Below are descriptions of many issues we have observed. Please keep in mind that every person is unique, and so these issues will not apply to everyone.
All homosexual people experience spontaneous sexual attractions toward others of the same-sex. But individual attractions and arousal patterns vary widely. [ MORE ]
There are diverse ways in which an individual might behave sexually. The levels of involvement also vary widely from person to person. [ MORE ]
Many with same-sex attraction have painful life histories. Abuse of various types is common. However, some with same-sex attraction have not experienced circumstances or events that they consider traumatic. Same-sex attraction can develop in the absence of trauma, but trauma is far more common than not. [ MORE ]
Emotional and psychological problems often accompany same-sex attraction. Some of these problems may be the result of homosexuality. Others may be intrinsic to the person or may result from the same life circumstances that caused the homosexuality. [ MORE ]
Those with same-sex attraction identify with their homosexuality in a variety of ways. Some see it as an unwanted personal trial while others consider it a fundamental part of who they are. [ MORE ]
Many people with unwanted same-sex attraction are dissatisfied with their sexuality because it conflicts with their faith. This conflict can have far reaching implications. [ MORE ]
Sexual Arousal Oriented Toward Others of Their Own Sex
Arousal patterns—meaning what specifically excites a person sexually and how frequently and intensely they become aroused—vary greatly from one person to another. Very often, men with unwanted same-sex attraction report that their attractions are actually based on non-sexual feelings like envy, admiration, awe, or wishing they were the other man. They can also be experienced as longings for closeness, nurture, love, and companionship with another of the same sex. Sometimes sexual desires are a replay of early life experiences, especially sexual abuse.
Sexual arousal can be oriented toward specific body parts like feet, body hair, or a man’s chest. These attractions are known as “fetishes.” Or arousal can be toward situations that involve sadistic or masochistic behaviors. And sexual arousal may be oriented toward individuals in the person’s same age group or toward those who are much older or much younger.
The intensity of arousal also varies greatly from person to person. Some individuals experience their attractions as compulsory and may have no control over their behavior. This would clearly indicate the presence of a sexual addiction. Other people experience just a feeling of attraction, which they are able to set aside and not act on.
It may not be necessary for you to understand the specifics of your friend or family member’s arousal pattern in order to support them.
Everything after the spontaneous attraction involves some degree of agency and choice. Some individuals are able to avoid engaging in homosexual behavior despite their attractions. Others may lack the impulse control that would be necessary to control their behaviors. For some, the feelings are so strong that it may seem impossible to control their behavior. Some people with same-sex attraction have had little or no involvement in homosexual behavior. Others may be sexually addicted and unable to stop.
Homosexual behavior may include:
- Masturbation with homosexual thoughts
- Use of pornography, including chat rooms, gay dating websites, “soft core” images of partially naked men, and “hard core” images and videos.
- Arousing behaviors with other men that don’t include genital contact, such as kissing and touching.
- “Cyber sex”— sexual behavior done online using a webcam, texting, or cyber chats.
- Various types of in-person sexual behavior.
Life Histories That May Include Trauma
Trauma is not a necessary predisposing factor in the development of same-sex attraction. However, it is our experience that most individuals with same-sex attraction experienced traumatic events as they were growing up. Typically, they also felt entirely alone with the pain and fear caused by the trauma. Trauma can come in a variety of ways.
Neglect and abandonment result from failure of parents or caregivers to provide for basic physical needs, emotional nurturing and support, education, safety, and social skill development.
Verbal abuse may be defined as threatening, angry, critical, insulting, or vulgar speech directed at an individual. Sometimes verbal abuse is very blatant, such as when someone angrily shouts at, or threatens to hurt someone. But verbal abuse can also be subtle, such as when a person speaks in a condescending way or insults someone indirectly.
Harassment or bullying is repeated or prolonged mistreatment or persecution. Young people in schools and neighborhoods commonly harass one another. Sometimes, this harassment gets so out of hand or becomes focused so intensely on one individual that emotional harm is done. Often, a boy who is already unsure of himself because of negative experiences he has had in earlier relationships frequently becomes a target for this type of abuse.
Physical abuse is any action by one person that is intended to inflict pain or injury on another person. Physical abuse is significant when it creates long-term anger, resentment, mistrust, and problems with self-acceptance. The degree to which physical abuse affects a child can depend on how the child perceives the treatment and the person giving the treatment. For example, some boys may be almost amused by a vigorous spanking from their mother. But these same boys may feel terrified and deeply injured by a mild spanking from their father. The father may have inflicted less pain, but his intimidating personality makes the experience feel worse.
Sexual abuse occurs when one person uses another for his or her own sexual gratification against their will or without their consent. It occurs when an adult engages a minor in sexual activity or exposes them to sexually explicit material or language with or without their consent. It occurs when an older and more powerful child engages a younger or smaller child in sexual activity.
Significant losses can also create trauma. For example, the emotional or physical loss of a parent, sibling, friend, or pet through death, divorce, betrayal, or relocation can create lasting pain. Sometimes trauma results when a family moves during a vulnerable time in a child’s life, especially when the child is unable to fit in or adjust well to the new circumstance.
Accidents also create trauma, particularly when the person feels out of control and vulnerable.
Emotional and Psychological Problems
Those with same-sex attraction with whom we have worked often report tendencies toward obsessive-compulsiveness, perfectionism, and rumination. We don’t know whether these conditions arise from inherent temperaments or whether they develop from life experiences. same-sex attraction people also often experience dissociation, anger, unfinished grief, and posttraumatic disturbance, which are usually the result of traumatic experiences in childhood and adolescence. Addiction is another common condition among those with same-sex attraction.
While these kinds of trials can make life difficult for any person, for those with same-sex attraction they are particularly problematic. This is because these conditions tend to increase distress and decrease resilience, which can intensify homosexual desires and encourage acting on them as a means of blunting pain. Usually, the same-sex attraction can’t be addressed until these other issues have been resolved to some degree.
Since these issues are often not apparent to someone who is unfamiliar with them, they are not likely to be overcome without help from a therapist who is well trained in working with unwanted same-sex attraction.
Some people see homosexuality as a core part of their identity. They might refer to themselves as “gay,” and may feel homosexuality has always been part of who they are. These people might be less interested in therapeutic interventions or in trying to change their lives.
On the other hand, some same-sex attraction people will view their homosexuality as merely a set of feelings that have no bearing on their core identity. They will not feel that same-sex attraction represents who they really are. They will likely consider the attractions to be an unwanted burden. Their identity may be formed around being broken or deficient, or it may be centered in the belief that they are basically good, but just have a peculiar challenge in their life.
We have not seen success in changing the way individuals identify with their same-sex attraction. Parents who attempt to talk their gay-identified children into trying to change their sexuality tend to aggravate and alienate the child. Use of punishment and withdrawal of emotional or financial support to encourage change is hurtful and destructive and could lead to depression, anxiety, and suicidal feelings. Change-oriented therapy under these circumstances is not useful. However, therapy can be helpful in working through family conflict and resolving other issues so long as all parties accept that a shift in sexuality is not the goal.
In our extensive experience, nothing has ever indicated that homosexuality is caused by problems with spirituality. Nor does having same-sex attraction necessarily mean that an individual will have spiritual problems. In fact, for some religious people, the challenges with same-sex attraction increase their sense of connection with God and rely on Him for help.
However, others will find their faith greatly challenged by their same-sex attraction. The intensity of their needs and desires can overwhelm their desire to live a traditionally pious life. They may feel intense desires to experiment and satisfy their urges. Some of these people may feel abandoned or betrayed by God, ecclesiastical leadership, their families, or by other members of their faith community.
In addition, many men and women with same-sex attraction become predisposed to resent and mistrust males and those in authority. These issues tend to be deep-seated and result from problems in past relationships. We have found that showing profound love and acceptance toward these individuals can do much to lessen the intensity of these feelings. Nevertheless, therapy may be required to help the individual fully grow beyond these issues.
Statistics on Homosexuality
The statistics were higher for younger people than for older people. Among 18 to 29 years olds, 6.4 percent identified as LBGT. That number dropped by half among 30 to 49 year olds, where only 3.2 percent identified as LGBT. Among the oldest age group (65+) only 1.9 percent identified as LGBT. The numbers were also higher among females than among males, particularly in the youngest group (18 to 29) where 8.3 percent of females identified as LGBT, compared with only 4.6 percent of males.
The public perception of how many Americans are gay is vastly out-of-step with the reality reported above. Another Gallup poll revealed that Americans on average believe that almost twenty-five percent of the population is gay or lesbian. Younger and less educated people placed that figure even higher. On average, people age 18 to 29 years old believed 30 percent are LGBT while age groups over 50 placed that figure at only 22 percent. Those with a high school education or less believed that 31 percent are gay while individuals with a post-graduate degree put the average at 16 percent.