The following Frequently Asked Questions* is reprinted with permission from the Catholic Medical Association: ©2010 by the Catholic Medical Association. For access to the original and complete document, “‘Homosexuality and Hope,” including all citations, visit the website of the Catholic Medical Association (CMA). Pamphlets with this information can be purchased from the CMA website in single copies or bulk.
Question: Is Same Sex Attraction (SSA) genetically determined before birth?
No. Many people believe this because people with SSA often report discovering, rather than choosing, their SSA. And the major media continue to promote the idea that a “gay gene” has been discovered. However, researchers have failed to find evidence of a biological cause for SSA, and even gay activists are backing away from the claim of a “gay gene.” If SSA were genetically predetermined before birth, then identical twins should virtually always exhibit the same pattern of sexual attraction. However, a study of males in the Australian Twin Registry found that only 11% of identical twins with SSA had a twin brother who also experienced SSA. It is also important to note that a number of studies have found that sexual-attraction patterns are not stable over time. Some people spontaneously cease to identify themselves as homosexuals as they mature or receive help.
Question: If same-sex attraction is not genetically determined, what is the cause?
There are many pathways to SSA. Same-sex attractions and behaviors appear to be the consequence of a convergence of developmental, emotional, psychological, and social factors. Each person with SSA has his or her own unique personal history, so an exact cause for his or her SSA cannot always be identified. Still, there are certain factors common to many with SSA:
1. A failure of secure parent-child attachment in early childhood.
2. Childhood gender-identity disorder (GID), together with the failure of parents to encourage children appropriately to identify with traits of masculinity and femininity and to form friendships with members of the same sex.
3. Physical separation from one or both parents in childhood.
4. In males, a poor father/son relationship due to a father perceived as distant, critical, selfish, angry, or who was an alcoholic; or a mother perceived as controlling, overly dependent, angry, and demanding.
5. In females, a mother who was depressed or psychologically troubled during the first months of her child’s life or emotionally distant, critical, or domineering; peers who were rejecting; a father who deserted the family or who was perceived as angry, critical, distant, selfish, or who was an alcoholic.
6. Failure to identify, and establish friendships, with members of the same sex; profound loneliness.
7. In males, a lack of male peer acceptance, poor body image, and a weak masculine identity resulting from an inability to play popular sports such as baseball and soccer because of poor eye-hand coordination.
8. A history of childhood abuse, particularly sexual abuse or rape.
9. Feelings of inferiority (of being less masculine or less feminine), or of not belonging, leading to self-pity and self-dramatization.
10. A history of being teased or labeled by other children or even adults, whether because of temperament, talents, or appearance. How the child reacts to such treatment can play a part in the development of SSA.
Question: What are the warning signs that a child is at risk for developing same-sex attraction?
If a child exhibits symptoms of GID, which include identification with the opposite sex, limited ability to bond with same-sex peers, lack of rough-and-tumble play in boys, cross-dressing, discomfort with their own sex, and social anxiety, he or she is at high risk. If GID in childhood is left untreated, approximately 75% of children will go on to develop same-sex attractions.
Question: Can SSA be prevented?
Yes. Early identification of at-risk children, along with appropriate psychotherapy and parental support, are key factors leading to successful prevention and treatment of the emotional pain in these children and adolescents.
Question: Why is it important to help individuals with same-sex attraction?
In addition to the emotional pain and social ostracism suffered by persons with SSA, recent, well-designed research studies have shown several psychiatric disorders to be far more prevalent in teenagers and adults with SSA. These include: major depression, anxiety disorders, substance abuse, conduct disorders, and suicidal ideation and attempts. While societal attitudes toward persons with SSA are blamed for these problems, studies done in countries where social acceptance is high (The Netherlands and New Zealand) revealed similar trends. Numerous studies have found that persons with SSA are more likely to have been sexually abused as children and to have suffered from domestic violence and rape. In one study, 39% of males with SSA reported being abused by their same-sex partner. Men with SSA are at high risk for infection with a sexually transmitted disease because they are more likely to engage in high-risk sexual activities with multiple partners.
Question: If an adolescent or adult is manifesting same-sex attractions or behaviors, what can be done?
An individual can seek out mental-health professionals who are experienced in the treatment of SSA. It is important to remember that persons with SSA may suffer from a number of other psychological disorders and addictions, which can complicate the recovery process. Therefore, a comprehensive treatment program often is required. Effective treatment programs frequently contain a spiritual component, as in the treatment of addictive disorders.
Question: What are the goals of therapy?
Therapy can help a client to identify the underlying causes of his or her SSA, which often include low self-esteem, anxiety, anger, sadness, and loneliness, and to resolve emotional pain. Treatment can then help the person work toward freedom to live according to his or her state in life.
Question: How effective is therapy for SSA?
While there are no guarantees, there have been numerous reports of successful therapy for SSA. Success depends on many factors including the professional expertise of the mental-health professional, the relationship between therapist and client, the length of treatment, the presence of other psychological problems, substance-abuse problems, or sexual addiction. It is impossible to predict outcomes. A recent study of 200 men and women who had sought professional help to deal with SSA found that 64% of the men and 43% of the women subsequently identified themselves as heterosexual. Failure to achieve one’s goal in therapy can be discouraging. However, contrary to claims made by the opponents of therapy, studies do not show an increase in psychological distress as a result of therapy.
Question: What else can be done to assist people coping with SSA?
Everyone experiencing SSA should have access to mental-health professionals, support groups, and spiritual directors. Discretion is essential in evaluating support groups for SSA since many oppose the teaching on sexual morality.
Question: Should same-sex unions be recognized or treated as “marriage”?
Research on same-sex unions demonstrates that they are markedly different from marriage in that exclusivity and permanency are not present or desired in the vast majority of these unions. Same-sex unions suffer a significantly higher prevalence of domestic abuse, depression, substance-abuse disorders, and sexually transmitted diseases. Physicians should caution their patients about the dangers of same-sex unions and advocate against children being placed in such unstable relationships. The overwhelming body of well-designed research demonstrates that the healthiest environment for child development is a home with a mother and father who are married.
Where to find help
The Alliance for Therapeutic Choice and Scientific Integrity: “Alliance”
*Reprinted with permission from the Catholic Medical Association: ©2010 by the Catholic Medical Association.