What are we to make of ‘sexual orientation’?
If many adolescents experience bisexual attraction, if some people change their orientation, if most homosexuals are actually bisexual, and if diverse sexual practices can become strongly addictive, is a fixed orientation actually a myth?
Studies of twins
Studies of identical twins have repeatedly shown that sexual orientation is not determined genetically. Identical twins with identical genes do not always have the same orientation. If one is homosexual, the other is far more likely to be heterosexual. Even though statistically, compared with the general population, there is an increased chance that the twin will be homosexual, this is far from guaranteed. So though there may be a genetic ‘tendency’ toward homosexuality, sexual orientation is not genetically ‘determined’.
To say it is not caused by our genes does not reduce same-sex attraction to mere ‘choice’. We do not understand the causes of it. Certainly, our sexual formation is complex. The American Psychiatric Association stated in 2000: ‘No one knows what causes heterosexuality, homosexuality or bisexuality’.1
Biological or social?
Is orientation then a biological phenomenon or a social construct? A broad coalition of American Psychiatrists, Psychologists and Social Workers committed themselves to this statement in 2007: ‘Currently there is no scientific consensus about the specific factors that cause an individual to become heterosexual, homosexual or bisexual — including possible biological, psychological, or social effects of the parents’ sexual orientation’.2
They added: ‘Although much research has examined the possible genetic, hormonal, developmental, social and cultural influences on sexual orientation, no findings have emerged that permit scientists to conclude that sexual orientation — heterosexuality, homosexuality, or bisexuality — is determined by any factor or factors’.
Instead of being heterosexual or homosexual, might it not be more true to say we are just sexual? If that is true, then, as our sexual desires awaken, the delights of our eyes and the choices of physical encounters we make would alter, shape and develop our sexualities, nurturing and reinforcing our sensitivities, memories and responses.
In boxes or on a spectrum?
Furthermore, sexual ‘orientation’ is not a matter of polarities. For 98% of people, it falls along a continuum between two extremes. Neither is it always fixed, but is capable of developing during a person’s lifetime. So a heterosexual man — even a bishop, who has been married for years and has a grown-up family — can declare himself to have become homosexual.
We may have a fixed belief that we could never enjoy same-sex or opposite-sex activities, but there may be more things in Pandora’s box that could delight us than ever we realised. The hedonist wants to try them all but wisdom urges restraint.
The experiments of youth
Young people especially are vulnerable and need to keep a careful guard over their sexual experiences. Sexual ‘experiments’ affect the fine-tuning of our sexual desires and sensitivities — for good or ill.
A major area of vulnerability concerns mental health. There is a strong correlation between guilt and depression. Broken relationships usually cause both low mood and self-blame to at least one partner. Recent research shows that male homosexuals have significantly increased risks of mental illness.3,4
Hence the Scriptures tell us to ‘Flee youthful lusts’ (2 Timothy 2.22). The Song of Solomon repeatedly urges: ‘Do not arouse or awaken love until it so desires’ (Song 2.7, 3.5, 8.4). Genesis tells us that Joseph ran out of the house when Potiphar’s wife tried to seduce him (Genesis 39.7-12), while the Proverbs tell us to ‘rejoice in the wife of your youth’ (Proverbs 5.18).
Sexual activities can be highly addictive. If you enjoy them, you will want to repeat them. Masturbation can be immediately rewarding and comforting. Insecure and worried young males in particular can become very addicted to this easy escape mechanism. Pornography can be highly addictive. Boredom or frustration in front of a computer can be transformed immediately into a world of sensual delights.
Many become distressed at their inability to resist it. Breaking the habit can require a good deal of support and encouragement, as well as some strategic decisions to enable people to break free, e.g. see this promising recent development: http://www.cybersafe247.com Furthermore, pornography is intrinsically unsatisfying and therefore can lead on to more ‘rewarding’ activities. It almost certainly is responsible for the dramatic growth of prostitution and can be responsible for crimes of sexual violence.
The sexual act is highly addictive for happily married people! For them, that addiction is ideally locked into the relationship with the particular person they have married. However, many ‘sex addicts’ have a relentless desire to have intercourse with as many people as possible — some claim to have had sex with thousands of people.
For some, the really exciting people to have intercourse with are prostitutes. Whether it is the impersonal character of the experience, the power of paying for sex, the illicit nature of it, the associated risks or the sleazy environment, they add to a toxic concoction, making the experience highly destructive and hugely addictive.
Serial adultery can be addictive (not just for famous politicians) and so can serial rape, where presumably the ‘hunt’, the identification, the ensnaring and the controlling power all combine to make it addictive.
The addictive nature of paedophilia is well recognised. Sexual attraction to children has been described as an orientation and as a preference. Its cause is not understood. Neither is it a discrete condition. There are a wide range of definable variations lumped together under the term. What is clear is that those attractions which lead people (usually, but not exclusively, heterosexual men) to abuse children are very difficult to treat.
All these examples should serve as a warning. Sexual experimentation can be a one-way street. Desires can be awakened which cannot be turned off. We remain sexually sensitised and liable to be quickly aroused again if the opportunity recurs.
We know what a mess we get into with superglue if we get it on our fingers and furniture. We can get disastrously stuck, getting the glue anywhere but in the right place. Well, sex is another very powerful bonding agent, which needs to be handled with great care.
Are there any ethical guidelines?
A common confusion in the British press is that equality and sameness mean the same thing. If people have equal rights in law, then people of the same sex are as entitled to marry as people of opposite sex.
This sleight of hand makes a simple mistake. Apples and pears are both equally fruits, and may grow on rather similar trees in the same orchard. But it would be crass mistake to assume they are identical. They are equally fruits but different fruits. Men and women have equal rights in law — to free them up to be men or women. However, their anatomical, physiological and genetic differences are profound, and, of course, those differences are essential to producing children naturally.
In Matthew 19, Jesus was asked a very particular cultural question. In first-century Judea, men were able to divorce their wives for literally ‘any cause’. What did Jesus think? ‘Haven’t you read that at the beginning the Creator made them male and female? For this reason, a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh. What God has joined together let man not separate’ (Matthew 19.3-6).
So he answered a very specific cultural question from general principles in Genesis 2.18-25. What were they?
* It is not good for humans to be alone.
* God made male and female to complement one another.
* We all originate from such male and female unions.
* We in turn should form our own male and female unions.
* This innocent, one-flesh bond should be unique and lasting.
* Divorce is sometimes permitted though it is not God’s intention (Matthew 19.8).
* Marriage is not compulsory (Matthew 19.10,11).
He gives three examples. Some are born incapable of sexual reproduction. Others are made incapable by trauma. Some renounce marriage for the sake of the Kingdom.
Presumably, he would today answer many of our specific cultural questions in similar terms. What might we like to ask him today?
* What is wrong with free love?
* Is adultery OK if using contraception?
* Is same-sex activity morally right?
* Isn’t same-sex marriage equally valid?
* What is wrong with polygamy?
* ‘Rape’ is natural among animals, so why not for human animals?
* Is paedophilia OK if the child consents?
And Jesus would reply: ‘Haven’t you read that at the beginning the Creator made them male and female. For this reason, a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh. What God has joined together, man should not separate’.
1. Fact sheet, American Psychiatric Association, May 2000
2. Briefing for the Supreme Court of State of California (case no S147999, Proceedings no. 4365) on September 26 2007
3. Chakraborty, A. et al, ‘Mental health of the non-heterosexual population of England’, British Journal of Psychiatry, Vol. 198, February 2011, pp.143-48.
4. ‘Breaking the taboo over the mental health crisis among Britain’s gay men’, http://www.guardian.co.uk/theobserver/2010/aug/22/gay-attitude-depression-isolation
(This article was first published in the September 2012 issue of Evangelicals Now. For more news, artciles or reviews, subscribe to EN or contact us for more information.
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