Major New Study Finds Sexual Orientation Change Efforts To Be Ineffective

A study in the Journal of Counseling Psychology, released online in March, examined sexual orientation change efforts by over 1,600 current or former Mormons. Some beneficial results were noted but the primary finding was that sexual orientation is highly resistant to change attempts, and the efforts were either ineffective or damaging. The study was conducted by John P. Dehlin, Renee V. Galliher, William S. Bradshaw, Daniel C. Hyde, and Katherine A. Crowell.*

Here is the study abstract:

This study examined sexual orientation change efforts (SOCE) by 1,612 individuals who are current or former members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS). Data were obtained through a comprehensive online survey from both quantitative items and open-ended written responses. A minimum of 73% of men and 43% of women in this sample attempted sexual orientation change, usually through multiple methods and across many years (on average). Developmental factors associated with attempts at sexual orientation change included higher levels of early religious orthodoxy (for all) and less supportive families and communities (for men only). Among women, those who identified as lesbian and who reported higher Kinsey attraction scores were more likely to have sought change. Of the 9 different methods surveyed, private and religious change methods (compared with therapist-led or group-based efforts) were the most common, started earlier, exercised for longer periods, and reported to be the most damaging and least effective. When sexual orientation change was identified as a goal, reported effectiveness was lower for almost all of the methods. While some beneficial SOCE outcomes (such as acceptance of same-sex attractions and reduction in depression and anxiety) were reported, the overall results support the conclusion that sexual orientation is highly resistant to explicit attempts at change and that SOCE are overwhelmingly reported to be either ineffective or damaging by participants.

There is much to digest in this study but a couple of items stand out. First, self-reported results of change efforts were dismal. On page 6 of the online paper, the authors report:

Reported changes in sexual identity. With regard to self-reported sexual attraction and identity ratings, only one participant out of 1,019 (.1%) who engaged in SOCE reported both a heterosexual identity label and a Kinsey attraction score of zero (exclusively attracted to the opposite sex).

No doubt others reported a straight label but their attraction scores told a different tale.

Many participants reported harm, but the quality of life measures did not show a difference between those who had attempted change via an explicit method and those who did not. However, the subjective distress over sexual orientation did significantly differ between the two groups with more distress experienced by the change effort group.

My understanding is that several other articles based on this study are in the pipeline. I look forward to a fuller description of this study. The number of respondents from one faith group makes this survey stand out and worth considering. One would think that change would show up if it happened frequently in a sample of this size.

*Dehlin, J. P., Galliher, R. V., Bradshaw, W. S., Hyde, D. C., & Crowell, K. A. (2014, March 17). Sexual Orientation Change Efforts Among Current or Former LDS Church Members. Journal of Counseling Psychology. Advance online publication. http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/cou0000011

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