Changing Sexual Orientation Is Possible, New Research Says

By Randy Hall | July 7, 2008 | 8:06 PM EDT

( - The results of a three-year study challenge the idea that homosexuals cannot change their sexual orientation and that attempts to do so are harmful. But an opponent of "ex-gays" dismissed the findings as the result of "a deceptive sham" perpetrated by "right-wing therapists."

While writing their book, "Ex-Gays? A Longitudinal Study of Religiously Mediated Change in Sexual Orientation," researchers Stanton Jones of Wheaton College in Wheaton, Ill., and Mark Yarhouse of Regent University in Virginia Beach, Va., chronicled the experiences of 98 people who contacted Christian ministries in an attempt to become heterosexuals.

Dr. Stanton Jones"What we found by following these subjects over time is that not everyone is successful, not even a majority is successful, but a very substantial group of people report fairly dramatic change," Jones said while discussing the research during the annual conference of the American Association of Christian Counselors last Thursday in Nashville, Tenn.

"Fifteen percent of our sample of about 100 claimed to actually have changed from homosexuality to heterosexuality," said Jones. "It needs to be said that this process is not like flipping a light switch. Life is still complicated for these people, and some still have some residuals of their homosexual attractions."

"However, they report being able to function as heterosexuals, they're happy with their marriages, and they feel that their lives have changed dramatically," he said.

The study also examined the question of whether or not attempts to change were harmful to the subjects.

"We administered a standard psychological inventory that measures distress to our subjects at every point along the way," Jones said, adding that they found that there was "essentially no change" in the participants' emotional well-being.

Dr. Mark YarhouseBecause both of them are from Christian colleges, Jones and Yarhouse addressed skeptics of religious researchers who deal with matters of science.

"We are evangelical Christians committed to the truth-seeking activity of science," they said in a joint statement.

"In conducting and reporting this study, we took seriously the words of one of our heroes, C. S. Lewis, who said that science produced by Christian persons would have to be 'perfectly honest. Science twisted in the interests of apologetics would be sin and folly,'" the researchers said.

Initial reaction to the research has varied dramatically along social and cultural lines.

Alan Chambers, an ex-homosexual who serves as president of the Christian ministry Exodus International - which was the source of many subjects in the study - praised the survey. In a Friday news release, he praised the work as "the first longitudinal, peer-reviewed, scientific research of its kind on this topic to date."

"Finally, there is now scientific evidence to prove what we as former homosexuals have known all along - that those who struggle with unwanted same-sex attraction can experience freedom from it," Chambers said. "For years, opponents of choice have said otherwise, and this body of research is critical in advancing the national dialogue on this issue."

Mat Staver, president of the Christian group Liberty Counsel, said in a news release of his own that the study is "groundbreaking" and would have "profound reverberations for counselors."

"The debate about homosexuality has too often been driven by political rather than scientific considerations," said Staver. "The American Psychological Association (APA) and other, similar organizations may no longer silence dissent."

The APA responded to the research by pointing to a recent statement made by the organization on its Web site: "Efforts to repathologize homosexuality by claiming that it can be cured are often guided not by rigorous scientific ... research, but sometimes by religious and political forces opposed to full civil rights for gay men and lesbians."

However, former APA President Nicholas Cummings praised the research methods of Jones and Yarhouse. "This study has broken new ground in its adherence to objectivity and a scientific precision that can be replicated and expanded, and it opens new horizons for investigation," he said.

Nevertheless, Wayne Besen, executive director of Truth Wins Out, which describes itself as "a non-profit organization that counters right-wing propaganda, exposes the 'ex-gay' myth and educates America about gay life," called the study a "deceptive sham with the goal of making it appear as if science backs fundamentalist beliefs on homosexuality."

"It comes as no shock that anti-gay 'researchers'" would produce a study claiming "you can pray away the gay," Besen said. "I suppose their next study will provide support for Pat Robertson's theory that homosexuality causes meteors and hurricanes."

Besen also criticized the size of the study sample as "unusually small" and asserted that people "should be extremely skeptical of such a mockery of the scientific method."

The 414-page book "Ex-Gays? A Longitudinal Study of Religiously Mediated Change in Sexual Orientation" is being published by InterVarsity Press and will be available to the public in October.

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