Masters and Johnson Gay “Cures” Were Faked

Jim Burroway

April 23rd, 2009

Ex-gay groups are on the constant lookout for data to bolster their claims that efforts to change sexual orientation can be successful. One study which has been a cornerstone for ex-gay therapists’ claims was the book, Homosexuality in Perspective, by William Masters and Virginia Johnson. That 1979 book purportedly presented the results of a 14-year study of 300 gay men and women who underwent a particularly intensive course of treatment lasting two-weeks. That’s right, only two weeks!  And those two weeks must have been pretty intense, because Masters and Johnson claimed some pretty astounding results: a better than 70% success rate.

That was in 1979. Now let’s fast forward thirty years. Biographer Thomas Maier was looking into the Masters and Johnson data for his new book Masters of Sex, and he encountered considerable evidence that the data had been faked:

When the clinic’s top associate, Robert Kolodny, asked to see the files and to hear the tape-recordings of these “storybook” cases, Masters refused to show them to him. Kolodny — who had never seen any conversion cases himself — began to suspect some, if not all, of the conversion cases were not entirely true. When he pressed Masters, it became ever clearer to him that these were at best composite case studies made into single ideal narratives, and at worst they were fabricated.

Eventually Kolodny approached Virginia Johnson privately to express his alarm. She, too, held similar suspicions about Masters’ conversion theory, though publicly she supported him. The prospect of public embarrassment, of being exposed as a fraud, greatly upset Johnson, a self-educated therapist who didn’t have a college degree and depended largely on her husband’s medical expertise.

With Johnson’s approval, Kolodny spoke to their publisher about a delay, but it came too late in the process. “That was a bad book,” Johnson recalled decades later. Johnson said she favored a rewriting and revision of the whole book “to fit within the existing [medical] literature,” and feared that Bill simply didn’t know what he was talking about. At worst, she said, “Bill was being creative in those days” in the compiling of the “gay conversion” case studies.

“Being creative” is a very polite way of saying the presumably scientific data wasn’t all that scientific. But the best evidence we have that the data was bad is this: You can bet your ex-gay dollar that if anyone offered this kind of success with a two-week course of treatment, NARTH and Exodus would be all over it like sequins on a drag queen. Any treatment program with that kind of success rate would have been adopted by therapists around the world, with countless ensuing opportunities to replicate these findings.

But guess what? Neither Exodus nor NARTH, which have the greatest motivation to repeat Masters and Johnson’s amazing performance, have never tried to offer a two-week intensive course of treatment. And more significantly, the Masters and Johnson findings have never been replicated in the thirty years since the book came out. Not by NARTH, Exodus, or anyone else.

Virginia Johnson was right. It is “a bad book.”

And yet, the Masters and Johnson book is referenced in twenty-two individual documents and web pagesat NARTH’s website, and there are seven referencesat Exodus. The Masters and Johnson success figures are also touted at Love Won Out conferences put on by Exodus and Focus On the Family. BTB’s Timothy Kincaid has several more examples of how Ex-gays used Masters and Johnson’s book.

But like much of the “science” we see which ex-gay proponents claim as supporting their work, this too is falling like a house of cards.

Ben in Oakland

April 23rd, 2009

This is actually not really news. I remember reading that idiotic book 30 years ago, and commenting that all of the conversion cases seemed to be bisexual people. In fact, it was a common criticism at the time, not to mention that only M&J’s suspects– I mean subjects– and Ted haggard ever managed a two week cure.

quo III

April 23rd, 2009

Kolodny’s accusations are very interesting. It would be even more interesting if there were any real evidence at all aside from his say-so that Masters faked everything.

Timothy Kincaid

April 23rd, 2009

If you are interested, quo, go read the exerpt. In addition to Kolodny, there was clinic staffer Lynn Strenkofsky, Marshall and Peggy Shearer, perhaps the clinic’s most experienced therapy team in the early 1970s, and Virginia Johnson herself.

Regan DuCasse

April 23rd, 2009

1979? 300 subjects?
Frankly, that’s not much of a case study and we know well and good just how dated so much of anti gay and ex gay information is. To say nothing of lack of comparative studies from a broader range of geography and cultural groups.

The majority of ex gay program’s most visible representatives are middle aged. Nor do they do any comparisons on gay people of the current generation not as affected by criminalization and institutionalization, which was still in effect in 1979 in some states.

And these studies seem to concentrate on sexual attraction and gender qualities only, and not so much how self esteem and isolation effects sexuality. I remember that Masters and Johnson book and thought it terribly thin and too general in that way gay sexuality usually is disseminated by STRAIGHT folks.

It’s like the real gay folks weren’t really asked or observed in ways that DIDN’T validate a kind of stereotype.

In fact, since so many anti gay organizations complain of public money (which can afford more expansive and comprehensive ones) going for studies on gay lives, they would be hard pressed to conduct their own. And if they have, they are still of extremely limited scope and pretty much a rehash of outdated and outmoded information.

Even the CENSUS bureau doesn’t want to count gay people in the situations they really live in!

There shouldn’t have to be such a heavy reliance on studies and research, the subject is right where everyone could get to know them if they cared to really try.

Or if there allowed for full integration into every aspect of everyday life, a lot could be proven that anti gay ‘researchers’ still discuss as if still an ‘unproven theory’. Looks to me like real proof is the last thing they really want.

Lynn David

April 23rd, 2009


Who can you trust…..


April 23rd, 2009

quo III,

Are you actually asking if there is any evidence against something for which there is no evidence to begin with???

(You know the rule about proving the non-existence of something, don’t you?)

Read the concerns expressed by his wife. She worked alongside him. Publicly she supported him. In private she was horrified.

Refusing to open raw data files to peer review is prima facie evidence against any researcher. They need a damn good reason for refusing, and there is never a reason for refusing peer access to data that has been redacted to protect the privacy of the subjects. To refuse access to your leading associate is almost unheard of.

This ‘study’ stank when it was published due to it being tainted by use of a sample population that was overwhelming bisexual (by any definition). And now we have good reason to conclude that the smell came out of a can.

Aah, the fate of those who build their house on shifting sands…

Regan DuCasse

April 24th, 2009

After James Dobson’s article was published in TIME magazine, it was revealed that he’d distorted the research and findings of several researcher’s work he’d cited.

Even when the evidence and the researchers themselves revealed this, Dobson refused to deal with them OR retract his distortions.
And TIME didn’t compel him to do so, or correct this.

A lot stinks in the reportage on gay lives and it’s inexcusable. Let alone, completely wrong.

Thomas Kraemer

April 24th, 2009

I don’t know if this is mentioned in Maier’s book, but nobody I’ve read has prominently noted that Masters attributed his successful ex-gay conversions to the “screening process” and on page 340 of his book he emphasizes that applicants for ex-gay therapy “must be screened for motivation in order to maintain a therapy failure rate at reasonably low levels.” — see Google Book Search

Of course, this type of unscientific criteria has always been common in the medical community. Patients who don’t get cured can be blamed for not being motivated enough or accused of being “noncompliant” patients. (i.e. a patient who didn’t follow the doctor’s orders)


April 27th, 2009

NARTH and Exodus would be all over it like sequins on a drag queen



June 16th, 2012

The Narth and religious right community is really not interested in truth or science. Deep down they know the world is not flat.

They exist to promote their agenda. They want gays to stay in the closet. They consider it their civil right to discriminate and oppress gay people.

The good news is that they are no longer in the majority of opinion. They are really helping gay people because they are
saying the world is flat and almost everyone is laughing at them.

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