An analysis of Dr. Spitzer's 2001 study
whether adults can change their sexual orientation
More on the use of terms by religious
Description of the study
More on the use of terms by religious conservatives:
Essentially all "ex-gays" and "ex-lesbians" are conservative
Christians, who use the same definitions of words as do
fundamentalist and other evangelical Christians. That is:
|They regard a homosexual as a person who has sex with others of the same
gender. That is, their definition is based on a person's behavior. This differs
from the definition of "homosexual" by most therapists, human
sexuality researchers, religious liberals, gays and lesbians. These latter groups define a homosexual as a person who
is sexually attracted only to members of the same gender -- whether these
feelings are acted upon or not.|
|They rarely refer to bisexuals -- persons who are attracted to both men
and women. They generally lump them together with gays and lesbians or with
heterosexuals, depending upon their behavior at the time.|
||A person with a bisexual orientation who enters therapy and makes a decision to
confine their sexual relationship(s) to members of the opposite gender are
considered to have "left the homosexual lifestyle," to have become "ex-gays" or
"ex-lesbians," and to have become heterosexual. They are
counted as success stories by
reparative therapists or transformational ministries. Non-evangelicals would
suggest that the individuals are still bisexual in that they are still sexually attracted to both men and women. Their orientation has
||A person with a homosexual orientation who decides to become celibate is
also considered a victory for reparative therapy or a transformation ministry;
they have become an "ex-gay."
Again, non-evangelicals would suggest that the individuals have not changed
their orientation, which remains homosexual. They
are simply celibate homosexuals.
||Unfortunately, in their advertising and promotion of reparative therapy and transformational ministries, their wording is often open to interpretation so that many readers will assume that they are quite successful at changing their clients' sexual orientation, not just their behavior.|
About the study:
According to Paul Varnell of the Chicago Free Press:
admits that he had 'great difficulty' finding people who claimed to have
changed their orientation from gay to straight. Ex-gay groups regularly
claim to know of 'thousands' of people who have 'changed' or 'left
homosexuality.' But after searching for nearly a year and a half, Spitzer
could only find 274 possibilities." 1
Dr. Robert Spitzer finally studied 200 subjects -- 143 "ex-gays" and 57 "ex-lesbians" --
who had reported that they had become "straight." During 45 minute telephone interviews
with each subject, they were asked 60 questions about their:
"feelings and behavior before and after their efforts to change
orientation. They discussed their motives for change; their strategies,
which included counseling, support groups, prayer and mentoring; and their
current relationships with the opposite sex". 2
Dr. Spitzer reported:
Of the 200 subjects,
86 had been referred to Dr. Spitzer by conservative Christian
groups specializing in converting homosexuals.
NARTH referred 46 subjects. Some other sources provided 68
to make the total of 200.
It is apparent that the individuals that Dr. Spitzer interviewed were
hand-selected from a very large group of persons who had either a
homosexual or a bisexual orientation. Those who had been unable to change
their sexual behavior thus would have been rejected for the study.
There are more than 1,000 professional therapists who belong to NARTH.
Assume that the average member has treated 50 clients a year for the
past five years. That means that there are over 250,000 clients from
which NARTH could select subjects for this study. Assuming that
reparative therapy had a "cure" rate of 0.02% then
NARTH would have been able to provide the approximately 50 "successful"
clients to this study. But a cure rate of 0.02% can
be expressed as a failure rate of 99.98% -- not a promising
form of therapy! If one considers the anecdotal accounts of gays
and lesbians who have committed suicide after failed reparative therapy,
then it becomes an even less attractive alternative.
reported his findings at a meeting of the American Psychiatric
Association on 2001-MAY-9.
In later interviews, Dr. Spitzer said:
|"Our sample was self-selected from people who already claimed
they had made some change. We don't know how common that kind of change
is. . . . I'm not saying that this can be easily done, or that most
homosexuals who want to change can make this kind of change. I suspect
it's quite unusual." 4
|"I suspect the vast majority of gay people would be unable to
alter by much a firmly established homosexual orientation."
|"...the kinds of changes my subjects reported are highly unlikely
to be available to the vast majority [of gays and lesbians]... "[only] a
small minority -- perhaps 3% -- might have a "malleable" sexual
orientation." He expressed a concern that his study results were
being "twisted by the Christian right." 6|
He told the Washington Post in 2005 that supporters of
reparative therapy have misrepresented the results of his study.
"It bothers me to be their knight in shining armor because on
every social issue I totally disagree with the Christian right...What
they don't mention is that change is pretty rare."
He noted that the subjects of his study were not
representative of the general population because they were considerably
more religious. He calls as "totally absurd" the beliefs
that everyone is born straight and that homosexuality is a choice. 7
Unfortunately, these statements were lost in a sea of media accounts that emphasized that "change" is possible.
The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above
essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.
- Paul Varnell, "Those Not Very 'Ex' Gays," Chicago Free Press.
2001-MAY-16. Online at: http://www.indegayforum.org/articles/varnell65.html
- Ethan Campbell, "Score one for politics," Boundless Webzine,
- Pete Winn, "A life-changing study," Focus on the Family. This is no longer online, However, a search on www.focus.com for spitzer study found three hits.
- CNN, 2001-MAY-9. Cited in Reference 8.
- Wall Street Journal, 2001-MAY-23. Cited in Reference 8.
- Advocate, 2001-JUL-17. Cited in Reference 8.
- Sandra G. Boodman, "Vowing to Set the World Straight: Proponents of
Reparative Therapy Say They Can Help Gay Patients Become Heterosexual.
Experts Call That a Prescription for Harm," Washington Post,
2005-AUG-16, at: http://www.washingtonpost.com/
- Doug Nave, "Organizations of US Mental Health Professionals are
unanimous," at: http://www.covenantnetwork.org/chgther.html
Copyright © 2002 to 2010 by Ontario Consultants on Religious
Originally written: 2002-FEB-16
Latest update and review: 2010-JUN-09
Author: B.A. Robinson