How Might Homosexuality Develop?

It may be difficult to grasp how genes, environment, and other influences interrelate to one another, how a certain factor may “influence” an outcome but not cause it, and how faith enters in. The scenario below is condensed and hypothetical, but is drawn from the lives of actual people, illustrating how many different factors influence behavior.

Note that the following is just one of the many developmental pathways that can lead to homosexuality, but a common one. In reality, every person’s “road” to sexual expression is individual, however many common lengths it may share with those of others.

1. Our scenario starts with birth. The boy (for example) who one day may go on to struggle with homosexuality is born with certain features that are somewhat more common among homosexuals than in the population at large. Some of these traits might be inherited (genetic), while others might have been caused by the “intrauterine environment” (hormones). What this means is that a youngster without these traits will be somewhat less likely to become homosexual later than someone with them.

What are these traits? If we could identify them precisely, many of them would turn out to be gifts rather than “problems,” for example a “sensitive” disposition, a strong creative drive, a keen aesthetic sense. Some of these, such as greater sensitivity, could be related to – or even the same as – physiological traits that also cause trouble, such as a greater-than-average anxiety response to any given stimulus.

No one knows with certainty just what these heritable characteristics are; at present we only have hints. Were we free to study homosexuality properly (uninfluenced by political agendas) we would certainly soon clarify these factors – just as we are doing in less contentious areas. In any case, there is absolutely no evidence whatsoever that the behavior “homosexuality” is itself directly inherited.

2. From a very early age potentially heritable characteristics mark the boy as “different.” He finds himself somewhat shy and uncomfortable with the typical “rough and tumble” of his peers. Perhaps he is more interested in art or in reading – simply because he’s smart. But when he later thinks about his early life, he will find it difficult to separate out what in these early behavioral differences came from an inherited temperament and what from the next factor, namely:

3. That for whatever reason, he recalls a painful “mismatch” between what he needed and longed for and what his father offered him. Perhaps most people would agree that his father was distinctly distant and ineffective; maybe it was just that his own needs were unique enough that his father, a decent man, could never quite find the right way to relate to him. Or perhaps his father really disliked and rejected his son’s sensitivity. In any event, the absence of a happy, warm, and intimate closeness with his father led to the boy’s pulling away in disappointment, “defensively detaching” in order to protect himself.

But sadly, this pulling away from his father, and from the “masculine” role model he needed, also left him even less able to relate to his male peers. We may contrast this to the boy whose loving father dies, for instance, but who is less vulnerable to later homosexuality. This is because the commonplace dynamic in the pre-homosexual boy is not merely the absence of a father – literally or psychologically – but the psychological defense of the boy against his repeatedly disappointing father. In fact, a youngster who does not form this defense (perhaps because of early-enough therapy, or because there is another important male figure in his life, or due to temperament) is much less likely to become homosexual.

Complementary dynamics involving the boy’s mother are also likely to have played an important role. Because people tend to marry partners with “interlocking neuroses,” the boy probably found himself in a problematic relationship with both parents.

For all these reasons, when as an adult he looked back on his childhood, the now-homosexual man recalls, “From the beginning I was always different. I never got along well with the boys my age and felt more comfortable around girls.” This accurate memory makes his later homosexuality feel convincingly to him as though it was “preprogrammed” from the start.

4. Although he has “defensively detached” from his father, the young boy still carries silently within him a terrible longing for the warmth, love, and encircling arms of the father he never did nor could have. Early on, he develops intense, nonsexual attachments to older boys he admires – but at a distance, repeating with them the same experience of longing and unavailability. When puberty sets in, sexual urges – which can attach themselves to any object, especially in males – rise to the surface and combine with his already intense need for masculine intimacy and warmth. He begins to develop homosexual crushes. Later he recalls, “My first sexual longings were directed not at girls but at boys. I was never interested in girls.”

Psychotherapeutic intervention at this point and earlier can be successful in preventing the development of later homosexuality. Such intervention is aimed in part at helping the boy change his developing effeminate patterns (which derive from a “refusal” to identify with the rejected father), but more critically, it is aimed at teaching his father – if only he will learn – how to become appropriately involved with and related to his son.

5. As he matures (especially in our culture where early, extramarital sexual experiences are sanctioned and even encouraged), the youngster, now a teen, begins to experiment with homosexual activity. Or alternatively his needs for same-sex closeness may already have been taken advantage of by an older boy or man, who preyed upon him sexually when he was still a child. (Recall the studies that demonstrate the high incidence of sexual abuse in the childhood histories of homosexual men.) Or oppositely, he may avoid such activities out of fear and shame in spite of his attraction to them. In any event, his now-sexualized longings cannot merely be denied, however much he may struggle against them. It would be cruel for us at this point to imply that these longings are a simple matter of “choice.”

Indeed, he remembers having spent agonizing months and years trying to deny their existence altogether or pushing them away, to no avail. One can easily imagine how justifiably angry he will later be when someone casually and thoughtlessly accuses him of “choosing” to be homosexual.

When he seeks help, he hears one of two messages, and both terrify him; either, “Homosexuals are bad people and you are a bad person for choosing to be homosexual. There is no place for you here and God is going to see to it that you suffer for being so bad;” or “Homosexuality is inborn and unchangeable. You were born that way. Forget about your fairytale picture of getting married and having children and living in a little house with a white picket fence. God made you who you are and he/she destined you for the gay life. Learn to enjoy it.”

6. At some point, he gives in to his deep longings for love and begins to have voluntary homosexual experiences. He finds – possibly to his horror – that these old, deep, painful longings are at least temporarily, and for the first time ever, assuaged.

Although he may also therefore feel intense conflict, he cannot help admit that the relief is immense. This temporary feeling of comfort is so profound – going well beyond the simple sexual pleasure that anyone feels in a less fraught situation – that the experience is powerfully reinforced. However much he may struggle, he finds himself powerfully driven to repeat the experience. And the more he does, the more it is reinforced and the more likely it is he will repeat it yet again, though often with a sense of diminishing returns.

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