Sorry, Zealots

Those Scientists Who Said You Can Cure Homosexuality? They Might’ve Lied


The religious right has long insisted homosexuality is a choice, not a biological matter, which is why society should be less, uh, forgiving to gays and lesbians who “choose” to mash together same-sex genitalia. Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson, James Dobson, and Tony Perkins practically live to make — and created successful careers from — this argument. It’s also how these folks get away with arguing gays can be “cured” of their disease through reparative therapy. Because God can only love them after a few weeks of intensive treatment in a quack program! But Robertson, et al. aren’t crazy types. We know this because they’ve got science behind them! Yes, religious folks sometimes do turn to science, but only when it’s convenient. Only problem? The science that helped them back up this “choice” theory is flawed, full of holes, and almost impossible to believe. Is it all one big giant lie?


Citing research from the Catholic Medical Association — which claims homosexuality is a psychological disorder, or at least the manifestation of one — anti-gay zealots, notes Scientific American, push the theory that science “counters the myth that same-sex attraction is genetically predetermined and unchangeable, and offers hope for prevention and treatment.”

Oh, but what’s this?

That conclusion is based on a study and the book Homosexuality in Perspective from William Masters and Virginia Johnson, whose 14 years of work supposedly saw a 70 percent conversion rate of homos — even though they say they didn’t necessarily advocate such therapy.

Except there are some serious, irrefutable doubts about their work.

Relays Scientific American based on an excerpt from Thomas Maier’s new book Masters of Sex: The Life and Times of William Masters and Virginia Johnson, the Couple Who Taught America How To Love.:

Prior to the book’s publication, doubts arose about the validity of their case studies. Most staffers never met any of the conversion cases during the study period of 1968 through 1977, according to research I’ve done for my new book Masters of Sex. Clinic staffer Lynn Strenkofsky, who organized patient schedules during this period, says she never dealt with any conversion cases. Marshall and Peggy Shearer, perhaps the clinic’s most experienced therapy team in the early 1970s, says they never treated homosexuals and heard virtually nothing about conversion therapy.

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.

Until he died in 2001 Masters felt confident their book would be embraced eventually by the medical community, not just by purveyors of religious or political agendas. He believed the prospect of “conversion” therapy offered more hope, more freedom to patients than psychoanalysis ever could. “The criticisms are based on old concepts,” Masters replied dismissively to the press. “We’re reporting on 10 years of work with five years of follow-up—and it works.”

But despite his claims, the success of Masters’s “gay conversion” therapy have never been proved.

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  • burton21

    Might have? Enough with the past-tense hedge words. They ARE lying, present tense.

  • anon

    yeah, DEF a choice… (insert eye roll here)

    because people would certainly choose to live a life where they have to keep their sexual preference hidden or risk the possibility of getting disowned, ostracized, beaten or killed.

    so glad to see this “scientific” theory getting debunked!

  • tavdy79

    Has anyone ever done a thorough analysis/refutation of Homosexuality in Perspective? My first choice of a person to do a thorough study if one hasn’t been done would be Warren Throckmorton.

  • Oaklander

    Aside from the content here.. whenever I see footage of 70’s gay men, I get very sad to realize how many of them were about to learn about HIV. :(

  • erasure25

    It really doesn’t matter. Religion is a choice and is protected. But in any case, real scientists (not ones funded by NOM, the Catholic Medical Association, or Exxon-Mobile) theorize it is a multitude of factors including genetics and environment.

    This reminds me of the pseudo-science that was conducted in the past to measure general intelligence or that slippery factor known as “g.” The “research” done in things like craniometry were found to be based in prejudice rather than scientific rigor. This is the case here as well.

  • chapeau

    You know what this has always been a fallacious argument … in a free country — it never has been the State’s business.

    Choice or No Choice — mind ya own damn business. Bigots and Busy-bodies!

    And for the record – as a flaming queer — my cock has always naturally gotten hard by the site of another man’s cock – never a pussy.

    Figure it out.

  • tavdy79

    @erasure25: There was a BBC Horizon program a few years ago about the IQ test. As part of the show they measured the size of the brain of a guy with an IQ of 164 (i.e. someone in the top 0.0001%). His brain was actually smaller than average, and quite noticeably so when they showed you the scan of his brain compared to that of a normal brain. This was also true of Albert Einstein’s brain.

  • The D.Stro

    I think it’s worth noting that Masters & Johnson are best known for the important research they did on sex from a behavioral perspective, especially their theory of the stages of physical arousal. Especially at a time when “scientific inquiry” into sex was not popular or considered ethical, and questions like “What is ‘normal’ sex?” couldn’t be answered from a statistical or behavioral perspective, they are known for being important pioneers in a then-considered-pseudo-scientific field.

    Another pioneer, Kinsey, did the first ground-breaking sex research, and his results (including the oft-cited 10% are gays idea) are heavily questioned, but equally important.

    Considering that Masters’ approach was behavioral, it’s reasonable to assume that his “conversion” therapy was behavioral modification therapy and that a “successful” conversion was based on a behavioral metric, i.e. “0 same-sex encounters” or “increased incidence of opposite-sex encounters”, etc. If we define sexual orientation based solely on behavior, then Hooray, conversion therapy works, most Priests are asexual, etc. If we define it based on desire (I’d like to think I’m gay outside of bed) then these “conversion therapy success stories” are just examples of successful sexual repression.

    Nobody’s questioning their most important findings. I’d never heard of Masters’ conversion therapy work, and obviously, I disagree that his metrics indicate successful “conversion”.

  • rick

    damn this is just like autism and vaccine linkage, THEY MADE THE WHOLE THING UP!

  • Boo

    If their results were real, NARTH and Exodus would have been using their techniques for years now. Which means the organizations most motivated to prove that they can “cure” gayness either didn’t think enough of the Masters data themselves to bother trying, or they tried and found it didn’t work.

  • tavdy79

    This has turned into a very useful post, Queerty – thanks! There’s a protest in Westminster tomorrow over a conference involving NARTH that’s being held by an Evangelical CofE group called “Anglican Mainstream” in the capital – this will be useful for journalists, since it’s attracted the attention of the BBC.

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