Can sexual orientation or same-sex attraction change? This is the question Justin Lee in Torn asks and it is also, from a few years back, the one Jones and Yarhouse ask in chp 7 of Ex-Gays?. The consensus of the American Psychological Association (APA) is that orientation cannot change. Justin Lee agrees with them but J-Y test that claim and claim some change is demonstrable.
What do you think? Do you have any evidence or any reasons for your beliefs here? There is a new article at CT by Rosaria Champagne Butterfield, telling her story of conversion to Christ.
Remember the question here: Can it be demonstrated that those who seek to change their orientation can achieve success in their endeavor? Jones and Yarhouse think success can be achieved and measured empirically. Justin Lee disagrees that success is achieved. His argument, based more on the anecdotes of those who have “illustrious” stories is that over time they will admit they still have same-sex attraction, which is the definition of gay. Many of those with illustrious stories have not only not changed attraction but are now involved in same-sex relations. This story needs to be told, and Justin sketches it briefly. It appears to me he’d say “once gay, always gay.” (I don’t want to put words in his mouth, so I emphasize “It appears to me…”)
One of the important points made by Justin Lee is that gay has to be defined properly. I would say the word “gay” is used in three ways today, and it important to hear how this term is now being defined “officially”: for some it refers to sexual behaviors (so if you cease same-sex relations you are no longer “gay”), for others it refers to a (stereotyped) “lifestyle” of promiscuity, but the official meaning is that gay means attraction to the same-sex. If this the meaning, then the issue in change is does one cease being attracted to same sex — and, even more, does one develop an attraction for the opposite sex.
J-Y carefully analyzed their pool to find those who are truly gay according to standardized measurements. Essentially, a truly gay person reports “high levels of homosexual attraction/fantasy and exclusive or highly disproportionate levels of homosexual behavior and strong self-identification as gay or lesbian” (234).
They provide dense and complete tables of data; more than 35 pages of data and discussion. Their conclusion: ”On average, this population has experienced significant change away from homosexual orientation and toward heterosexual orientation. Empirically, it is a medium to large shift from orientation and a small change toward heterosexual orientation. The most significant conclusion is that the Truly Gay subpopulation of this study is the one most likely to exhibit significant change. Here are their numbers:
Success of change:
Conversion to heterosexuality (15%)
Success of change: Chastity (23%)
Failure to change: confused (4%)
Failure to change: remain gay identity (8%)
They believe these results are typical for a measurable study of change in psychology. For instance, depression numbers in comparable categories: 33% substantial success or remission, 14% improvement, and 53% non-improvement. Their conclusion is that fundamental change can be achieved. In their view, 38% of those they studied report fundamental change.