Many people who work in the field of psychology argue against the idea that a person can change their sexual orientation. But a new study published in the October edition of the Journal of Sex and Marital Therapy reveals that some homosexuals who seek to change their sexual orientation may be able to do so with the help of religious mediation.
The study, conducted by psychologists Stanton L. Jones of Wheaton College and Mark A. Yarhouse of Regent University, examined changes in homosexuals who sought the help of Exodus International in trying to change their sexual orientation.
Researches tracked changes in the 98 participating subjects (72 men, 26 women) over the course of six or seven years through regular assessments.
The study found that, out of the 61 subjects who “were successfully categorized for general outcome,” 53 percent of them were categorized as having successful outcomes according to Exodus' standards.
Twenty-three percent reported a successful “conversion” to heterosexual orientation, while 30 percent reported “stable behavioral chastity.” Twenty percent of the subjects, however, gave up on changing and fully embraced the gay identity.
"Our study ... does not prove that everyone can change,” Jones said in an interview with The Christian Post on Friday. “It just proves that the reality is very, very complicated, and there seems to be some capacity for some people to shift their sexual orientation in a way that has personal meaning to them."
Jones noted that mainstream psychology often criticizes those that try to help gays become straight, branding those that do so as being “unethical,” “unreasonable” or “cruel,” and maintaining that sexual orientation cannot be changed.
"There certainly are abusive and crazy interventions, but not every attempt to change sexual orientation is necessarily so,” Jones argued.
Many people criticize religious methods of sexual orientation change, saying that homosexuals are distressed and mentally harmed by such programs. The study also measured levels of distress in the subjects, however, and Yarhouse told The Christian Post that they found a different result than what would have commonly been expected.
“On average, it does not appear to be harmful based on this data. In fact, if anything, there was more movement towards greater psychological health or less distress over time for people,” he said. "I'm not saying that no one's ever been harmed. The question is whether it's intrinsic to the effort that it's causing harm, and that does not appear to be the case from this data."
Jones and Yarhouse previously published a book on their earlier studies, called Ex-Gays? (2007), but were criticized for publishing it in book form instead of in a peer-reviewed journal.
“The implication was that it couldn't be published in a scientific, reputable journal,” Yarhouse said about their earlier research. After conducting several more years of research and adjusting some of their methods, however, their work has finally gained some positive recognition.
"This isn't a study for the mainstream gay community,” Yarhouse said. “This is a study for primarily religious people who are distressed by their same-sex attractions. They want to know, if they were involved in a Christian ministry, is it possible over time for them to have significant and meaningful shifts along that continuum. And this data would suggest that for some that appears to be possible."