How Do Homosexual Attractions Develop?

See Part 1: What is Homosexuality?
See Part 2: Common Myths about Homosexuality
See Part 3: How Do Homosexual Attractions Develop?
See Part 4: What Does Homosexuality Provide?
See Part 5: The Root Problem, Repentence and Growth
See Part 6: What is a Friend to Do? & References

People do not change simply by gaining more insight into how same-sex attractions develop. But a deeper understanding can be an important first step.

No one develops homosexual attractions in exactly the same setting. Nor can we put into words all that’s involved for every individual. Yet those who tell their stories often report a few common themes that seem to make a person susceptible to developing homosexual attractions. These themes frequently center around parent-child relationships, peer interactions, and childhood sexual abuse.

This is not to suggest that all of these themes exist or occur to the same degree in every case. Nor are they the only factors that contribute to homosexual attraction. Nevertheless, they appear to be the major contributing influences.

It’s noteworthy to point out that factors such as genetics and hormones may cause some to be born with certain physical traits that may make them more susceptible to the formation of same-sex attractions, but these are indirect factors. They don’t assure that a person will develop homosexual attractions any more than a person who is tall and agile will develop an interest in playing basketball.15 Furthermore, these factors are minor in comparison to the following:

Parent-child Relationships.
The potential for enormous benefit and harm exists in every parent-child relationship. Many who struggle with homosexual attraction report that their childhood relationships with their same-sex parent and/or opposite-sex parent was a time of great disappointment and rejection.

While some parents more than others should feel a greater sense of sorrow over the ways they failed or harmed their children, it’s wrong to place all the blame on the parents. On the other hand, it’s equally wrong to contend that family relationships have nothing to do with the development of same-sex attractions. As Anita Worthen and Bob Davies point out, “Actually the truth lies somewhere in between, and the situation is different for every family.”16

Same-sex Parent. All children long to connect emotionally with their parents, especially their same-sex parent. This relationship is a vital part in the process of growing to feel complete and secure as males and females. When a child grows up feeling emotionally cut off from his or her same-sex parent, whether it’s real or imagined, it interrupts this process. If the distance continues, the process never resumes, leaving a child feeling rejected, empty, and insecure as a boy or girl. Deep down inside, the child senses that something critical is missing, which can cause a child to seriously question his or her identity as a boy or girl.

One woman never recalled feeling nurtured by her mother. “I played varsity volleyball, and she never came to any of my games. She laughed when I started my first period. She didn’t want me to have a bra when everyone else in my class had one. In short, I never felt encouragement or support in areas that nurtured my femininity.”17

While children desperately long for connection with their same-sex parent, some grow to suspect that this relationship will only bring greater rejection and harm. In order to prevent further harm, many tend to distance themselves from this parent. This form of self-protection is commonly referred to as “defensive detachment.”18

Instead of expressing their desire for connection and acceptance, they hide it. Instead of remaining open to a close relationship with their same-sex parent, they become angry and distrustful. For many, it’s the beginning of seeing all close relationships with the same sex through eyes of anger and mistrust.

One man recalled how he withdrew from his demeaning father long before his father left the family. His parents’ divorce simply made it “official.” Another woman described it this way: “In my heart I had cut my mother out of my life, emotionally and relationally.”19

Pulling away and hiding the desire for connection with their same-sex parent didn’t make the desire go away. It unknowingly caused the desire to grow stronger. When sexual desires start to emerge around the age of adolescence, the buried yet growing unmet desire for same-sex love and connection can subtly merge with sexual desires. As adolescents are attracted to what’s missing, and as they experience moments (whether actual or fantasized) when they sense someone touching their unsatisfied desire for same-sex love, their bodies may respond sexually. Moments like these, usually with an older adolescent or adult, are often when sexual attractions for the same sex surface.

Opposite-sex Parent.
The relationship with the opposite-sex parent is not as crucial to the development of same-sex attractions. But in many cases this relationship intensifies a problem created by the distance and/or assaults of the same-sex parent.

For instance, an opposite-sex parent can expand the distance and hostility between a child and the same-sex parent by inappropriately confiding in the child about various marital problems. Then there are situations when an overprotective mother may never allow her son to risk expressing himself as a male by displaying any strong initiative. Or she might constantly ridicule his competence, making him feel more out of place and insecure as a male. This could also involve a father who wanted a son so much that he treated his daughter as a son, ignoring her femininity altogether.

When a child who is already feeling cut off from his or her same-sex parent has his or her gender inhibited, criticized, used, or ignored by the opposite-
sex parent, it fertilizes the soil from which a homosexual attraction can arise.

Peer Interactions.
Children who are disillusioned with their same-sex parent may also experience a similar degree of distance and rejection among their same-sex peers, which adds to their level of confusion and insecurity. In some cases, they expect the same kind of treatment.

Just as with his dad, a little boy may feel like a misfit among his male equals. Just as with her mom, a little girl may feel she doesn’t belong with girls her age. But the desire to fit in is still screaming to be met. If children or teenagers don’t fit in and identify with their same-sex peers, they may be drawn toward unhealthy relationships that seem to hold out the promise of acceptance.

Peer relationships are also the context where “chum” sexual experimentation occurs. Some who struggle with homosexual attractions recall times when a form of sensual (i.e. kissing) or sexual contact took place with same-sex peers. While this is not uncommon for many children, events like these can plant additional seeds of doubt and confusion about one’s sexual preference.

Sexual Abuse.
Tragically, for many men and women, homosexual attractions are also rooted in haunting incidents of past sexual abuse. Sexual abuse involves any contact or interaction whereby an older, stronger, or more influential person uses a vulnerable child or adolescent for sexual stimulation. (For a more complete discussion of sexual abuse, see RBC booklet When Trust Is Lost.)

Studies show that incidents of sexual abuse are prevalent in the childhoods of adult homosexuals.20 Those who work with adult individuals seeking help for homosexual struggles repeatedly hear stories of boys having been sexually molested, usually by older boys or men. They regularly hear of girls having been sexually abused, typically by a close male family member, friend, or authority figure.

As is the case with any of the factors mentioned, sexual abuse does not automatically produce homosexual attractions. But for some it can be a major part of a context in which homosexual attractions can form. The way the damage of sexual abuse affects the development of these attractions tends to be different for men and women.

The Damage Of Sexual Abuse On Men. Strong ambivalent feelings experienced during and after incidents of sexual abuse by an older male can be a part of what forms homosexual attractions. Ambivalence is “feeling two contradictory emotions at the same moment.”21 The result is overwhelming shame and confusion. The fact that somehow, in such an awful context, a young boy felt some pleasure brings a raw sense of shame. Relational connection and physical contact occurred, which naturally aroused and brought him emotional and sexual pleasure, but it also felt so horrible.

Enjoying a level of sexual pleasure with a man or older boy is difficult for a young boy or adolescent to reconcile. The shameful confusion increases when sexual abuse was the only context in which his thirst for male love and connection was seemingly quenched. It leaves the deceptive impression that sex and love always go hand in hand.

Shame and confusion provoke nagging thoughts like, “What does that say about me? Maybe I am homosexual.” Consequently, the damage from ambivalent feelings can mislead confused young boys into thinking they’re something they’re not.

The Damage Of Sexual Abuse On Women. Intense feelings of betrayal as a result of sexual abuse are frequently a component of what fuels homosexual attractions for women. Betrayal is the experience of being set up, used, violated, and discarded. Perpetrators of sexual abuse often lure potential victims with a level of affection and attention no one else has offered.

The betrayal of sexual abuse teaches young girls or adolescents that it’s too dangerous and painful to want and hope for love from men. As a result, many struggle with a deep hatred and mistrust of men. It similarly spurs them to hate their femininity. Some grow to become terrified of and repulsed by expressing any part of their femininity that longs to be loved and cared for by a man. In their mind, it’s the main reason they were abused.
When a young girl, who may already have an exceptionally strong desire for same-sex connection because she’s been deprived of it, is sexually abused by a male, the damage of betrayal can powerfully ignite homosexual attractions. Homosexual attractions can emerge in young girls when a hatred of men and a hidden, unquenched thirst for female connection exist simultaneously.

Not everyone who experiences homosexual attractions entertains them in fantasy or behavior. Those who do, however, entertain them because of what they believe homosexuality provides.
See Part 1: What is Homosexuality?
See Part 2: Common Myths about Homosexuality
See Part 3: How Do Homosexual Attractions Develop?
See Part 4: What Does Homosexuality Provide?
See Part 5: The Root Problem, Repentence and Growth
See Part 6: What is a Friend to Do? & References