3. Attractions – Reflections

“It is right for me to feel this way about all of you, since I have you in my heart and, whether I am in chains or defending and confirming the gospel, all of you share in God’s grace with me. God can testify how I long for all of you with the affection of Christ Jesus.”

-Philippians 1:7-8

“I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband.”

– Revelations 21:2

In my prior post, I discussed how attractions of various sorts, including non-sexual and sexual, manifested in my life.  As most broadly defined, attraction is a force that draws one object towards another object.  Attraction underlies the very existence of the known universe, as manifested in laws of physics such as gravity, strong nuclear force, and electromagnetism.  Of course, for the purposes of this blog, the attraction force we are concerned with is interpersonal attraction, but I believe the universality of attraction reveals much about the nature and the intent of the Creator of all.  This post will explore the nature of interpersonal attractions from psychological and biological perspectives and will consider theological and practical issues concerning attractions.

Similar to the general definition of attraction, interpersonal attraction can be broadly defined as a force that draws one person towards another.  There are several causal factors for attraction that have been studied, including physical attractiveness, propinquity, similarity, complementarity, and reciprocal liking.  We tend to be drawn to physical attractiveness.  Physical attractiveness in turn depends both on largely universal factors and on culture specific factors.  Features such as facial and body symmetry, youthfulness, and healthy skin are universally considered to be attractive.  Certain features are gender specific.  Heterosexual women tend to find taller men, “v shape” torso, older men, masculine facial features (broad forehead, chiseled jaw, etc.), and larger penis as more attractive, while heterosexual men tend to find shorter women, rounded buttocks, younger women, certain facial features (full lips, small chins, wide set eyes, etc.), and longer hair as more attractive.  Homosexuals are attracted to many of the same features but differ in some other respects as, for instance, gay men tend prefer more muscular men than heterosexual women and height difference is not generally sought.  Attractiveness of other features is more culture dependent including body mass, hair color, and amount of body hair.  The propinquity effect is the increase in attractiveness of someone that we become more familiar with over time.  Both similarity and complementarity impact someone’s attractiveness.  People tend to be drawn to those who have similar appearance, personality, ethnicity, and attitudes.  However, studies have shown that complementarity in certain features, most significantly dominance, leads to better relationships.  It has been theorized that similarity is most important in initial attractions while complementarity increases relational bond in the long term.  Finally, the reciprocal liking effect describes increase in attractiveness towards someone who likes us.  These features all played important roles in developing my interpersonal attractions.  For instance, the personal features I am most drawn to are the same ones that most characterize me (similarity), I am drawn to those I have a long history with (propinquity), and I of course like people who like me (reciprocal liking)!  Complementarity is not as readily apparent, particularly since I am not part of a long term romantic relationship, but certainly with long term friends, I find the relationships to function well when we have complementary relational styles.

Physical attractiveness is something I try not to let affect my non-sexual attractions with varying levels of success, but it is something that features prominently with my sexual attractions.  Sexual attraction is a particular kind of interpersonal attraction, which is a force that draws a person towards another for sexual activity or interest.  While genetic, psychological, and cultural factors all impact sexual attraction, the physical qualities of the other person play a critical role.  These include attractive visuals, smell, and voice.  Men tend to be most drawn to visual sexual stimuli.  Animals often use pheromones as a chemical sexual signal, but pheromones have not been shown thus far to play a role in human sexual attraction.  My sexual attractions, which have been directed mostly to males over the years, have indeed been largely determined by physical attractiveness, particularly visual attractiveness.  While other attractive features of a man make me want to get to know him as a person and connect as friends, physical attractiveness often makes me want to connect with him physically including via genital connection.  Nonetheless, an appreciation of physical beauty without a desire for sexual connection is possible.  I can recognize and admire the physical beauty of most women without any sexual attraction, and there are physically attractive men that I don’t feel sexually drawn to.  Even with men I find to be sexually attractive, focusing on the person as a whole with all of their beautiful and flawed qualities can allow for appreciation of the physical beauty without overt sexualization.

Human perception of interpersonal attraction is not simply a matter of psychology but is also based on biology and biochemistry.  As a person develops a set of features they are attracted to through their genes and environmental exposures, our brains correspondingly form neural circuits that causes many of these attractions to be “hard-wired” into our brains.  An example from animal studies can be instructive.  In a process called imprinting, baby geese bond with their parents by being exposed to the parents between 13 to 16 hours after hatching.  This genetically encoded process is supposed to bond the offspring with the parents, which increases the likelihood of the offspring surviving, but the process can go awry if the offspring is exposed to another object during the critical period.  So baby geese, for instance, can imprint to human caretakers and be “attracted” to humans as they would have been to their parents if the process had not gone awry.  This imprinting creates neural circuits in the offspring’s brain that cannot be changed once the critical period is over, so the offspring ends up being “attracted” to the wrong object.  Hence, attractions can be seen as biologically based.

Attractions are spoken of throughout the bible.  Whether it be the drawing together of the Father, the Son, and the Spirit within the Trinity, or how Jesus is drawn to the church as a groom to a bride, or how David and Jonathan are drawn to each other in brotherly bond, or how Solomon and his beloved are enraptured in one another’s beauty, interpersonal attraction of all sorts draw people to God and to one another.  It is also evident that interpersonal attraction is one of the God given attributes that comprises the image of God in us, which is unsurprising since God exists in a relational state of attraction within the Trinity.  Yet, the bible is also clear that this image of God has been corrupted by the fall, so that our interpersonal attractions are not pure and holy as we see in God, particularly as we see manifested in Jesus.  Jesus, for instance, was drawn to the weak, the meek, and the outcasts; in contrast, most humans are naturally drawn to the strong, the proud, and the popular.  This corruption also reaches sexual attractions.  Jesus, as the bridegroom, is drawn to the sole object of His love, namely His bride the church; in contrast, humans are sexually attracted to anyone fulfilling our sense of sexual attractiveness regardless of whether the object of our desire is our spouse or spouse to be.

When viewed in this way, same sex attraction can be segregated between the holy God-given aspects and sinful fallen-man aspects.  As already established, interpersonal attraction consists of both non-sexual and sexual components.  The non-sexual component can be good as this force causes humans to be drawn to one another in brotherly affection and love.  Of course, the non-sexual component of our attractions also requires sanctification by the Holy Spirit so that we are drawn to people to love and serve as Jesus would rather than to bolster our own self-image and comfort.  The sexual component can also be good to the extent that the attraction is towards a person who is our current or future heterosexual spouse.  But that leaves a wide swath of the human experience of sexual attraction unaccounted for.  Heterosexual sexual attraction towards someone not our current or possible future spouse is “natural” in the sense that it is directly towards an appropriate sex, but it is also “unnatural” in the sense that it is an attraction that cannot be consummated because it is directed towards a wrong person.  Homosexual sexual attraction is “unnatural” both in the sense that it is directed towards an inappropriate sex and has no avenue for godly consummation.  But both are in some sense “natural” in that they signify a godly longing for complete union with another person, which reflects Christ’s longing for the church.  In any case, an important spiritual implication is that most human beings experience “unnatural” sexual attractions that must be submitted to God and fulfilled in other ways.  A critically important theological truth is that sexual attraction and expression, unlike more general interpersonal attraction and expression, is not necessary for a life in Christ, and indeed a life of devoting one’s heart solely to Christ and renouncing human sexual relations is a vocation that is spoken highly of in scripture.  Finally, it must be remembered that scripture does not specifically condemn same sex sexual attractions apart from its manifestation as homosexual lust or homosexual sex acts.

Many practical implications can be drawn from the above discussion.  “Same sex attraction” is an overly broad term that includes both godly and troublesome aspects.  The specific attraction that is unique to the homosexual and bisexual persons is sexual attraction to the same sex, and it is this attraction that can provide the force behind homosexual sins.  Thus, I will henceforth refer to “same sex sexual attraction” (SSSA) as the defining personality trait of homosexuals and bisexuals and will revise my prior posts to reflect this.  This change in nomenclature frees us from the erroneous view that all attractions between two same sex persons is unnatural.  Two men can and should be attracted to one another in non-sexual ways.  There is a fear in our society and church of men becoming too drawn to one another for fear of sexualized insinuations, when we see in scripture that intimate brotherly bonds are some of the most godly expressions of the love we have in Christ.  Another implication is that people with SSSA are not unique in having sexual desires that cannot be consummated.  There is an unfortunate and erroneous tendency in the evangelical church to view homosexual attractions as particularly unnatural and damnable, but recognizing that everyone’s sexual attractions are fallen in some way can hopefully foster the understanding that we are all alike in our brokenness and that people with SSSA should not be treated as a special category.  Finally, seeing SSSA as an innate force allows us to recognize SSSA for what it is: it is an inclination towards something that is not in line with God, but there is a clear distinction between an inclination and acting on that inclination.  An inclination is a manifestation of the brokenness found in all humans, while acting on it is a sin as taught in scripture.  It is particularly helpful for those with SSSA to understand that they are not in perpetual sin by having SSSA but rather are perpetually broken, just like every other human being in the world, and the same grace of Jesus can save from every kind of brokenness.  This also allows a person with SSSA to recognize this sexual force and then intervene to allow the force to be directed towards godly expressions.  Indeed, SSSA points to the godly desire to be in complete union with another person, but for the SSSA person, this can only expressed in chaste intimate same sex friendships.  This will be the focus of my next series.

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About coagec

I am a single Christian man with same sex sexual attractions who believes in traditional sexual ethics. My relationship with Jesus is the most important thing in my life. My church home is with the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA). I love my work as a physician, as I get to participate in God's work of healing.
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5 Responses to 3. Attractions – Reflections

  1. Dan says:

    Hi,

    Thanks for your post. I am a bit confused about the practical distinction between same sex sexual attraction and homosexual lust. Could you please elaborate? Is the difference that the former is the inclination whereas the later is indulging in that inclination?

    You send to touch on this also, but would say there a distinction between a broad physical attraction and a specifically sexual attraction? I find it interestin how even within the same ethnicity, tend to form friendships with those who share similar height, hair color, hair style, etc.

    Like

    • Dan says:

      Sorry for all the typos; I posted the comment from my phone 🙂

      Like

    • coagec says:

      Hi Dan. I think the way I conceptualize it is that same sex sexual attraction is the force that draws a person towards someone of the same sex in a sexual manner while lust is the application of that force to connect with another person sexually in our hearts and minds. We can’t directly control sexual attraction because it occurs subconsciously and instinctively, but we can control lust because it occurs by the assent and action of our will. Hence, while same sex sexual attraction may be misdirected in some ways, it isn’t sin in itself because our will is not involved.

      I believe physical attraction and sexual attraction are related but distinct phenomena. Physical attraction is being drawn to someone because of their physical traits, which may or may not have a sexual component. I am drawn, for instance, to more physically attractive women (despite my effort not to be swayed by physical traits), but there is no sexual attraction because the attraction does not involve a desire to connect sexually. Sexual attraction is usually based on physical attraction, but some can be sexually attracted based on non-physical attributes.

      I’m curious to know your views on these matters.

      Like

      • Dan says:

        What you say makes sense to me.

        Something I’ve been thinking of late is that perhaps “gayness”/homosexuality is best thought of as a social construct. For many people who identify as gay, it isn’t just about having sexual attraction to someone of the same gender but rather is a holistic attraction that includes sexuality. But it seems to me that, biblically speaking, these forms of attraction are not necessarily tied together.

        By this I am not writing off the experiences of self-identified gay people, as I myself have and continue to personally grapple with feelings of same-sex attraction, both sexual (the result of the fall) and non-sexual (the result of God’s original good creation). But I wonder if, given the complexity of my experiences and feelings, there is any point in trying to figure out whether I’m “gay.” I like how Christopher Yuan says that sexuality is something that we are but rather what we experience.

        While I feel that being “gay” is a social construct, and not necessarily a helpful one, I do think that there are certain personality types (probably influenced by biological factors) that tend to be more “susceptible” to same-sex lust. In a way, this isn’t too surprising given that Satan is good at taking good things (such as intimacy and friendship between people of the same gender), twisting them slightly and turning them into bad things (such as sexual activity between people of the same gender). Thus, if we break down the gay social construct into more specific components, we can see both special giftings from God and moral corruptions from Satan in our experiences.

        One negative result I see that comes from the gay social construct is a fear of all same-gender intimacy. I found this article to be interesting: http://www.artofmanliness.com/2012/07/29/bosom-buddies-a-photo-history-of-male-affection/. Another negative result I see from the gay social construct is that people feel they need to either be in the “I’m gay and always will be gay” camp or the “I’m gay right now but I need to fundamentally change my entire personality to please God” camp. The ex-gay movement has proven to be an utter failure but I don’t think we should limit the ways that God may lead each individual as he molds them through time.

        I’m not sharing these thoughts dogmatically as I’m still working these things out in my own mind. I’d love to hear your feedback on these things as well! 🙂

        Like

      • coagec says:

        Hey Dan. I think you have some really important insights here. While “gay” can be used to mean just same sex sexual attraction, it has more commonly come to mean all intimate connection between men whether that connection be sexual or non-sexual. This is unfortunate because the biblical model of friendship, which I plan on writing about next, involves a high level of intimacy, which can easily be confused and condemned as “gay” in today’s cultural environment. A high degree of emotional, intellectual, and even non-sexual physical connection between men is entirely godly. I can’t help but think that this broad conception of “gay” did not originate from the gay community but rather from the wider society that found homosexuality repulsive and therefore sought to stamp out all forms of intimacy between men whether sexual or non-sexual. That link you provided is a perfect example of the kind of intimacy between men that existed in the past and still exists in other cultures that can be a godly outlet for men who are primarily same sex attracted.

        I absolutely agree with you that there is little good to be gained from trying to fit into the gay-affirming or ex-gay models of manhood and sexuality. I believe the godly biblical model that we see for instance between David and Jonathan allows for joyful thanksgiving about non-sexual same sex intimacy while submitting same sex sexual desires to the redeeming and transforming power of God. In this way, I believe biblically faithful Christians with same sex sexual attractions can bear witness to the truly loving and deep relationships God would want us to have to both the church and the wider society, including the LGBT community.

        Thanks for your awesome thoughts!

        Like

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