Unwanted Same-Sex Attraction – issues of pastoral and counselling support (book review)

Issues of pastoral and counselling support 
By Andrew Goddard and Glynn Harrison 
CMF Publications. 32 pages. £2.00 
ISBN 978 0 906 747 07

With a foreword by a past-president of the Royal College of Psychiatrists and written by a professor of psychiatry and a theologian/ethicist, this booklet, which could not be more timely, is also written from a breadth of professional experience and many years of combined pastoral wisdom. Its 44 useful references attest to how intensively researched the 22 pages of actual text are. But are so few pages worth having at all? Yes, definitely.

This booklet assumes its readers already know what the Bible says about gay sex. The content is a summary, in an easily readable format, of what pastoral challenges are presented by Christians with unwanted sexual attraction to the same sex (SSA) and what the latest evidence is on how sexual desire is patterned in men and women.

It also offers a framework for ministry to Christians with SSA that offers hope without hype and, most importantly, focuses on safeguards for those ministered to as well as those offering help. At a time when the very possibility of changing sexual desire is increasingly ridiculed, and those open to it are being systematically silenced or driven out of the caring professions, a booklet of this nature has never been more needed. Every evangelical in church leadership should read it and have copies for reference available.

Dr. Trevor Stammers, 
past Chair of Christian Medical Fellowship



This article was first published in the April 2013 issue of Evangelicals Now. For more news, artciles or reviews, subscribe to EN or contact us for more information.
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The right to decide (book review)


THE RIGHT TO DECIDE The right to decide
Seeking justice for choices around unwanted same-sex attractions
By Michael R. Davidson
Core Issues Trust. 52 pages. £5.00
ISBN 978 0 957 373 907

This booklet is a collection of testimonies from those who have sought help with their unwanted same-sex attractions.

For most of the 13 stories, this preference comes from their Christian faith. Interestingly, though, the first account is from a non-Christian, which perhaps reflects the author’s desire to emphasise the case that the demand for therapy goes beyond the faith community.

The Preface and Introduction emphasise the agenda, along with the booklet’s title and cover (illustrating scales of justice), to fight back for the right of individuals to make their own choices and receive whatever form of therapy they want. This comes amid the current climate of professional counselling bodies (such as the UKCP and BACP) trying to label such therapies as unethical.

Some readers may agree with these introductory sections, but also find themselves uncomfortable with the emphasis on individual ‘rights’ (arguably not a biblical concept). I found myself wishing that the booklet had let the stories speak for themselves. The playing-down of the moral issues in the Preface (e.g. ‘some find homosexual practice morally wrong. In a sense, none of the reasons matters’) also suggests a secular target audience.

Testimonies have an astonishing power to persuade and even disarm those holding contrary views. In a way, no one can really argue against another person’s experiences, particularly in this postmodern age. Overall, then, these stories are powerful and persuasive. I would recommend this booklet to anyone with an interest in the subject.

Stuart Parker,
Associate Director of True Freedom Trust, a charity supporting those struggling with same-sex attractions (see http://www.truefreedomtrust.co.uk)


This article was first published in the January 2013 issue of Evangelicals Now. For more news, artciles or reviews, subscribe to EN or contact us for more information.

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Is sexual orientation a myth? – background on the moves to redefine marriage (part 2)

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 addictions

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.
Jesus added:
* 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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Sex and sexuality – background on the move to redefine marriage (part 1)

Marriage is under attack in the UK. It has been humanity’s default mode of handling sexuality since the dawn of time. Whether or not it was accompanied by public ceremonies or religious rites, heterosexual marriage has been normative. Polygamy, by far the commonest alternative arrangement, has been the habit of only a few.

Such bonding is quite remarkable. Imagine what life would be like without it. If we treated sexual partners like holiday vacations, rarely returning to the same place twice, men would never know how many children they have or who they are. Women would be given the entire responsibility of bringing them up and providing for them. A moment’s thought shows how logical and inevitable heterosexual marriage is.

So the family unit has always been the basic building block of society. Alternative community arrangements have occurred, but few are enduring and have rarely found wide appeal.

Illicit sexual momentum

Jesus talked about the dynamic process that occurs in extra-marital sex. The moment desire is inflamed by lustful looking, adultery is already taking place in the imagination. Using robust imagery, he warns that it is better to be blind than to allow your eyes to lead you to hell.

Our eyes then lead on to flirting to establish a relationship. The process inevitably leads to touching… holding hands, but later holding glands. Jesus therefore warns that if your hand causes you to sin, you would do better to chop it off! These dramatic metaphors highlight the significance of limiting what we see and controlling what we touch, if we are not to get caught up in a dynamic process that leads first to adultery and then to divorce (Matthew 5.27-31).

This process gains momentum. It might be painful to refuse the smile of a pretty girl who gives you a welcoming look, but it is a lot less painful than to end a relationship that has progressed to fondling. Sexual ‘chemistry’ between two people is very subtle and difficult to analyse. Looking at a previous sexual partner triggers memories — and exciting ones at that. Familiar mannerisms are almost certainly communicated. There may well be a pleasant aroma, a subtle scent that we may not even be conscious of. Once sexual bonding, in all its subtle complexity, has already been established, it is very quickly reactivated.

The same mechanisms make it so difficult for people in an adulterous relationship to break free from it. If they still meet the same person in their community, for instance, forgotten desires are quickly re-awakened.

Jesus anyway implies that it is far better to control our behaviour at the level of desire, than to allow our eyes and our hands to draw us further into iniquity.


Homosexuality highlights the differences between male and female arousal patterns. Men are easily aroused. The sight or even suggestion of bare flesh sets the male pulse racing. Women also can be aroused visually, but nothing like as rapidly. Generally speaking, women need ‘wooing’. They tend to want a relationship rather than an orgasm. They are aroused when a potential partner takes an interest in them, asks them questions and listens sympathetically to their answers. Sexual arousal builds gradually as intimacy increases.

It follows that sexual relationships between two men or two women are very different things from heterosexual relationships. Women are looking for trusting and exclusive relationships. Many women turn to lesbian relationships because of former traumatic and abusive relationships with men. They are looking for loving tenderness and have given up on thinking that a man can provide it for them.

Men on the other hand are often looking for orgasms rather than relationships. Homosexual men have an enormous capacity for promiscuity. Visits to a ‘gay’ club or a weekend away at a ‘gay’ house-party may include multiple sexual encounters, with people whose names they do not know and whose faces they would never recognise. I have had male patients admitting to 50-100 such encounters over a weekend. Women never seem to do that.

Women are far more likely to establish stable and lasting relationships. Some men also achieve this, but the relationship is rarely exclusive. Two men living together for years might share a mortgage and enjoy good companionship with mutual care and affection, but on Saturday nights they may go to two different gay clubs and experience numerous sexual partnerships. Generally, their relationships are much less stable and they suffer many emotional disappointments. Ironically, the majority of male homosexuals are not looking for exclusive, same-sex marriage for themselves.

Clearly there are very different health outcomes between these two groups, related to their different risks of exposure to sexually transmitted diseases. These in turn given them significantly different life expectancies.

Those calling for homosexual marriage usually justify the change in definition on the basis of equal rights. Politicians may feel there are votes to be won, but more often they will be concerned to bring stability to unstable relationships.

However, to redefine marriage would raise enormous problems for Christians. It would mean that society presents young people with two apparently equally valid and satisfactory types of marriage. This would leave them to sort out which they would choose to go for!

No doubt they would be encouraged to experiment to find out what their orientation really is. Many adolescents admit to experiencing an ambiguity, feeling, at least for a while, the pull in both directions.

When you do an experiment in the laboratory, you are — to a significant degree anyway — a detached observer. When you personally experiment sexually you are the major part of the experiment and can expect to be affected and changed by it.

Opening Pandora’s box

When people experiment sexually, they will awaken new desires. The Greek myth about Pandora’s box was that she was ordered not to open it. But curiosity got the better of her. When she eventually opened the box, all manner of evils were set loose. The only thing that would not come out of the box was hope. Similarly, sexual experiments can release destructive desires that stay with you. Once you have been sensitised to a particular lust, you may never be able to be desensitised to it. The desires and memories will live with you, be easily re-awakened and may always provoke you.

Most dramatically, this is demonstrated if sexual desires for children are aroused. Most of us, mercifully, have no insight at all as to why children might be sexually attractive. However, we would be well advised not to let our imaginations wander in order to find out. Once people have been aroused by children, they are destined to continue to look upon children sexually. Paedophiles are notoriously difficult to treat.

Other desires may be more socially acceptable, but if you allow yourself to journey down the line from thought to gaze, from gaze to touch and from touch to overt sexual activity, you may well plough a furrow that you keep entering. You cannot expunge it from your brain. The memory and the reflex responses stay with you. This is why the majority of homosexuals are actually bisexual. They are aroused by their own sex and by the opposite sex. It is a small minority of homosexuals who say they have never had heterosexual desires.

A patient told me that in his teenage years he never experienced any homosexual desires. He married early and had two children. Aged 23 years, his friendly barber asked why he seemed so fed up. He told him his marriage was on the rocks. The barber explained that he was going away for the weekend and invited him to join him.

He claimed that at this stage he had no idea the barber was gay or was inviting him on a gay weekend house-party. When he got there, it seems that he put up no resistance. He found homosexual acts were wonderful. He said, ‘It was like turning a switch’. He claimed that he had never had a heterosexual desire since.

I don’t know how typical this story is, but I have heard of others, who said that the awakening of new desires was like turning a switch, some of whom struggled in vain to turn it off again. Such experiments result anyway in indelible memories, which trigger desires. Even those who have brought their problems to Christ and experienced his forgiveness still have to live with the memories and temptations.

Furthermore, such experiments, by their very nature, imply that there are no boundaries. No ‘rights’ or ‘wrongs’ apply. All choices are assumed to be equally valid. All you need to do is follow your fantasies and use your imagination.

Dr. Peter May served on the General Synod of the Church of England from 1985 to 2010 and was Chair of the UCCF Trust Board from 2003 to 2010. He is a retired GP. His full talk on this issue can be heard online at http://www.bethinking.org

A second article by Peter will appear, God willing, next month.

(This article was first published in the August 2012 issue of Evangelicals Now. For more news, artciles or reviews, subscribe to EN or contact us for more information.
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