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A press release this week trumpeted a ‘groundbreaking” longitudinal study of 98 people who attempted to change their sexual orientation through religion-based “therapy” provided by Exodus Ministries.  Results were reported after a 3-year study.

Keep in mind that these were individuals who were religiously motivated to try to change their sexual orientation.  These men and women are often very eager to control their sexual thoughts, fantasies and behaviors out of fear of eternal punishment.  Damnation should be pretty motivating, right?

Results: half the participants either dropped out or stopped attempting to change their sexual orientation.  Another 17% stayed with the study, but the study didn’t report their outcome — probably because it wasn’t successful.  18% of the participants stopped having same-sex sex, or at least had it less often.  These folks are often counted as successes by ex-gay ministries on the theory that at least people in this group are “sinning less.”

14 out of 98 participants were reported to be “successful” in heterosexual orientation and functioning.  Which is to say….84 out of 98 were not, even if they entered the process motivated by hellfire and brimstone.

I’ve written before about how fundamentalism affects healthy identity formation and about understanding sexual orientation.

It is easy to caricature people like those who seek to change their sexual orientation as hyper-religious closet cases.  The reality is darker.  These men and women are sincere in their attempts to lead happy lives consistent with their religious understanding. Their struggle is real, painful and lonely.  They risk alienation from family and their religious community if they acknowledge who they are.

But because they are not sick, treatment doesn’t cure them.