40 responses

  1. Timothy (TRiG)
    July 30, 2009

    Ah, cargo-cult science. I’ve been reading a book on the subject.


  2. Ken in Riverside
    July 30, 2009

    The biggest objection that I have to NARTH is their misrepresentation of science. I don’t begrudge them their right to offer their services to willing participants. But abandoning intellectual integrity is unforgivable.

  3. Ken in Riverside
    July 30, 2009

    Oh, and AMAZING post, thank you.

  4. Priya Lynn
    July 30, 2009

    I really appreciate the work you do in analyzing the reality behind anti-gay efforts like this. Your work is a big help in dealing with the bigots who rely on these deceptions. Thankyou.

  5. Wayne Besen
    July 30, 2009

    Terrific work Jim. I loved this line:

    “Money closed his argument with the observation that “[t]herapeutic zeal in the absence of effective therapeutic technique produces charlatanism.” Nearly forty years later, it’s hard to find a more appropriate description for NARTH today.”

  6. SharonB
    July 30, 2009

    Articles like this are why I come back time and time again to the Site! Thanks, Jim!

    Not to go all ad hominem, but is James Phelan the therapist who had apparent anger issues chronicled at XGW : http://www.exgaywatch.com/wp/2008/06/james-phelan-invited-to-rejoin-exodus/

    On wonders if the other authors, Whitehead and Sutton, are also colorful characters.

  7. AdrianT
    July 30, 2009

    This makes extremely disturbing reading. Thanks for this.

    PS – NARTH is just loves pseudoscience, and it’s no surprise to find, on its website, this article extolling the virtues of ‘intelligent design’ creationism, another religious right idea that the whole of the scientific world rejects as nonsense: http://www.narth.com/docs/reflection.html

  8. David C.
    July 30, 2009

    BTB does all of us a great service by debunking Junk Science like this.

    I’m beginning to think what is needed is a “journal” whose sole purpose is to publish exposures of this kind of nonsense: The Journal of Fake and Junk Science.

  9. Burr
    July 30, 2009

    Money had an interesting point there. If they’re so sure that these therapies work and sexual orientation is so malleable, why don’t they prove it by doing it BOTH ways? Put your money where your mouth is, pseudoscientists. (pun intended)

  10. Aaron
    July 30, 2009

    Thank you Jim for that enlightening article.

  11. Eastsidejim
    July 30, 2009

    Thank you for your intelligent commentary. To take your comments further… I don’t think these people believe their own pseudoscience. I think that they are callously and deliberately lying to further their cause…

    Don’t underestimate this propaganda’s power to motivate the unthinking / uneducated. Hitler rode to power on (in part) the propaganda that the Jews controlled the international banking system and were intent on destroying the German people.

    Hitler / Joseph Goebbels were very successful in associating the global depression and the economic pain the German people were feeling with the Jews…

    Publicizing the “big lie” was one of Goebbels favorite tactics and NARTH is using the “big lie” in a deliberate attempt to create animosity and hatred of the LGBT community.

    The leaders of the christian right are trying to do the same thing Hitler did by creating an “ungodly” enemy to rally their constituency and to recruit more people into their hating organizations… also for the money that they get get from their scare tactics….

  12. Penguinsaur
    July 30, 2009

    “Today we are justifiably horrified to imagine the suffering that thousands of gay men and women endured to try to rid themselves of their same-sex attractions (sometimes under court order or while confined to a psychiatric hospital)”

    Or as NARTH calls it ‘The Good Old Days’. And Burr is right, you could get Hugh Hefner to sleep with men if you tazer him enough. Doesn’t mean he’s gay and only someone who already despises straight people would claim this ‘cure’ justifies taking rights from them.

  13. William
    July 31, 2009

    Watch this for illumination on the subject:


    Note the experience of Pete Price, a native of my own part of the world. It chills me to think that I could have ended up in the same place as he did.

  14. Lynn David
    July 31, 2009

    Great piece, Jim….. even if it did upset my stomach…. and there’s more?

  15. Paul Mc
    July 31, 2009

    Is there any way to challenge Narth’s public claims regarding their therapies and research, which are at best mis-representations and at worst outright lies, in court? Your 1st Amendment would make that unlikely in the US however, I thought of this whilst protesting a conference attended by J. Nicolosi in the UK. A similar scenario was the libel case brought by David Irving the Holocaust revisionist – it was heard in the UK High Court and he lost badly as his so-called ‘research’ was ripped to shreds by serious historians.

    I wonder if one these guys could be provoked into bringing a UK libel case where these claims could be examined by credible professionals.

    Paul, London

  16. BeckySue in Poway
    August 2, 2009

    Dear Jim,

    Are you saying that NARTH is advocating and promoting and counseling that aversion therapy be used? I have searched their site for such references and found the opposite to be true. This is what I found in the 2006 spring NARTH bulletin.

    “It is important to correct distortions about the nature
    of reparative therapy. Upon reading Dr. Joseph
    Nicolosi’s (1991) work on the subject, one might possibly
    classify reparative therapy in a variety of ways:
    developmental, interpersonal, cognitive, psychodynamic
    or even as family systems. However, there are
    no allusions either in Nicolosi or in any other work
    describing this approach to any aversive techniques
    such as pain infliction. Reparative treatment simply is
    not an aversive approach, it never has been, and those
    who call it such are likely writing from perspectives
    distorted by stereotyping and stigmatization rather
    than being informed by careful study and refined by
    scientific scrutiny.”

  17. Jim Burroway
    August 2, 2009

    I am only reporting what NARTH is reporting. If anyone has a question about whether NARTH finds aversion therapy a justifiable course of treatment for trying to change sexual orientation, they should direct it to NARTH. As I see it, NARTH can answer such a question two ways:

    1) That NARTH does support aversion therapy, or

    2) That NARTH believes aversion therapy to be ethically unsupportable.

    If their answer is number 2, then I have an additional question. If aversion therapy is so unethical, why does NARTH devote nearly four pages of their journal bragging about the supposed efficacy of aversion therapy?

    I will explore that question more broadly in a future post.

    But in the meantime, believe me, I am not the one who chose to raise the historical record of aversion therapy. THEY DID THAT THEMSELVES to justify their own positions in their very own journal. That wasn’t my idea. It was theirs. And so any questions as to why they would do that rests with NARTH.

  18. BeckySue in Poway
    August 2, 2009


    I got the impression this is a survey of the history of therapies for change and that they were simply including something that was published on the topic and that had also in the past made a claim of efficacy. I don’t think including it constitutes endorsement.

    Also, I am curious to understand why you use the word “brag.” You reported that the study was 121 pages and out of that 4 pages reported on this primitive approach. Could it be you are looking at this in a way it was not intended?

    Would you feel better if they included a phrase to denounce such treatment?

  19. Jim Burroway
    August 2, 2009

    I might feel better if they had omitted the mention of this research in the first place. They certainly omitted others. And for context, the section giving the historical overview of reports of change was about 15 pages. That means nearly a quarter of the historical overview was devoted to aversion therapy. And they are using that history of unconscionable torture to justify their claims to efficacy of therapy that, in another context, they say they oppose. But if they really oppose it, why did they bring it up?

    I used the term “brag” because that’s what they did: they bragged about 30% here, 50% there, 100% there. And yet some of these figures were from studies using this brutal form of “therapy.”

    As for “primitive” approaches, I haven’t even begun to discuss the other primitive approaches they cited in the remainder of the historical overview.

    And just to get an idea of the flavor of their “study” they devoted another 35 pages to the so-called “pathology” of homosexuality, in a long section that is very similar to the satire I wrote, “The Heterosexual Agenda: Exposing the Myths.” Of course, they don’t intend for theirs to be a satire, but it has about as much scientific justification as mine does. If you want to get an idea of the tactics they used there, you can read my report, “How To Write An Anti-Gay Tract In Fifteen Easy Steps,” because as I will demonstrate in a future post, they used each and every one of those steps in their so-called “scientific” report.

  20. BeckySue in Poway
    August 2, 2009

    Is this on the internet so I could check it out myself?

  21. Jim Burroway
    August 2, 2009

    Unfortunately, it’s not online. It’s for sale at NARTH for $15.

  22. William
    August 3, 2009

    As to the question of whether NARTH’s lengthy account of the supposed efficacy of aversion therapy implies approval of it, I believe that it does – at least to some extent – even if NARTH does not itself use aversion therapy.

    It’s as though today’s right-wing Catholics, who get their knickers in such a twist about what they regard as unsound beliefs among their fellow Catholics, were to start citing the success of the Inquisition’s policy in past centuries of burning heretics as proof that heresy can be extirpated.

  23. Priya Lynn
    August 3, 2009

    I agree William. If they oppose use aversion therapy and consider it unethical why include it in the research in the first place. Its like an opponent of abortion using examples of abortion in a paper on how to successfully deal with unwanted pregnancies.

  24. Jarred
    August 3, 2009

    To me, the inclusion of this material leads to another question that the article barely mentions: If aversion therapy is was so effective, then why isn’t NARTH advocating its use? All the article says (if I’m reading Jim’s review correctly) is that it’s considered “unethical.” However, NARTH never discusses why it’s considered unethical.

    Personally, I find myself wondering if that’s not intentional. I find myself wondering if openly discussing the ethical problems with aversion therapies would simply lead to discussing the ethical problems with other methods of reparative therapy that they continue to promote.

  25. BeckySue in Poway
    August 3, 2009

    I look at it this way:
    If 50 years from now they do a survey on the treatment of liver cancer, they will no doubt include a review of the results of the barbaric use of surgery, chemotherapy and radiation. All three are horrific to endure and often profitable for doctors and hospitals. Hopefully, in 50 years, we will have gentler and much, much more effective treatments for cancer and a better understanding of it. Such a review would not necessarily broaden its scope to include comments on the tremendous suffering and cost to those treated with such “primitive” approaches.

    That being said, this is in no way intended to imply that being gay is like having cancer. However, it seems that there is a certain segment of people, usually religious, but not necessarily, who find it disconcerting to be gay and these people are looking for options.

    But maybe the very fact that people have sought such drastic treatments for something that others have worked hard to accept and help others accept makes this just too hurtful to even consider objectively. That would be totally understandable.

    I still can only speculate on the article since I have no copy of it.

  26. Richard W. Fitch
    August 3, 2009

    Somehow I doubt that any reputable survey of the treatments for mental illnesses in the past two centuries would mention shock therapy and lobotomies but only in passing. True professionals are willing to admit that various methods have been used based on the understandings at that time and are later realized as both barbaric and unproductive in any true sense of healing. NARTH is not of this ilk.

    But maybe the very fact that people have sought such drastic treatments for something that others have worked hard to accept and help others accept makes this just too hurtful to even consider objectively.

    There will always be charlatans who hold out hope to desperate people. Even when the source of ‘hope’ has been proven to be effective in a minuscule percentage of cases. NARTH would contend that the treatment failed because the patient was under-motivated and not because the plan of treatment is bogus.

  27. Julia
    May 14, 2012

    Has any one ever addressed Whitehead’s argument for neuroplasticity as a cause of homosexuality? His argument is that the brain is capable of changing over time in response to external stimuli. As a result, the structure of the brain can shift in response to certain sexual stimuli, turning someone homosexual. He also suggest that if one can turn homosexual due to neuroplasticity, then one can turn heterosexual also. His article is called “Are Brains ‘Gay’” and it’s a refutation of the brain study done at the Karolinska Institute showing that homosexuals brains have more in common with the brains of heterosexuals of the opposite sex. I would like to hear someone address this argument.

  28. William
    May 14, 2012

    Julia, Whitehead’s theory is pure armchair theory, and pretty fatuous armchair theory at that, and is based on no empirical evidence. I am certainly no expert on brain plasticity, but if it applied to sexual orientation, homosexual men who refrain from gay sex and adopt a heterosexual lifestyle in the hope of thereby transforming their homosexual attractions into heterosexual ones would eventually be successful. They seldom or never are.

    Read here:

  29. Priya Lynn
    May 14, 2012

    Julia, as well, if that were true then virtually no men would have become gay in the first place because there historically has been a huge social stigma with being gay and strong disincentives so if one had no interest in gay sex to begin with it isn’t conceivable that one would begin and repeatedly have gay sex resulting in changing one’s brain.

  30. Timothy Kincaid
    May 14, 2012


    My theory is that homosexuality is caused by Gerber’s strained peas. I would like to hear someone address this argument.

  31. William
    May 14, 2012

    Julia, an anonymous 18th century English writer wrote a pamphlet on the reasons for the growth of homosexuality – or, as he called it, “sodomy”. He thought that it was caused by drinking tea and listening to Italian opera. Since this fits my profile, I would like to hear someone address this argument.

  32. Julia
    May 14, 2012

    Please don’t get snippy with me. I’m not some right-wing nutjob out to prove that homosexuality is a “choice”. I am, in fact, a lesbian myself. The only reason that I ask is because I have been doing research into the biological basis for homosexuality and found that the Karolinska study on brain differences seems to be not only the most conclusive, but one of the few that addresses lesbianism. However, I was a little disheartened after reading Whitehead’s article on neuroplasticity. I scoured the internet for a refutation of his claims, but found none. That’s why I came here to ask about it. I appreciate all the non-sarcastic responses. They have cleared things up a bit. During my search, I found that Whitehead’s theory was frequently quoted by religious groups as evidence of the mutability of sexual orientation. Thus, I would love to see one of the authors of this blog write an article about it, but only if they think that it is something worth addressing.

  33. Timothy Kincaid
    May 14, 2012


    Unfortunately like so many medical studies, most research on homosexuality is on men. And while there is very little on gay women, what there is suggests that orientation may be less fixed and more flexible. So I understand your frustration.

    But don’t let Whitehead’s opinions throw you. “Neuroplasticity” is a very wonkly sounding word, but that doesn’t give it credibility. It’s his guess and he’s entitled to guess.

    However, his guesswork is not science and to refute something it must have basis. If there has been no foundational work – there there’s nothing to debunk or refute. It shares the same scientific value as my much less impressive sounding “guess” of Gerber’s Strained Peas.

    I could no more set out to disprove his notions than I could about the peas or, for that matter, that it is all God’s Plan for the universe. But the proof is, as they say, in the pudding.

    After some 40 years of ex-gay ministries and 20 years of NARTH, there are no cases of restructured neuroconnections or whatever it is that he hypothesizes. No one turned straight.

    Yeah, there are some who claim it (and, to err on the side of the possible, I’ll allow that a small handful of women who claim to now be heterosexual seem not to be either frauds or delusional) but as the head of Exodus recently said, 99.9% do not change their orientation.

    One can postulate on the aerodynamics of porcine species and theorize about velocity and wind friction, but it means nothing until pigs fly.

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