What is Same-sex Attraction?
Same-sex attraction includes erotic thoughts, feelings, and behaviors directed toward the same gender. A person who experiences same-sex attraction may experience emotional and sexual feelings or attractions, and may or may not engage in sexual behavior. Same-sex attraction cannot be identified simply by the presence or absence of outward sexual behavior.
Same-sex attraction is also referred to as same-gender attraction or homosexuality. This section defines common terms, then describes the influence of attractions, identity, and behavior on the development of same-sex attractions.
Emotional and social interests in individuals of the same gender are healthy as long as they are not excessive and do not develop a sexual or erotic dimension. When same-gender interests become extreme and are eroticized, they become same-sex attraction (also known as same-gender attraction or homosexuality).
Same-sex attraction is an intense interest in others of the same gender. This interest may include desires for their attention, friendship, intimacy, or a fascination with their bodies and other gender traits. It may also include erotic thoughts, feelings, and behaviors directed toward the same gender. The psychological community uses the term homosexuality to refer to the entire complex that includes attractions, feelings, desires, sexual behavior, identity, and all its associated aspects, such as problems with masculinity or femininity, self-perception, emotional dependencies, and relationship issues.
A person who experiences same-sex attraction may experience one or more of the following:
- Intense attractions toward people of the same gender. (These feelings may or may not be sexual or erotic.)
- Intense emotional involvement with people of the same gender.
- Sexual behavior. (The presence or absence of homosexual behavior does not determine whether someone experiences same-sex attraction–it cannot be identified simply by the presence or absence of outward sexual behavior.)
The term homosexual is a clinical term that may be offensive when used as a noun to identify individuals who are trying to overcome same-sex attraction, as well as those who embrace a gay identity. The former typically prefer the terms same-sex attraction or same-gender attraction and the latter typically prefer the terms gay (referring to men) and lesbian (referring to women). Those who are overcoming same-sex attraction typically do not like the terms gay or lesbian because they imply a political, cultural, and social identity. (Read more about gay identity.) They don't like the term homosexual because it is defined in such a wide variety of clinical and psychiatric ways. Homosexual may be appropriately used as an adjective, such as homosexual behavior.
Whether or not sexual orientation (in the sense of an underlying same-sex, opposite-sex, dual-sex, or other spontaneous attraction) exists, and whether or not it can be changed is a matter of some controversy. See sexual orientation for further information.
Same-sex attractions develop over time and almost always without any conscious choice. At some point in your life, you may have realized that you are sexually attracted to other men.* These inner attractions can become intense, compelling sexual thoughts toward other men and may consume a great deal of your thoughts and energy. If the sexual attractions are not resolved, they can grow into obsessions that interfere with your ability to function at work and at home, and can be destructive spiritually. Same-sex attractions are usually more compelling than attractions toward the opposite sex because they spring from more than sexual desires—they are attempts to fill unmet emotional and social needs.
Many men report they first noticed these attractions before puberty—before they felt or understood sexual feelings. The feelings were not inherently sexual, but at some point became eroticized. The needs involved are normal social and emotional needs that everyone has, but have become confused and sexualized toward the same gender. The attractions are actually attempts to meet the emotional and identity needs that have not yet been met in your life. As a child, some part of your normal developmental process was stopped and interfered with your ability to develop a normal heterosexual orientation. Ironically, sexual intimacy will not fill the needs. They should not be ignored (the conservative mistake) nor eroticized (the liberal mistake), but should be filled through legitimate, nonsexual means. Here, then, is the irony: same-sex attraction itself has little to do with sex. The needs are not homosexual, but homoemotional.
Many men with same-sex attractions report they felt "different" as boys but didn’t know why. For them, the pain of growing up with same-sex attractions was not so much the pain of being attracted to boys, but the feelings of being different. If this describes you, these feelings of being different may have become self-fulfilling prophecies as you separated yourself from the very boys you needed to bond with. You may have longed to feel you were on par with other boys, but this longing only widened the gulf between you and the rest of the guys. Feeling different may have created a mindset that influenced your self-perception and development. When other children sensed this hesitancy, they may have attacked it, confirming that you were different. Thus, you withdrew from other boys to defend yourself from the pain.
You sensed your attractions were abnormal because of the "fag" jokes you heard, so you learned to keep the feelings to yourself, creating further problems of isolation and secrecy, which are powerful forces that keep same-sex attractions from being resolved. When the rest of your male friends seemed normally attracted to females, you may have wondered why you were abnormally attracted to males. Knowing that these attractions were in conflict with your religious beliefs and society’s norms, you realized that your innermost feelings were wrong and since you didn’t choose to have these feelings, you may have wondered if there was something inherently wrong with you. This may have created an internal struggle as you desperately tried to understand the unnatural feelings and make sense of them in terms of your own internal values and religious beliefs.
Our identity is an accumulation of self-perceptions. Some people believe they were born with same-sex attraction feelings which are part of their core identity. If you have accepted a gay identity, it has far-reaching implications and can profoundly influence how you think and act. If you want to resolve these same-sex attraction issues, part of your challenge will be to correct any misperceptions about yourself.
Same-sex attractions can be strong if you entertain sexual fantasies. Because of the intensity of these sexual desires, you may have participated in sexual activities to fill the void you feel. However, this causes further confusion, leading you to believe that your needs are sexual rather than emotional. In a desperate attempt to satisfy these building tensions, you may have become involved in sexual activities that provide a temporary gratification of the sex drive, but leave you with deeper feelings of emptiness, loneliness and frustration. Rather than satisfying the real needs for acceptance and companionship, the sexual behavior only intensifies the needs. One of the greatest tragedies of same-sex attraction is the unawareness in most men that their needs are emotional. All they know is that they are sexually attracted to other men and they seek sexual contacts, which ironically do not fill their need for love from a friend. (Read more about controlling your homosexual behavior.)
Not all men find themselves involved in sexual behavior. Some men have participated in only limited behavior and others have remained chaste in spite of their intense attractions. If you have not become involved in same-sex attraction behavior, congratulations! Your journey out of same-sex attraction will be much easier because of it.
* As explained in the About Us section, most of the theories, approaches, and ideas on this site relate to men. Much of this information may also be helpful to women who struggle with same-sex attraction and some may not.