The truth about same-sex attractions

WARREN THROCKMORTON

I think Iím attracted to others of the same sex, does that mean Iím gay?

Notice to Reader: "The Boards of both CERC Canada and CERC USA are aware that the topic of homosexuality is a controversial one that deeply affects the personal lives of many North Americans. Both Boards strongly reiterate the Catechism's teaching that people who self-identify as gays and lesbians must be treated with 'respect, compassion, and sensitivity' (CCC #2358). The Boards also support the Church's right to speak to aspects of this issue in accordance with her own self-understanding. Articles in this section have been chosen to cast light on how the teachings of the Church intersect with the various social, moral, and legal developments in secular society. CERC will not publish articles which, in the opinion of the editor, expose gays and lesbians to hatred or intolerance."




Being attracted to someone who is your same sex is talked about frequently today. Same sex attraction refers to sexual feelings for someone of your own sex. It can also mean a desire to be physically and emotionally close to others of your own sex as much as or more so than the opposite sex. You can feel like being physically close and affectionate without ever doing anything sexual with a person. These feelings do not make you gay, lesbian or bisexual, but they may be confusing to you.

People who have same sex attraction are often referred to as homosexual. However, having same sex attractions or engaging in same sex relations does not make you a homosexual. You probably did not decide to have same sex attractions but you can decide whether to label yourself homosexual. You may find this hard to believe but the word "homosexual" is just over 100 years old. The term was first used in 1869 by a writer in Germany who was fighting against the passage of a law that would make certain sexual acts illegal. Before the term was invented, there was no concept of a group of people known as gay or lesbian or bisexual. Same sex sexual activity has occurred throughout history but the concept of a person who was homosexual from birth did not exist until the 1860s in Europe.

If you think you are attracted to others of the same sex, you may be confused or frustrated but you are certainly not alone. Surveys over the past 50 years have shown that somewhere between 10-15% of adolescents report a same sex sexual experience. Many more possibly have attractions but never act on them. A recent study found that nearly 26% of young teens were not sure if they were gay, straight or bisexual. Most people experiencing sexual attraction to those of the same sex are confused by it.

Research shows that somewhere between 3-5% of adults think of themselves as gay, lesbian or bisexual. See the difference in the numbers of adolescents who have had same sex feelings and actions and the number of adults that later think of themselves as gay? While some people do feel same sex attractions and then later think of themselves as gay, a large number of young people have these feelings and later think of themselves as straight. You have the option of not considering yourself gay even though you have some attractions to the same sex. Even if these attractions seem strong now, they often change as one ages.

The following comments were made by young people directly to the author:

David, age19, said:

I think it's important to separate talk of same sexual attraction from talk of sexual behavior. I believe strongly that you can have real intimacy with people of the same sex and not sexualize it. Over the past several years, I've actually had more intimacy with men than with women, but none of it was sexual in nature.
Sandra, 21, said:
I have had attraction to girls for a long time and I have gone back and forth calling myself a lesbian and then rejecting that label. I now don't think of myself as a lesbian. I have learned that there are many reasons one may feel same sex attraction and I don't believe that for me it means I am obligated to become or live as a lesbian.

Do I have to decide anything about these same sex attractions now?

No, you do not have to decide how to label your sexuality until you are ready. You may not know what to call your sexual feelings. There is no need to rush into a decision about labeling yourself. This is true all throughout your adolescent and young adult years. Some well meaning people, teachers or counselors may have told you that young people are "coming out" as gay or lesbian as young as 12 or 13. While there may be some young people who feel rushed into such labeling, it is unwise to do so. Sexual feelings develop over a long period of time. Most teens are very aware of their bodies and sexual feelings throughout this time of life. Your sexual hormones are active in you in ways they have never been before and so your sexual feelings may be quite strong but not really focused. This is normal.

Because sexual feelings are influenced so much by hormones and experiences you have, they are not necessarily enduring or accurate indicators of whom you love. As you get older, you will become better able to tell the difference between being sexually attracted to someone and being really in love with someone. Believe it or not, research shows that long-term sexual and marital adjustment is best for those who wait to have sex until they also can tell if they are in love and ready for long term commitment.

Also, because sexual feelings are changeable, they are not the best indicators of how you should organize your life. Some people suggest that you should try hanging out with others who identify as gay, lesbian or bisexual, read homosexually oriented books and even try thinking of yourself as gay, lesbian or bisexual as ways to find out who you are. Some people reason that if you are comfortable with trying out being gay or lesbian, you probably are gay or lesbian. While these people may mean well, these suggestions have some problems.

The "try it out" suggestion ignores the role of social factors such as peer pressure. Being with people who have similar feelings may lead you to downplay other important factors such as your future goals, religious beliefs and personal convictions. Trying out the idea that you might be gay or lesbian can lead you to the erroneous conclusion that you must be homosexual since you have attractions to the same sex. Remember, many people have same sex attraction in adolescence and later decide they are straight.

Probably the most important reason not to "try out" being gay is to avoid temptation to engage in risky sexual behavior. I have talked to many young people who regretted getting involved in sex too soon as a way to figure out who they are. If you have strong beliefs about what is right and wrong concerning sex, it is not harmful to live according to those beliefs rather than going by your sexual feelings. The only sure way to avoid disease and heartache is to wait until you are ready to commit to your lifetime mate.

Listen to some comments from other young people:

Jason, 17, said:

I hear all the time, 'you should just be yourself. If you have homosexual attractions, then accept your gayness and get on with it.' I don't buy that as a good reason to say I'm gay. What if my feelings told me to steal from you, should I be myself with you? I don't believe that it is morally right to be gay and I also don't think everything in life should revolve around sex.
Brian, 22, said:
I think I messed myself up by having sex with a guy in high school. I thought it would help me decide what I was but I felt awful later and more confused than ever.
Carrie, 18, said:
Its really good to know that even though I haven't had much attraction to the opposite sex by now, the lack of it doesn't mean I won't feel that way sometime in the future. What I really want is to have a family and husband and I see myself in that position. I just don't feel that jazzed about guys right now. Its makes me feel better to know that I don't have to have the same boy craziness that my friends do in order to fall in love with a man. After all, all I need is one.

Why do I have these feelings?

There are many psychologists and scientists who have theories about why some people feel affection and sexual attraction for their own sex. However, many of the theories are contradictory and the truth is, it is very hard to be sure why any given person feels same sex attraction. There are several theories that you have probably heard about.

  • One popular theory is that people are born gay. The theory says there are genes that control the surfacing and direction of sexual feelings. People who consider themselves gay, lesbian or bisexual are being who they are and should not try to live in conflict with their sexual feelings, kind of like people who are left handed should not try to become right handed.

  • Second, a variation of the idea that people are born gay is that hormones control sexual attractions. Some people believe that these chemicals affect the brains of people while developing pre-birth. The effect is to make the brains of some people more likely to feel same sex attraction.

  • A third view is that sexual attractions are learned through many different kinds of experiences while one is growing up. Early sexual experiences, being abused physically or sexually or being exposed to same sex pornography at an early age are examples of some types of shaping experiences.

  • A fourth popular view is that family environment and experiences shape sexual attractions. For instance, some former gay and lesbians believe that their emotional needs for a loving and close same sex parent drove them to look for love in a sexual manner from other people of their same sex.

  • Last, many psychologists and scientists believe that some combination of these previous theories might be true for many people and not true for others.

Let me repeat. Science or psychology has not proven any of these theories completely true or completely false. No gay gene has been discovered nor are there certain kinds of families that are always responsible for same sex attractions. For different people with same sex attraction, there may be some truth in each of these theories. For instance, as you read the theories, did you feel any of them were closer to your experience? All we really can say now is that it appears that the influences leading to feelings of same sex attraction are different for different people.

Whatever the reasons that influence the feelings you have, you are so much more than your sexual feelings. These feelings are only a part of your life and you are free to limit them by your beliefs if that is what you choose to do.

Listen to some more comments from other young people: Eric, 22, said

I think for me having same sex attraction is because a male family member sexually abused me from a very early age. Although that's true for me, I know friends who never had that happen and they liked guys too.
Jordan, 18, said:
I always felt different from other guys. I never could get sports and didn't really want to. I like music and dancing and indoor stuff. I asked my dad if I could take dance lessons and he said, "only queers dance." So I thought I must be queer whatever that was. I think that my dad meant well but he made me feel inferior because I didn't like guy stuff.
Brock, 17, said:
I have no idea why I find guys attractive. My dad and I love each other get along great and I think girls are pretty but I don't feel what I think sexual feelings should be when I look at them. Most of the time I find guys more interesting but I don't believe I should act on my feelings. I believe God is very clear about how sex is to be and I am willing to wait until I am attracted to the opposite sex. Maybe I will be celibate; I don't know but I am sure about what God's standards are.
Ann Marie, 23, said:
Girls have always attracted me but I am not a lesbian. I say that because I believe being a lesbian is not an option for a Christian. I think that many people deal with many kinds of feelings that should not be put into action. So these feelings are unpleasant but so would the feelings of remorse if I deliberately went against what I know to be true. Being true to God is more important for me than being true to my sexual feelings.
Rachel, 20, said:
I think me having attractions towards girls is because the main kindness I have known is from women. When I was a senior in high school, an older woman from my church befriended me and I got a real crush on her. Unfortunately, she struggled with lesbianism too and she seduced me. I was very confused about this but now I see that anyone can have problems and I don't have to be what I feel. I really believe now that being attracted to women is not the best for me and I am working on establishing healthy relations with men.

Are there health risks associated with same sex attraction?

You may have heard some scary statistics about the health risks of being gay. By giving you the facts on this CD, no one is trying to scare you but rather to help you make good choices about your behavior.

The primary health risk associated with feeling attracted to the opposite sex may involve a greater risk for symptoms of depression. Studies just looking at people who have never acted on their attractions are new. We need more of these kinds of studies.

However, and this is important, the risks associated with having sex with someone of your own sex are significantly greater. In other words, if you don't act on your feelings of same sex attraction, you can avoid almost all of the health risks associated with homosexuality. This is true of any health risks associated with any kind of sexual behavior, however, the problems you avoid may be greater when considering homosexuality.

According the Journal of Public Health, the rates of HIV/AIDS among gay males has increased 14% since 1999. HIV stands for human immunodeficiency virus and it is the virus that leads to Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS). AIDS is incurable and the drugs that are on the market to relieve its symptoms have devastating side effects. The rates of syphilis and gonorrhea have also risen significantly among gay males. Most of the transmission of these diseases can be explained by unwise sexual behavior.

Some people will tell you that you can avoid AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases by using a condom. While this may be somewhat helpful, it is not as protective for certain sexual behaviors, such as anal intercourse. Frankly, the body was not made for anal intercourse and condoms can tear leaving the persons involved open to disease from HIV, syphilis, gonorrhea, and anal cancer. Let me repeat, condoms are not always effective. Not all men who identify as gay engage in anal intercourse, but apparently enough of them do to cause the recent sharp rise in new cases of AIDS, syphilis and gonorrhea.

At least one study found that lesbians have health risks than non-lesbian women. Higher rates of depression, suicidal thinking, drug and alcohol use and obesity have been associated with those identifying as lesbian.

Some people say that the reason gays and lesbians are subject to more depression and other mental health problems is because of the disapproval of society. While name calling and being hateful to anyone is wrong for other reasons, societal disapproval may not be the culprit for the problems homosexuals face. For instance, the rates of depression and mental health problems for homosexuals are greater than heterosexuals in the Netherlands, even though that culture is one of the most gay-friendly cultures in the world. Until we know more about the link between identifying as gay, lesbian or bisexual and mental health and health problems, it seems safe to say that there are risks associated with organizing your life and sexual behavior around same sex attractions and feelings.

What can I do now?

When reading information like this, some people are relieved and simply focus on other things besides sexual matters, waiting for later to deal with it. Others still want to be more active in confronting the issue. Whatever your reaction, here are some things you can do about same sex attraction.

  • Continue reading more on the subject. The information here is an introduction and is up to date but you may want to explore various points further. At the end of this article, there are some additional resources for you to examine.

  • Talk to someone you trust and who is reasonably unbiased and objective. Truthfully it is hard to find someone who is objective on the issue of same sex attraction and homosexuality. However, look for someone who is able to handle emotional subjects without flipping out. Ideally, you should talk to your parents but if you are afraid to do this, then consider a youth leader, a teacher, or a friend's parent. Remember there are those who will tell you that having same sex attraction automatically means you are gay, lesbian or bisexual. These are probably not objective people on this subject because they ignore the many people who have changed their sexual feelings or who prefer to live in accordance with their beliefs.

  • Consider attending a support group meeting. Later on the Truth Comes Out CD there are stories from people who have experienced change in their sexual feelings. Often counseling or attending a support group is a part of that change. A place on the Internet you can look for support group meeting is Exodus International.

  • Consider counseling to help you figure out more about yourself and your options. Some counselors will tell you that you have no alternative to consider yourself gay, lesbian or bisexual and others will tell you that you can change your attractions and/or live with your sexual feelings and still become more interested in the opposite sex. You should ask the counselor before you begin talking what his or her beliefs are so you know what you are getting into.

  • Develop other parts of your life. Sex is important but so are career and school, activities and hobbies. Do not get out of balance by letting concern over sexuality dominate every other aspect of your life.

  • Remember the distinction between being tempted to do something and doing it. If you are a religious person, you may feel guilt over feeling things you wouldn't approve of if you did them. Remember even Jesus was tempted.

Listen now to some final comments made by young people:

Jessica, 22, said:

I am really glad I could talk to you about these things. I was afraid my parents would freak if I told them. It was really helpful to be able to share my thoughts and feelings without feeling judged.
Steve, 21, said:
I never thought I would see myself as a heterosexual. I really didn't have much hope for this working out but thankfully it did. I can honestly say I am not bothered by my sexual feelings. I still sometimes think a guy is good looking or something but I don't have any desire at all to jump into bed with him.

In conclusion:

Remember this is a very personal issue. You don't have to tell anyone if you don't want to. Some well meaning people say that anyone who has same sex attraction should come out and tell people about it. This must be your decision and done when you feel it is right. You may never tell anyone but your marriage partner or your best friend. You may tell only those friends who have the same issue so you can get support. However, if you feel alone, remember you are not alone in this and there are people who understand. Some contact information for those people are given here. More resources are listed in the jacket cover of the Truth Comes Out CD and on the website http://www.truthcomesout.com and http://www.drthrockmorton.com. Please visit the website www.truthcomesout.com frequently and send us an email if you need to talk or have a question we did not answer here. If you want a copy of the Truth Comes Out CD and need more information about how to get it, contact questions@truthcomesout.com.

More Resources:

Exodus Youth

New Direction for Life

Regeneration Books

Living Hope Discussion Group

My True Freedom

Free To Be Me

Find Out

Parents and Friends of Ex-Gays and Gay

ACKNOWLEDGEMENT

Warren Throckmorton. "The truth about same-sex attractions." Dr. Throckmorton.com (March, 2004).

This article reprinted with permission from Warren Throckmorton.

THE AUTHOR

Warren Throckmorton is Director of College Counseling and an Associate Professor of Psychology at Grove City College. His research "Initial Empirical and Clinical Findings Concerning the Change Process for Ex-Gays," was published in the June 2002 issue of the American Psychological Association's publication Professional Psychology:Research and Practice.

Copyright © 2004 Dr. Throckmorton.com




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