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September 28, 2011

Column #1,570

Can Gays Go Straight?

By Mike McManus

            Conventional wisdom of psychologists is that it is impossible for gays to go straight.

 For years, the American Psychological Association has said, “Can therapy change sexual orientation? No…(H)omosexuality…does not require treatment and is not changeable.”

            The American Psychiatric Association adds that the “potential risks of `reparative therapy’ are great, including depression, anxiety and self-destructive behavior.”

            However, two psychologists – Stanton L. Jones and Mark A. Yarhouse have written an article for the peer-reviewed “Journal of Sex and Marital Therapy” that proves that some homosexuals can in fact, become heterosexual.

            Previous research has been criticized for not following the subjects over a significant length of time and for “relying on memory rather than following change as it occurs.”

            The study followed 98 people who entered ministries affiliated with Exodus International, which believes that “Christ offers a healing alternative to those with homosexual tendencies…”

            Of the 98 men and women studied, 61 were followed for seven years, while others dropped out. Of the 61, more than half were “successful by the standards of Exodus Ministries.” Some 23% of the subjects reported having a successful “conversion to heterosexual orientation and functioning, while an additional 30% reported stable behavioral chastity with substantive dis-identification with homosexual orientation.”

            At the opposite extreme. 20% “reported giving up on the change process and fully embraced gay identity,” the article reported. 

            Dr. Yarhouse of Regent University said the rest had mixed results, with 16% reporting some reduction of same-sex attraction, but not enough to be considered a success. Another 7% did not respond and 5% said they were confused, but were no longer claiming a gay identity.

            This study is of profound importance. 

Exodus International has been around for 35 years, and now has 240 local affiliates which are helping thousands of people who are unhappy with their homosexual or lesbian identity, who want to become heterosexual.  Every affiliate can point to successful people.

 What has not been known before are the odds of success.

I asked leaders of local affiliates if the study’s conclusion sounded correct - that about a quarter are fully successful, and another 30% have become chaste.

“I would agree with the statistics,” said Bob Ragan, who leads Regeneration in Metro Washington, that serves a couple of hundred people a year.  “What is the success rate of AA?  About 30%.  I think we do as good a job as AA.”

In terms of his own personal situation, he says: “I have chosen celibacy.   I’m 58, and the Lord has been with me for a long time.”

Ron Smith, who directs New Hope Ministries in San Rafael, CA,, also says the research results reflect his ministry’s outcomes. His personal story is that he spent 18 years with a male partner, but now “has an interest in dating.” 

Asked to describe his process of change, he said, “I felt a state of discontent in that lifestyle.  I went on a search and found it in becoming Christ-centered, which created the change. When Christ became my center, I found a new level of contentment.”

To find such a ministry near you, go to Exodus says that it “upholds heterosexuality as God’s creative intent for humanity, and subsequently views homosexual expression as outside of God’s will. Exodus upholds redemption for the homosexual person as the process whereby sin’s power is broken, and the individual is freed to know and experience their true identity, as discovered in Christ and His Church.”

Yarhouse and Jones initially wrote a book in 2007 about their work, “Ex-Gays?  A Longitudinal Study of Religious Mediated Change in Sexual Orientation.”  They were criticized by other psychologists for only having followed their subjects for three years.  So they continued for another four years, interviewing their subjects annually.

And they wrote their paper for a secular journal that had to be reviewed by peers who were inherently skeptical.  

They dream of two outcomes.  First, that “homosexuals who are not content with having a gay identity, can explore what their options are,” and learn their odds of success. It was not written for broader gay community as a shot across the bow.

Secondly, they hope that by having their study published in the scientific “Journal of Sex and Marital Therapy,” that mental health organizations, such as the American Psychological Association, will support the right of people to pursue the possibility of changing their sexual orientation from homosexual to heterosexual.

Yarhouse concludes, “I hope the APA would find or create the space to consider future studies and respect the right of people to choose to participate in these ministries.”    

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