any way. As a gay man myself, I can barely force myself to view what is unquestionably one of the most monstrous and disturbing acts of one human on another that has ever been put to film. Consider yourself thusly warned.

    1. OK, I have to say, after watching this video my thoughts on this are rather changed (and by the way, the scenes of the experiment in question were re-enactments – though there is actual footage from another experiment with implanted electrodes).

      According to this video, the man was gay and *wanted* to be straight, and he apparently enjoyed the experience. They didn’t mention in the video if he was actually a schizophrenic addict, but it wouldn’t surprise me as apparently the doctor was experimenting with treating schizophrenia which I presume is how this experiment with this particular guy came about.

      I don’t mean to excuse what the guy did – it’s pretty awful – but the comments here seem to me to be blowing things out of proportion. The reality is bad enough, it doesn’t need to be exaggerated and compared to Nazi experimentation and whatever.

  18. I wonder if this study (wrong on so many levels) informed Spider Robinson’s Mindkiller/Time Pressure novels which describe wireheading.

  19.  I read “tasping” as a typo for “tasing” and could not figure out how tasing a gay guy while having heterosexual sex would make him like it more than the homosexual variety.

  20. Anyone else think of Woody Allen in “Sleeper” with the Orb, when reading about the guy zapping himself thousands of times and not wanting to give it up?

    1. It didn’t really work; apparently the guy ended up in a relationship with a woman (a married woman at that) for ten months, but also had relationships with men at the same time and presumably stuck to men afterward.

  21. Tasping? Nothing at Urban Dictionary, Google only leads back here.

    Perhaps if you are going to make up words, you could at least tell readers your definition, eh.


    1. Possibly because the first commenter in this thread found the definition and posted in the second comment. Also, its described in the blurb Cory posted from the article.

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