Masters and Johnson Gay “Cures” Were Faked
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.