Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Regent University Researchers Study Gays in Opposite-Sex Marriages

Progressive commentators have devoted much attention recently to a study entitled "Characteristics of Mixed Orientation Couples: An Empirical Study" by M.A. Yarhouse et al. Starting on page 41 of volume 4, issue 2 of Edification: The Transdisciplinary Journal of Christian Psychology, the study examines the lives of 106 sexual minority respondents and 161 current or former heterosexual spouses of sexual minorities. What drew commentators' attention was that all of the authors of the article either psychology professors or doctoral candidates at Regent University, a Christian university founded by Pat Robertson in 1978.

The study looked at couples in what it called "mixed orientation marriages," or marriages in which one partner is heterosexual and one partner is a sexual minority. Out of the 167 respondents, 66.7% were currently married to their other-orientation partner, 10.1% were separated, 15% were divorced, and 1.5% were currently in a same-sex relationship. Respondents answered a questionnaire about relationship dynamics, relationship satisfaction, sexual functioning, and sexual orientation and identity.

The most frequent reasons given for entering a mixed orientation marriage included wanting children and a family, wanting a companion, being in love, and doing what seemed to be the right or natural thing. Interestingly, pressure from family, a belief that the spouses same-sex attraction would go away, and a desire to hide same-sex attraction were not common reasons given for marrying.

Heterosexual partners frequently responded to their partner's disclosure of same-sex attraction with shock, devastation, confusion, anxiety, or a sense of betrayal. Sexual minority spouses, on the other hand, reported feeling relief, peace, anxiety, or confusion when they disclosed to their spouses. Love, children, and family were the most frequent cited reasons why both heterosexual spouses and sexual minorities stayed in their marriages after disclosure.

Interestingly, the authors of the article observed that sexual minorities in mixed-orientation marriages did NOT report statistically significant changes in emotional attachments, attraction, and fantasy. This suggests that behavior changes in such marriages do not indicate changes in sexual orientation as such, the authors argued. It is this observation that has caught the eye of so many progressive observers.

Coming from researchers who herald from a Christian university founded by Pat Robertson, this is a remarkable observation. It suggests a nuanced understanding of human sexuality in which emotional bonds, attraction, and thoughts -- not just sexual behaviors -- give shape to sexual orientation. Contrary to the ideas of some "ex-gay" therapy proponents, these findings also suggest that engaging in heterosexual behaviors does not lead to a heterosexual orientation. While people may adjust their sexual and romantic behavior for various reasons, their sexual orientation does not change in response to those behaviors. Sexual behavior and sexual orientation, in other words, are two different things.

Before we get too excited, it bears mentioning that the article did not conclude that sexual orientation is immutable. The authors wrote that these findings do not necessarily indicate that sexual orientation cannot change. Nevertheless, these findings suggest that sexual orientation is more intractable than some Religious Right voices believe.

Research from secular and now Christian sources suggests that behaviors do not produce a change in sexual orientation. As more of this research reaches the mainstream, let's hope more people begin to question "ex-gay" assumptions about changing sexual orientation.

For additional news and commentary, visit the following links:

Edge Boston: Conservative Christian University: There's Nothing "Ex" About "Ex-Gays"

Think Progress: Pat Robertson's Regent University: Ex-Gays Can Act the Part, but Orientation Doesn't Change

Right Wing Watch: Did Pat Robertson's Regent U Undercut Beliefs In 'Ex-Gay' Reparative Therapy?

Warren Throckmorton: New study: Sexual behavior changes but not sexual orientation


  1. Very interesting. It is difficult for me to imagine that the ex-gay movement will not fall into disrepute during the next several years. There is simply too much evidence that contradicts its basic premises.

  2. Cognitive Dissenter -- I hope the ex-gay movement falls into disrepute too. It has brought too much grief to too many people.

  3. I think more and more people will come towards a more tolerant position simply because it's an issue that crosses so many boundaries. Rich or poor, religious or not, conservative or liberal, and people of all races have gay friends and relations. It's an unavoidable fact.

  4. Donna -- To boot, now that LGBT people are becoming more visible, more people KNOW that they have gay friends and kin. Our society does seem to be moving toward a more tolerant position, and that's a good thing.

  5. You can tell things are moving in the right direction when they actually publish the results of such a study when it is clearly contrary to their agenda.

    Exciting times!

  6. Wise Fool -- Exciting times indeed!

  7. They need to provide more studies, some of which explain clearly to opposing views on the LGBT community that being gay is not a 'choice'. Unfortunately, I don't think they've put forth much effort into this.

  8. Anomaly100 -- More of such studies are certainly needed from this quarter.


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