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Issues Common Among Men Who Experience Same-Sex Attraction

Man-06Summary: The issues listed below have been observed to be common among men who experience same-sex attraction. Improvement in these issues can help men be more emotionally healthy.

Men who experience same-sex attraction tend to face one or more of the issues described below. Opinions differ on whether these kinds of experiences were the cause or the consequence of same-sex attraction—or perhaps they had nothing to do with same-sex attraction. We can’t say for sure. Few men with same-sex attraction experience all of these factors. And many men who do not experience same-sex attraction have experienced at least a few of them. So it seems clear that the factors don’t have a simple and direct causal effect. But it appears that these kinds of experiences have a significant impact on those who have gone through them and the more we understand them, the more we are able to deal with them in healthy ways.

If you experience any of these issues, working with a professional therapist could be helpful. The more of these issues you experience, the more strongly you should consider professional therapy—and the more likely you are to benefit from it. Most of these issues are long-lasting and do not tend to go away on their own.

Gender Identity and Gender Incongruity

Many men who experience same-sex attraction feel inadequate in their masculinity. Having diminished feelings of masculinity does not mean that a man sees himself as feminine or wishes he were a woman. There is a considerable difference between feeling inadequate as a man and feeling feminine. How you feel about yourself is crucial and inner feelings of being incomplete or inadequate need to be resolved.

For a boy, the concept of masculinity (what it means to be a man) is typically internalized before puberty by interaction with, and validation from, other boys and men. If you were confused about what it means to be a man or did not feel affirmed in your masculinity, you may have internalized the concept of masculinity in unhealthy ways with frustrating results. If this happened, you likely did not realize that anything abnormal was happening. As you entered puberty and sexual feelings emerged, they may have become confused with your masculine longings.

Gender incongruity is a sense of being incompatible with, or not conforming to, your internalized definition of masculinity. Men with gender incongruity look at other men and think, “I am not like them and they are not like me. I am different and that difference makes me less.” It’s likely that nearly all men on occasion feel like they don’t fully measure up to their masculine ideal. But gender incongruity is much deeper than just not fully measuring up. It’s a pervasive sense that you’re lacking in vital qualities or capacities that are essential for masculinity. And it includes a belief that there is no way to sufficiently obtain or grow into these qualities or capacities.

Gender incongruity is a subjective experience, which means that it is based entirely on individual perspective. It is usually conscious, although some men may not be conscious of how incongruent they actually perceive themselves to be. It seems to be essential for all people to feel congruent with their own gender. Males need to see themselves as adequately matching the traits they believe are appropriate for men. And they need to feel capable of fulfilling the roles expected of males in their society.

When an individual feels incongruent with his gender, he may experience a painful conflict between what he thinks he must be and what he thinks he can be. The inability to resolve that situation might result in the unconscious mind compensating in the most direct way it can, perhaps by becoming intensely drawn to or fixated on males and masculinity in an unconscious attempt to somehow internalize it. Many men who experience same–sex attraction are experiencing exactly this situation.

Additionally, the concepts of gender shame, gender double-binds, and gender imperatives (discussed below) can cause men to see themselves as being at odds or out-of-sync with what they believe a man is supposed to be.

If gender identity is an issue for you, you may want to work with a professional therapist. He can help you think through and define for yourself what is masculine for you. You may find two books by Robert A. Johnson helpful: He: Understanding Masculine Psychology and She: Understanding Feminine Psychology. The book Men are from Mars; Women are from Venus by John Gray may also help you understand the physical and emotional differences between men and women.

Gender Shame

In their book, Facing Shame, authors Merle Fossum and Marilyn Mason describe shame as “an inner sense of being completely diminished or insufficient as a person. It is the self judging the self.” Toxic shame is commonly distinguished from healthy shame in this way: healthy shame is the knowledge that we have done bad; toxic shame is the belief that we are bad. To quote Fossum and Mason again, “Shame is the ongoing premise that one is fundamentally bad, inadequate, defective, unworthy, or not fully valid as a human being.”

Shame is like a virus that can infect anything. It can contaminate a person’s beliefs and attitudes about their body, personality, family, or job. It can corrupt their perspective on our past and present behaviors and life experiences. It commonly seizes upon people’s weaknesses, but can even attack their strengths and talents. Once the intense feelings of shame have taken hold of something in a person’s life, they lose the ability to think rationally about that part of themselves. They see everything through those feelings and obey the shame at all costs. Yes, they obey their shame. They believe it’s the absolute truth, and they do whatever it tells them—they hide, lie, avoid, quit, cover up, keep secrets, and turn down opportunities. This curtails their freedom and makes growth difficult. So breaking the grip of shame is essential to any psychological healing process.

Shame can also become attached to masculinity, creating what is called gender shame. This can develop when a boy internalizes from his environment any of the following messages: males are bad, it is bad to be male, it is bad for me to be male, or I am bad at being male. These messages can come from a mother communicating to her son in blatant or subtle ways that she wishes he were a girl, that she sees him as a girl, or that she doesn’t want him to be or act like a boy. It can develop when sisters or other girls tease or humiliate him for acting like a boy. Boys in this situation may try to please those around them by abandoning their maleness. This message can also come from boys or men ridiculing or insulting his male traits, such as his body, voice, mannerisms, or lack of athleticism. This may cause the boy to resent, fear, or avoid other males.

Over time, it can become a core facet of his identity and can turn a boy against his own maleness and negatively color his view of other males, blocking his natural desire to emulate them. This would gradually deepen his disconnection from the world of men.

And most significantly, gender shame can come from a boy’s harsh judgments about his own male attributes, particularly related to his body and athleticism. Some boys respond to this by becoming fixated on developing their masculine attributes, especially their physical attributes. Other boys may give up and ignore their bodies.

If you are experiencing shame, consider working with a therapist to become free of its effects.

Gender Double-Binds

A double-bind is a situation where there is no good way out—where there is pain or trouble no matter what you do. You’re damned if you do and damned if you don’t. In its most pure form, a double-bind occurs when a person is given two messages or commands that contradict or conflict with each other in such a way that responding appropriately to one prevents an appropriate response to the other. When a boy or a man experiences contradictory messages about males and being male—and he has no way to resolve the contradiction—he’s in a gender double-bind. Below are three examples of the many different ways this can happen.

  1. A boy comes to believe that he is incapable of becoming a normal man and that he’ll be shamed if he tries. But he also believes that he’ll be worthless if he doesn’t become like them. His choice is shame or worthlessness.
  2. A boy feels an aching need for friendship and acceptance from other boys. But he is unable to form connections with other boys either because he can’t relate to them, they bully him, or his parents won’t allow him to. He is faced with either the pain of an unmet need or the distress associated with trying to fulfill it.
  3. A mother discourages her son from being like his father and the other males in the family and encourages his more gentle nature and behavior. This alienates him from the other males. But he intuitively knows he belongs among the males. He faces the choice of being alienated from his own gender or contradicting and disappointing his mother.

Individual therapy can help you becoming free from gender double binds.

Gender Imperatives

Many men who experience same–sex attraction tend to become fixated or obsessed with certain male traits. Often, they consider these attributes to be necessary in order to be truly masculine or to be considered attractive, desirable, good, valuable, loveable, or complete as a man. When they see someone with the trait—or when they think about the trait—they are prone to experience powerful feelings of pain, longing, curiosity, envy, or lust. This fixation can begin in childhood, although it may not emerge until adolescence or even later. These obsessions tend to become inflexible and unrealistic and can remain unchanged over many years. These obsessions are called gender imperatives.

Gender imperatives seem to form in response to masculine traits men with same-sex attraction see in the males around them but consider themselves to be lacking in. The dissimilarity and incongruity they sense in relation to these masculine traits becomes a critical factor differentiating them from the males around them. Typically, they convince themselves that these differences make them inferior or wrong, which creates pain and longing. They may tell themselves that, in order to be truly worthy or whole as a boy or man, they must possess those qualities. But they also see themselves as incapable of sufficiently obtaining or developing the required traits.

Self-observation and personal reflection can help you recognize your gender imperatives. Therapists are trained to help you desexualize and decrease the intensity of your imperatives.

Difficulty in Relationships With Other Men

Disaffiliation and Defensive Detachment

Painful, frightening, or alienating experiences with other males can lead boys to pull away from their father, brother, peers, and other males, breaking or preventing the normal affiliations and creating a state of disaffiliation. Elizabeth Moberly describes a situation called defensive detachment in which a boy not only pulls away, but also puts up an unconscious block against the possibility of ever reconnecting. Men need connection with other men. It is a core and non-negotiable need. So if a man is detached, his natural needs for attachment, resonance, approval, and support will go unmet. And if his defensiveness prevents him from reconnecting, he’ll remain isolated, without support, and his needs may turn into longings and cravings. (See Moberly, Elizabeth R. Homosexuality: A New Christian Ethic , James Clarke & Co., Cambridge, England, 1983.)

Negative stereotypes of boys and men can contribute to same-sex disaffiliation. Not all men with same–sex attraction have negative views of other men, but many do. These stereotypes may have been formed directly from bad personal experiences with other boys or men early in childhood. Or they might have been caused by anti–male complaints and criticisms from females around the young boy. The distance from other men that is created by defensive detachment perpetuates negative stereotypes because it prevents the man who experiences it from getting to know what other men are really like. They only know their ugly side. Holding onto negative stereotypes alienates these men from their peers, which prevents them from fulfilling core needs.

Gender incongruity can also contribute to same-sex disaffiliation by causing a boy to avoid other males out of a sense of being different or strange. The boy may fear that if the other boys get to know him, they will see his strangeness and will reject him. Likewise, same–sex disaffiliation can reinforce gender incongruity since the less time the boy spends with other males, the fewer of their traits he will adopt. Gender incongruity and same-sex disaffiliation can become a mutually reinforcing negative cycle.

These kinds of negative experiences with males cause some boys to form unhealthy relationships with males in adulthood. We have observed four broad categories of unhealthy relationships: oppositional, detached, inauthentic, and needy. Boys who become oppositional respond to other males with rejection, anger, or disgust, which is a defensive wall against reconnection. Boys who become detached tend to be disinterested, uninvolved, and distant from other males. Boys who develop inauthentic relationships tend to be anxious and superficial with other males, presenting a friendly false self that protects a fearful self underneath. And boys who develop needy relationships often long to be taken care of, obsess about male intimacy, and may be dependent on other males for attention, affection, and approval.

But connection with others of one’s own sex is a core need. So if a boy is disaffiliated from other males, his natural needs for same-sex connection, affection, affirmation, and resonance will go unmet. Unmet needs for same-sex affiliation thus become longings or cravings for male attention, closeness, and love.

Dependent Relationships

A dependent relationships is where you require another individual for your survival. Dependency is beyond the normal need for friendship and intimacy. It is a virtual obsession with another person, where you cannot function without him. You need constant reassurance from him, consistent displays of affection, and large quantities of time. M. Scott Peck explains that people in dependent relationships “are so busy seeking to be loved that they have no energy left to love.” He explains that “they tolerate loneliness very poorly. Because of their lack of wholeness they have no real sense of identity, and they define themselves solely by their relationships.” Two people really love each other “only when they are quite capable of living without each other but choose to live with each other.”  (The Road Less Traveled: A New Psychology of Love, Traditional Values and Spiritual GrowthSimon & Schuster, New York, 2023, p. 98-99.) You may need the help of a therapist to overcome relational dependency.

Codependent Relationships

Melody Beattie describes a codependent person as “one who has let another person’s behavior affect him or her, and who is obsessed with controlling that person’s behavior.” (Codependent No More: How to Stop Controlling Others and Start Caring for YourselfHarper and Row, San Francisco, CA, 1987, p. 31.) If you find that you are obsessed with controlling another person’s behavior, or if someone else is obsessed with controlling your behavior, you are in a codependent relationship. Robert has a very controlling mother who isn’t happy unless she is involved in every aspect of his life. In order to grow beyond some of his identity problems, he had to confront his mother about her controlling influence. He had to cut the apron strings and help his mother see how her control affected him negatively. This was a difficult process, but very rewarding for him.

Obsessive Relationships

When you are needy, it is easy to become obsessive in your friendships. Obsessive relationships are marked by jealousy, possessiveness, and exclusiveness. If you find that you are preoccupied with a friend and cannot make plans that don’t include him, you may need to release your “death grip” on him before you lose him as a friend. Keep your friendships within the bounds of moderation.

Greg explained, “I used to look for one perfect friend who could meet all my needs. For some reason I thought it had to be an all-or-nothing arrangement and I became jealous if my best friend had friendships with other men. I later learned that I shouldn’t expect to get all my needs met by just one man. I need to build friendships with several men to get all my needs met. When I put all my emotional eggs in one basket, I set myself up for devastating hurt when that person doesn’t live up to my high expectations. It is better to look to several people for love and affirmation. Each can give me what he is capable of giving, and I can give to them what I am capable of giving as well.”

If you find you are entangled in a dependent, controlling, or obsessive relationship, you may need the help of a therapist to understand and unravel the situation.

Unhealthy Responses to Women

Females can wound young boys by smothering, criticizing, controlling, and ignoring proper boundaries. Some boys who have experienced such wounding develop unhealthy relationships with women in adulthood in which they either push them too far away or cling too closely to them, disrupting their capacity for opposite-sex attraction.

In order to understand the issues with women that so many men with same-sex attraction have, we must begin by looking at the relationship experiences that create those issues. Females—including mothers, sisters, extended family members, teachers, babysitters, and others—can wound a boy in a frightening variety of ways. They may overwhelm him with their attention, smothering him with too much love or concern. They may control, dominate, and overprotect him, leaving him feeling emasculated and incapable. They may over-connect with the boy and use him as a confidant, perhaps pulling him into their problems with other males, including conflicts with his own father, grandfather, or brother.

Females may also criticize a boy for his weaknesses, causing lasting feelings of shame, insecurity, and self-doubt. Sometimes, females specifically shame boys about being male or about their male traits, creating gender shame. Conversely, they may over-praise him with complements that are overdone, unrealistic, or insincere. They may feminize him by using him in their make-believe play as another girl—sometimes dressing him up as a girl or even telling him he is a girl. And females, especially mothers, sometimes rely on a boy emotionally or even physically, requiring him to take care of them, creating in him a sense of being engulfed and used, and fostering feelings of guilt if he tries to be independent.

By failing to observe boundaries and standards of modesty, females may sexualize the relationship with a boy. They may do this by leaving bedroom or bathroom doors open while they are changing, bathing, or using the toilet, or by walking around the house in their underwear or even naked. They may sexualize him by commenting on his body or by talking to him about their sex lives. And occasionally, females also directly abuse boys by engaging them in sexual behavior.

Experiences like these cause some boys to form unhealthy relationships with women in adulthood. If you experienced any of these issues, you may want to discuss them with a trained therapist to help you deal with the issues in a healthy way.

Men who experience same-sex attraction often describe unhealthy relationships with women that may be grouped into four broad categories: oppositional, avoidant, enmeshed, and comfortable. Men may respond to women with feelings, impulses, and behaviors from just one of these categories or from two or more of these categories, depending on the situation. As you read the descriptions below, consider if any of it fits for you.

  • Oppositional. Men who become oppositional tend to reject women and push them away. They may do so out of feelings of resentment, dislike, disgust, or even hatred. Or they may do so in reaction to feeling threatened and endangered by women. Some men are completely conscious and blatant about their antipathy toward females. For others, negative feelings toward women may show up only in subtle behaviors and thoughts of which they are barely aware. And some men may be completely unconscious of their opposition.
  • Avoidant. Men who are avoidant of women tend to experience feelings of fear and anxiety, which may cause them to keep their distance. Or they may simply feel apathetic and indifferent toward women, perhaps treating them as if they don’t exist.
  • Enmeshed. Men who are enmeshed with women tend to feel needy or dependent on women’s support and approval. They may subordinate themselves to women, allowing themselves to be controlled by them. The dependency may go the other direction as well, as in the case where an elderly mother is dependent on her son for assistance in ways that disrupt his ability to live his own life. And the man may be bound to maintain this situation by tremendous feelings of guilt. If he tries to free himself from the entanglement, his guilt overwhelms him and he gives in.
  • Comfortable. Men who are comfortable with women tend to seek out females and female settings as sources of security and consolation. In this case, “comfortable” means something more than simply being at ease with women. It implies an over–familiarity and over–resonance with them, sharing interests and perspectives, or feeling included as “one of the girls.” And it often includes using women and female settings as places of resort and safety.

Gender Distortion

Many men who experience same-sex attraction describe distorted perspectives or beliefs about women. They may develop beliefs about women that are not accurate for women as a whole, even if they may be true about the women within their own families. For example, they may view all women as dangerous or downright evil—as cruel, vindictive abusers. They may see them as needy and engulfing, manipulative and cajoling. Or they may see women generally as being stupid and weak or as just more trouble than they’re worth—moody, complaining, and whining. On the other hand, they may idealize women, viewing them as good, pure, or even sacred. Or they may look to them as protectors or providers.

Men who experience same-sex attraction may also develop incorrect or immature perceptions of themselves in relation to women. They may see themselves as needy and weak in their relationships with women or as undesirable, vulnerable, and inferior to women. They may feel small and incapable of handling the demands of an intimate opposite–sex relationship. On the other extreme, they may see themselves as being superior to females—as far better or somehow right.

These perspectives of women can impact a man’s sense of gender. For many men who experience same-sex attraction, females were the predominant influence in their lives growing up. Women provided them with role modeling and friendship while the men in their lives may have had little impact on them. This may have left these men without a clear sense of gender. The roles and differences between men and women may seem ambiguous.

A healthy male sexuality seems to depend on a good sense of gender and complementarity. Men must see women as distinct from them—excitingly different, exotic, and mysterious—and as providing the opportunity for a mutually fulfilling and beneficial relationship. Most men who experience same-sex attraction are not sexually attracted to women, perhaps in part because they have experienced at least some of the issues described above. In contrast, men who experience same-sex attraction, but have not experienced the issues described above, often report at least some attractions to females in their past or present life.

General Anxiety

General anxiety can take many forms and affect people in many different ways. As you review the anxiety symptom checklist below, write down the symptoms you identify with. Also, consider how often, how long, and how intensely you experience those symptoms.

  • Feeling anxious or worried and having difficulty controlling the worry. This might be about one specific thing or about a number of different concerns.
  • Feeling restless, keyed up, or on edge.
  • Getting tired or fatigued easily.
  • Having a difficult time concentrating or finding that your mind goes blank.
  • Being easily irritated.
  • Holding tension in your body.
  • Having difficulty falling or staying asleep or waking in the morning not feeling rested.

If you’ve experienced three or more of these symptoms within the past few months, you may consider seeking help from a professional, particularly if the symptom has been distressing or debilitating.

Social Anxiety

Fear of social situations can make it very difficult for people to fulfill their needs for closeness with others. Review the list below in the same way you reviewed the list above, identifying the symptoms that fit you and noticing the frequency, length, and intensity of each symptom you acknowledge.

  • You fear being embarrassed or humiliated in a social situation (particularly with unfamiliar people) or in a situation where you believe your performance is being observed or scrutinized.
  • You experience anxiety or panic when you are in such situations.
  • You try to avoid these types of social or performance situations out of fear of becoming anxious.
  • These problems interfere with your daily routine, your social life, or your schooling or occupation.

If these symptoms fit you, you should strongly consider contacting a professional for help.


Depression may result from unresolved childhood issues, current life circumstances, or chemical imbalances in the brain. Depression can take different forms depending on the number of symptoms and how long they last. As you review the depression symptom list below, notice the symptoms that fit you. Consider how often, how long, and how intensely you experience these symptoms.

  • Feeling depressed, sad, or empty often or all the time, or frequently tearful.
  • Lack of interest in pleasurable activities.
  • Decrease or increase in appetite or significant weight loss (not due to dieting) or weight gain.
  • Difficulties with sleeping: either unable to sleep or sleeping too much.
  • Moving very slowly, like you are in slow motion; or being agitated and moving around restlessly.
  • Feeling fatigued or without energy.
  • Feeling worthless or guilty.
  • Having difficulty thinking or making decisions.
  • Thinking about harming yourself, death, or suicide.

The more of these symptoms you experience and the more severe or long-lasting these symptoms are, the more important it is for you to seek professional help. Even checking two of these symptoms could indicate a need for help if the symptoms are distressing, debilitating, or long-lasting.

Sexual Compulsions and Addictions

Sexual addiction is the loss of control of sexual behavior, which then becomes worse over time. People with extreme sexual addiction literally cannot stop the continual intensification of their sexual acting out, even when their behavior has cost them their job, relationships, financial security, and even their freedom.

Compulsive sexual behavior is a little different from sexual addiction in that it isn’t unmanageable in the way sexual addiction is. Although people with sexual compulsivity usually cannot stop their sexual behavior without help, the behavior doesn’t worsen over time, and its consequences tend not to be as extreme as for the addicted person. Compulsive sexual behavior may remain essentially the same for many years. Even so, it can still be a serious obstacle to growth.

Addictive and compulsive sexual behaviors can include masturbation, pornography, cruising, sexual activity with other people, engaging in intense romantic relationships, and other behaviors.

Below is a list of symptoms of addictive or compulsive sexual behavior. As you read the list, keep track of how many items you experience in your own life.

  • Unable to stop engaging in relationships or sexual behaviors that you feel are wrong.
  • Loss of control over the frequency of your sexual behavior.
  • Your sexual behavior becomes more extreme over time because the old behaviors no longer provide the same high.
  • Shifting back and forth between feeling that your sexual problem is out of control and believing you have it under control.
  • Using sexual behavior or relationships on a regular basis to deaden painful feelings or forget your own problems.
  • Keeping your sexual behavior or relationships secret and perhaps even lying to cover them up.
  • Spending large amounts of time or money pursuing sexual behavior or relationships.
  • Making promises to yourself or others that are later broken because of your sexual behavior.
  • Life becoming unmanageable because of your sexual behavior; work and family responsibilities are neglected.
  • Serious consequences resulting from your sexual behavior, like the loss of a job, financial distress, the breakup of a marriage, or being arrested.

If you are experiencing even a couple of these symptoms, you may be experiencing addictive or compulsive sexual behavior. The more symptoms you have, the more likely it is that you need help to regain control of your sexual behavior.

Sexual Conditioning

Sexual desire can be conditioned through pairing specific stimuli with sexual arousal. Male-on-male sexual abuse and early exposure to male pornography may create or intensify homosexual arousal for some boys.

In 1901, Ivan Pavlov, a Soviet behavioral scientist, discovered that dogs could be conditioned to salivate in response to the ringing of a bell. Dogs normally salivate when they are given food, so Pavlov first paired the ringing of the bell with presenting food to the dog. After some time, he rang the bell without presenting the food and found that the dog still salivated. By associating the sound of the bell with food, Pavlov was able to transfer the physiological reaction of salivation from one stimulus (the food) to another stimulus (the bell). This process became known as “conditioned reflex” or “classical conditioning.”

Humans can become conditioned in much the same way, by creating strong associations between different stimuli. Most of us have experienced this phenomenon in such ways as associating a particular song with a specific time or place in our lives, or associating a taste or smell with a person or experience from our past. Donald Hebb (1904-1985) advanced our understanding of this phenomenon with his research and theories about how the brain learns. He is known for the phrase, “neurons that fire together wire together,” which means that when different neural networks within the brain are fired at the same time, they create synaptic connections that can become permanent. According to his theory, this is how humans acquire all skills and knowledge.

Likewise, it is possible to become conditioned to respond sexually to others of the same sex. This can occur in at least three ways: through sexual abuse, childhood sex play, and pornography.

During male-on-male sexual abuse, boys are simultaneously exposed to male stimuli (for example, genitals, body, voice) and sexual stimulation. Likewise, during sexual experimentation and play with other boys, male stimuli and sexual stimulation are paired. Given that many boys who are sexually abused by other males or who experiment sexually with other boys grow up to be heterosexual, it is clear that sexual abuse does not always condition boys to homosexuality. Yet we have seen clear evidence that it sometimes does. This is particularly evident among men whose adult patterns of sexual interest and behavior exactly mirror their early sexual abuse or experimentation. Examples of this would be a man who is exclusively attracted to males who look and smell like the man who abused him, or a man who continues to seek out sexual situations like those in which he first experienced sexual pleasure with his neighborhood buddies.

The effect of pornography on young boys may be somewhat more direct. Boys who view pornography typically also masturbate while looking at it or while thinking about it afterward. This causes strong associations between maleness and sexual feelings.

Once learned, pleasurable sexual activities are reinforced as boys continue to engage in them. Behaviors that cover up emotional distress are especially likely to be reinforced as boys resort to them again and again for relief. Men who experience same-sex attraction often report that they use pornography and homosexual behavior to turn off emotional pain and distress. Becoming sexually aroused by male images can cause a boy to believe, or confirm to him, that he is gay. It may then become a learned part of his identity.

Sexual Abuse

In addition to its potential role in conditioning sexual arousal, sexual abuse can create or intensify gender incongruity, disaffiliation from other males, and—if the perpetrator is female—fear or hatred of women. It may also create repetitive patterns of compulsive sexual behavior.

Sexual abuse occurs when one person uses another for his or her own sexual gratification against their will or without their consent. It occurs when an older and more powerful child engages a younger or smaller child in sexual activity. And it occurs when an adult engages a minor in sexual activity or exposes them to sexually explicit material or language.

Some examples of sexual abuse include:

  • Being exposed to sexually explicit talk.
  • Being exposed by another person to sexually explicit material in magazines, television, video, and on the internet.
  • Being exposed as a child to sexually stimulating behavior by older people, whether male or female.
  • Being exposed to nudity or to sexual behavior between other people, such as seeing relatives naked or seeing parents or others engage in sex.
  • Being touched intimately on the genitals or other parts of the body.
  • Being asked or forced to touch another person’s genitals.
  • Being asked or forced to have sex with another person.

Sexual abuse can contribute to gender incongruity. Some boys who are sexually abused by other males wonder about their own sexuality. They know that males are supposed to enjoy having sex with females and so it becomes very confusing for them when a male seems to enjoy having sex with them. This is especially confusing if they became sexually aroused during the abuse. Most boys who are sexually abused experience tremendous feelings of guilt and shame. For some, that shame attacks their sense of masculinity, causing them to feel wrong as a boy.

Sexual abuse can contribute to same-sex disaffiliation. Some sexually-abused boys become fearful of other males or angry and resentful toward them. They may lose trust in their father or an older brother for not protecting them. The depression, anxiety, shame, and low self-esteem often engendered by sexual abuse can cause them to isolate themselves from normal activities with peers. And their gender incongruity may compel them to avoid connection with other boys for fear of being seen as “queer.”

Sexual abuse can lead to compulsive relational and behavioral patterns. Some individuals who have experienced traumatic events or relationships during childhood will unconsciously create circumstances in their adult lives that lead to very similar traumatic events or circumstances. Psychotherapists refer to these patterns as “repetition compulsions.” These patterns can form in response to sexual abuse, resulting in adult sexual behavior that mirrors the abuse. It is believed that repetition compulsions are an unconscious attempt by adults to master or get control of childhood situations in which they had little or no control. It may also be an effort to resolve conflicting emotions around circumstances that elicited contradictory feelings, such as fear or shame and sexual pleasure.

While this pattern is not exclusive to people who experience same-sex attraction, psychologists have observed this pattern in the sexual behavior of numerous individuals who experience same-sex attraction.

If the sexual perpetrator is female, sexual abuse may create disinterest, disgust, fear, and hatred toward women. Although blatant sexual abuse of boys by females occurs only occasionally, it is common that females sexually abuse boys in less obvious ways, such as having poor boundaries regarding modesty around the house—including dressing immodestly and leaving bathroom doors open—and having poor boundaries regarding sexual talk, such as mothers or sisters discussing their sexual relationships with a boy.

Negative Core Beliefs

Negative core beliefs can be based on a variety of things. Most commonly they are based on a sense of defectiveness, vulnerability, or helplessness and hopelessness. Men who experience same-sex attraction also tend to have negative core beliefs about their own maleness, about relating with other men, and about women. Below is a list of common negative core beliefs.


  • I am a bad person.
  • I am not loveable.
  • I only deserve bad things.
  • I am a disappointment.
  • I am worthless.

Vulnerability (Unsafe)

  • I am in danger.
  • I can’t protect myself.
  • It’s not safe to show my emotions.
  • I am misunderstood.

Helplessness and Hopelessness

  • I can’t do anything about it.
  • I can’t change.
  • I’ll never accomplish much.
  • I wont ever have good things.
  • I will always be alone.

My Maleness

  • I am weak.
  • I am not masculine enough.
  • I am a sissy.
  • I don’t look like a man.
  • I can’t assert myself.
  • I have no power in my life.

Relating to Men

  • I can’t trust men.
  • Men will reject me.
  • I can’t understand men.
  • I can only relate with other same-sex attracted men.
  • Men are dangerous.

Relating with Women

  • I can’t trust women.
  • Women are disgusting.
  • Women will drain and use me.
  • Women are overwhelming.
  • It’s bad to want sex with a woman.

Body Issues

Some people experience a strong preoccupation with their bodies or with specific bodily features or flaws. Therapists refer to this condition as body dysmorphic disorder. Review this list as you did the two previous lists.

  • Excessive concern and shame about a defect or flaw on your face or body that others have either never noticed or have repeatedly told you is just fine or normal.
  • Preoccupation with being too fat or too thin, even though others would consider you to be within a normal weight range.
  • Excessive worry that your muscles are not big enough, even if others would see you as being muscular, fit, or having a nice physique.
  • Going to excessive lengths to hide perceived physical flaws.
  • Being preoccupied with trying to get an accurate view of your body and feeling like you can never see it accurately.

Body dysmorphic disorder is closely related to obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and can be a particularly difficult problem for men who experience same-sex attraction. Men’s feelings about their bodies are often tied to their feelings about their masculinity. So shame, worry, or preoccupation about their bodies can have a devastating impact on how they feel about themselves as men. If you checked any symptoms on the list above, please contact a trained psychotherapist for help.


Obsessive-compulsive tendencies are quite common among men with same–sex attraction and can create severe obstacles to growth. Obsessive-compulsiveness has two sets of symptoms: obsessions and compulsions. These symptoms are listed separately. Some people have both types of symptoms while others only experience one.

Obsessions are thoughts, impulses, or images that seem to come to a person’s mind regularly and are difficult or impossible to get rid of. Make note of any obsession symptoms that apply to you.

  • Preoccupation with being contaminated by body fluids, dirt, germs, insects, animals, sticky substances, or a disease.
  • Fear of getting an illness.
  • Needing to save or collect things, feeling worried about throwing things away.
  • Needing to have things in order, symmetrical, exact, or lined up.
  • Having to write perfectly, needing to start over if you make a mistake.
  • Feeling excessively afraid about being wrong or bad, having bad thoughts, saying bad things, being punished; dwelling excessively on thoughts about God or religion.
  • Fear that you will harm yourself or someone else or worry that you have been or will be responsible for someone being harmed because of your actions.
  • Fear that you will do something that you can’t control.
  • Having unwanted sexual thoughts that are not enjoyable and that you cannot control.
  • Needing to count objects, steps, stairs, or behaviors.
  • Worry about saying things wrong or leaving out important details.
  • Worry about losing things or making mistakes.
  • Being easily bothered by certain sounds or by the texture of things on your skin.
  • Excessive superstitious fears or beliefs.

Compulsions are behaviors that a person feels unable to stop himself from doing or things that a person has to do in a very specific way. The person may feel driven to do it in response to an obsession, like those listed previously. In other words, the obsession drives the person to do the compulsive behavior. He may have to do it so that he can stop feeling anxious about it. Or he might just do it automatically without even thinking about it. Compulsions can either be outward physical behaviors (like washing your hands or checking locks) or internal mental rituals (like counting or thinking through past events over and over again).

Sometimes people don’t recognize that their compulsions are excessive until they take into consideration what other people do or until others tell them that it’s excessive. If you wonder whether some of your behaviors are compulsive, ask someone you trust to give you an honest answer. Write down the symptoms of compulsive behaviors that apply to you.

  • Excessive personal cleanliness and grooming practices, either done frequently or done in a very specific way (hand washing, showering, brushing teeth, shaving).
  • Excessive cleaning or care of the house, yard, car, or objects; having to clean certain items yourself rather than allowing others to do it, or cleaning or caring for things in a very specific way or using very specific tools or products.
  • Avoidance of contamination or germs by avoiding certain objects, staying away from certain places, wearing gloves or special clothing, or using excessive protective barriers (like on toilet seats).
  • Checking to be sure you haven’t been harmed or haven’t harmed someone else.
  • Checking locks, doors, windows, blinds, light switches, stoves, and other appliances or equipment.
  • Checking yourself for illness or disease.
  • Saving useless items, buying or collecting items that you don’t use, or having difficulty getting rid of items that are no longer useful.
  • Reading or writing things over and over, having to rewrite something because you made a small mistake, keeping excessive lists or journals.
  • Repeating activities or behaviors over and over for no reason other than a feeling of compulsion, repeating something you’ve said several times because you don’t feel heard.
  • Counting objects, items, or behaviors.
  • Arranging items in specific orders or patterns, compulsively arranging things symmetrically.
  • Excessive repetitive thoughts, like prayers or reassuring statements.
  • Frequent confessing of bad deeds or wrong behavior, even when those actions are not considered wrong to others.

Obsessive-compulsive disorder can be a serious roadblock, but it’s also very treatable. If you checked even a single item in the two previous lists, this could be an indication of obsessive-compulsive tendencies. If you checked a few items on each list, it’s a strong sign that you may be dealing with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD).

Post-Traumatic Disturbance

People who have experienced abuse or other types of traumatic events earlier in their lives sometimes suffer from a variety of difficult symptoms as a result of those experiences. Consider the symptoms below.

  • Recalling traumatic events through flashbacks (which might include images, sounds, or even smells), disturbing dreams, or frightening thoughts related to the events.
  • Reliving painful past events as if they were happening in the present. Sometimes this can even include seeing images from the trauma and experiencing the same feelings.
  • Becoming very upset or disturbed by things that remind you of the trauma. This can include places, people, objects, sounds, and smells. It can include being touched in certain ways or being in certain physical or emotional situations.
  • Avoiding talking or thinking about the trauma or having only vague memories of it.
  • Avoiding places, situations, activities, or people that remind you of the trauma.
  • Feeling a loss of interest in certain activities that you previously enjoyed. These activities may or may not have anything to do with the traumatic events.
  • Being unable to feel certain emotions, such as anger, love, or joy, or having sudden outbursts of irritation or anger.
  • Feeling disconnected or alienated from other people.
  • Not seeing yourself as having a future or being unable to imagine future events, such as a career, being married, seeing your children grow up, or growing old. Expecting yourself to die young.
  • Having difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep because of disturbing thoughts.
  • Having difficulty concentrating because of disturbing thoughts.
  • Being jumpy or easily startled.
  • Being intensely aware of, or sensitive to, your circumstances; being on the constant lookout for danger. This can create anxiety and exhaustion.

Experiencing just a few of these symptoms can make life difficult and detract from your goals in life. If you identified one or more of the items above, it would be a good idea for you to consult a therapist. If you marked a few items—especially if you marked higher numbers—we strongly encourage you to seek help from a professional trained in trauma recovery work.

Biological and Physical Issues

Certain biological factors may have an important impact on a boy’s sense of his masculinity and on his relationships with other males. They may contribute to the kinds of stressful life experiences discussed above, particularly gender incongruity and same-sex disaffiliation. The following are some key biological factors that often contribute to stress among those who experience same-sex attraction.

Genetic and physical traits and conditions that cause boys to feel different or to be singled out from their peers can interfere in their relationships with other boys, and can also cause the boy to feel incongruent with what he believes a boy is supposed to be. These conditions would typically cause boys to be singled out in negative ways—but sometimes also in positive ways. Examples of such conditions include:

  • Having a physical deformity.
  • Being over- or under-weight.
  • Having high or low intelligence.
  • Concerns about penis size or being uncircumcised.
  • Having an unusual appearance, whether attractive or unattractive.
  • Experiencing puberty later or earlier than the peer group.

Physical traits and medical conditions that interfere with gender-typical activities, especially athletics, can similarly interfere with both same-sex affiliation and gender congruity. These can include:

  • Having an atypical body size.
  • Having poor body coordination.
  • Lacking strength and endurance.
  • Experiencing poor or late-developing eye-hand coordination.
  • Experiencing illnesses or debilitating diseases.
  • Having physical disabilities.

Temperaments that separate boys from their father, brothers, and male peers can block same-sex affiliation and foster feelings of gender incongruity. Temperaments are inborn personality traits that are observed from infancy and tend to be stable throughout life. For example, temperament can predispose boys to be:

  • Avoidant of harm.
  • Uninterested in seeking adventure.
  • Sensitive and emotional.

Biology may influence children’s temperaments and their preferences for sex-atypical activities and peers, leading them to feel different from others of their sex. They may later become attracted to what they are different from.


Learn more about the benefits of therapy and how to choose a helpful therapist.