What Causes Same-sex Attraction?
Same-sex attraction is the result of a complex interaction of personality, biological inheritance, and developmental experiences.
People do not choose to have same-sex feelings. These attractions usually develop because social and emotional needs were not met in the developmental years.
Men do not develop same-sex attraction because they are afraid of women. Women do not develop same-sex attraction because they are afraid of men. In reality, relationships with the opposite gender usually have little to do with same-sex attraction; instead, they have to do with relationships with the same gender.
Many factors contribute to the development of homosexual attractions. In answer to the question "What causes a person to have a particular sexual orientation?", the website for the American Psychological Association states the following: "There is no consensus among scientists about the exact reasons that an individual develops a heterosexual, bisexual, gay or lesbian orientation. Although much research has examined the possible genetic, hormonal, developmental, social and cultural influences on sexual orientation, no findings have emerged that permit scientists to conclude that sexual orientation is determined by any particular factor or factors. Many think that nature and nurture both play complex roles; most people experience little or no sense of choice about their sexual orientation."
Dr. Elizabeth Moberly, author of Homosexuality: A New Christian Ethic, explained, "[M]any things are capable of causing the disruption in attachment that underlies the homosexual condition. It is not a question of one particular cause leading of necessity to one particular effect." (Moberly, p. 3)
It is difficult to develop theories about the origins of homosexual attractions because no single theory fits every situation. Although there are some commonalities among people, there are no constants. Factors are different from person to person, or at least individual reactions to the same factors vary. Humans are complex beings and our behaviors are the result of many complex interactions. (Archives, pp. 399-404) This section discusses how personality, biological inheritance, and developmental experiences influence you. As you read the following, consider how each concept may apply to you.
Every person has a unique personality. We have different likes, desires, dreams, and moods. We see ourselves and the world in different ways and each of us hopes for something a little different from life. One child may be content with the affection he receives from his parents, while his sibling who receives the same attention feels a deficit and requires more. Some children seem content to play by themselves, while others who have many friends seem to need even more.
Many men with same-sex attractions have a heightened sense of emotional sensitivity which can make them vulnerable to emotional hurt when their high expectations are not met. Since we all have different needs and perspectives on life, it is easy to see why two people in the same situation will react differently. For one person, a negative situation may be manageable, while for another it is a devastating crisis.
Some scientists have intently tried to discover scientific proof that same-sex attraction is genetic, and therefore, cannot be changed. Some studies hint at a biological component, but have not proven that same-sex attraction is simply an inborn or biologically-determined characteristic.
Biology may play some small role in influencing behavior or feelings. Some people seem susceptible to particular actions and may be drawn toward them or become addicted to them more easily than other people. (Oaks, p. 9) One person may be able to dabble with gambling, while another becomes a compulsive gambler. Some may drink only socially, while others have an unusual attraction to alcohol. Studies indicate that genetics may be a factor in susceptibilities to some behavior-related disorders, such as aggression, obesity, or alcoholism. Likewise, there are theories that claim biological predispositions influence the development of homosexual attractions when other life experiences are also present. (Friedman and Downey, p. 149)
Beyond such predispositions, some scientists search for more direct genetic causes—a gene or chromosome that actually determines sexual orientation. (Friedman and Downey, p. 149) None of these studies has shown any direct genetic cause of homosexuality. For more information on these specific studies, see biological causes of same-sex attraction.
Regardless of the role that genetics play in the development of sexual attractions, such attractions are changeable and treatable. In analogy, although the City of Hope National Medical Center researchers found a certain gene present in 77% of the alcoholic patients they studied, we have not abandoned treatment for alcoholism. (Dallas, 1992, pp. 20–23.) Many former alcoholics have changed their behavior and lead productive lives. You have control over your destiny. You have moral agency and can determine the course of your life. Regardless of any biological thread, thousands of people who experience same-sex attractions have made changes in their lives for the better.
Professionals agree that environment influences a child in significant ways. Your family, friends, society, and experiences influence how you feel, how you view life, and how you act. Dr. William Consiglio refers to this myriad of social and psychological factors as a "conspiracy of factors," meaning that many factors "conspired" or came together in the right amounts at the right time to divert sexual desires in you as a developing child toward other children. (Consiglio, p. 59) Some of these factors include your relationship with your family and peers, your ability to identify with masculinity or femininity, the degree to which your emotional needs are fulfilled, your feelings of self-worth, and early sexual experiences. Read more about these developmental factors.
Many boys become aware of their same-sex attractions at an early age (sometimes before age five). The most important formative years for the development of sexual feelings and attitudes are during late infancy and before the onset of puberty, and not during puberty and adolescence. Dr. John Money explained, "The hormones of puberty activate what has already formed and is awaiting activation." (Money, p. 124) Your development of heterosexual interests would have proceeded instinctively if emotional maturity has not been obstructed by issues such as those just discussed. Dr. William Consiglio explains that "homosexuality is not an alternative sexuality or sexual orientation, but an emotional disorientation caused by arrested or blocked emotional development in the stream of heterosexuality. (Consiglio, 1991, p. 22) But the good news is that the condition is correctable. When these blockages are "successfully reduced, diminished, or removed, human sexuality can resume its natural heterosexual flow..." (Consiglio, 1991, p. 22) Your same-sex urges are not unrealistic or rebellious. It is not a fear of, or a flight from, heterosexuality. It is actually an unconscious attempt to fill your normal emotional needs and when these needs begin to be filled, you can begin again progressing toward full heterosexual maturation. (Moberly, chapter 2)
Personality, genetics, and developmental experiences all have a place in influencing the development of homosexual attractions. Drs. Byne and Parsons at Columbia University believe it is important to "appreciate the complexities of sexual orientation and resist the urge to search for simplistic explanations, either psychosocial or biologic." (Byne and Parsons, pp. 236–37) They emphasize that in addition to the influences of genetics or the environment, the individual plays an important role in determining his or her identity.
Dr. John Money stated, "Many wrongly assume that whatever is biological cannot be changed, and whatever mental can be. Both propositions are in error. Homosexuality is always biological and always mental, both together. It is mental because it exists in the mind. It is biological because the mind exists in the brain. The sexual brain through its extended nervous system communicates back and forth with the sex organs." (Money, p. 123)
Our character is the net result of our choices and life experience. An article in Harvest News stated, "Some of us are shy, some anxious, some have problems with anger or chemical dependence, some of us fear commitment. Did we ‘choose’ any of these things? Actually, all of our adult personality is the result of a complex interplay of heredity and family environment with thousands of small personal decisions dating back as far as we can remember. The results are deeply entrenched ways of feeling, thinking, acting." (Harvest News, p. 3) Although you may have had no control over the emergence of same-sex attractions, you can choose how to respond to them.
Dallin H. Oaks has said that "some kinds of feelings seem to be inborn. Others are traceable to mortal experiences. Still other feelings seem to be acquired from a complex interaction of ‘nature and nurture.’ All of us have some feelings we did not choose, but the gospel of Jesus Christ teaches us that we still have the power to resist and reform our feelings (as needed) and to assure that they do not lead us to entertain inappropriate thoughts or to engage in sinful behavior." (Oaks, p. 10)
For further reading
"A Genetic Cause of Homosexuality?" by Jason Park
Stolen Childhood: What You Need to Know About Sexual Abuse by Alice Huskey.
The Wounded Heart: Hope for Adult Victims of Childhood Sexual Abuse by Dr. Dan B. Allender.
The Innate-Immutable Argument Finds No Basis in Science: In Their Own Words: Gay Activists Speak About Science, Morality, Philosophy by A. Dean Byrd, Ph.D.; Shirley E. Cox, Ph.D.; and Jeffrey W. Robinson, Ph.D. Scientific attempts to demonstrate that homosexual attraction is purely biologically determined have failed. The major researchers now prominent in the scientific arena–themselves gay activists–have in fact arrived at such conclusions.