A guest post By Patrick M. Chapman, PhD
Continued from Part 1
A Focus on the Results — Examining if Change is Possible
In the opening chapter Jones and Yarhouse honestly and correctly state this study cannot establish if long-term, permanent and enduring change occurs because that would require a long-term study (p. 17). Contrarily, they later suggest the results demonstrate sexual orientation is changeable (pp. 42, 325), evidenced by 11 “Success: Conversion” cases out of the original 98. The conclusion is unwarranted because: 1) they acknowledge multiple anecdotal cases from previous “ex-gay” success stories who later recanted their “conversion” to heterosexuality (pp. 63-64, 72); 2) they freely acknowledge that people in ex-gay programs declare they are heterosexual even if they experience exclusive and powerful homosexual attractions (p. 220); 3) they admit that one of their 11 “Success: Conversion” cases recanted his claim of change, confessing his homosexual attraction was unchanged after the book manuscript neared completion (p. 285; Jones and Yarhouse did not remove his “success” from their data); and 4) the only way to determine if change actually occurred is through a long-term study, which this is not.
This study is littered with biased and sloppy scholarship. The authors suggest the results presented in Tables 7.4 through 7.6 (pp. 239-240) present a “modest portrait of positive progress” in the change process (p. 246). Yet, there is no change based on the data presented in Table 7.4: at both the start and end of the study nine participants declare themselves heterosexual while 51 declare themselves homosexual. Jones and Yarhouse state there is “no indication of significant change” based on the data presented in Table 7.5 (p. 248) and no statistically significant change in Table 7.6 (p. 249). Nonetheless Jones and Yarhouse declare the results represented in these three tables to be “positive progress.” Simply put, their conclusion is not based on the evidence: progress requires positive change.
When one examines the statements of the “Success: Conversion” participants it is once again clear that Jones and Yarhouse’s claim of change is unfounded. In addition to the “Success: Conversion” male who recanted his success, another male admits to still having “unwanted sexual attraction to men” (p. 297), while a third admits to continuing homoerotic dreams (p. 298).
Meanwhile, the authors report 23 percent of the participants achieved success in changing their sexual orientation by embracing chastity. However, once again the actual desires and longings of the individuals remain homosexual. One “Success: Chastity” female relinquished her goal of getting rid of homosexual feelings and longings (p. 302), a “Success: Chastity” male admits to continued same-sex attractions (p. 303), while another male still fantasizes to the point of orgasm about being with a man and admits continued homosexual feelings and longings (p. 304). While Jones and Yarhouse acknowledge these individuals did not experience a “strong movement toward heterosexual attraction” (p. 291), they nonetheless consider them “successes.”
The comments and data indicate these “successful” participants, whether classified as “Success: Conversion” or “Success: Chastity,” retain same-sex attraction, desire and arousal. Thus, using Jones and Yarhouse’s definition (p. 209), the participants continue to have a homosexual orientation. Jones and Yarhouse suggest the continued presence of homosexual desires, attraction and arousal does not negate successful change because a person successfully treated for depression can still be expected to become depressed from time to time (pp. 193-194).
The authors confess a change from homosexual orientation does not coincide with a change to heterosexual orientation (p. 263) and accept asexuality as a functional opposite of homosexuality. Based on the depression analogy it appears that Jones and Yarhouse would declare a person “healed” from depression if they ceased to have any and all emotions, for the person would no longer be intensely and persistently sad. I suspect the psychological community would define success in other ways. Likewise, as the opposite of depression is not a lack of all emotions, the opposite of homosexuality is not a lack of all sexual desires: being “healed” of a homosexual orientation is not evidenced by self-imposed behavioral celibacy; repression is not conversion.
Despite explicitly stating that this study cannot demonstrate whether long-lasting change is possible, despite admitting that individuals in ex-gay ministries misreport their condition, despite knowing that previous testimonies of change were untrue, despite knowing that one of their own “Success: Conversion” participants later recanted his proclaimed “conversion” to heterosexuality, and despite the fact that “Success: Conversion” and “Success: Chastity” participants retain a homosexual orientation (using Jones and Yarhouse’s own definition), the authors claim that homosexual orientation is changeable! Clearly their conclusion is not consistent with the evidence: a continued homosexual orientation is not evidence of “healing” from homosexuality.
The final part will focus on the results, examining if it is harmful.
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).