Wednesday, October 2, 2013

How Same-sex Attraction Develops


This is the first installment of a mini-series on the causes of same-sex attraction by Dale O’Leary from a book entitled, One Man One Woman: A Catholic’s Guide to Defending Marriage, 2007. It is probably the most well-balanced treatment on same-sex attractions (SSA) that I have read up to this point. If you wish to study this all-important issue more in-depth, consider reading the whole book by clicking here.

I personally do not know the author nor have agreed to promote his book. This series of excerpts results from being impressed by how O’Leary uses the principles of the Catholic Faith and the findings of scientific inquiry to better understand same-sex attraction. Over the course of a few weeks, I will post more excerpts from chapter 5: Same-sex Attraction in Men.

Excerpts from chapter 4: How Sexual Attraction Develops

The convergence of circumstances that leads to SSA is like a slow-motion accident. No single event dooms someone to develop SSA; rather, cumulative circumstances conspire against an already-vulnerable child. In order to understand this more thoroughly, it’s helpful first to consider how natural sexual attraction to the other sex develops…

As the baby grows, his father becomes more important. The baby perceives him as “different” from the mother, to whom he had been attached. The father’s differentness challenges the baby to separate from his mother and explore the world around him. If from our mothers we learn that we’re loved no matter what we do, from our fathers we learn we can win approval for what we do. A healthy balance between acceptance and challenge in the first year of life is important to the development of a healthy personality.

As children develop, they also begin to recognize sex difference, to name people- Mommy, Daddy, Grandma, Grandpa- and to recognize to which sex they belong. Throughout our lives, we have an intrinsic need to know a person’s sex. Children appear to be programmed to recognize sex difference and to divide the world up into two sexes. And it isn’t enough merely to learn, “I’m a boy,” or “I’m a girl”; the child learns to identify with the sex to which he belongs. He thinks to himself, “I’m like other boys, and I’ll grow up to be a man like my father,” or she to herself, “I’m like the other girls, and I’ll grow up to be a woman like my mother.” Ideally the child learns to feel good about being a boy or girl- safe, loved and accepted. During this period, the child continues (literally) to build his brain, from his experience making connections that will influence the way he thinks about himself and others for the rest of his life. …

As children grow, they find they have more in common with children of their own sex than with children of the other sex. Same-sex friendships become extremely important as the child consolidates his sense of masculinity or her sense of femininity. At this stage, familiarity leads to friendship, whereas complementarity -feeling essentially different from another person- creates mystery, which some believe is the foundation of romantic attachment. In adolescence, sexual desires appear and become associated with that mystery.

Of course, no child has a perfect upbringing or parents who knew how to fulfill every single developmental need. But for the vast majority of people, there are enough positive experiences to overcome the negative ones. Healthy development is so ordinary that we tend not to notice it while it is happening. Indeed, its only when things go wrong- when accidents happen –that people look for reasons why. And for people with SSA, we find evidence in case histories, autobiographical material, and studies that something has gone very wrong indeed.

Adults with SSA frequently say, “I’ve always felt different.” As adults, they associate this “always feeling different” with their SSA, and in this they might be correct. Feeling different from one’s same-sex parent and/or peers in early childhood appears to be a common element in stories of many people with SSA. The problem is that the child’s feelings usually do not fully reflect reality. “Feeling different” from one’s same-sex parent and peers doesn’t mean that a person isn’t an ordinary boy or girl who could grow up into an ordinary man or woman. “Feeling different,” rather, means that somewhere along the track, the healthy psychosexual development stage of identification with the same sex has not been properly negotiated.

Just as certain intersections might be the scene of numerous accidents, certain family factors seem to put a child at risk for feeling different. In 2001, Peter Berman and Hannah Bruchner conducted a study of sexual attraction in adolescent opposite-sex twins in order to test the various theories for the origins of sexual attraction. They used a large sample drawn from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health. The results provided what they called “substantial support for the role of social influences” and led them to reject the simple genetic theory, hormone-transfer theory, and a speculative evolutionary theory for SSA.

Specifically, they found that in boy/girl pairs of twins, the boy was more likely to experience SSA in adolescence- but only if they had no older brothers. If SSA is related to early feelings of being different from persons of the same-sex and/or being like persons of the other sex, then a boy with only a twin sister is at greater risk of feeling more like a girl (even more so than a boy with only a non-twin sister, because of the close community between twins). Having an older brother to identify with, however, helps negate that risk. For the researchers, this clearly pointed to socialization as the dominant factor…

In the histories of men and women with SSA, we find many such accounts of feeling alone, different, alien. Reading this excerpt, we can’t help but feel compassion for that lonely child. It’s important when dealing with the issue of SSA to remember the sense of alienation that lies at its root, and to respond to it with love.

Not only are all cases of persons with SSA unique, but men and women are different, and therefore it isn’t surprising that SSA develops and manifests itself differently in men and women.