Ex-Gay Project Fails

The National Organization “for” Marriage is trumpeting a new survey about changing your sexual orientation, based on “religiously-mediated” involvement in Christian conversion ministries:

Many professional voices proclaim that it is impossible to change homosexual orientation, and that the attempt to change is commonly and inherently harmful…

The results show change to be possible for some, and the attempt not harmful on average.

I don’t have access to the full survey, but the researchers have summarized the results. Here’s how it turned out after 6 to 7 years of tracking participants:

98 The number of subjects when the study began: 72 men and 26 women.
37 The number of subjects who dropped out of the study and did not report their results. I don’t think we can count any of them as an ex-gay “win.”
12 The number who stopped trying to change, and embraced their gay identity.
18 The number who were reportedly chaste, “with substantive dis-identification with homosexual orientation.”

In other words, they’ve managed to stop having sex, and don’t think about getting same-sex down-and-dirty as much as they used to.

This isn’t a change in orientation, any more than a straight person is no longer straight because they’ve used prayer to become celibate and partially push some of their sexual feelings underground.

17 The number who apparently stayed with the study, but whose outcomes are not described in the summary. Presumably, they’re not clear ex-gay “wins” either.
14 The number who reported “successful ‘conversion’ to heterosexual orientation and functioning.”

That’s a meager 14% success rate.

Or is it? Let’s learn more about those 14 people.

First, it’s probably not 14.  The study cautions us that the 14 conversions and 18 celibates represent “likely overly optimistic projections of anticipated success.”

In other words — less than 14 actual conversions.

But wait.  Check out what “conversion” means:

Most of the individuals who reported that they were heterosexual at Time 3 did not report themselves to be without experience of homosexual arousal, and did not report heterosexual orientation to be unequivocal and uncomplicated.

You know what they call straight people who experience homosexual arousal, and whose orientation is at most equivocal?  Bisexual. Most of the 14 heterosexual “conversions” seem to be bisexuals.

This leaves us with at most — at most — 6 individuals who went from gay to straight (as of now, at least; who knows where they’ll be in another 7 years).


And the authors aren’t willing to go even that far.  Their single-sentence summary:

In short, the results do not prove that categorical change in sexual orientation is possible for everyone or anyone, but rather that meaningful shifts along a continuum that constitute real changes appear possible for some.

Wow.  Out of 98 highly-motivated subjects, the authors found that a small, unspecified number can use prayer and counseling to shut down their sexual feelings or become a bit more bi.  And possibly none who turned straight.

Frankly, I’m surprised they couldn’t find more.  The authors claim their results:

…challenge the commonly expressed views of the mental health establishment that change of sexual orientation is impossible or very uncommon…

Actually, it looks more like the results confirm those views.  If the antigay camp sees this as vindication and victory, they must be even more desperate than I thought.

ADDENDUM: When more than a third of the test subjects decide they want nothing more to do with the project and refuse to give any information about their emotional well-being, you probably shouldn’t be so confident that the therapy is “not harmful on average.”

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23 comments to Ex-Gay Project Fails

  • 1
    JayKingOfGay says:

    since we have 14 “success stories” does that not mean we have an 86% FAILURE rate? Of if your six is correct, then a 94% failure rate?
    If your doctor said “So you say you have cancer?  Well, I’ve got a miracle cure that only fails 94% of the time! It’s time consuming and costly, but hey, you could be one of the lucky 6 who kinda sorta doesn’t have cancer as much anymore!”

  • 2
    Bill Dennis says:

    The same way that Christians denied or tried to pooh pooh evolution, they are reacting to homosexuality.  Until they can understand that we were created this way, and it wasn’t by choice, there is simply no point in arguing with them.  All we can do as responsible folk is to set a good example as loving people (lord knows, it’s not easy!)

  • 3
    Kathleen says:

    Rob, the citation for the article is:
    Stanton L. Jones & Mark A. Yarhouse. (2011). “A longitudinal study of attempted religiously-mediated sexual orientation change.” Journal of Sex and Marital Therapy, Volume 37, pages 404-427.
    I have access to this journal online, but the latest issue (last one of Vol. 307, 2011) isn’t there yet.  I expect it to be soon and have set up an alert to be notified when it’s available. If you’re interested, I’ll forward the article to you for more careful analysis when I get it.

  • 4
    robtish says:

    Thanks Kathleen!

  • 5
    tavdy79 says:

    @ JayKingofGay – actually it’s worse than that. Try this (my amendment in bold):
    If your doctor said “So you say you have cancer?  Well, I’ve got a miracle cure that only fails 94% of the time! It’s time consuming and costly, and you’re actually more likely to end up with chronic mental health problems like depression or an anxiety disorder, but hey, you could be one of the lucky 6 who kinda sorta doesn’t have cancer as much anymore!”
    I’m speaking from first-hand experience here.

  • 6
    clayton says:

    What if they had managed to prove it was a choice?  What if they had managed to prove that, instead of a 94% failure rate, they had a 94% success rate?  At least among those who wanted to change?  So what?  The ability to make choices is the hallmark of freedom.  Religion is a choice (nobody is “born Catholic”) and that’s honored.  Political affiliation is a choice, and that’s protected.  The ability to say something intellectually indefensible is a choice (as NOM proves frequently), and that’s protected.  The ability to marry the person one loves is a choice, and that’s protected–for straight people.  Why shouldn’t that choice be extended to gays and lesbians?  NOM has yet to come up with a coherent answer to that one, and wouldn’t be able to do so, even if they managed to prove that sexual orientation is a choice.

  • 7
    JayKingOfGay says:

    clayton, absolutely.  That’s a hard one to get across.  Whether there’s a gay gene, or genes, or womb environment is actually beside the point. Discovering a cause would give rise to calls for a cure. It would not end debate, just change it’s direction. 
    What matters is results.  Homosexuality does not cause any disease or condition.  It is not a pathology.  It does not impair judgement, fertility, or the use of one’s reproductive organs. It does not shorten one’s lifespan. It is not a disease or illness. This is fact. Moral objections, like objections to wearing certain clothes, are based on opinions not facts.

  • 8
    Boobalina says:

    This entire study is complete bullshit.  Where is Jesus in this?  Nowhere, that’s where.   You can’t go straight without the J-Man. 

  • 9
    (Rich (in name only) in reno says:

    I’m a straight man who gave up sex after contacting herpies (oral,) and deided I didn’t want to “pass it on.” I now refer to myself as a “nomosexual.”

  • 10
    Seth E says:

    The background of the two men who conducted the study also seems of note. It appears, from a basic Google search, that they by and large have dedicated a lot of time to, let’s call it, “scientific homophobia”. Both teach at conservative christian schools. This doesn’t, obviously, completely discount their study, and I also assume the journal is a legitimate one, but the researchers do seem to have an agenda as opposed to a curiosity.
    Also, I thought NOM was only against Gay Marriage and not gay people?

  • 11
    JayKingOfGay says:

    Seth, on CNN, MSNBC, and in major newspapers they’re “not against gay people”  Everywhere else, however, they are.  We really need news casters to call them on this when they appear for a fake useless debate. 

  • 12
    Sam says:

    Color me shocked that NOM would publicize such a study.  Why, Maggie herself has said often that NOM isn’t anti-gay, just pro-marriage.  I’m sure this was just the work of a rogue staffer and Maggs will quickly issue an apology.  She loves they gays, you know.  It’s all about love. 

  • 13
    Pastor Dave says:

    Because a few people are able to function bisexually, it tells us nothing about “changing” sexual orientation.  Of course, radical anti-gay pressure groups, which claim to only care about “traditional marriage,” are going to publish anything which might drag in a little more $$$.  Gotta keep them 6 figure salaries coming in!  They’ve chosen money over God and they need to repent.  How about this?  Instead of finding excuses to stay in the sin of homophobia, why don’t we start leading these poor deluded, unrepentant homophobes toward a cure?

  • 14
    Milan says:

    Did the study specify in more detail the definition of ‘successful conversion to heterosexual orientation and functioning’?  Willingness to go to bed with someone of the opposite sex does not a heterosexual make.  Just look at all the gay men and women who started by dating hetero, or even ended up in marriages and with kids, and allowed themselves to express their sexual orientation only much later when the environment was more conducive to expressing their sexual orientation openly.  The “experience of homosexual arousal” and a confused attitude toward newly-minted heterosexuality sounds like a perfectly normal reaction in an oppressive and judgmental environment that pushes you to change in a narrowly specified direction; but if those “successful” 14 candidates were allowed to continue the study in an open and supportive environment, I wonder if any of them would still claim to have converted to straight.

  • 15
    Tommyboy says:

    Ya know, in the seventies we had these battles:  Is it ‘choice’ or inherent? There was almost no science around the subject.  But we all came to the same conclusion:  Even if it was a choice, it was one we’d make again and again.  We knew first-hand the traumas and tragedies of our lives, but we reveled in our freedom to live them.  As a country, we need some of that feeling back.

  • 16
    Karen says:

    One thing that I’m curious to see is if the depression — mild to severe — played any part in subverting sexual feelings. It’s been well-documented that people who are miserable lose interest in sex, and it strikes me that anyone who attempts to convert something as innate as sexuality would be under enormous emotional stress in their environments, with nothing to say for those who are genetically predisposed to depressive disorders.
    These results say to me that there were unhappy people trying to change themselves to please society and in doing so, a handful of them numbed themsleves to the most basic human expression of love toward another person.

  • 17
    Robearto says:

    Duh! We’re born gay or straight. I can’t explain bisexuality and don’t want to. That just being indecisive.

  • 18
    Charlie says:

    I found the study on-line at http://wthrockmorton.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/08/Jones-and-Yarhouse-Final.pdf This is much more thorough than the summaries published in various places.

  • 19
    TheBraveLittleToaster says:

    nobody is “born Catholic”
    Ah, I see you have no experience with Catholics or being Catholic. I suppose technically speaking you might be correct, but they try to fix that as soon as possible. Usually within a few days after your birth. *Then* they consider you Catholic forever, regardless of whether or not you switch to say, Satanism. You can always be brought back into the fold. You have to get excommunicated, which is not something they take lightly. As in, you have to kill someone or have an abortion or something like that. 
    @Rich in Reno:
    You’re kidding, right? I’ve had herpes (again, oral) for as long as I can remember. I had cold sores for class pictures as early as *kindergarten*. And while I warn my sexual partners, I don’t go celibate for the rest of my life. That’s insane. Most people realize that while it’s a slight annoyance, and its incurable, it’s not going to do any real harm.

  • 20
    clayton says:

    @ BraveLittleToaster. 
    Ah, I see you have no experience with Catholics or being Catholic.
    Actually, Toastie (you don’t mind the nickname, do you?), I have a great deal of experience with Catholics and being Catholic.  My family is Catholic back through as many generations as I can count, which is about eight.  I was baptized at three or four days old and went through twelve years of Catholic school.  But I don’t count any of that as being “born Catholic.”  I count it as being born into a Catholic family, i.e. a matter of nurture, not nature.
    While I did not have any choice about whether to be baptized, and almost no choice into what schools I attended, I did have a choice either to accept the church teachings or to reject them, either individually or collectively.  When I left home for college, I gained the choice to decide for myself whether to attend church on Sunday, and which church to attend, and whether to be active in the church outside of Sunday services.  And I also gained the choice either to continue practicing Catholicism or not.   For a variety of reasons, I chose not.
    The Catholic church may, if it wishes, consider me Catholic forever, but that’s a function of its own denial rather than a function of my current spiritual state or religious preference.

  • 21
  • 22

    […] of gay rights are (rightly) pointing to a new study showing that Christian-backed “conversion therapy” to “pray away the […]

  • 23

    […] Oh, I love the Jones & Yarhouse study and have never understood why your side touts it so highly. Do you know what those authors actually said? Their single-sentence summary: […]

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