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What Causes Same-Sex Attractions? Part 3: The Role of Abuse

"I did not ask for this ... I did not want this ... I suffered from this."

Those are the sentiments of every male who has ever been sexual abused, molested or raped.

Those were my words.

In today's issue of "Counseling Insights" we continue the six-part series on the factors which may contribute to males developing same-sex attractions (ssa).  Please remember that we simply do not know what causes ssa in males, but there are certain factors which commonly appear. It is often the case - but clearly not always - that males who experience ongoing ssa had been abused somewhere in their past: sexually, physically, verbally/emotionally, and/or spiritually.  Here's a review of each.


Sexual Abuse.  My experience is not unique.  In a 2006 study by Dickson & Byrd, 49% of the males with ssa reported having been sexually abused - compared to only 2% for the males who had opposite-sex attractions (osa).  This may understate the problem, as Jones & Yarhouse reported in their 2007 study that 65% of the ssa males had been touched sexually prior to age 13. Sometimes the abuser is an older teen boy (an older neighbor, babysitter, etc.), experimenting with his sexual hormones in a "safe" way - with a younger, weaker, boy who would be too "nice" to object or to blow-the-whistle.  Sometimes the abuser is a "more matured" gay man, taking advantage of someone else's naivety and gentleness. Sometimes it is a family member - an older brother; an uncle - who makes the victim promise to keep this a secret. In all cases, the sexual abuse is not requested, and not wanted.

Physical Abuse.  One of my clients told me a story about his childhood - it broke my heart.  As a slightly built, kind youngster, he never wanted to hurt anyone. Yet older, bigger boys repeatedly sought him out to bully him.  They would repeatedly encircle him, punch him, and then call him bad names. One day he fought back - only to have a female teacher break up the melee and tell him, "Johnny, I am so disappointed in you for fighting - you ought to be ashamed of yourself!"  Bullies pick on those who are easier targets; males who are more sensitive are obvious prey. It becomes an ssa male's double-bind: "I don't want to hurt anyone, but people keep hurting me."

Verbal/Emotional Abuse.  "Fag!"; "queer!"; "homo!"; "pervert!"; "gay!"  Many ssa males have heard those terms spit at them.  For a young boy in grade school who does not know what hormones are - let alone what his sexual identity is - these labels seem to echo in his ears for a lifetime.  Once puberty arrives and this young man is now actually experiencing erotic feelings (most of which seem to be toward the males), he inevitably wonders if these labels are indeed his destiny.  How sad.

Similarly, emotional abuse can occur when a male is told that he is "not man enough": doesn't play football/hunt/fix cars/you-name-it.  Eventually this boy becomes an adult man crippled with low masculine self-esteem. Additionally, an ssa male experiences emotional abuse when another person implies "you ought to be ashamed of yourself for experiencing same-sex attractions."  While it is true that the Holy Spirit convicts us with a feeling of guilt whenever we engage in an erotic lust or physical sin, that is a different experience than feeling ashamed of who we are as a person. Paradoxically, once an ssa male learns to eliminate all sense of shame about the existence of his same-sex attractions - he then is actually fully on the pathway toward sexual purity and peace.

Spiritual Abuse.  The Church (i.e., the body of Christian Followers, to include pastors) usually help us to live life the way Jesus does.  However, some under-informed Christians can actually abuse our communion with God - creating a tragic barrier to the only source of true Life!  Examples include whenever a pastor or Christian implies that it is sinful to have same-sex attractions - rather than only focusing on the sin of misusing our sexuality.  Jesus clearly lets us know that erotic lust is wrong (Matthew 5:28), regardless of whether we are lusting over a heteroerotic stimuli or a homoerotic one. And, of course, the Bible is clear about erotic physical contact being wrong - unless between husband and wife.  Yet, oftentimes "homosexuality" is lumped as one term, and the distinction between same-sex attractions versus homoerotic lust/physical contact is never made. A condemnation of "homosexuality" is often interpreted as a condemnation of merely having the attraction - a condition which none of us chose or wanted!

For those readers who are pastors (whom I revere!), can I lovingly provide a gentle correction (if the shoe fits)?  Sometimes you publicly preach on the societal harm of "gays" (hopefully, you only mean "those who engage in homoerotic lust/physical contact without guilt").  This usually draws an enthusiastically positive reaction from the congregation concerning how the Church must combat that. Yet, have you ever talked about the wrongs of a divorced person remarrying, which Jesus spoke about in Matthew 19:9?  I suspect the reaction from the congregation would be less positive. My point is not to minimize the reality that erotic sin is wrong, nor to vilify those who have already suffered through a divorce. Rather, I want to encourage people not exaggerate that homosexuality is horrid - something especially hurtful to those ssa men who are being sexually pure!  Such spiritual abuse guarantees that the ssa male will develop a "shame-based identity".


Most ssa males have experienced some form of abuse in their life.  Unrequested; unwanted; always painful. Most ssa males somehow blamed themselves for the abuse.  Most ssa males developed enormous shame-identities. So did I.

Until ... rescued.

"There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus" (Romans 8:1).




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