Roundups Sexual Health

Sexual Health Roundup: California Teens Spared Harmful Therapy, Syphilis Spikes in Houston, NY Men Like Big Condoms

Martha Kempner

California Gov. Jerry Brown calls reparative therapy quackery as he signs a law banning the practice of changing teens' sexual orientation; syphilis rates spike in Houston; and Big-Apple guys choose big condoms. 

California Bans Reparative Therapy for Teenagers

The ex-gay movement took yet another hit this week as California Gov. Jerry Brown signed a law banning the practice of reparative therapy for teenagers in his state. Brown said that he hoped this new law, which prohibits licensed mental-health-care providers from attempting to change the sexual orientation of anyone under age 18, will relegate the practice to the “dustbin of quackery.” 

This law comes after a difficult summer for supporters of the practice known as “reparative therapy.” In May, a psychiatrist apologized for his role in advancing this therapy, “also known as conversion therapy,” which seeks to “cure” homosexuality. In the 1970s, Dr. Robert Spitzer was part of the American Psychiatric Association panel that ruled that homosexuality was not a mental disorder as it had been categorized until that point. Yet after being part of one of the biggest advances in gay rights, he was also part of one of its biggest setbacks. In 2001, he published a peer-reviewed study, claiming reparative therapy worked. This year, Spitzer admitted that the study was flawed because it simply asked individuals if they felt that their sexual orientation had changed. This meant that they could be lying, not just to him but to themselves. He apologized to the gay community and to “any gay person who wasted time and energy undergoing reparative therapy… .”

In August, the president of Exodus International, an umbrella organization for ex-gay ministries, which was founded in 1976 to promote reparative therapy, announced that there is no cure for homosexuality. He went on to say that “… reparative therapy offered false hopes to gays and could even be harmful.” Though the organization will no longer support therapies designed to change sexual orientation, it still does not support same-sex relationships or LGBT rights. In fact, its president continues to say that “any sexual expression outside of heterosexual, monogamous marriage is sinful according to the Bible.”  

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Still, he now believes that reparative therapy is harmful because it makes people feel “sinful based on their natural inclinations.” Ironically, Gov. Brown agrees, though he uses different words. After he signed the law, Brown tweeted: “This bill bans non-scientific ‘therapies’ that have driven young people to depression and suicide. These practices have no basis in science or medicine.”  

This echoes the findings of a report by the American Psychiatric Association, which concluded that:

“reparative therapy poses a great risk, including increasing the likelihood or severity of depression, anxiety and self-destructive behavior for those undergoing therapy. Therapists’ alignment with societal prejudices against homosexuality may reinforce self-hatred already felt by patients.”     

A number of groups that continue to believe in the practice are outraged and have threatened to sue over the new law. A spokesman for the National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality (NARTH) argued that they do “competent therapy” that works:

“For them to have a bill that says, ‘No, we can’t even talk about these issues, we can’t do anything to help these children resolve their homosexual feelings and maximize their heterosexual potential’ — that’s the height of political and therapeutic irresponsibility.”

NARTH says it will file a lawsuit against the new rule. Another group, the Pacific Justice Institute, also plans to file suit, claiming the law violates first-amendment rights. But regardless of the outcomes, reparative therapy for young people may not be completely gone from California. The law applies only to licensed health-care providers, and many who provide this kind of “treatment” are not licensed. Still, the law should give well-meaning parents pause before considering this practice. 

Syphilis Cases Double in Houston, Texas

A report this week from the Houston Department of Health and Human Services shows that the number of new cases of syphilis during the first eight months of 2012 is nearly double that of the same time period last year. This reverses a downward trend that began in 2008. Most of the new cases are among men who have sex with men. 

Lupita Thornton, program manager for sexually transmitted diseases for the Houston Department of Health and Human Services, called the new numbers alarming and said:

“We hope it’s alarming to the Houston-area community so people who know they’re at risk get tested.” 

Though there is no one reason for the spike, she does point to use of social networking to arrange sexual encounters. Another spokesperson for the department said that the spike might be a result of increased surveillance efforts. For example, the city sponsored hip-hop concerts that included free STD screenings. 

In 1999, the rates of syphilis were so low nationally that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced a syphilis elimination program. Unfortunately, this was not successful, and the rates have crept back up. While on a national level there has been a 1.6 percent decline since 2009, rates have spiked in a number of cities recently. For example, San Antonio, Texas, announced plans a few weeks ago to follow pregnant women who test positive for syphilis because of a rise in the number of babies born with the disease. 

In order to stem this newest spike, Houston officials plan to increase detection programs and expand the schedule of the department’s mobile HIV and STD clinic.

Syphilis is a bacterial infection that can be cured without long-term health impacts if caught early.    

The Big Men of the Big Apple Get a New Condom Choice

The New York State Department of Health is replenishing its supply of condoms by purchasing 720,000 Trojan condoms, including 440 cases of Magnums. The department, which runs the New York State Condom Program, dispenses about 12 million male condoms across the state each year, more than half of which are distributed in New York City. 

As many of us remember, the city distributes its own condoms that are manufactured by Lifestyles and packaged with a city-specific design inspired by the subway map. The condom was first distributed in 2007, but people complained that they were not large enough for many men in the city. Two years later the city began offering another product made by Durex. New York City gives out condoms through 3,900 participating organizations—including health clinics, advocacy groups, stores, and bars. Groups that distribute these condoms can also ask the state for additional condoms. 

And the state’s Magnums—which are 15 percent larger than standard condoms—are among the most popular. Mark Hammer of the New York State Department of Health said:

“Offering a wider selection of condoms with varying attributes can help encourage more people to use them. Some gangs, for example, take issue with the color of certain condoms, he noted. And everything from texture to packaging can play a role.”

The bottom line is, whether the men of the Big Apple really need the big condom or are just attracted to the shiny gold package, it’s good that they’re protecting themselves. 

Roundups Sexual Health

This Year in Sex: It’s Time to Take Action

Martha Kempner

We have the tools to work against sexually transmitted infections, harmful "conversion therapy" for LGBTQ teens, and sexual assault on college campuses. Now, we just have to use them.

This Year in Sex takes a look back at the news and research related to sexual behavior, sexuality education, contraception, sexually transmitted infections, and other topics that captured our attention in 2015.

STIs Are on the Rise in Every Group

This year, it seemed like every week there was a new headline about a rise in sexually transmitted infections or diseases among a specific group, in a certain geographic area, or even among the general population. When states released their 2014 STI data, we learned that Minnesota’s rates hit a record high and that the rate of gonorrhea nearly doubled in Montana between 2013 and 2014. Counties across the country reported rising rates of chlamydia, gonorrhea, and syphilis. California’s Humboldt County, for example, noted a tenfold increase in gonorrhea since 2010, and Clark County, Nevada—home of Las Vegas—reported a 50 percent increase from 2014 in the number of cases of primary and secondary syphilis.

In fact, many of the headlines this year involved syphilis—a curable disease that the United States was once close to eliminating because rates were so low has continued its resurgence. A Department of Defense report, for example, points to a 41 percent increase in the rate of this disease among men in the military. Another disturbing report showed a dramatic rise in the number of babies born with syphilis; congenital syphilis can cause miscarriage, stillbirth, severe illness in the infant, and even early infant death. This reflects both an increase in cases of the disease among women and a lack of prenatal testing that could catch and treat syphilis during pregnancy. This year, there was also an outbreak of ocular syphilis on the West Coast that led to blindness in at least one patient.

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While syphilis is on the rise in both men and women, 90 percent of cases are in men, 83 percent of which are those who have sex with men in cases where the gender of the partner is known.

Young people are also disproportionately impacted by STIs, specifically chlamydia and gonorrhea—54 percent of the cases of gonorrhea and 66 percent of cases of chlamydia reported to the CDC occurred in those younger than 25. Though if detected early and treated, those STIs can be cured, they can also cause future health problems, including infertility.

Perhaps the ultimate headline about STIs this year, however, was the one in which we learned that almost everyone has herpes. A report by the World Health Organization estimated that 3.7 billion people worldwide—or about two out of every three adults across the globe—are infected with herpes simplex virus 1.

All of this news should remind us that sexually transmitted diseases and infections are a public health crisis and we have to up a fight. We need to prevent the spread by educating young people and adults and making condoms readily available. We need to invest in testing that can help people detect STIs before they face many potential health consequences and prevent them from spreading further. And, we need, of course, to provide access to treatment and combat stigma-based fear.

We Know How to Prevent HIV (Now We Just Have to Keep Doing It)

There was a lot of good news this year when it comes to preventing HIV, much of which focused on how well pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) can work. PrEP is a combination of two antiretroviral drugs—tenofovir and emtricitabine—used to treat people who have HIV. When taken daily by people who are HIV-negative, these drugs have been shown to prevent transmission of the virus. In fact, a study by Kaiser Permanente found that since the approval of PrEP in 2012, none of the patients who were using it became infected with HIV. This was actually better than the researchers expected given the findings in clinical trials.

Incorporating PrEP into a multifaceted HIV-prevention program can work, and San Francisco—once a hotbed of the national HIV and AIDS epidemic—proved that, with just 302 new HIV diagnoses in 2014. Getting those HIV-negative residents who are at high risk of contracting the virus onto PrEP is one of the strategies the city uses. In addition, the city provides rapid treatment for the newly diagnosed and continued follow-up appointments to make sure that patients stay on their treatment plan. This can not only help them stay healthy but can prevent the further spread of the virus, as people who adhere to an antiretroviral drug protocol can suppress the virus to the point that they cannot transmit it to others. In San Francisco, 82 percent of residents with HIV are in care and 72 percent are suppressed. This is significantly higher than national statistics, which show that 39 percent of those with HIV are in treatment and only 30 are taking their drug regimen regularly enough to be considered suppressed.

While it will be difficult for many places to adopt a system as expensive as the one in San Francisco, its success shows us that we have the tools we need to prevent HIV. And, in fact, diagnoses of HIV are down in the United States by 19 percent, though the success was not evenly spread: some groups, such as Latino and Black men who have sex with men, are actually seeing increases. It’s time to renew our investment in ending this epidemic for everyone.

Vaccines (Including the HPV Vaccine) Are Not Dangerous, But Skipping Them Is

The year started with a massive outbreak of the measles on the West Coast, so it’s not surprising that there was a lot of conversation about the value of inoculations and what happens when too many people in a certain area are not vaccinated. In the midst of the epidemic and the debate, some schools asked unvaccinated children to stay home, and some states tried to close loopholes that make it easy for parents to opt of required vaccines because of “personal beliefs.”

Unfortunately, many of these personal beliefs are based on false reports and misinformation suggesting that certain vaccines cause autism. A study of anti-vaccine websites found that this misinformation is abundant on the Internet. Of 480 sites dedicated to the anti-vaccine movement, about 65 percent claimed that vaccines are dangerous, about 62 percent claimed vaccines cause autism, and roughly 40 percent claimed vaccines caused “brain injury.” Many of these facts lacked citations, but some were based on misinterpretation of legitimate research.

The scientific truth is that vaccines are safe and have no connection to autism. If there was any doubt, yet another study was released this year confirming it. In fact, the only study that has ever found a connection was proven to be falsified by an unethical researcher who stood to make a profit.

Of course, that didn’t stop the field of Republican presidential hopefuls—which includes two medical doctors—from trying to score political points by suggesting the government may “push” “unnecessary” vaccines.

Though not mentioned by name, they may have been referring to the HPV vaccine, which has always been controversial because of its connection to sex. There seems to be a sense that because HPV is sexually transmitted, vaccinating against it is less important or will give teens permission to have sex. Numerous studies have shown this to be false. One study published this year even found that girls who have gotten the HPV vaccine take fewer sexual risks.

But the fear and misinformation continues, and it turns out doctors might not be helping matters. One study showed doctors may be discouraging the HPV vaccine by not strongly recommending it, not doing so in a timely manner (the CDC advises that vaccinations should start at age 11), and only suggesting it to young people they perceive to be at risk. This could be part of why HPV vaccination rates still lag behind those of other recommended vaccines.

We need to remember that this vaccine prevents cancer. The newest protects against nine strains of the virus and has the potential to prevent 90 percent of cervical, vulvar, vaginal, and anal cancer. And there is reason to believe it will also prevent oral cancer. That’s five cancers prevented by one series of shots.

Of course, like the others, it can only work if our children obtain it. Hopefully, it will not take another outbreak of a preventable disease like measles for us to realize how lucky we are to live in an age in which we know how to stop so many of the diseases that disabled and killed generations before us.

Government Weighs in on ‘Conversion Therapy’

This year saw many positive developments in the struggle for LGBTQ rights, one of which was a willingness of both the White House and many senators to come out against “conversion therapy” for young people. Sometimes called reparative therapy, this is the practice of trying to change a person’s sexual orientation or “cure” their homosexuality. While no legitimate medical organizations sanction such a practice, some young people are subjected to it because their parents or their religion disapprove of same-sex relationships.

Conversion therapy can include anything from Bible study to forced heterosexual dating to aversion therapy, in which patients are shown homosexual erotica and shocked every time they display arousal. Research has found not only that it does not work to change an individual’s sexual orientation, but that it can be harmful and lead to depression, shame, and suicidal thoughts.

In April, the White House released a report condemning the practice for teenagers and asking states to ban it for minors. In an accompanying letter President Obama wrote: “Tonight, somewhere in America, a young person, let’s say a young man, will struggle to fall to sleep, wrestling alone with a secret he’s held as long as he can remember. Soon, perhaps, he will decide it’s time to let that secret out. What happens next depends on him, his family, as well as his friends and his teachers and his community. But it also depends on us—on the kind of society we engender, the kind of future we build.” Two Democratic legislators echoed this sentiment when they offered a resolution asking the Senate to condemn the practice as well, and a report from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration attempted to offer parents alternatives that can support LGBTQ young people.

This year Oregon joined those states—including New Jersey, California, and the District of Columbia—that do ban the practice. Furthermore, a challenge to New Jersey’s ban failed when the U.S. Supreme Court turned the case away.

Doing away with harmful practices is a step in the right direction for LGBTQ adolescents, but there is still much more to do in order to protect and educate all of our young people.

We All Continued Talking About Consent

The problem of sexual assault on college campuses was pervasive in the news in 2015. At the end of last year, California became the first state to pass a law mandating affirmative consent on college campuses, also known as “yes means yes.” This year, New York joined it, and other states are considering doing the same.

Affirmative consent has its critics, who say that the standard is unclear and unrealistic in real-life settings. A poll by the Kaiser Family Foundation found that most college students (83 percent) had heard of affirmative consent and many (69 percent) felt it was very or at least somewhat realistic. But when asked whether different scenarios met the standard, students showed a variety of opinions, proving that putting the standard into practice might be tricky.

Still, I believe the conversations about affirmative consent have been useful. They have given us a platform to talk more about the role of alcohol in sexual behavior and sexual assault, and what happens when one is not passed out but clearly very drunk—and therefore incapable of giving consent. We’ve made college students more clearly establish their own boundaries. And educators have been able to both reiterate and go beyond the “no means no” message to talk about what good, consensual sex might look like.

Affirmative consent is not the end-all solution to sexual assault—it won’t, for example, prevent some perpetrators intent on raping. But if we talk about it enough and start before college—California, for example, mandated affirmative consent message in high school—we might have a generation who can think critically about their own behavior and the behavior of others, a generation that is prepared for healthy sexual relationships and knows that, at the bare minimum, a sexual encounter must include consent.

Commentary Media

‘My Husband’s Not Gay’: An Insincere Look Inside Lives of Men With Same-Sex Attraction

Martha Kempner

TLC defended its special, saying that the views it depicts are strictly those of the participants. What the network didn't say was that many of the show's participants are affiliated with organizations tied to the discredited "ex-gay" movement.

This weekend, TLC brought viewers its newest reality special, My Husband’s Not Gay, which examines the lives of three couples and a bachelor. The four men, all Mormons, have chosen to ignore their same-sex attractions in order to live within the rules of the church. Before the special even aired, critics protested, arguing that the show promoted “dangerous” “ex-gay” ideology that could prove harmful to LGBT viewers, particularly young ones. TLC, meanwhile, maintained that the hour-long show was just a glimpse into individual lifestyles and that the people featured spoke only for themselves. However, the participants’ connections to an organization with a mission to help Mormon men who are attracted to men live heterosexual, or at least asexual, existences calls that argument into question. Having watched the special in its entirety, it seems clear to me that the stars of the My Husband’s Not Gay were using the show as a platform to advance—at least implicitly—a message from a group with ties to the discredited “ex-gay” movement.

The Men

The show opens with one couple, Jeff and Tanya, making breakfast in their upscale suburban Salt Lake City kitchen. They have been married for nine years and have one son. In their first on-camera interview, Jeff explains, “One of the unique things about our relationship is that I experience SSA, or same-sex attraction.”

Tanya quickly adds, “Not gay; SSA.” The difference being, of course, that gay people act on those same-sex impulses.

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Jeff continues, “We’re Latter-day Saints, or Mormons, and the only acceptable expression of sexuality and romantic feelings is within a marriage between a man and a woman.”

The next couple to be introduced is Pret and Megan. They explain that they’ve known each other since they were 15. Megan instantly had a crush on him. Pret, meanwhile, explains that he was not attracted to her: “Growing up, I thought for a long time that I was gay. I thought these feelings defined me. I didn’t think I would ever get married. I wanted to.” After what the couple describes as an on-again-off-again romance, he and Megan married eight years ago.

In addition, we meet Curtis and Tera. They have been married for 20 years, but it wasn’t until four years ago that Curtis acknowledged his SSA. And then there’s Tom, a really friendly bachelor who makes a lot of jokes about being gay and thinks he’s ready to get involved in a relationship with a woman. All of the men talk openly about being attracted to men, about being more attracted to men than they are to women, and about their commitment to not acting on these feelings.

I’m sure many people will see this special as sad and say these men are not being true to their identity, or that they are lying to themselves and their wives. Having watched it, I’m not so sure. I do think it’s sad that anyone feels as if they have to choose between their faith and their innate sexual desires—and I can’t say I would have made the same decision as these devoutly religious men. Even so, I can’t fault them for making the choice.

However, I do fault them, and My Husband’s Not Gay’s producers, for the disingenuous nature of the program. Savvy—but certainly not all—viewers know that all reality television is, by its nature, insincere. Producers do not turn cameras on and let life roll. They set up situations that promise awkward exchanges, confrontation, and drama. And this show is no exception.

In this special, we see both a prayer group and a hike to which outsiders who had not heard of SSA were invited, the cameras filming the newcomers’ initial reactions. We watch a game of basketball between the guys and a group of attractive straight men who agreed to be “skins” so we could see the SSA in action. Then there was the brunch with the hot waiter, to whom the men rated their attraction on a “danger scale” from one to four; the shopping trip where the men just happened to run into an acquaintance who had decided to leave the church and be openly gay; and the tense conversation between Jeff and Tanya about whether he should go on an overnight camping trip with the guys.

Even as the structure of the show tried to claim that these men’s heterosexual lives were healthy and happy, these scenes made it evident—at least to me—that battling with their underlying sexual desires is apparently a constant struggle. And in the interview scenes, rather than acknowledge this battle, the men instead talked constantly about SSA, each having an identical explanation of how it was different from being gay. Overall, the participants came off as if they were sticking to pre-determined talking points, mostly about how identity is different from action.

Perhaps that is not surprising, though, considering their affiliations. Jeff never makes this clear in the special, but according to the Salt Lake Tribune, he is the spokesperson for North Star International, an organization that exists to help Mormon men who are attracted to men live within the confines of the church. Jeff also identified himself as North Star’s co-founder in a 2013 op-ed for the New York Post. Though North Star claims not to practice reparative therapy—which is designed to change someone’s orientation to heterosexuality—last year it absorbed the work of Evergreen International, an organization that did, in fact, promote this kind of treatment. Moreover, in his op-ed, Jeff noted having been through the therapy himself, which he refers to as Sexual Orientation Change Efforts (SOCE); he called it a revelation.

The Salt Lake Tribune also reports that Pret was the chairman of Evergreen before North Star absorbed it; he is now on North Star’s board. His wife Megan has worked with both Evergreen and North Star, in addition to a third organization called People Can Change, which, according to its website, exists to “support and guide men who seek to transition away from unwanted homosexuality, by courageously and compassionately sharing our own first-hand experience with change.” And although Curtis and Tera do not have positions at North Star, they have both given testimonials about its effectiveness that appear on the site.

Again, North Star argues that it does not practice reparative therapy outright. But given that the participants of My Husband’s Not Gay seem to be guided by its ideologies, it is vital to consider how its rhetoric is similar to that historically used by proponents of the now-discredited, sometimes dangerous “ex-gay” movement.

Similarities to the “Ex-Gay” Movement

The “ex-gay” movement, which used the aforementioned SOCE to help men “pray away the gay,” essentially began in the mid-1970s, when mainstream psychiatric organizations finally acknowledged that homosexuality was not a mental illness and changed the goal of working with homosexual clients from changing their sexual orientation to helping them live in a society that wasn’t always accepting of them.

A small group of psychiatrists, however, clung to the belief that sexual orientation could be changed and formed a new professional organization called NARTH (the National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality) to support colleagues who wanted to continue using SOCE.

In truth, though, most people who have been through reparative therapy have not done so with a licensed therapist. As mainstream mental health professionals moved away from treating homosexuality as a disease that needed a cure, the baton was picked up by religious organization and ministries.

Some organizations offered guided Bible study and prayer sessions; some practiced aversion therapy, in which patients were subjected to electric shocks or other unpleasant sensations if or when they reacted to homoerotic material; and some guided clients toward heterosexual relationships and experiences. Most “ex-gay” ministries, such as the largest one, Exodus International, were created by and for evangelical Christians, but it seems clear that Evergreen International and People for Change played similar roles for Mormon men.

North Star seems to be selling itself as a kinder and gentler version of these reparative therapy practitioners. It does not try to change members’ underlying sexual attraction; instead, its officials say it helps them live in accordance with Mormon rules, which means either being celibate or entering into a heterosexual marriage. The organization’s mission is “to provide a place of community for Latter-day Saints who experience homosexual attraction or gender identity incongruence, as well as their family, friends, and ecclesiastical leaders.” In its values section, it claims that it “takes no official position on the origin or mutability of homosexual attractions or gender identity incongruence but supports all efforts consistent with the gospel that help individuals live in more full harmony with their covenants.”

This seems to leaves a lot of room for SOCE. Even if the organization has moved away from the harsher reparative therapy practices, there’s still an underlying tone of shame throughout its literature that is reminiscent of other “ex-gay” groups’. Though it allows for members to have same-sex attraction, it says that these urges should be resisted and redirected and continues to remind members that homosexual behavior is a serious sin. It suggests that same-sex relationships can provide only temporary comfort, but that sacrificing this for greater righteousness is the path of true happiness. Like People for Change, North Star suggests that being more masculine and spending quality time with other men can help men overcome their same-sex attraction but tells its members not to worry if they still don’t like sports, as many straight men don’t either. More importantly, it frequently mentions change—there is hope, it says, because you can change.

Overall, while North Star might not be supporting reparative therapy in the sense of offering direct services to change one’s sexuality, it is also definitely not saying, “Don’t worry, you’re just fine the way you are.”

Appealing But Dangerous

It is understandable that people who are committed to a faith that doesn’t accept homosexuality would turn to an outside organization for help or comfort. In a 2002 article, psychiatrist Jeff Ford, who both went through and provided reparative therapy as part of an “ex-gay” ministry, likened it to a strict cult: “The followers are sincere and devout; they believe what they are saying with their heart, mind, and soul.” He explains that in the beginning, finding the “ex-gay” ministry gave him hope and a forum for acknowledging what he had been going through all his life: “To move from feeling isolated and alone into a community where others have shared similar life experiences is overwhelming. It’s right up there with falling in love or tasting chocolate for the first time.

Ford’s experience, however, quickly soured as he was subjected to aversion therapy. “The process, in my opinion, was barbaric and abusive. I felt ashamed and embarrassed waiting in the outer office with patients of other therapists. I would try to hide my arm or wear long-sleeved shirts so others wouldn’t see the burn marks as I left,” he wrote. It also didn’t work. Ford fell in love with a man during his therapy.

This is not uncommon. Many leaders of the “ex-gay” movement have since come out—either voluntarily or involuntarily—as having relationships with men. Michael Bussee, who created the first “ex-gay” ministry, EXIT, before helping to found Exodus, acknowledged that he fell in love with a fellow male counselor. Eventually the two men left their wives and married each other. In 2006, Bussee apologized for his role in the movement, saying: “Not one of the hundreds of people we counseled became straight. Instead, many of our clients began to fall apart—sinking deeper into patterns of guilt, anxiety, and self-loathing.”

Similarly, John Smid, the former director of Exodus affiliate Love in Action, told MSNBC host Chris Matthews in 2011 that he is gay and that it actually impossible to change one’s sexual orientation.

In those decades, another blow to the “ex-gay” movement came in the form of a report by the American Psychological Association, released in 2009. A special committee found that therapy grounded in religious beliefs that see homosexuality as sinful “are not based on theories that can be scientifically evaluated.” The task force went on to note, “The results of scientifically valid research indicate that it is unlikely that individuals will be able to reduce same-sex sexual attractions or increase other-sex attractions through SOCE (Sexual Orientation Change Efforts).”

More importantly, the report concluded that SOCE was potentially harmful. The task force said it had concerns about the safety of SOCE and the unintended harms noted by some participants including “loss of sexual feeling, depression, suicidality, and anxiety.”

The Movement Largely Crumbled

After many leaders came out as still gay despite reparative therapy, and others got caught having same-sex affairs, many “ex-gay” organizations shut down. As Rewire reported, Alan Chambers, the president of Exodus International, announced in 2012 that the organization would no longer practice reparative therapy because, as he and other leaders were realizing, it didn’t work. Then, in 2013, the organization closed for good.

And after Evergreen International closed last year, it announced that North Star would take over its mailing lists and some of its other operations. Interestingly, Pret was the one who made the announcement. (The website calls the transaction a merger of the two organizations.)

Again, North Star doesn’t explicitly seek to outright reduce same-sex attraction the way SOCE organizations do. Still, as the men of My Husband’s Not Gay assured viewers that they’d accepted their same-sex attraction without actually being gay, the whole special took on an air of propaganda, as though it had been put together by North Star International to breath life into the dying “ex-gay” movement. In fact, six of the participants also have videos on the organization’s site as part of a series called Stories of Hope. The stories they tell there are similar to what we saw on TV but more focused on the role of religion, the immorality of homosexuality, and, again, the possibility of change.

While I respect these couples’ right to live their lives as they see fit, I think it’s unfortunate that TLC gave them this platform. TLC can say what it wants about the opinions being solely those of the participants, but it doesn’t change the fact that by putting a glossy and, in my opinion, insincere version of these men’s lives on display, the network is suggesting that it’s possible for men with same-sex attraction to simply choose not to be gay. The history of the “ex-gay” movement, and the very men who started it, says otherwise.