Study: Participants in ex-gay ministry do change
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)--In findings that directly contradict mainstream academic thought, a significant percentage of subjects in a new seven-year study reported successfully leaving homosexuality and living happily as heterosexual or celibate persons.
The study by psychologists Stanton L. Jones of Wheaton College and Mark A. Yarhouse of Regent University is a follow-up to one released two years ago in the form of a book, "Ex-Gays?" That study was called groundbreaking, and the latest set of data is no less significant, the researchers say.
The men followed 61 subjects over a span of six to seven years, recording their failures and successes in their attempt to leave homosexuality. Experts in the field call it the first attempt to follow subjects who are undergoing Christian counseling over a series of years. Such a time-consuming study is called "longitudinal."
Among their findings:
-- 23 percent reported a successful conversion to heterosexual attractions.
-- 30 percent reported living a celibate life and were content with their reduction in homosexual attractions. Altogether, those latter two categories were combined for a 53 percent success rate, the researchers said.
-- 16 percent of subjects had modest decreases in homosexual attractions and weren't satisfied with their degree of change but were committed to continuing the process.
-- 7 percent had seen no decrease in homosexual attractions but had not given up trying to change.
-- 25 percent of subjects were considered "failures," either because they gave up on the process and once again identified as a homosexual (20 percent) or because they had not yet embraced a homosexual identity but nevertheless had given up (5 percent).
All the subjects were going through programs set up by Exodus International, a Christian ministry that seeks to help those who want to leave homosexuality. Although Exodus funded the study, Jones and Yarhouse agreed to conduct it only if all sides agreed that they would report the results no matter the outcome -- in other words, even if the findings embarrassed Exodus.
The latest findings were released four days after an American Psychological Association task force released a 130-page report that said "gay-to-straight" therapies are unlikely to work. That report got mixed reviews from conservatives, although APA's position on the issue is well-known: It believes homosexual attractions are "normal and positive variants" of human sexuality. The APA's website still states, "[T]here has been no scientifically adequate research to show that therapy aimed at changing sexual orientation (sometimes called reparative or conversion therapy) is safe or effective."
"The APA has previously asserted, with absolute clarity, that sexual orientation change is not possible -- that it simply doesn't occur," Jones, of Wheaton College, told Baptist Press. "The best way to test that is to study people as they're attempting change and follow them over a long period of time. Our study found that a significant portion of that population reported very significant change."
He added, "My sense is that our study is a good sample, and so I think that people can pursue the Exodus process with a cautious sense of optimism about the possibility of change, but we can't make absolute predictions."
Comparing the latest data to the initial set of data released two years ago, there was a significant increase in both the "success" and "failure" percentages and a decrease in the percentage of those who, at the time, had seen no significant change.
The percentage of those who considered themselves successful in changing increased from 38 percent to 53 percent, while the percentage of those who the researchers considered failures also went up, 12 percent to 25 percent. At the same time, the percentage of those who had seen only modest change or no change but had not given up on the change effort decreased from 44 percent to 23 percent.
The study actually began with 98 subjects, but 37 dropped out by the six-year mark for various reasons, Jones said. Some now considered themselves ex-homosexual and no longer wanted to be reminded about their past, while some went back to a homosexual identity and no longer trusted the researchers. Most of them, though, wouldn't return phone calls.
Jones expressed frustration that the APA task force didn't take their 2007 study seriously.
"They selectively apply rigorous scientific standards," he said. "So when it comes to examining the evidence that sexual orientation change can occur, they apply extraordinarily rigorous standards, and those standards allow them to disregard significant evidence that sexual orientation change can occur. That's what happens with our study. They, I think, invalidly applied several methodological concerns to dismiss our study.
"When the evidence goes against the view they're expressing, they apply strong scientific standards. And when the evidence goes with the views they're expressing, they're considerably more accepting."
The latest set of data is the final set from the researchers. A lack of funding, as well as a belief that the data is conclusive, has resulted in them stopping the longitudinal study. They will, though, continue to analyze the current data.
"In our experience from discussing with the subjects, an awful lot of them just want to move on," Jones said. "We had to really persuade people to stay in for this final assessment."
Michael Foust is an assistant editor of Baptist Press. The Jones-Yarhouse study is available online at www.ivpress.com/media/pdfs/ex-gay-apa.pdf.