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Box Turtle Bulletin reviews latest 'ex-gay' study

As promised, Jim Burroway of Box Turtle Bulletin has reviewed the study by Stanton Jones and Mark Yarhouse, “Ex-Gays? A Longitudinal Study of Religiously Mediated Change in Sexual Orientation” that was unveiled at a press conference in Nashville. It was funded by Exodus.

The study followed Exodus “ex-gay” therapy/ministry participants to see the effectiveness of the pray-away-the-gay movement. It’s worth the read. One of the interesting aspects of the study is how difficult it was to recruit subjects for it.

While Jones and Yarhouse’s study appears to be very well designed, it quickly falls apart on execution. The sample size was disappointingly small, too small for an effective retrospective study. They told a reporter from Christianity Today that they had hoped to recruit some three hundred participants, but they found “many Exodus ministries mysteriously uncooperative.” They only wound up with 98 at the beginning of the study (72 men and 26 women), a population they describe as “respectably large.” Yet it is half the size of Spitzer’s 2003 study.

Jones and Yarhouse wanted to limit their study’s participants to those who were in their first year of ex-gay ministry. But when they found that they were having trouble getting enough people to participate (they only found 57 subject who met this criteria), they expanded their study to include 41 subjects who had been involved in ex-gay ministries for between one to three years. The participants who had been in ex-gay ministries for less than a year are referred to as “Phase 1” subpopulation, and the 41 who were added to increase the sample size were labeled the “Phase 2” subpopulation.

There are all sorts of problems with the study, which Jim covers brilliantly, including the number of dropouts in the study.

Remember, Jones and Yarhouse described those “experiencing difficulty with change would be likely to get frustrated or discouraged early on and drop out of the change process.” And so assessing the dropouts becomes critically important, because unlike the Add Health study, the very reason for dropping out of this study may have direct bearing on both questions the study was designed to address: Do people change, and are they harmed by the process? With as much as a quarter of the initial population dropping out potentially for reasons directly related to the study’s questions, this missing analysis represents a likely critical failure, one which could potentially invalidate the study’s conclusions.

Remember, the breakdown of the findings is also telling:

  * 33 people reported change (moving from homosexual, bisexual or other at Time 1 to heterosexual at time 3; or homosexual at Time 1 to bisexual or other at Time 3)
  * 29 reported no change
  * 8 reported “negative change” (moving from heterosexual, bisexual or other at Time 1 to homosexual at Time 3; or from heterosexual at Time 1 to bisexual or other at Time 3).
  * 3 reported uncertain change (moving from bisexual to other, or the reverse)

Surf over to BTB for more details.

Related:
* What on earth is ex-gay ‘success’?

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Pam Spaulding

Pam Spaulding

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