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Avoiding Spin about the Jones and Yarhouse Study on Change in Sexual Orientation

Recently Ive noticed recently an increase in citings of the Jones and Yarhouse Study on Change in Sexual Orientation. EG it was mentioned on a July 27 radio show, and a recent facebook post I read, reflected on whether change in sexual orientation is possible, by stating;

“… the most comprehensive and longitudinal study done so far has found between a 38% to 50% rate of change in homosexuality for those seeking change over a 6-year period. (Jones/Yarhouse)”

What! Almost half of those studied, who didnt want to be gay, became straight? Wow! Amazing, right? Well, no. The quote above does not say that half the participants became straight. It’s easy to imagine that it’s saying that, but it’s not. It partially comes down to what is meant by ‘change’. Once you look into the details, you find that the amount of measured change in sexual orientation, is fairly small and not as straight-forward as you might hope, even though some change is indeed reported. According to a citation of the authors, on this web page, 3 years into the study;

“… the average movement away from homosexual orientation may be termed medium to large, and the average shift toward heterosexual orientation is small. This generalization is, of course, not true for every single test of every variable, but this is the clear trend in the data.”

It’s not as black and white as simply gay-to-purely-straight. It’s a matter of degree of change, and change towards asexuality seems to also considered to be ‘change’. In the details you find that Jones and Yarhouse created 6 categories to indicate the rate of success for change in sexual orientation for participants. Those 6 categories, along with percentages of participants in each category, at the end of the study were:

Success, Conversion = 23%
Success, Chastity = 30%
Continuing (in pursuing the change process) = 16%
Non-responses = 7%
Failure, Confused (given up on change, not gay-identified) = 3%
Failure, Gay Identity = 12%

These results were explained in a press release as;

“… 23% of the subjects reported success in the form of successful “conversion” to heterosexual orientation and functioning, while an additional 30% reported stable behavioral chastity with substantive dis-identification with homosexual orientation. On the other hand, 20% of the subjects reported giving up on the change process and fully embracing gay identity. On the measures of sexual orientation, statistically significant changes on average were reported across the entire sample for decreases in homosexual orientation; some statistically significant change, but of smaller magnitude, was reported in increase of heterosexual attraction. These changes were less substantial and generally statistically non-significant for the average changes of those subjects assessed earliest in the change process, though some of these subjects still figured as “Success: Conversion” cases.”

“Substantive dis-identification with homosexual orientation”? Dis-identification does not necessarily mean no homosexual orientation.  Technically it could refer to simply not accepting the gay label. Indeed, the conclusions stated in the study report at the end of the 6-7 year period, actually imply that this category of participants still experience same-sex attraction, in the wording;

“Those who report chastity regard themselves as having reestablished their sexual identities to be defined in some way other than by their homosexual attractions. “

And

“Chastity outcomes might be regarded legitimately not as change of orientation but rather as a shift in sexual identity”

And although it might be argued that 53% (IE 23%+30%) were categorised as having success at changing their sexual orientation, you have to wonder whether chastity is generally accepted as a measure of success. Many people would claim that chastity differs from what most people would assume a “change in orientation” to mean. Additionally, many people dropped out of the study. I agree with others, who have suggested most that those who dropped out were likely to be people who decided against continuing to try to change their sexual orientation. The above percentages, are the percentages out of those who completed the study. So while 23% of those who completed 6-7 years in the study were categorised as having ‘converted’, those people only amounted to 14% of those who began the study. IE only 14% of those who began the study, were regarded as having ‘converted’ from homosexuality.

The study also notes that;

“The overall … outcomes reported here must be seen as an overly optimistic representation of the possibility of change.”

It’s also notable that (according to CITIZENLink,) 3 years into their study, Jones and Yarhouse also noted in their book, various limitations and clarifications of their findings, eg that:

1.      “We did not find that everyone (or anyone) can change.”

2.      They did not find unequivocal change from totally homosexual to totally heterosexual (orientation is more complex than this);

3.      The findings do not refute anecdotal reports by some that they tried and could not change (and visa versa);

4.      The study was of religiously-mediated change, not of professional interventions;

5.      A scientific study does not “prove” God’s intervention in the participant’s lives;

6.      The real changes are not shown as permanent by this study;

A later press release, stated similarly;

“In short, the results do not prove that categorical change in sexual orientation is possible for everyone or anyone, but rather that meaningful shifts along a continuum that constitute real changes appear possible for some.”

This is consistent with findings from other studies.

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