Box Turtle Bulletin

Box Turtle BulletinNews, analysis and fact-checking of anti-gay rhetoric
“Now you must raise your children up in a world where that union of man and box turtle is on the same legal footing as man and wife…”
This article can be found at:
Latest Posts

Posts for April, 2009

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.

Anti-Gays Rely on Masters and Johnson

Timothy Kincaid

April 23rd, 2009

William Masters and Virginia E. Johnson were sex researcher in the 60′s through 90′s. Their books Human Sexual Response in 1966 and Human Sexual Inadequacy in 1970 were considered classics that broke through misconceptions and myths about human sexuality.

But unlike their predecessor, Alfred Kinsey, they are not hated and reviled by anti-gay activists. Because in 1979 they released Homosexuality in Perspective, in which they claimed that homosexuality could in most cases be cured. And this is a claim very much treasured by those who seek to deny rights and equality to gay citizens.

For example, Thomas E. Schmidt writes in his article Homosexual Causation: Nature or Nurture? hosted on the Exodus International website:

W. Masters and V. Johnson conducted a study of fifty-four men and thirteen women who expressed a desire to convert or revert to a heterosexual orientation. Therapists chose candidates for their apparently high degree of motivation and for their accompaniment by an understanding opposite-sex partner who could serve as a support during the transition period. The treatment format consisted of an intensive two-week program followed by periodic follow-up over a five-year period. The client couple worked with a man-woman therapy team who focused on nonjudgmental identification and explanation of the influences that had led to the client’s homosexual behavior.

The therapists then worked to reduce these influences within the context of the clients’ value system and to encourage heterosexual function on the part of the client couple. About 20 percent failed during the initial treatment period, but the five-year follow-up revealed no more than a 30-45 percent total failure rate, much lower than even Masters and Johnson had expected.

Such well known and respected names as Masters and Johnson lend great credibility to the insistence that homosexuality is not an orientation and can, indeed, be reversed. See how prominently NARTH displays their names.

Is homosexuality immutable? Is it fixed, or is it amenable to change? The 1973 decision to delete homosexuality from the diagnostic manual of the American Psychiatric Association had a chilling effect on research. The APA decision was not made based on new scientific evidence-in fact, as gay activist researcher Simon LeVay admitted, “Gay activism was clearly the force that propelled the APA to declassify homosexuality” (1996, p. 224).

In reviewing the research, Satinover reported a 52% success rate in the treatment of unwanted homosexual attraction. (Satinover, 1996, p. 186). Masters and Johnson, the famed sex researchers, reported 65% success rate after a five-year follow-up (Schwartz and Masters, 1984, pp. 173-184). Other professionals report success rates ranging from 30% to 70%.

And anti-gay gadflies Stephen Bennett and Peter LaBarbera hauled out a 1979 Time Magazine article about the book as evidence that “a permanent, or at least longterm, switch to heterosexuality is possible more than half the time among gays who are highly motivated to change.”

However, as time passed, other researchers were unable to duplicate Masters’ success.

A study conducted by conservative evangelical researchers Stanton Jones and Mark Yarhouse which sought to validate the reorientation efforts of Exodus International found that a change from homosexual orientation to heterosexual orientation was nowhere near 65%. They reported a “conversion” rate of 15% and defined conversion in such a way as to allow for roaming eyes, sex dreams, and other attributes that are not generally considered to be indicative of heterosexuality.

The study, while the best published to date, is fraught with problems including sample size, measurement and definition of change, comingling of retrospective and prospective samples, and lack of follow-up. At best it could be said that

Perhaps eleven percent of an nonrepresentative sample of 98 highly motivated gay people who went through Exodus programs reported that after four years there was “substantial reduction in homosexual desire and addition of heterosexual attraction and functioning”.

But even that statement is challenged by the fact that one of the eleven successes wrote to the study coordinators to inform them that he was not truthful with them and that he had no change in attraction at all. He simply wanted to tell them what all parties really wanted to be true.

So why then is it that the optimistic results of Masters and Johnson are not readily evident in later studies? After all, Masters was reporting success within the first two weeks.

Well new information suggests that the secret may not be the inferior methods of more current attempts. Rather, the fault may lie with the source.

For more information see Masters and Johnson Gay “Cures” Were Likely Faked