Why do I experience same-sex attraction? Read around a bit and you’ll soon find that there are a whole host of theories to choose from. Some are linked with a ‘cure’, but we do not endorse this simplistic idea. Others make the point that there is no cause. Some are part of a blame game. Still others maintain that there’s no one to blame because there’s nothing wrong.
According to some people it is a decision that I made. And therefore, I’m to blame. That one day I woke up and consciously chose to be attracted to some of the boys I was growing up with rather than some of the girls. I could have changed but I wrongly chose not to.
The problem is that this was not the case. As puberty began, I was as instinctively drawn to some of the boys as they were instinctively drawn to some of the girls. I was simply wired differently. I carried out no rewiring myself. Though there is evidence supporting the fluidity of sexuality in a small number of people (especially women),1 there is little scientific evidence that we ourselves can turn our desires on and off.
According to others the blame lies with my parents. My close relationship with my domineering mother and my distant relationship with my passive father shaped my sexuality from an early age. So, they’re to blame.
Except that my Mum and Dad don’t fit those crude stereotypes. They’d be the first to say that they aren’t perfect but I’ve enjoyed a good relationship with them both throughout my life. And tragically, what stopped me talking about my sexuality with them was the fear that they’d be blamed by others – though they’ve never been blamed by me.
Being sexually abused as a child is what’s really caused it: being seduced as a young teenager by that older man so damaged my sexuality that I’ve ended up with same-sex attraction. He’s to blame.
But that never happened. No adult ever laid a finger on me in that sort of way. My sexuality has not been shaped in this way by anyone else.
My lack of hand-to-eye co-ordination is another potential guilty party. Not being able to catch a ball, always being one of the last chosen for sports teams, shaped me into someone who sexually desired the sort of man I would never be. My lack of binocular vision is to blame!
But many friends had the same experience as children and are entirely heterosexual. Would I really change if I became good at rugby? That has been suggested! But I still can’t see the ball.
I simply have the ‘gay gene’ according to some. It’s there in my DNA. I was born with auburn hair. I was born gay. There is nothing I can do about either (except the auburn hair is fading whilst the same-sex attraction is not).
The problem is that the existence of a ‘gay gene’ is much debated. 2 But even if proved to be true, it would not make sex with someone of the same sex morally neutral. All of us have genetic dispositions that lead to behaviour the Bible condemns. Comments like ‘He has his father’s temper,’ or, ‘The Smith family has a long history of alcohol problems,’ are regularly heard. They rightly help us understand someone’s behaviour (and increase our empathy) but don’t stop us from holding people responsible for their own anger and drunkenness.
We could go on and talk about body image issues or numbers of same-sex siblings, or whatever theory is the new kid on the block (for either the pro-gay or anti-gay movements). The human heart and its desires are extraordinarily complex in every unique individual. While research may sometimes shed light on some elements of human desire, there are great depths that are inaccessible to us. What is more, the human heart is, in some ways, deeply deceitful; we do not even understand ourselves, let alone the hearts of others (Jeremiah 17:9). We should beware of simplistic explanations and acknowledge our ignorance.
But I’d like to share the two great biblical truths that have most helped me most accept the fact that I do experience same-sex attraction.
First up is the doctrine of original sin. The Bible’s teaching that – as a result of the Fall – all human beings are now marred and guilty image bearers of God. We were once perfect (and so still have an inbuilt desire for perfection) but are now imperfect in everything we think, do and say. All human beings have been born sinners – with an in-built tendency to live for themselves rather than for God or for others. That doesn’t stop us doing good things (God’s image is still there) but it does mean that we do bad things instinctively (his image has been that marred in us). The Bible clearly teaches that all human beings sin naturally. But the Bible also clearly shows that all human beings have a propensity to sin differently. Amongst other things, Moses clearly had a particular problem with anger. For David one of his greatest areas of weakness was sex. For Peter there was both pride and cowardice. For Ed Shaw it is (with plenty of other fierce competition), same-sex sexual immorality.
Seeing my same-sex attraction as part and parcel of original sin is really helpful.
Seeing my same-sex attraction as part and parcel of original sin is really helpful. It both helps me to see it as something I can’t undo myself; it’s part and parcel of what it is for me to be a marred image-bearer. But at the same time, God holds me responsible for how I respond to it and whether I act upon it. God held Moses responsible for his anger, sees David as guilty for his adultery, says Peter is wrong for his pride and cowardice, and regards the times I’ve sexually acted out my same-sex attractions as a sin. Part of the dignity of being human is that our actions have consequences. Consequences that God takes seriously – seriously enough to send his Son to the cross to rescue people like Moses and David and Peter and Ed from paying the full price of our sin. Original sin tells me that I am guilty, and that there is nothing I can do to rid myself of that guilt - but, as a result, wonderfully points me to the Saviour who can and does deal with that guilt by washing it away for me.
The second most helpful truth is that of God’s sovereignty: his complete and utter control over all things, over all people, over all of me. Now this – somehow – doesn’t lessen human responsibility, my responsibility for what I think, do and say. But it does give me assurance that there is nothing that has or will happen to me that my Father God can’t take and use for my good. Indeed, the Bible famously guarantees that fact (Romans 8:28-29). The ‘all things’ I’m promised he’ll use for my good must include my same-sex attraction. It’s certainly been my personal experience that it’s the one thing he’s used most to make me more and more like him.
The 'All things' I'm promised he'll use for my good must include my same-sex attraction.
We learn from the biblical story of Joseph that God is more than capable of taking something clearly wrong in and of itself (his brothers selling Joseph into slavery in Egypt) and using it to achieve something good in his life – and the life of others (Joseph’s appointment as the Prime Minister of Egypt and the survival of the whole nations – and his family – as a result).
And so, although my interest in the causes of same-sex attraction has often been out of a desire to change my sexual desires, I think I would do better to concentrate on what God has caused to happen as a result of my same-sex attraction: much of it positive in my life and the lives of others. I’ve been helped in all of this by some words of the Puritan church pastor John Flavel. He uses the language of the 17th century but his words have spoken powerfully into my life in the 21st. So, take a deep breath, read slowly, and benefit from the wonderful biblical truths he’s applying to your life today:
'It may support thy heart, to consider that in these troubles God is performing that work in which thy soul would rejoice, if thou didst see the design of it. We are clouded with much ignorance, and are not able to discern how particular providences tend to the fulfilment of God's designs; and therefore, like Israel in the wilderness, are often murmuring, because Providence leads us about in a howling desert, where we are exposed to difficulties; though then he led, and is now leading us, by the right way to a city of habitations. If you could but see how God in his secret counsel has exactly laid the whole plan of your salvation, even to the smallest means and circumstances; could you but discern the admirable harmony of divine dispensations, their mutual relations, together with the general respect they all have to the last end; had you the liberty to make your own choice, you would, of all the conditions in the world, choose that in which you now are. Providence is like a curious piece of tapestry made of a thousand shreds, which, single, appear useless, but put together, they represent a beautiful history to the eye.' 3
- See, for example, J. Michael Bailey et al., 'Sexual Orientation, Controversy and Science', Psychological Science in the Public Interest. Accessed 13 December 2019.
- See, for example, Julie Bindel & Paul Burston, 'Is There A Gay Gene?', Guardian. Accessed 27 June 2019.
- John Flavel, Keeping the Heart, (CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, 2016), p.40.