Psychiatrist requests retraction of controversial ‘gay cure’ study

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Dr Robert Spitzer has said he would like to retract a study he conducted on the result of ‘gay cure’ therapy which has been used to claim that some gay people are able to turn straight.

In 2001, Dr Spitzer presented the controversial paper “Can Some Gay Men and Lesbians Change Their Sexual Orientation? 200 Participants Reporting a Change from Homosexual to Heterosexual Orientation”, a study which looked at those who attended gay ‘cure’ therapy.

The American Psychological Association distanced itself from the study, which said 66% of the men and 44% of the women Spitzer spoke to had achieved “good heterosexual functioning” after seeking therapy for their sexual orientation.

To meet the required standard of “heterosexual functioning”, Dr Spitzer, who was himself instrumental in declassifying homosexuality as a disorder in the US in 1973, measured them against five criteria.

Former patients needed to be in a loving heterosexual relationship during the last year, have overall satisfaction in emotional relationship with a partner, have heterosexual sex a few times a month, achieve physical satisfaction through heterosexual sex, and not think about another person of their sex more than 15% of the time they were sleeping with an opposite sex partner.

The paper was later published in the Archives of Sexual Behavior and had become the subject of widespread criticism. The study’s sampling methods were commented upon, as most subjects, 66 percent, were referred by ex-gay ministries and the National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality. 93 percent had been motivated to attend therapy by religious feeling.

The study was also criticised for not examining the risk of self-deception on the part of the respondents, for not having a control group and no set ‘treatment’ to compare a control group with.

In article in The American Prospect published this week, Gabriel Arana, a journalist who experience ex-gay therapy with Dr Joseph Nicolosi, spoke to Dr Spitzer, now aged 80, about the study.

Arana writes: “I asked about the criticisms leveled at him. ‘In retrospect, I have to admit I think the critiques are largely correct,’ he said. ‘The findings can be considered evidence for what those who have undergone ex-gay therapy say about it, but nothing more.’

“He said he spoke with the editor of the Archives of Sexual Behavior about writing a retraction, but the editor declined. (Repeated attempts to contact the journal went unanswered.)”

Dr Spitzer had previously said in 2001 it was likely to be a “pretty low” number of people who could successfully change their sexuality, but the study showed “some people can change from gay to straight, and we ought to acknowledge that”.

In the intervening years, he acknowledged criticism of the study and the “tremendous anger” felt by many about the paper.

Arana continues: “Spitzer was growing tired and asked how many more questions I had. Nothing, I responded, unless you have something to add.

“He did. Would I print a retraction of his 2001 study, ‘so I don’t have to worry about it anymore’?”

In 1973, Dr Spitzer was chief editor of the Diagnostics and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders and spearheaded the removal of homosexuality as a psychiatric disorder in and of itself from the manual.