How do you cope with sexual attraction as a Christian with same-sex attraction?

By Ed Shaw

waves crashing on the beach'Every comely man...was aimed at my life like a loaded pistol.'1 So wrote the author John Cheever in his journal. In its pages he chronicled his sexual experiences and attraction to both women and men with startling honesty. Promiscuous with both throughout his life, he increasingly embraced same-sex sexual relationships using the above words to describe his feelings as a young man when he was much more wary.

They powerfully resonate with me as a young man who believes same-sex sexual relationships to be wrong – and yet is often confronted by men who I find attractive, or beautiful. Every ‘comely’ man, whether on the TV, in a magazine, or in real life, can indeed feel ‘like a loaded pistol’ aimed at me.

Why a loaded pistol? Well, because it really does feel like my desire for them has the potential to damage me: to knock me off course in my desire to be faithful to Christ in my thoughts and behaviour, and, if I give into the temptation, to paralyse with me guilt and shame. I’ve literally lived in fear of beautiful men – as you would fear a loaded pistol pointed straight at you. 

That has made my life difficult at times. There are many beautiful men on TV, in magazines and, every so often, they step into real life too. And so I have sat in a church meeting feeling like a sitting target because of the ‘comely’ man sitting straight ahead of me. My instinctive sexual attraction to his beauty has produced such horrific fear of falling into sin that it can begin to feel as if the gun has already gone off. And next week we will both be back on the firing range – how am I to avoid being shot at again and again?

I somehow need to stop living with this fear. I need to stop seeing male beauty as a loaded pistol aimed destructively at me and instead as something that points me positively elsewhere. I need to respond to it better and to do that I think I need to understand how beauty works a little better. 

Part of this is, I think, a growing realisation that my response to male beauty is, at one level, very natural. In desiring a beautiful man, in wanting to become one with him, I am responding to real beauty as all human beings tend to whenever, wherever, they discover it in any overwhelming form. C. S. Lewis articulates this well: ‘We want something else which can hardly be put into words – to be united with the beauty we see, to pass into it, to receive it into ourselves, to bathe in it, to become part of it.’2 Is that not always the human response to incredible beauty – in a sunset, a painting, some music? You want somehow to stay and enjoy it, experience it, become part of it, forever. That’s the natural effect of beauty on you. That’s just how it works. 

I think that will help me next time I see a beautiful man and find myself wanting to be united to him. I am, at one level, just responding to beauty as I am created to respond to it. There is little I can do to avoid this natural response. We are all wired to appreciate beauty. That’s just how we work. 

Now, of course, there might soon be something to rightly fear in where I might take that instinctive appreciation of a man’s beauty. As soon as he becomes part of some sexual fantasy I have obviously crossed a line. However there is nothing wrong in my initial appreciation of his beauty. I needn’t live in fear of that, or of people like him.

But how do I avoid crossing that line? For, at the moment, the one nearly always leads to the other - hence my fear. Well, it might help me to remember that there is somewhere positive I can take my appreciation of a man’s beauty. It does not need to just produce an overwhelming fear of sin.  

What if, next time I see one, I paused and prayed, remembering that all true beauty should point me to the beauty of my King? All beauty points to the Lord Jesus in his perfection, whose beauty far outstrips any other man I’ll ever meet. I need to recall that my powerful desire for beauty is a disordered version of my God-given, admirable desire for true beauty, which will only ever be properly satisfied in him. His Word tells me that one day soon I will live with him forever, passing onto his beautiful new world, be beautiful myself, bathe in his beauty, become part of the divine beauty that is at the centre of the universe. 

Such an attitude would wonderfully be able to banish the fear. It would be a gracious gift from God if, from now on, beautiful men were incredibly used by Jesus to point me to him, gradually moving me on from fear to faith? In this way, something which seemed so threatening could become somehow life-giving, rather than just life-threatening. I praise God that this has begun to happen. 


John Cheever, Journals, p.219. 

CS Lewis in Randy Alcorn, Heaven, p.245.