A guest post By Patrick M. Chapman, PhD
Introduction and Methods
As an academic with a PhD in biological anthropology, and as someone who tried for over a decade to change my sexual orientation, I approached with interest and skepticism the new Stanton L. Jones and Mark A. Yarhouse book, Ex-gays?: A Longitudinal Study of Religiously Mediated Change in Sexual Orientation. By studying participants in the Exodus International ex-gay ministries the authors intended to answer two questions: 1) can a homosexual orientation be “healed,” specifically can a person change their orientation using religious-based therapy, and 2) are attempts at change harmful (p. 15). Jones and Yarhouse indicate their interest in these questions stems from the conflicting views of science, which suggests change is impossible and attempts thereof are possibly harmful, and of their conservative Christian acquaintances who claim to have been “healed” from “homosexual orientation in favor of heterosexual experience” (p. 73).
I am suspicious when people claim to be no longer homosexual because they have “heterosexual experience”: the latter implies behavioral modification, not orientation change. Thus, in studies examining change of orientation it is important to explicitly define terms and concepts. Jones and Yarhouse define “sexual orientation” by the object of one’s attraction, desire or arousal (p. 209).
Every study involving homosexuality has flaws and the current one is no exception. Jones and Yarhouse attempt to limit the inherent problems with mixed results. To their credit they honestly acknowledge Exodus as a primary funding source for the project. They claim the ex-gay organization did not exert any control or power over their results and conclusions (p. 127), and there is currently no reason to believe otherwise.
To be included in the study participants had to be at least 18 years old, involved with Exodus due to same-sex attractions, and “involved in the change process for less than three years” at the start of the study (p. 126). Jones and Yarhouse claim this is a prospective study, involving 98 participants at the start of the change process (pp. 39, 366). One must be careful of this assertion for two reasons.
First, technically the study is not prospective because 41 individuals were involved in the Exodus program for one to three years prior to the study (p. 121). This is important in that the authors claim these participants demonstrated higher levels of change than those who were in the change process for less than one year (p.276). In other words, the participants that relied on recollection for their original condition (a retrospective appraisal) reported the most change. The difference in change may have been influenced by the prospective or retrospective component, not whether change actually occurred.
Second, the claim that participants were at the start of their change process is misleading. Jones and Yarhouse report 54 of the participants had previously taken “concrete steps” to change their orientation through non-Exodus programs: 21 for three to five years, 18 for 5.5 to 12 years, and 15 individuals for 13 years or more (p. 150). To be clear, on page 126 the authors assert that to be included in the study participants had to be “involved in the change process for less than three years” but on page 150 they indicate 54 individuals, more than 50 percent, did not meet this criteria. Additionally, 49 of the 98 participants previously attempted to change their sexual orientation through other religious-ministry organizations (p. 151), while 56 previously used professional therapy in an effort to achieve the goal (p. 150). Suggesting the individuals in this study are “starting the change process” is incorrect. Perhaps this was their first attempt with Exodus ministries but that is not the same as “starting the change process.” Nonetheless, when reporting the results the authors frequently, incorrectly, and misleadingly portray the individuals as being in the “change process” for either less than one year or three to four years at most (see pp. 232, 276, 353 for examples).
Part 2 will focus on the results examining if change is possible.
Patrick M. Chapman has a PhD in biological anthropology and is author of “Thou Shalt Not Love”: What Evangelicals Really Say to Gays (Haiduk Press: in press).