What Causes Same-sex Attraction?
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."
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)
Below is a discussion of how personality, biological inheritance, and developmental experiences influence us. After that are listed eight kinds of life experiences that are common in the backgrounds of men with same-sex attraction. As you read these sections, consider how each concept may apply to you.
Discussion of Personality, Biology, and Development
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 who experience 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.
Biological inheritance may play a 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) For example, 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 biological predispositions influence the development of homosexual attractions when other life experiences are also present. (Friedman and Downey, p. 149)
While there is evidence that biological factors such as genes and hormones are associated with sexual behaviors and attractions, there are no compelling causal biological explanations for human sexual orientation. (Mayer) For more information on specific studies, see biological causes of same-sex attraction.
Regardless of the role that genetics play in the development of sexual attractions, people who experience these attractions can make conscious choices about their behaviors. Although researchers have found a certain gene present in 77% of the alcoholic patients (Dallas, 1992, pp. 20–23), we know that alcoholics can control their behavior and lead productive lives. You have control over your destiny. You have moral agency and can determine the course of your life.
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. Some people theorize that a myriad of social and psychological factors come together in the right amounts at the right time to focus sexual desires a developing child toward others of the same sex. (Consiglio, p. 59) Some of these factors may 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, self-perceptions, 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.
Summary of Personality, Biology, and Developmental Experiences
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 experiences. "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)
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.’ (Oaks, p. 10)
In 2016, a landmark study of over 500 scientific articles was published in The New Atlantis, "Sexuality and Gender: Findings from the Biological, Psychological, and Social Sciences." Two notable scholars at Johns Hopkins reported that the weight of evidence in scholarly journals simply does not support many of the popular and prevailing beliefs about the causes and fluidity of same-sex attractions. The editors published perhaps the best summary of the scientific evidence on LGBT issues published to date. It is also notable that although these two scholars come from vastly different perspectives, they are committed to scientific integrity. Dr. Lawrence Mayer is a self-described liberal citizen who supports LGBT rights and Dr. Paul McHugh is conservative.
Discussion of 8 Factors
The following are eight kinds of life experiences that are common in the backgrounds of men with same-sex attraction. Opinions differ on whether these kinds of experiences were the cause or the consequence of same-sex attraction—or perhaps had nothing to do with same-sex attraction. We can’t say for sure. Few men with same-sex attraction experience all of these factors. And many men who are heterosexual have experienced at least a few of them. So it seems clear that the factors don’t have a simple and direct causal effect. But it appears that these kinds experiences have a significant impact on those who have gone through them and the more people understand them, the more they are able to deal with them in healthy ways.
Unhealthy Childhood Relationships With Females
In order to understand the issues with women that so many men with same-sex attraction have, we must begin by looking at the relationship experiences that create those issues. Females-including mothers, sisters, extended family members, teachers, babysitters, and others-can wound a boy in a frightening variety of ways. They may overwhelm him with their attention, smothering him with too much love or concern. They may control, dominate, and overprotect him, leaving him feeling emasculated and incapable. They may over-connect with the boy and use him as a confidant, perhaps pulling him into their problems with other males, including conflicts with his own father, grandfather, or brother.
Females may also criticize a boy for his weaknesses, causing lasting feelings of shame, insecurity, and self-doubt. Sometimes, females specifically shame boys about being male or about their male traits, creatinggender shame. Conversely, they may over-praise him with complements that are overdone, unrealistic, or insincere. They may feminize him by using him in their make-believe play as another girl-sometimes dressing him up as a girl or even telling him he is a girl. And females, especially mothers, sometimes rely on a boy emotionally or even physically, requiring him to take care of them, creating in him a sense of being engulfed and used, and fostering feelings of guilt if he tries to be independent.
By failing to observe boundaries and standards of modesty, females may sexualize the relationship with a boy. They may do this by leaving bedroom or bathroom doors open while they are changing, bathing, or using the toilet, or by walking around the house in their underwear or even naked. They may sexualize him by commenting on his body or by talking to him about their sex lives. And occasionally, females also directly abuse boys by engaging them in sexual behavior.
Experiences like these cause some boys to form unhealthy relationships with women in adulthood. Professional therapists have observed four broad categories of unhealthy relationships: oppositional, avoidant, enmeshed, and comfortable. Some same-sex attracted individuals relate to women with feelings, impulses, and behaviors from more than one of these categories.
Those who become oppositional in their relationships tend to reject women and push them away. They may do so out of feelings of resentment, dislike, disgust, or even hatred. Or they may do so in reaction to feeling threatened and endangered by women. Some same-sex attracted men are completely conscious and blatant about their dislike of females. For others, negative feelings toward women may show up only in subtle behaviors and thoughts of which they are barely aware. And some may be completely unconscious of their opposition.
Men who become avoidant in their relationships with women tend to experience feelings of fear and anxiety, which may cause them to keep their distance. Or they may simply feel apathetic and indifferent toward women, perhaps treating them as if they don’t exist.
The distancing that occurs in avoidant and oppositional ways of relating with women may block an adult male’s natural capacity for attraction to the opposite sex. When sexual abuse by females is part of a man’s background, the repulsion that often ensues from having experienced female sexuality too early in life and in such repellant ways may contribute to that distancing.
Those who develop enmeshed relationships with women tend to feel needy of their approval or dependent on their support. They may subordinate themselves to women, allowing themselves to be controlled by them. The dependency may go the other direction as well, as in the case where an elderly mother or another disabled female is dependent on a man for assistance in ways that disrupt his ability to individuate and live his own life. And the man may be bound to maintain this situation by tremendous feelings of guilt. If he tries to free himself from the entanglement, his guilt overwhelms him and he gives in.
Those same-sex attracted men who develop comfortable relationships with women tend to seek out females and female settings as sources of safety, security, and consolation. In this case, “comfortable” means something more than simply being at ease with women. And it implies an over-familiarity and over-resonance with them, sharing interests and perspectives, or feeling included as “one of the girls.”
Enmeshed and comfortable relationships with women are ways of clinging too closely to the feminine. Being feminized by girls and women in childhood brings the feminine even closer-inside the man where it doesn’t belong. A healthy distancing from females and femininity seems vital for the development of genderedness in males and is essential for heterosexuality, as we describe in the next section.
Distorted Concepts of Gender
In addition to engendering unhealthy relationships with women, unhealthy childhood experiences with females can cause a man’s concept of the female gender to become distorted. Many with same-sex attraction develop views about women that are not accurate for women as a whole. For example, they may view all women as powerful, dominant, or controlling; or perhaps as demeaning, emasculating, and shaming. They may see them as needy and engulfing, manipulative and demanding. Or they may perceive women generally as being stupid, weak, or just more trouble than they’re worth-moody, complaining, and whining.
On the other hand, they may idealize women, considering them to be more intelligent than men, unrealistically pure, or even sacred. They may look at women as protectors or providers. Or they may view women’s roles and lives as preferable because they are easier or better suited for their own personality.
Unhealthy childhood experiences with females may also create distorted concepts of one’s self in relation to women. A male with same-sex attraction may see himself as needy and weak in comparison with women, or perceive that he is undesirable, vulnerable, and inferior to women. He may feel small and incapable of handling the demands of an intimate opposite-sex relationship. On the other extreme, he may think he is superior to females-that he is far better than the “weaker” sex.
For many with same-sex attraction, females were the predominant influence in their lives growing up. Whether they perceived their relationships with females as loving or wounding, females were present and engaged. Often women acted as their main source of role modeling and companionship, while the men in their lives may have had little impact.
Men who grew up in such circumstances often become identified with women, experiencing them as resonant and familiar. If they have also come to see women’s roles and lives as preferable, they may wish they were female. This may be especially true if gender shame disrupted their connection with their own masculine identity or turned them off to the idea of being male. If this combination of issues is strong enough, a man might come to see himself as “a woman stuck in a man’s body.” More commonly, he probably has a clear recognition of his biological sex, but feels a much stronger sense of identification with the opposite sex.
Identification and overfamiliarity with females can greatly impact a developing boy’s sense of genderedness. The term genderedness refers to the state or condition of having two sexes that are naturally distinct. In addition to anatomical distinctions, males and females differ in many other ways. For example, we differ in the ways we relate, experience emotion, and communicate; in our perceptions, thinking styles, and values. To develop a sense of genderedness, a boy must experience himself as masculine in ways that contrast with the femininity of girls and women. Being identified and overfamiliar with females washes out that contrast.
Distorted views of the female gender, together with distorted perceptions of himself in relation to females, can prevent a boy from developing a sense that girls, and later women, are complementary to his maleness. He may become unable to recognize the favorable relationship that can exist between the two sexes where the natural traits of each fulfill, balance, and refine the other. He may not perceive females as desirable or as having something valuable to contribute to him. And he may not experience himself as having something valuable to contribute to a woman. From this perspective, females would not seem attractive.
Heterosexuality seems to depend on genderedness and complementarity. Men must see women as distinct from them—excitingly different, exotic, and mysterious—and as providing the opportunity for a mutually fulfilling and beneficial relationship. Most homosexual men are not sexually attracted to women, perhaps in part because they have experienced at least some of the issues described above. In contrast, we have noticed that homosexual men who have not experienced these issues often report attractions to females in their past or present life.
Feeling Incongruent With One’s Own Gender
Many homosexual men report that, during childhood, they saw themselves as being at odds or out–of–sync with what they believed a boy is supposed to be. Essentially, their perspective of other males was, “I am not like them and they are not like me—I am different.” We refer to this condition as gender incongruity. While most boys and men may occasionally feel like they don’t fully measure up to their masculine ideal, boys experiencing gender incongruity tend to focus on these thoughts extensively. They experience a pervasive sense of lacking in vital qualities or capacities they consider essential for masculinity. And they may believe there is no way for them to obtain or grow into these qualities or capacities.
Gender incongruity is a subjective experience, which means that it is based entirely on individual perspective. It is usually conscious, although some males may not be conscious of how incongruent they actually perceive themselves to be. It seems to be essential for all people to feel congruent with their own gender. Males need to see themselves as adequately matching the traits they believe are appropriate for men. And they need to feel capable of fulfilling the roles expected of males in their society.
When an individual feels incongruent with his gender, he may experience a painful conflict between what he thinks he must be and what he thinks he can be. The inability to resolve that situation might result in the unconscious mind compensating in the most direct way it can, perhaps by becoming intensely drawn to or fixated on males and masculinity in an unconscious attempt to somehow internalize it. We believe that many men with same–sex attraction are experiencing exactly that situation.
Consider these statements from well-known scientists and mental health experts. (See more at borngay.procon.org.)
“A history of gender identity pathology (including effeminacy and chronic extreme unmasculinity) is much more common among men who are predominantly or exclusively homosexual than among men who are predominantly or exclusively heterosexual.
The combined results of numerous investigations lead to the conclusion that childhood gender identity/gender role disturbances are associated with predominant or exclusive homosexuality in adulthood. Absence of such disturbance diminishes the likelihood that a boy will become a man who is exclusively or predominantly homosexual.”
Problems In Relationships With Other Males
Painful, frightening, or alienating experiences with father, brother, peers, and other males can lead boys to pull away from males generally, breaking or preventing normal same-sex bonds and creating a state of same-sex disaffiliation. This may have been caused by abuse, harassment, and bullying; through rejection, non-inclusion, and alienation from other males; or through a profound experience of mismatch with the males around him.
Complaints and criticisms by females about the males in a young boy’s life can cause a boy to look down on those males, leading to negative stereotypes that alienate him from other males, and contributing to same-sex disaffiliation. Such stereotypes are easily perpetuated because the disaffiliated boy has little interaction with other males to disconfirm them.
Gender incongruity can also contribute to same-sex disaffiliation by causing a boy to avoid other males out of a sense of being different or strange. The boy may fear that if the other boys get to know him, they will see his strangeness and will reject him. Likewise, same–sex disaffiliation can reinforce gender incongruity since the less time the boy spends with other males, the fewer of their traits he will adopt. Gender incongruity and same-sex disaffiliation can become a mutually reinforcing negative cycle.
These kinds of negative experiences with males cause some boys to form unhealthy relationships with males in adulthood. We have observed four broad categories of unhealthy relationships: oppositional, detached, inauthentic, and needy. Boys who become oppositional respond to other males with rejection, anger or disgust, which is a defensive wall against reconnection. Boys who become detached tend to be disinterested, uninvolved, and distant from other males. Boys who develop inauthentic relationships tend to be anxious and superficial with other males, presenting a friendly false self that protects a fearful self underneath. And boys who develop needy relationships often long to be taken care of, obsess about male intimacy, and may be dependent on other males for attention, affection, and approval.
But connection with others of one’s own sex is a core need. So if a boy is disaffiliated from other males, his natural needs for same-sex connection, affection, affirmation, and resonance will go unmet. Unfulfilled needs typically transform into longings and cravings; unmet needs for same-sex affiliation thus become longings or cravings for male attention, closeness, and love.
Consider the following statements from two psychiatrists.
In 1901, Ivan Pavlov, a Soviet behavioral scientist, discovered that dogs could be conditioned to salivate in response to the ringing of a bell. Dogs normally salivate when they are given food, so Pavlov first paired the ringing of the bell with presenting food to the dog. After some time, he rang the bell without presenting the food and found that the dog still salivated. By associating the sound of the bell with food, Pavlov was able to transfer the physiological reaction of salivation from one stimulus (the food) to another stimulus (the bell). This process became known as “conditioned reflex” or “classical conditioning.”
Humans can become conditioned in much the same way, by creating strong associations between different stimuli. Most of us have experienced this phenomenon in such ways as associating a particular song with a specific time or place in our lives, or associating a taste or smell with a person or experience from our past. Donald Hebb (1904-1985) advanced our understanding of this phenomenon with his research and theories about how the brain learns. He is known for the phrase, “neurons that fire together wire together,” which means that when different neural networks within the brain are fired at the same time, they create synaptic connections that can become permanent. According to his theory, this is how humans acquire all skills and knowledge.
We believe it is possible to become conditioned to respond sexually to others of the same sex. This can occur in at least three ways: through sexual abuse, childhood sex play, and pornography.
During male-on-male sexual abuse, boys are simultaneously exposed to male stimuli (for example, genitals, body, voice) and sexual stimulation. Likewise, during sexual experimentation and play with other boys, male stimuli and sexual stimulation are paired. Given that many boys who are sexually abused by other males or who experiment sexually with other boys grow up to be heterosexual, it is clear that sexual abuse does not always condition boys to homosexuality. Yet we have seen clear evidence that it sometimes does. This is particularly evident among the men with whom we have worked whose adult patterns of sexual interest and behavior exactly mirror their early sexual abuse or experimentation. Examples of this would be a man who is exclusively attracted to males who look and smell like the man who abused him, or a man who continues to seek out sexual situations like those in which he first experienced sexual pleasure with his neighborhood buddies.
The effect of pornography on young boys may be somewhat more direct. Pornography featuring men or boys places males in a sexual context. Some boys viewing this pornography might automatically respond with sexual feelings due to the presence of other predisposing factors in their lives, such as gender incongruity or same-sex disaffiliation. But it is possible that boys with no other predisposing factors might respond to the pornographic images with strong feelings of awe, wonder, curiosity, envy, or fear of getting caught. And it is possible that, in the highly sexualized context of the pornography, these boys might confuse these feelings with sexual arousal. Boys who view pornography typically also masturbate while looking at it or while thinking about it afterward. This would cause even stronger associations between maleness and sexual feelings.
Once learned, pleasurable sexual activities are reinforced as boys continue to engage in them. Behaviors that cover up emotional distress are especially likely to be reinforced as boys resort to them again and again for relief. Men with whom we have worked often report that they have used pornography and homosexual behavior to turn off emotional pain and distress. Becoming sexually aroused by male images can cause a boy to believe, or confirm to him, that he is homosexual or gay. It may then become a learned part of his identity.
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 older and more powerful child engages a younger or smaller child in sexual activity. And 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.
Consent implies the ability and maturity to understand what is going on and the possible consequences of it. Since children do not really understand sexuality, they cannot give consent when an older person involves them in sexual behavior.
Some examples of sexual abuse include:
- Being exposed to sexually explicit talk
- Being exposed by another person to sexually explicit material in magazines, television and video, and on the internet
- Being exposed as a child to sexually stimulating behavior by older people, whether male or female
- Being exposed to nudity or to sexual behavior between other people, such as seeing relatives naked or seeing parents or others engage in sex
- Being touched intimately on the genitals or other parts of the body
- Being asked or forced to touch another person’s genitals
- Being asked or forced to have sexual intercourse with another person
Sexual abuse can contribute to gender incongruity. Some boys who are sexually abused by other males wonder about their own sexuality. They know that males are supposed to enjoy having sex with females and so it becomes very confusing for them when a male seems to enjoy having sex with them. This is especially confusing if they became sexually aroused during the abuse. Most boys who are sexually abused experience tremendous feelings of guilt and shame. For some, that shame attacks their sense of masculinity, causing them to feel wrong as a boy.
Sexual abuse can contribute to same-sex disaffiliation. Some sexually-abused boys become fearful of other males or angry and resentful toward them. They may lose trust in their father or an older brother for not protecting them. The depression, anxiety, shame, and low self-esteem often engendered by sexual abuse can cause them to isolate themselves from normal activities with peers. And their gender incongruity may compel them to avoid connection with other boys for fear of being seen as “queer.”
Sexual abuse can lead to compulsive relational and behavioral patterns. Some individuals who have experienced traumatic events or relationships during childhood will unconsciously create circumstances in their adult lives that lead to very similar traumatic events or circumstances. Psychotherapists refer to these patterns as “repetition compulsions.” These patterns can form in response to sexual abuse, resulting in adult sexual behavior that mirrors the abuse. It is believed that repetition compulsions are an unconscious attempt by adults to master or get control of childhood situations in which they had little or no control. It may also be an effort to resolve conflicting emotions around circumstances that elicited contradictory feelings, such as fear or shame and sexual pleasure.
While this pattern is not exclusive to individuals with same-sex attraction, we have observed this pattern in the sexual behavior of numerous individuals with whom we have worked.
If the sexual perpetrator is female, sexual abuse may create disinterest, disgust, fear, and hatred toward women. In our experience, blatant sexual abuse of boys by females occurs only occasionally. More commonly, females sexually abuse boys in less obvious ways, such as having poor boundaries regarding modesty around the house—including dressing immodestly and leaving bathroom doors open—and having poor boundaries regarding sexual talk, such as mothers or sisters discussing their sexual relationships with a boy.
Consider the following comments by Helen Wilson, PhD, regarding findings from long-term study on the effects of sexual abuse.
Certain Biological and Physical Issues
A tremendous amount of research has been conducted over the past 20 years attempting to link homosexuality to various genetic, hormonal, and neurological factors. To date, this research has raised interesting hypotheses, but failed to produce any concrete evidence about the causes of homosexuality. (Commentary about this research can be found below.)
Our observations of those with whom we have worked suggests that, while biological factors may not have a direct causal role in the development of same-sex attraction, they certainly contribute to the kinds of stressful life experiences we’ve discussed above, particularly gender incongruity and same-sex disaffiliation. Following are some key biological factors that often contribute to stress among those with same-sex attraction.
Genetic and physical traits and conditions that cause boys to feel different or to be singled out from their peers can interfere in their relationships with other boys, and can also cause the boy to feel incongruent with what he believes a boy is supposed to be. These conditions would typically cause boys to be singled out in negative ways—but sometimes also in positive ways. Examples of such conditions include:
- Having a physical deformity
- Being over- or under-weight
- Having high or low intelligence
- Concerns about penis size or being uncircumcised
- Having an unusual appearance, whether attractive or unattractive
- Experiencing puberty either later or earlier than the peer group
Physical traits and medical conditions that interfere with gender-typical activities, especially athletics, can similarly interfere with both same-sex affiliation and gender congruity. These can include:
- Having an atypical body size
- Having poor body coordination
- Lacking strength and endurance
- Experiencing poor or late-developing eye-hand coordination
- Experiencing illnesses or debilitating diseases
- Having physical disabilities
Temperaments that separate boys from their father, brothers, and male peers can block same-sex affiliation and foster feelings of gender incongruity. Temperaments are inborn personality traits that are observed from infancy and tend to be stable throughout life. For example, temperament can predispose boys to be:
- Avoidant of harm
- Uninterested in seeking adventure
- Sensitive and emotional
A well-known theorist suggests that biology influences children’s temperaments and their preferences for sex-atypical activities and peers, leading them to feel different from others of their sex. They later become attracted to what they are different from.
Commentary from scientific literature shows that evidence is lacking for a simple genetic or biological explanation of homosexuality. Evidence does not support the hypothesis of a gay gene. (See more quotes at borngay.procon.org.)
“Studies of men and women who experienced prenatal defects in hormone metabolism have not found a concurrent increase in homosexual behavior.
“Overall, the data do not support a causal connection between hormones and human sexual orientation.”
Banks, Amy, MD, and Gartrell, Nanette K., MD. (1995). Hormones and Sexual Orientation: A Questionable Link. Journal of Homosexuality, vol. 28 (3-4).
Birth order has been investigated as a possible factor influencing homosexuality but without conclusive results.
“The number of biological older brothers, including those not reared with the participant (but not the number of nonbiological older brothers), increases the probability of homosexuality in men. These results provide evidence that a prenatal mechanism, and not social and/or rearing factors, affects men’s sexual orientation development…
“If rearing or social factors associated with older male siblings underlies the fraternal birth-order effect, then the number of nonbiological older brothers should predict men’s sexual orientation, but they do not… If rearing or social factors underlie the fraternal birth-order effect, the number of biological older brothers with who they were not reared should not predict men’s sexual orientation because they should have no impact on the sociosexual environment of their younger brothers. Yet, these brothers do predict men’s sexual orientation just as the number of biological older brothers with whom they were reared.
“These results support a prenatal [before birth] origin to sexual orientation development in men and indicate that the fraternal birth-order effect is probably the result of a maternal ‘memory’ for male gestations or births.”
But the research does not demonstrate that the less masculine brain structure itself is the direct cause of the homosexual orientation. It is, however, conceivable that a male with a less masculinized brain might develop gender-atypical traits, leading to gender incongruity. This might be especially true if those around him accentuate his differences.
“A growing body of empirical literature suggests that the brains of gay males are less masculinized than those of heterosexual males, reflected in visual-spatial task performance — a measure of cerebral masculinization and one in which heterosexual males usually surpass females.
“Several studies report that the cognitive performance of gay males is more typical of heterosexual females than heterosexual males.
“Furthermore, the brain waves of gay males while performing verbal and spatial tasks are more similar to heterosexual females than males or significantly different from both.”
Cohen, Kenneth M., PhD. (2002). Relationships Among Childhood Sex-Atypical Behavior, Spatial Ability, Handedness, and Sexual Orientation in Men. Archives of Sexual Behavior, vol. 31, No. 1.
Certain Emotional and Psychological Problems
The psychological and emotional issues discussed in this section are very common in the backgrounds of the same-sex attracted men with whom we’ve worked. While some of these issues may develop as a result of homosexual feelings, we have also observed that often times these feelings predate the emergence of homosexuality.
Obsessiveness and ruminative thinking may amplify problems caused by other predisposing factors. The conditions described below can all be grouped under the heading of obsessiveness and ruminative thinking. All of these have in common the tendency to fixate, perseverate, or stubbornly hold to a thought, belief, or way of being.
- Perfectionism is an internally generated demand for accuracy, order, flawlessness, or completion.
- Rumination is a tendency to focus on distressing subjects. It involves pessimism and worry, and dwelling on failures, negative possibilities, and consequences. Sometimes the mind feels forced or pressured by these thoughts as if there is no control. This is sometimes referred to as perseverative negative cognition (PNC).
- Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) is an anxiety disorder in which repetitive distressing thoughts create intense anxiety, leading to compulsive behaviors that are performed in an attempt to lessen the anxiety.
- Obsessive-Compulsive Personality Disorder (OCPD) is a rigid and generally perfectionistic style of thinking and living. It may involve extreme perfectionism, preoccupation with order, neatness, detail, or control. It tends to cause those who have it to seem inflexible and stubborn.
Our observations suggest that some type of obsessiveness is present in roughly two-thirds of the same-sex attracted men with whom we’ve worked. We believe that during childhood and adolescence, obsessive tendencies may have acted as an amplifier of other problems occurring in their lives. Unhealthy relationships with females and problems in relationships with other males might have seemed much greater for these boys. They might have perceived the differences between themselves and other males as being far greater, and far more problematic, than they really were.
Their natural and normal feelings of interest, curiosity, admiration, and envy about maleness and their needs for acceptance and approval from other males seem to have become a significant fixation for them. It is possible that this fixation may have reached a high during puberty, a time of great insecurity for most young people. The co-occurrence of this fixation with the emergence of sexual feelings might have created a situation ripe for the pairing of interest in maleness with sexual feelings, leading to homosexual conditioning as described in the section on conditioned sexuality.
Shame can become attached to masculinity, creating what we have come to call “gender shame.” This can happen in a variety of ways. Some boys develop a belief that males are bad by hearing complaints about men from women who have been hurt by males. Repeatedly hearing such complaints can turn a boy against his own maleness and negatively color his view of other males, blocking his natural desire to emulate them. This would gradually deepen his disconnection from the world of men.
Some boys get the message that it is not acceptable for them to be male or that they are very bad at being male. This can come from a mother communicating to her son in blatant or subtle ways that she wishes he were a girl, that she sees him as a girl, or that she doesn’t want him to be or act like a boy. It can develop when sisters or other girls tease or humiliate him for acting like a boy. Boys in this situation may try to please those around them by abandoning their maleness. This message can also come from boys or men ridiculing or insulting his male traits, such as his body, voice, mannerisms, or lack of athleticism. This may cause the boy to resent, fear, or avoid other males.
And most significantly, gender shame can come from a boy’s harsh judgments about his own male attributes, particularly related to his body and athleticism. Some boys respond to this by becoming fixated on developing their masculine attributes, especially their physical attributes. Other boys may give up and ignore their bodies.
Depression and anxiety might contribute to the development of homosexuality if it interferes with a boy’s relationships with other males or causes gender incongruity. For example, a boy who is depressed may have little interest in socializing with other boys or engaging in the types of activities that are typical of boys, such as sports, rough play, and adventure. He might also pull away from his father and into his own world. A boy who is anxious might find it very difficult to be fully present and engaged in male-male relationships and male-typical activities. Social anxiety causes boys to withdraw from individual and group friendships. Performance anxiety makes it very difficult to do well in sports and other performance-based activities, which are the staple activities of boys and the most typical way in which they interact.
Growing up in these circumstances might prevent the boy from learning to relate and resonate with other boys and men, contributing to same-sex disaffiliation. Living life as an outsider might cause him to experience himself as different from other males, leading to or intensifying gender incongruity.
Hypothesis: Two Necessary and Sufficient Factors
Human sexuality is complex and can be influenced by many variables leading to many potential outcomes. Our experience suggests that different sets of life experiences may lead to the presence or absence of heterosexuality verses the presence or absence of homosexuality. We believe the first two kinds of life experiences discussed above—unhealthy childhood relationships with females and distorted concepts of gender—may diminish or block a man’s capacity for opposite-sex attraction. And we believe that all eight kinds of life experiences discussed above may work in various combinations to set up two conditions that are necessary and sufficient for male homosexuality to emerge. These two essential conditions are:
Condition 1: Situations in which males and maleness become a focus of intense interest and emotional arousal.
Intense interest might be created when a boy experiences other boys or men as different, mysterious, or exotic. It might be created when a boy’s normal needs for attachment, attention, affection, strength, or protection from other males are left unmet. And it can arise as a result of various types of abandonment or abuse by other males. All of these situations may cause males and maleness to become and remain a central focus of attention for boys during important developmental years.
Most boys experience this type of intense interest in other males during certain years in childhood and adolescence, and do not develop homosexuality. But for some boys, these intense interests are laden with deep emotions, which may feel pleasurable but are more often wistful or painful.
These emotions vary, depending on what elicits them. When the intense interest arises from seeing other males as different or exotic, the emotions may include disgust, inferiority, envy, curiosity, wonder, awe, or a compelling urge to emulate. When the interest springs from unmet needs, the emotions may include longing, sadness, and loss. And when the interest is the result of trauma caused by abandonment or abuse, the emotions may include anxiety, fear, anger, hatred, horror, or shame.
Condition 2: Experiences that connect the emotionally laden interest in males and maleness with feelings or impulses that are interpreted by the individual as sexual.
The process of connecting sexual feelings to a particular thing is called “sexualization.” Extensive research and clinical experience show that humans are capable of sexualizing not only other humans of all types and ages, but also objects and situations.
Our experience suggests that sexualization goes in the direction of intense emotional interest. The process of sexualization is biologically set to occur during puberty. Under normal circumstances, pubescent children sexualize others of their own age whom they experience—with great interest—as exotic in terms of gender. Most boys sexualize girls. Boys experiencing gender incongruity sexualize other boys.
But the sexualization process may be intercepted when intense emotional interest leads a boy’s attention in another direction. For example, if a boy is experiencing unmet needs for attachment, affection, nurture, or protection from other males—whether father, brother, or peers—the intense emotional interests resulting from those needs may be sexualized. If a boy is sexually abused, aspects of the abuse may become sexualized, including traits of the perpetrator, objects involved in the abuse, and the circumstances under which the abuse occurred. Or if a boy is exposed to male nudity—in a locker room or in pornography—in a way that elicits intense feelings of curiosity, wonder, anxiety, or even shame, that could become sexualized.
Once a type of person, an object, or a situation has become sexualized, the sexual arousal patterns involving that type of person, object, or situation will likely be reinforced by continued sexual behavior. In a very short period of time, these patterns can become fixed and enduring.
- Five types of same-sex attraction
- Myths about same-sex attraction
- Gay identity, gay rights, and gay activism
- Sexual orientation
- What is same-sex attraction?
- What can you do about same-sex attraction?
- How can family, friends, and church leaders help?