Overcoming Same Gender Attractions
by Jayson Graves, M.MFT, of Healing for the Soul
Early beginnings I remember the first boy I ever had a “crush” on: his name was Robby and we were both 12 to 13. I just remember noticing him in a different way and wanting to be close to him. I wouldn’t call it necessarily a thing although I’m sure he may have showed up that way in dreams. Rather, the feelings I had towards him were more about wanting what he had: he always seemed to be very positive and confident and was one of the popular kids yet showed kindness to the likes of “nerdy little me.”
Looking back at that today as a counselor who specializes in helping men with sexual addictions and unwanted same-gender attractions, I can see that it was part of the beginnings of the distress I would feel about these feeling over the next 2 decades. The beginnings had roots in more than just feelings, however—they were the result of many factors—understanding these and seeking the road map to God’s grace has been the key to overcoming.
Understanding the roots I have come to understand my sexual confusion/disorientation as a form of sexual addiction. From what I have learned treating sex addicts of all sorts for the past 3 years, there are essentially 5 common types of sexual addiction: Neurological, Psychological, Trauma-induced, Intimacy-aversive, and Mood-affective. I will explain these, using my own story to hopefully give you a good grasp at understanding your own and that of those who struggle similarly.
“Ring the bell, feed the dog” First, the most common type, Neurological, can be understood as addiction that’s created behaviorally. This happens primarily as a result of masturbation and fantasy and as the brain is conditioned through ejaculation/orgasm to respond to the images, (imagined or actual pornography that are in the brain at the moment of chemical impact. This impact, a combination of endorphins and enkephalins not only explains why the release feels so good but represents the highest chemical reward the brain can achieve naturally. This is also why the images that we’ve acted out with in the past can seems so vivid even today—they’ve essentially been “burned on our brain” through this reinforcing process. Remember Pavlov and his dogs?
My own experimentation with masturbation started earlier than normal—the average age to start seems to be around 11 to 14—and it became more pronounced and regular for me at about 11 or 12 and eventually becoming a daily habit through my teens and tapering off in my twenties. I know I looked at a lot of pornography and remember focusing mainly on the men in the pictures. I think this was because they were less prevalent than women and I was curious about what they were doing and what I might be expected to do myself. The sense of freedom and adventure they seemed to have been also very alluring to me. So I would go back, sometimes daily to my secret stash and fixate on these pictures, and regularly sealing the images in my brain through masturbation.
This habit continued for me even after being saved at age 21—primarily because no one ever told me how harmful it could be—even though I always somehow (thank you Holy Spirit) felt guilty about it and would try to stop but only with mixed results. Even though the pornography and acting-out with others stopped, I still had the images in my fantasy world and this kept me attached.
Psychological deficits The second most common type of addiction—psychological—is created when sex is used to “medicate” against painful memories or relational experiences from childhood in adulthood. In other words, we all have emotional/relational needs that must be met developmentally: affirmation, attachment/bonding, gender affiliation, trust, responsibility, honesty, and others. When these needs are not met or when we develop scarring as a result of abuse or neglect, the result is pain. You could call this “soul pain” and a soul in pain will seek medication. So, the addict has chosen sex as his “poison” to cover up the effects of this psychological pain instead of facing the pain and growing through it.
For me, the main sources of pain were my relationships with parents and peers. My parents loved me and I knew that, however, they were limited in what they could give me and sometimes what they gave me was harmful. My dad was a bit relationally stunted and passive: he was very fun and likeable but unable to connect on a heart-to-heart level with me or show me how that was done as a male. My mother, also fun-loving and caring, had an anger issue and would sometimes get controlling and violent. My peers were merciless from 6th grade through 10th when I was bullied and called names that were terribly feminizing and confusing.
The net effect was that I had a love-hate relationship with men, looking for them to rescue me, while waning in my ability to respect them. When it came to women, I was not interested in anything other than friendships because that felt like healing and not something that would consume or violate me. And as far as peers were concerned, I’ve had to work through trust issues and take risks to be “fully-known and fully accepted” (the very definition of intimacy).
Furthermore, the confusing attractions towards men came from the need to be affirmed in my own masculinity and have a sense of mastery over life—something that good looks, big muscles, a sense of freedom and adventure and all the other things I was attracted to in males was trying to give me in a false or counterfeit way. Part of this root came also by way of comparison/contrast in my relationship with peers and being a “late-bloomer.” Puberty came later than normal for me and this, coupled with having to shower after gym class every day in 7th and 8th grade, created a sense of inferiority, jealousy and strife around things sexual and anatomical. The mix of this psychological deficit and the regular practice of masturbation with the images of the other, more developed and endowed boys, made for a very powerful longing for what I didn’t seem to have and an attachment to what they appeared to.
The Trauma factor The third most common type of sexual addiction is called Trauma-Induced and is the result of sexual trauma. Sexual trauma means “any event that alters or damages a person’s self-perception or understanding of healthy sexuality.” This can range from normal childhood experiences like “playing doctor” or exploring to actual acts of rape, incest or molestation. Something can become traumatic when there is either a power differential or emotional distress in the experience: either someone else initiated it, they were bigger or stronger or older or simply more experienced than you or you felt scared, guilty or shameful during or as a result. The addiction lies in the compulsion to repeat the trauma so if you can look at your “acting-out” behaviors and see patterns that are similar to or quasi- experiences in your younger, more impressionable years (often into early adulthood), there may be some trauma to address.
I can see this in my own story in that not only was I molested by a male scout leader and a female babysitter around 8-10 years old but I began being sexual with boys and girls in the neighborhood shortly thereafter on a daily basis until I was about 15 or 16. This tapered down in late high school and early college (sounds ironic, huh?) but while the behaviors became more sporadic, I was still trying to recreate the same things from childhood as an adult in an attempt to feel like I was in control or to give me the illusion of power, affirmation and value.
Fear of intimacy Intimacy-aversive (sometimes called Sexual anorexia) addicts have more trouble with “acting-in” than acting-out in the context of a relationship. This can be evidenced by behaviors that tend to sabotage or erode the intimacy in that primary romantic relationship: withdraw, withholding, blaming, shaming, avoiding, hiding, controlling, etc. Sound familiar? Nearly 40% of all sexual addicts also deal with Intimacy-aversion. There are 3 common roots of Intimacy-aversion: 1) attachment disorder with one or both parents, 2) sexual trauma and 3) reflexive/reaction to the sexually-addictive behaviors.
While I don’t think I personally deal with this type at a significant level, I can see that I was a prime candidate: my relationship with my mother growing up was volatile and with my dad it was shallow; I was sexually traumatized to a significant level as described earlier; and I experienced overwhelming shame guilt and fear towards my wife early on in our marriage because I was still walking in the addiction and acting out. Even today, I have to be on guard for ways that I can tend to subconsciously sabotage the intimacy in our relationship through blaming and controlling, behaviors common amongst those of us dealing with same-gender attractions.
Mood swings The last common area, which I can relate to, is Mood-affective sexual addiction. This type is characterized by a pattern of using sex to placate or control the highs and lows of mood swings. The two most common medical diagnoses related to this pattern are depression and bipolar disorders. The fact is that sex addicts deal with mood issues at a rate of nearly 4 times the general male population 26% for the former, 7 for the latter. Thought that often accompany the acting-out range from “This will make me feel better” to “Well, if I just get it over with I’ll be able to go to sleep.”
I have dealt with depression and anxiety and have benefited greatly from using a drug called Wellbutrin (especially during the winters) to combat Seasonal affective disorder (SAD). Before recovery, I would use masturbation to comfort myself when feeling down, depressed or simply lethargic instead of finding someone to talk to, workout or experience adventure. Now, I am living the real and engaged life I always wanted: running, hiking, skiing, and pursuing new adventures regularly instead of using the escape of masturbation and fantasy as a counterfeit source of adventurous fun and exercise.
Getting better I was eventually able to deal with my confusing attractions towards other males and walk in a Godly attraction to my wife by bringing those under the Lordship of Jesus Christ. He’s encouraged me that “there is no condemnation for those is Christ” and “there is no temptation that has ceased you except that which is common to man.” Healing has come through prayer, scripture meditation and Godly mentors and friends but the healing required more than just spirituality: 1 Thessalonians 5:23 says “May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.” In other words, being “sanctified” (or cleaned-up) involved a more holistic approach that focuses on spirit, soul (thoughts and feelings), AND body!
I started over 10 years ago by casually attending a local Exodus International group. That helped me to learn that I was not alone. But it wasn’t until I got into a formal recovery program that I started to live in freedom. I got into a group where I was actually accountable for walking with integrity in my boundaries (avoiding the a/o behaviors or even getting close to them), regular recovery work, physical exercise, adventurous fun and connecting regularly with others during the week. I also had been doing therapy for years but when I got serious about recovery, chose to seek out someone who had experience with recovery from sexual addictions and same-gender attractions specifically. This included the therapy technique called EMDR which helped me process the trauma I experienced at a whole level and in a completely different way.
Recommendations If you are dealing with the same-gender form of sexual addiction, I would recommend starting with an initial assessment by a therapist who specializes in this specific field. This issue is far too complex for a counselor with a general practice and no training in recovery from SGA. Second, it is important to get into a recovery group that is based in true accountability, commitment, interaction, and (meaning that it involves the actual numbers regarding your plan, asks its members to be there every week and speak into each others’ lives vs. “complaining,” “drop-in,” “no-feedback” groups).
Our ministry, Healing for the Soul (http://www.healingforthesoul.org/) provides both therapy and groups OVER THE TELEPHONE! It is effective in that non-verbal distractions don’t get in the way and it’s convenient in that you don’t have to commute to some office or meeting place back and forth—we call you at your private home or office at a time that is convenient for your schedule, Monday through Friday. If you’d like to schedule an initial assessment, you can either email us at firstname.lastname@example.org or call our office at 719-590-7685. You’re also welcome to call-in as a visitor to one of our professionally-facilitated, confidential teleconference groups for free so you can experience what its like for yourself.
Many of our men have been free for months and years and gone on to do some amazing things in their family, communities and our culture! There is hope for you too!!
I hope you have been sensing hope for yourself and are willing to pursue and catch a vision for yourself: a vision for recovery…what you’re recovering from AND that which you’re recovering to!
Jayson Graves, M.MFT, husband of Susan and father, is a Christian Psychotherapist specializing in Sexual Addictions Recovery and Unwanted Same-Gender Attractions. He enjoys helping his clients from both a clinical and personal frame as a person in recovery himself. He is the founder and director of international counseling ministry “Healing for the Soul Counseling & Coaching, LLC” (http://www.healingforthesoul.org/) offering telephone therapy and his first original idea: Teleconference Recovery Groups for men and for wives in recovery worldwide. HFTS is a member ministry of Exodus International and the AACC.
Jayson also serves as a national Program Director for New Life Ministry’s Every Man’s Battle intensive workshops (http://www.everymansbattle.com/) and is the founder and host of The Blazing Grace Show, a weekly radio program focusing on sexual brokenness and recovery (The Blazing Grace Radio Show).