Lots of stuff today…
Here is something worth looking into; a new book by Thomas Maier questions the claims of Masters and Johnson that 70% of their homosexual clients changed orientation.
John Tierney’s blog points to an article in Scientific American by Maier which summarizes the topic.
Back in 1979, on Meet The Press and countless other TV appearances, Masters and Johnson touted their book, Homosexuality in Perspective—a 14-year study of more than 300 homosexual men and women—hoping to build on their groundbreaking sex studies of heterosexuals that had helped ignite America’s sexual revolution. The results seemed impressive: Of the 67 male and female patients with “homosexual dissatisfaction,” only 14 failed in the initial two-week “conversion” or “reversion” treatment. (The 12 cases of attempted “conversion” were for men and women who had always believed they were homosexual and were troubled by it, while the 55 “reversion” cases were in people who believed their homosexuality was more fleeting.) During five years of follow-up, their success rate for both groups was better than 70 percent.
But were Masters and Johnson’s claims of “conversion” in those 12 cases — nine men and three women — even true?
This is an important question given the reputation of Masters and Johnson. Numerous conversion therapy groups have referred to their work as evidence of change (e.g., this Narth paper).
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.
Being creative? One member of the M&J team had no first hand knowledge of the results and wanted to back away from the claims. I would say this is a significant problem.
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.
It will be interesting to see if any of the patients involved step forward…