Jung did not write extensively on the topic of homosexuality, but there are important snippets in his collected works.
Carl Gustav Jung (1875-1961) was a very influential Swiss analyst who founded a type of therapy called analytical psychotherapy. Jung's therapy focuses on individuation, or knowledge and development of the Self.
His therapy is helpful with people who are looking to find their life's purpose, find meaning in life, or people who want to reach their ultimate potential.
Even if you've never heard of Jung, you likely know his concepts of introverts and extraverts. If you've ever taken and Meyers-Briggs personality test at work or with a career counselor, then that test is based on his work.
Jung remains influential today.
There are Jungian societies that meet all over the world to study and explore his work, and training programs that qualify certified Jungian analysts. Here in Atlanta, the Jung Society meets monthly in Sandy Springs, and a Jungian Training Institute that meets here and in Memphis.
Jung did not write much on the topic of sexual orientation.
The topic of homosexuality is not the subject of any major essays, but there are discussions of male homosexuality in several of his essays and separately, in letters he exchanged with Sigmund Freud.
Homosexuality And The University Student: An Essay
"Love is a Force of Destiny Whose Power Reaches From Heaven to Hell"
A typical example of Jung's thoughts on male homosexuality can be found in a 1922 essay called, "The Love Problem of A Student."
The gist of the article is about the problems facing male university students who are too young and too poor to marry, but are still eager to express their sexuality. What are these horny frat boys to do? The pill and the sexual revolution won't happen for another 40 years, so their options are limited.
While defining the concept of love, including both its romantic and sexual components, Jung brings up homosexuality as a type of love:
"We also speak of the "love of boys," meaning homosexuality, which since classical times has lost its glamour as a social and educative institution, and now ekes out a miserable, terror stricken existence as a so-called perversion and punishable offense, at least where men are concerned."
Jungian psychology focuses on mythology and concepts called archetypes to understand human nature and the human psyche. Certain concepts and themes repeat themselves over and over in history, sometimes in paintings, sometimes in cultural rituals, and other times in stories or myths.
Jung was always very thorough in researching the history of a topic before writing about it, often going back to writers like Goethe and Shakespeare, the Romans, the Greeks, the Egyptians and more to see what he can learn. This quote is an example of just that sort of research.
With the phrase, "the love of boys," Jung is reminding the reader of traditions in ancient Greeks. Homosexuality was important to the cultural and political environment in Greece. Condoned homosexual relationships were between teachers and students in the context of learning and education.
These learning relationships were important for civic education of citizens in the polis, and were thus important to the political structure of Greek society.
Jung laments that in the early 20th century Anglo cultures have criminalized this important institution, and, as a result of criminalization, gay men in the 10th century were, in his view, forced into "miserable, terror stricken" lives.
Jung is not attempting to criticize the homosexual here, instead he is criticizing the loss of an important archetype for human relationships, an important human tradition.
Jung Believed the ultimate goal of a well adjusted person was heterosexual marriage
"The Average Solution of the Love Problem Is, As You Know, Marriage"
Jung is in some respects normalizing homosexuality in this essay, but it would be inaccurate to think that he is seeing LGBT adults as healthy and full developed.
This essay is about students, and for Jung, this is a time of life when men and boys experience, "an onrush of sexuality," causing confusion and wild fantasies.
Figuring out what acceptable sexuality is requires experimenting and is a more normal part of the human condition than society likes to admit.
"Hence there are very few men who have not had sexual experience of some kind before they are married. During puberty it is mostly homosexual experiences and these are more common than is generally admitted. . . . Homosexual relations between students are by no means uncommon."
And Jung even suggested that gay men might make the best teachers.
"When a [higher and more spiritual] friendship exists between an older man and a younger its educative significance is undeniable. A slightly homosexual teacher, for example, often owes his brilliant educational gifts to his homosexual disposition."
In German romanticism, there is a concept of higher friendships between men.
There could be strong affection and even shared sexual activity in the name of a profound and spiritual friendship. That is the kind of interaction that Jung describes here. A "steadfast and loyal friendship" is the important part for Jung, not just seduction.
The more homosexual a man is," Jung wrote unapprovingly, "the more prone he is to disloyalty and to the seduction of boys."
Jung is putting acceptable homosexuality into certain contexts. Here he is explaining that homosexual acts are a normal part of human development, but not the end goal. This becomes clear in other writings as well.
To Jung, a man is supposed to outgrow these relations and adapt to a natural married life when a woman after adolescence and university, when the norms of society deemed he was ready for marriage.
To stay a homosexual was to stay in an immature form of development in Jung's eyes.
But, It would be wrong to conclude that he was Anti-gay or homophobic
"Normally, the practice of homosexuality is not prejudicial to later heterosexual activity. Indeed, the two can even exist side by side"
It would be a mistake to assume that Jung understood homosexuality as we understand it today.
In his early writings, he easily gets caught up in what we would today called gender stereotypes and misogyny. Indeed, Jung is controversial in feminist scholarship, and largely seen as an example of the patriarchy. (Though some scholars, notable Susan Rowland, have made the case for more feminist readings of Jung.)
Jung's goal in therapy, like many of his contemporaries, would be to help gay men grow out of his homosexuality, but he acknowledged that such a goal was neither possible for desirable in all situations.
Jung lamented and criticized the criminalization of homosexuality and believed that the laws of his era made people's lives worse.
So, from our contemporary eyes almost 100 years later, Jung's views seem both enlightened and unenlightened at the same time. He was certainly far ahead of many of today's regressive forces in society.
I'm a fan of Jung, and his writings inform my therapeutic work. So, I'm maybe a bit biased, but I like to think that if Jung were still alive today, he would likely be very accepting and progressive in his views. His concluding statements give me hope:
"Sexuality dished out as sexuality it brutish, but sexuality as an expression of love of love is hallowed. Therefore, never ask what a man does, but how he does it. If he does it from love or in the spirit of live, then he serves a god; and whatever he may do is not ours to judge, for it is ennobled."
For more information:
The Collected Works of C G Jung, Vol. 10, para. 197 - 235 (pp. 97-112)
Hopcke, Peter. (1989) Jung, Jungians, and Homosexuality
Downing, Christine. (1989) Myths and Mysteries of Same Sex Love