Category Archives: sexuality

Third party to the sexual identity debate?


[Note: please keep comments civil and on point with my questions at the end. We seek constructive and instructive dialog, not debate or lecture]

David Benkof has a stimulating opinion piece in Sunday’s Philadelphia Inquirer on a third way in responding to the gay/straight debate between Judeo-Christians. On one side, folks argue that their gay identity should be embraced (and their same-sex relationships). On the other side, folks argue that the Bible speaks against homosexuality at every turn, thus only heterosexual identity is possible.

Benkof, a man of Jewish faith, suggests a third way in his piece against Soulforce (a group traveling around to Christian colleges to raise awareness of homosexuality as a legitimate part of humanity and the Christian community). He suggests it is possible to have a gay identity but believe that the Bible must be taken seriously and not brushed aside. In his study he does not believe the bible supports gay activity. He is asking that debates about sexual identity include folks similar to himself.

Interesting fellow. You might want to read his wiki entry to get some background. Obviously a controversial fellow for some.

It raises this question: What would healthy, Bible-honoring, dialog look like between those who feel they best identify as gay and those who do not regarding? How would they approach the interpretive act? (Assume for the moment that biblical interpretation is important) How might conservative theologians change their dialogical stance?

I do think one question might be really important. If Benkof believes same sex activity is wrong (and it seems he does) then why does he self-identify by something broken? Is it a parallel when some former alcoholics self-identify as an alcoholic even though they haven’t taken a drink in 20 years? What is the benefit of this self-identification? The drawback?

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Filed under Christianity, Identity, sexual identity, sexuality

Worldvision AIDS Exhibit


Worldvision has traveling show that you might want to consider attending. Locally, a church in Bethlehem, PA is hosting this 30 minute narrated event next weekend. If you attend (free tix that must be reserved on-line) you will hear the story of one of 3 children as you walk through the event. Was planning on going but the website suggests not bringing kids under 10 and some of the stories should not be heard by those under the age of 13 (due to information regarding sex trafficking, sexual abuse, murder, death, etc.).

Here’s the link: http://www.wvexperience.org/default.asp

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Filed under Abuse, Christianity, church and culture, sexuality, stories, suffering

What makes you feel like a ______ (man/woman)?


In a weak moment last week when I couldn’t take NPR or news radio I surfed the local radio stations in my car. Here are two phrases I heard in the span of 5 minutes. I have no idea who the artists are nor am I all that interested…

“Man, I feel like a woman.”
“I’m yo man…” (but something about needing to get down at her place because he had a girl at home)”

Suffice it to say I’m not going back anytime soon to the music on the radio. But, I will admit it got me thinking about how we know what feelings are quintessentially male or female. In the first song the woman feels like a woman because she has the power of attraction but does her own thing. In the second song, I assume the male singer feels like a man because he can sexually please a woman all night long.

What makes us male or female? (No, I’m not talking genetics here.) Sometimes we look at behaviors and interests. Sometimes we look at attitudes or attraction to the opposite sex. But most of the time I think we look at how others perceive us. If they treat us the way we think our gender should be treated (or, is commonly treated even if we don’t like it), then we feel like our gender. When we are invisible to others, treated differently (or so we perceive) based on our interests, behaviors, body type, etc. then we may feel that we are not like most of our gender.

Why is this important to consider? I have clients who have wondered about their orientation due to their feeling different than most of their friends of the same gender.

The simple answer is to assume that God makes a diverse group of males and females and that we ought not interpret our differences as having that much meaning. Of course, we rarely find the simple answer helpful. So what are we to do when we do not feel like others of our gender? Is this a big issue out there or just something we counselors see?

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Filed under christian counseling, christian psychology, Cultural Anthropology, Identity, Psychology, sexual identity, sexuality

APA says sexual orientation isn’t biological but from yet to be determined factors


Last week I commented on sexual identity formation in little kids. It spawned a large number of comments, both on and off topic. Hesitantly, I will make another post on the topic of sexual identity–this time from a brochure published by my own clinical association.

The American Psychological Association (APA) has a pamphlet on sexual orientation and homosexuality designed to aid understanding and reduce prejudice. My friend, John Freeman, gave me this to me and pointed out an interesting line which we’ll look at in a moment. But first, let me summarize the pamphlet

Sexual orientation, according to the APA is

“an enduring pattern of emotional, romantic, and/or sexual attractions to men, women, or both sexes. Sexual orientation also refers to a person’s sense of identity based on those attractions, related behaviors, and membership in a community of others who share those attractions.”

Right away it is clear they don’t really distinguish between attraction and identity and orientation and identity. You see the simple equation: attraction=orientation/identity. This is where Yarhouse’s studies with individuals within a gay affirming church give ample concrete evidence that such an equation is simplistic and mischaracterizes a set of complex issues. The reality is that one may recognize an attractional pull without it forming a private or public identity.

The APA document continues with the following,

“According to current scientific and professional understanding, the core attractions that form the basis for adult sexual orientation typically emerge between middle childhood and early adolescence.”

Again we see the attractions = orientation. This fits with the popular identity development theory that one moves from discomfort with to pride in attractions and accepts orientation as a given. Interpretive assumptions are given short shrift here.

Now to the good stuff. The brochure asks the question: What causes a person to have a particular sexual orientation? And here is their answer,

There is no consensus among scientists about the exact reasons that an individual develops a heterosexual, bisexual, gay, or lesbian orientation. Although much research has examined the possible genetic, hormonal, developmental, social, and cultural influences on sexual orientation, no findings have emerged that permit scientist to conclude that sexual orientation is determined by any particular factor or factors. Many think that nature and nurture both play complex roles; most people experience little or no sense of choice about their sexual orientation.

This is an interesting paragraph. The APA rightly recognizes that no one factor is likely to determine later orientation. In fact, we’re not really at a point where we can say one factor is X% of the equation. There is no equation yet. It doesn’t mean we won’t have a better sense of it in the future, but as of yet, the problem is not merely a biological process. So, this opens the door to choice and manipulation of one’s orientation unless one subscribes to behavioral naturalism–something most of us would not accept in other areas of life. Obviously no one is suggesting that sexual orientation is as transitory as a passing fancy. And yet the APA recognizes that even when folks don’t experience themselves choosing orientation, there is an interpretative and choice element however subtle and slow the process.

At this point the brochure turns to the problem of discrimination and its impact on gay and lesbian people. No matter your beliefs about homosexuality, you ought to recognize that there is great stigma and mistreatment for those so identified (and also for those who may not fit stereotyped roles but do not have a gay identity). Then the brochure covers the question of mental disorder. 

Is homosexuality a mental health disorder? No says the APA and I agree based on the definition of mental illness where it has to cause distress. Not all with a gay identity are distressed, period. This really isn’t the issue.

The brochure goes on but I will mention only one last section. They discuss the validity of therapy intended to change orientation. They state there is, “no scientifically adequate research to show that therapy aimed at changing sexual orientation is safe or effective.” First, this sentence is full of highly charged words whose meaning can be debated: adequate…safe…effective. What constitutes adequate? Safe? Effective? There is some data that is not merely anecdotal suggesting that change is possible and not unsafe (see Yarhouse and Jones’ Ex-Gays(IVP). Now, their data isn’t as strong as it could be, isn’t overwhelmingly positive, but neither can it be denied as an anecdote. On the flip side, there isn’t any adequately scientific data suggestive that change therapies are unsafe and ineffective. Both sides of the research agenda have the same set of weaknesses that one would expect in researching this particular population (i.e., convenience samples).

I agree with the APA that we therapist must respect and person’s right to self-determination. But the APA violates this very principle by disrespecting those who have carefully thought about change. It is a paternalistic stretch to say that every person who wishes to change orientation only does so because of biases or because of a fundamentalist upbringing. The APA wants to be sensitive to a client’s “race, culture, ethnicity, age, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, religion…” as long as their religion doesn’t guide them to see sexuality in a different light.

All in all, the APA takes a complex set of factors and ends up with, “It just is, so be nice!” I’m all for reducing mistreatment and violations of constitutional rights. But, I expect my scientific organization to spend my dues in a more balanced manner–faithfully representing what is true, whether attractive or not.  

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Filed under Psychology, sexual identity, sexuality, Uncategorized

Considering sexual identity


Tonight I’m talking to a large group of teens at Monmouth Chinese Christian Church in NJ on the topic of sexual identity. Unlike a good sermon, I have four points: Is sexual identity important? Does God have anything to say about it? How does it get formed and deformed? What can we do to protect our identity and desire.

Should be fun. I’m going to start them out with this question: What words, ideas, images, characteristics, etc. come to mind when you complete the sentence, “A man is…” or “A woman is…”

We all have images and words and ideas that pop into our heads. We have an image of a “manly” man and a “womanly” woman. I want the audience to think for a bit about where those images come from.

What images pop into your head? How do these effect your own evaluation of your manhood or womanhood? Where did that script come from?

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Filed under Identity, sexual identity, sexuality

Research that brought me to tears


I confess, the other day I got teary over someone’s research (we New Englander men don’t really cry–its a disorder caused by enculturated individualism). Truth be told, I didn’t get choked up by the research but by the man who was reporting it. Mark Yarhouse closed out the annual conference of the Society for Christian Psychology by reporting the history of his research in the area of sexual identity (and its change) and sexual orientation. 9 years ago he began explore these areas. First he and Stan Jones critiqued the pro-gay psychological research and pointed out serious flaws. At the heart of the matter he was concerned about those who acknowledged same sex attraction but because of their deeply-held theological beliefs, did not wish to identify with the gay identity. Mainstream psychology has argued that these folks are suppressing their identity or being suppressed by fundamentalist culture. Isn’t it possible, Mark wondered, that these seemingly healthy individuals could acknowledge their sexual desires and choose not to make their identity or behavior based on desire. In the talk he told us of his attempts to dialog with pro-gay psychologists and psychiatrists. He took some heat, of course, but also gained the respect of others. Most recently, he has been constructing a model for helping clients explore the many facets of their sexual identity and changing what is in their power (how they interpret and respond to same sex attraction) and allowing what they cannot change to be.

Okay, you are probably wondering why this moved me. I was moved because here was a man showing great compassion to these faithful, struggling christians–double minorities in both the world and in the church. He has done this at great cost to himself and has had to hang on to the Lord under significant spiritual warfare. Here is a man not willing to get stuck in the political speak but willing to dialog with those many would consider enemies and to try to hear and understand–even when he knew it wouldn’t change the world. Here is a man willing to explore how people remain faithful to God while trying to understand their brokenness. Finally, I was moved by the love and wisdom shown to Mark in a letter from his sister. She encouraged his faith and reminded him what was true in language fitting of a classic pastoral care author.

Okay, I still can’t express why I was moved. But I wasn’t the only one. The speaker who came up to close the conference was also choked up. It is possible that scientific endeavors show us the hand and face of God. 

Mark’s latest book, Ex-gays? A longitudinal study of religiously mediated change in sexual orientation (IVP) is hot off the press (first author is Stanton Jones).   

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Filed under christian psychology, church and culture, counseling science, sexual identity, sexuality

Science Monday: The ethics of working with those who want to change their sexual orientation


Last class of the school year! Excitement is in the air for both teacher and student. Tonights Ethics class adddresses the matter of counseling those who are different (sexual and religious). Since I have little time before class I want to mention an article worth reading. Mark Yarhouse and a colleague have written a 2002 article in the journal, Psychotherapy (39:1, 66-75), on the topic of the ethics of doing or not doing reorientation therapies. The larger psychology community has come out against such therapies despite some data that say it is successful for some. Mark argues for the right of self-determination as a guiding principle. Check it out if you are interested. Article is entitled: Ethical issues in attempts to ban reorientation therapies.

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Science Monday: Sexual attraction in the counselor’s office


Today’s ethics class is going to cover the area of misconduct. Unfortunately, misconduct means here the illicit sexual contact between the counselor and counselee. In 2004, sexual misconduct played a role in 35% of complaints to the APA committee on ethics (2005 American Psychologist, 60:5, p. 526). How are pastoral counselors doing on this matter? Continue reading

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PCA Mercy Ministry Conference


I will be traveling today to the 2007 PCA Mercy Ministries Conference in Atlanta to present two seminars: (a) Distorted Sex: Providing Mercy to Sexual Strugglers, and (b) Repentance & Restoration: A Look How God Restores Broken and Sinful people. If you are interested in seeing slides, click the page at the top that says, “Articles, Slides, And Other Things.”

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Me time? Why are men inclined to distrust their women?


These thoughts came to me while listening to a song on radio on the way from class last night. Bear with me, it takes a bit for me to get to the point. Oh, and don’t miss my little swipe at Maslow at the very bottom.

Last night I was teaching on sex dysfunctions and therapy. Though some couples struggle with physical problems (e.g., exposed vaginal nerves, hormones, prostate problems, diabetes, medication-related, etc.), many have problems that find their initial roots in (a) knowledge, (b) expectations, (c) fear/trust/control. Despite the fact that we live in a sex-crazed world, many couples have distorted knowledge and expectations about sex (how it should happen and what it should be like) that lead to hurt, disappointment, fear, and withdrawal. One of the bigger problems is the differences between men and women in level of sexual desire. Now I’m stereotyping here and not every man and woman fit, but frequently men have great desires for sex and women find it more like work, even when they enjoy it. Here’s the problem for some men. Continue reading

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