“Saul told his son Jonathan and all the attendants to kill David. But Jonathan had taken a great liking to David and warned him….”
– 1 Samuel 19:1-2
“My beloved is radiant and ruddy, distinguished among ten thousand. His head is the finest gold; his locks are wavy, black as a raven. His eyes are like doves beside streams of water, bathed in milk, sitting beside a full pool. His cheeks are like beds of spices,mounds of sweet-smelling herbs. His lips are lilies, dripping liquid myrrh. His arms are rods of gold, set with jewels. His body is polished ivory,bedecked with sapphires. His legs are alabaster columns, set on bases of gold. His appearance is like Lebanon, choice as the cedars. His mouth is most sweet, and he is altogether desirable.”
– Song of Solomon 5:10-16
From my earliest days, I was a social being, drawn to the company of other humans. While I don’t have any memory of it, I imagine myself as an infant being drawn to the warmth and comfort of my mother’s breasts and later to the affection of my parents’ embrace. But from the earliest memories in my toddler years, my human attractions were discriminating. I was drawn to the sensitivity, emotional warmth, and vulnerability of my mom and to the strength, bravery, and humor of my dad. Conversely, I took a dislike to brashness, emotional distance, and stoicism, which sometimes manifested in these same parents. I also found my parents to be physically attractive in a naive child-like sense, and once told my mom that she was the prettiest woman in the world, far prettier than any woman I saw on TV. As my social world expanded and as my inner social self was developing, the human features that attracted me were refined and solidified. Among the many children of my age I interacted with, I found myself most drawn to those who were kind, sensitive, intelligent, humorous, and trustworthy. Physical appearance was not a major factor in me being drawn to another child, but I noticed that certain of my peers were more physically attractive as deemed by me and other children and adults. Making friends was a function of opportunity and affinity, as I interacted with all the children who happened to cohabit the space I was in but felt affinity towards the children who had the features I valued. As mutual affinity was shared and explored through developing friendships, my attraction to them would concomitantly increase.
Attractions took on a new dimension when I entered puberty. The features that had previously drawn me to others were still there and in many ways became more pronounced. But whereas physical attractiveness was something I had noted in the past but did not markedly impact my attraction towards someone, I began to notice the physical beauty in my peers and adults, particularly among males. This was a gradual development. In middle school, I found one of my close buddies to be really handsome. His eyes, hair, skin, lips… they all spoke strength, beauty, and innocence to me. I didn’t know how to interpret my feelings, but it did strike me to be odd that my buddies were talking about girls, but I did not find girls to be so fascinating. Middle school was also when I discovered that males have a physiological response to sexual arousal, namely penile erection. At that age until probably through high school, no specific sexual stimulus was needed to trigger an erection, but I noticed that thoughts of attractive males would surely bring one about. In high school, as I came to realize that I was sexually attracted to males on a regular basis, I sought to minimize and repress these attractions that were seemingly contravening my developing Christian faith. I was drawn to many of my peers, male and female, and built friendships on the non-sexual aspects of my intrinsic attractions. I explored my attractions to girls, as several girls had expressed their interest in me. While I was attracted to them in many ways, I found that I was not sexually attracted. In the meanwhile, I had my first major conscious crush on a boy in my class who was not among my circle of friends. I knew very little about him, so my attraction was entirely based on physical attraction and a rather imaginative mind conjuring up ideas of chivalry, charm, wit, and brilliance. I had little practical knowledge about dating or sex, but every time I saw him, a deep seated part of me wanted to connect physically with him. But I did not act on my impulses in those years.
When college came, I felt liberated from my childhood and parents, free to learn about the world on my own and become an adult. But as recounted in a prior post, God eventually called me back to a closer relationship with Him, and I became deeply involved in my college Christian fellowship. I developed many meaningful friendships in that group, being drawn to varied wonderful qualities of my fellow Christian brothers and sisters. I found faithfulness and evident work of Jesus to be incredibly attractive qualities in these people. Yet, sexual attractiveness, no matter how hard I tried to repress it or pray it away, would creep into some of the relationships with Christian brothers. To be clear, I found myself not to be sexually attracted to a large majority of my Christian brothers. But there were a few that would cause my heart to beat a bit faster and trigger inner longings. One brother was a year below me, who looked up to me as a faithful Christian upperclassman. In the several years together, we spent much time in group prayer, worship, bible study, evangelism, studying, and just hanging out. He had many amazing qualities: strong faith, sensitivity, humor, kindness, strength, etc. But he was also physically beautiful in my eyes. From an innocent inviting face, to piercing eyes, to a lanky and athletic body, his physical presence would stir up a desire for me to connect with him physically, whether through a handshake, a hug, or a kiss or more. While it was difficult at times to be his friend because of my crush, I kept the friendship because I loved and valued him as a brother in Christ and cherished the platonic bond we had. But the physical attraction in some ways also bolstered the bond I felt with him in a non-sexual and brotherly way. There was another guy in my Christian fellowship that I did not know so well, but my attraction to him was entirely physical. The first time I saw him, I literally could not take my eyes off of him, as I thought it was the most beautiful sight I had ever witnessed. From his flowing golden locks, to a friendly youthful face with prominent lips and ruddy cheeks, to a well-toned body, he immediately triggered a desire for physical connection and left me awestruck. With him, I stayed completely clear as I had difficulty seeing past his physical beauty to the man of Christ that he was.
I have felt some sexual attraction to women in my life. They are exceedingly rare, but there have been two women I found to be physically beautiful and wanted to connect physically with. But the quality has been different. Even with these two women, I mainly wanted to hold them and kiss them. The absence of penile erection indicated a lack of full sexual attraction. With another woman I dated for some time, I grew to be very attracted to her, mostly in non-sexual ways but also somewhat sexually as well. I enjoyed holding and kissing her, but I did not have a clear desire for genital sexual intimacy. During one episode of particularly close physical intimacy (just kissing and hugging fully clothed), I found that I became sexually aroused and had an erection. So heterosexual sexual arousal was possible for me that one time when there was a lot of sexual energy being exchanged. But natural sexual attractions should not require so much work and be so situation dependent.
The patterns of attractions, both sexual and non-sexual, that were solidified in my earlier years persist to this day, though I am now better able to manage them in some ways. I continue to meet men and women I am naturally attracted to, but my sexual and physical attractions generally are directed to men with very rare female exceptions. If I had to put a number on it (and I like putting numbers on things as a physician-scientist), I would say that I am non-sexually attracted to about 25% of my peers both male and female and I am sexually attracted to about 25% of my male peers and 0.1% of my female peers. Note that the two 25% groups for males do not completely overlap and that the levels of attraction vary from minimal to very strong, with the sexual attraction to females at most low level. As a Christian man with traditional sexual ethics, it has been a blessing to have non-sexual attractions that draw me to people but a challenge to have sexual attractions I cannot act on. But I have also been able at times to channel the natural physical and emotional attraction I feel for some men into building deeper non-sexual bonds with men. How I’ve made sense of these attractions and have come to a place of reasonable peace will be the topic I will explore in my next post.