The struggle of same sex attraction is one that is very complex. Many with this struggle–I will refer to those who struggle with same sex attraction as the ‘struggler’–say that they have felt this way all of their life. It runs deep to the core of one’s gender identity. I want to say that in order to understand the root causes, the struggler needs to do his research. In this article, I will focus on the root causes from a human development stand point. I will also direct you to some resources that you should read and study yourself.
Same sex attraction is rooted in an effort to get homo-emotional, or same-sex, love needs met. These needs include longings for love, acceptance, and belonging. They are to be first met in the relationship with one’s father and mother, and are critical to one’s sense of security. Berger (1995) explains: ‘masculinity and femininity are communicated to us as children through those people in our lives who symbolize to us masculinity and femininity (mother and father). In order to acquire a healthy personal identity, we must encounter loving and healthy relationships with members of both sexes’ (p.58). Home is where these emotional needs are satisfied, and where healthy role modeling of one’s masculine gender by the father is experienced leads to healthy gender identity development in both boys and girls. For boys, another developmental process occurs as he differentiates from the mother and identifies with his father. Nicolosi and Nicolosi (2002) state, ‘Girls can continue to develop in the feminine identification through the relationship with their mothers. On the other hand, a boy has an additional developmental task’to disidentify from his mother and identify with his father’ (p.23). Konrad (1987) highlights that gender development is an acquired social learning process that children experience in the family environment. ‘Gender identity, on the other hand, is a process that begins at birth. As children begin to explore their own bodies, they combine this information with the way society treats them to create an image of themselves as boys and girls’ (p.35). The role the father plays in healthy gender identity development is significant to boys (and to girls). Boys who have fathers who are nurturing, warm, decisive, strong, and are active in their child’s socialization will help that child develop a healthy sexual identity. Again, Nicolosi and Nicolosi (2002) touch on the importance of the father: ‘the boy’s father has to do his part. He needs to mirror and affirm his son’s maleness. He can play rough-and-tumble games with his son’games that are decidedly different from those he would play with a little girl. As a result, the son will learn more of what it means to be a male. And he will accept his body as a representation of his maleness’ (p.24). So, two important things happen when a boy bonds with his father: he receives his father’s love and approval, and also develops a strong sense of male gender identity.
So how does same sex attraction develop? One common experience among gays is the report of having a poor relationship with one’s father. Failure on the part of the father to affirm and bond with his son leads to a deficit of unmet needs in the child. In many cases, fathers were relationally absent (either physically or emotionally), inadequate, withdrawn, passive (with a dominant mother), hostile, abusive, or alcoholic. This impairment in the relationship would result in the boy feeling inadequate in his maleness, lacking confidence in one’s own gender, which then leads to feelings of uncomfortability in developing healthy interaction among his male relationships. Konrad (1987) states that ‘homosexuals experience a critical deficit in their relationships with their fathers while growing up, meaning that normal psychological needs which should have been met by the father/son bond are left unfulfilled’ (42-43). One should note that actions on the part of the father may be unintentional, even seemingly non-threatening. Yet, it is important to note that the perspective of the child is one of woundedness, thus creating a defensive detachment. Again Konrad (1987) explains: ‘it’s not necessarily what kind of father these men are but how their children react to them that can cause psychological damage, perhaps by simply blocking normal attachment to them’ (p.44). As the boy withdraws from his father to avoid further hurt, his same sex love needs go unmet. Thus at the root of one’s ‘homosexual’ drive is an effort to get same sex love needs met that needed to be met in the father/son relationship. Konrad (1987) points out ‘that homosexuals detach from their fathers to prevent further hurt and/or not to identify with them. For some this may have been an unconscious, subtle detachment. But for others, it was an overt vow not to be anything like their father. The severity of this detachment varies from person to person and is more obvious in some than others’ (p. 46). As the boy detaches from his father, there is also a corresponding detachment from his own body. Nicolosi and Nicolosi (2002) make this point: ‘the boy who makes the unconscious decision to detach himself from his own male body is well on his way to developing a homosexual orientation. Such a boy will sometimes be obviously effeminate, but more often he ‘ like most pre-homosexual boys’ is what we call gender-nonconforming. That is, he will be somewhat different, with no close male buddies at that developmental stage when other boys are breaking away from close friendships with little girls (about six to eleven) in order to develop a secure masculine identity (p.24).
As one can now see, those struggling with same sex attraction are striving to get needs met from childhood. As the boy enters adolescence, with the stirring of one’s sex drive, these homo-emotional needs get ‘eroticized’ and misinterpreted as sexual feelings. Konrad (1987) sums it up: ‘Thus the problem with the person who has labeled himself a homosexual’he thinks he’s gay and interprets his normal (but unmet) homo-emotional feeling the wrong way. And based upon his feelings he continues through life reinforcing his gay identity, further hindering the identification process and preventing unmet needs from being met. It’s a terribly vicious cycle that can be stopped only be understanding same-sex needs and satisfying them through proper channels” (p.64). If you are struggling with same sex attraction, your work is to begin to explore the impact of your early experiences. How did you get your needs met as a child? You may want to go to the resources I have referred to in this article. Also find a group you can participate in of other ex-gays. They can help you work through these issues in an atmosphere of acceptance. You may also want to find a good therapist familiar with helping people work through the complexity of issues you face.
For an excellent book on this subject, please see Desires in Conflict.
Resource List Bergner, Mario. 1995. Setting Love In Order. Grand Rapids, MI. Baker Book House Co. Konrad, Jeff. 1987. You Don’t Have To Be Gay. Hilo, Hawaii. Pacific Publishing House. Nicolosi, Joseph & Nicolosi, Linda Ames. 2002. A Parent’s Guide To Preventing Homosexuality. Downers Grove, Illinois. InterVarsity Press.