Some people who wish to dissuade loved ones from engaging in homosexual intercourse use so-called “medical harm” arguments to attempt to demonstrate that gay sex would be medically unhealthy. We’ll see later on in the post that the real reason is that the argument does not work is that it does not address the root causes of same-sex attractions.
I. First, let’s examine some classic medical harm arguments:
1. Disease, HIV, general STD’s
The argument goes like this: men who have sex with men are the primary carriers of HIV in the U.S., so having gay sex puts you at very high risk.
2. Physical damage
The argument goes like this: a vagina is designed for penetration by a penis, the anal cavity is not. Penetration can tear interior intestinal walls, leading to massive bleeding requiring surgery and providing an opening for bacteria used for digestion harbored in the intestines to infect the rest of the body.
II. Why wouldn’t this be convincing?
For most straight men, this is plenty of reason not to do gay sex, aside from the ‘nasty’ factor. But consider maybe there’s something more important to a man than his health. Here’s an example: At one point during the U.S.’s war in Iraq, there were 85,000 troops deployed, 25,000 of whom were wounded, 11,000 badly enough not to be able to return. The rates are 30% wounded rate, 13% can’t return. Now, consider for a minute that the men who volunteer for war do so knowing there’s a really strong chance they will be wounded or die.
A. Why would a man do that?
I’m not going to cover most of the positive reasons a man would chose military service, which I do believe can be noble, but I am going to cover some reasons why he would downplay the possible negative side effects.
1) He doesn’t believe he will be the one wounded.
Statistically, someone is more likely to not be harmed, so many men believe they simply won’t be the one who gets hurt. “I can beat the odds” syndrome.
2) I can defend myself from harm.
Having faith in his self to defend himself, he believes that even if he is the one attacked, he will be fast enough, smart enough, well-trained enough, use enough appropriate protective equipment to not be harmed.
3) There is something more important to him than his life, or good health.
Actually, this is said to be a pre-requisite for a marriage amongst many Christians. They point out that the Bible teaches husbands to “love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her.” Ephesians 5:25. They teach we must be willing to die for someone before marrying them. Many men who go off to war leave their families behind, including wives and children, because they believe that by participating, life will be better if not for himself, at least for those he loves.
4) No other option
It’s true, some men join the army because they don’t see other options in their life. They may have very little education, have no job, large debt, etc…. and find the army a satisfying structured and well-paying vocation. He is paid well, seldom assigned tasks he isn’t able to complete, he has a vast ready-made network of friends he regularly gets naked with in the showers… ok, blurring the lines a little bit here. The point is, he feels like this is his only option, and without it he would die, or face terrible financial / legal consequences.
B. How does this apply to someone who feels eroticized same-sex attractions?
Consider the arguments:
1) Beat the odds.
Go look up CDC numbers on the rates of HIV infection, and percentage of men who identify as ‘gay’. Work out the math, it’s 6%. If only 6% of men engaging in gay sex get HIV, that’s 94% who don’t… that’s like an ‘A’.
2) I can defend myself
“I’ll use a condom”, or “I won’t have sex with anonymous men”, or “I’ll be monogamous and it won’t be a problem for us.” I won’t…. inhale… Various methods of avoiding STD’s are actively promoted by our governments, schools, and social organizations. People believe they are protected.
3) Something more important
Keep in mind that a man who has eroticized same-sex attractions believes it is “love”. We may recognize it as emotional dependency or co-dependency, but to him, it’s as strong as the need to know who and what he is. Remember that emotional wounds can lead to eroticized same-sex attractions; what is a non-erotic same-sex attraction? It’s the need to bond with others of the same-sex: to feel accepted and affirmed. This is what he is trying to get from gay sex, or from a romantic relationship to another man. Eventually, it won’t work: the erotic cannot satiate the need for a sense of self, but for the time being, the erotic pleasure is enough to make it feel like it does. For someone who has never experienced this level of lack in the sense of self, it can be difficult that this would be an over-riding motivation in his life, and for someone who’s never experienced a satiated sense of self, it can be difficult to imagine that there could ever be something more “loving” than emotional dependency, or co-dependency. So to him, an unlikely medical problem is definitely worth not feeling alone.
4) No other option
Men who were not wounded in their concept of self, but instead with the concept of the “other”, may feel like they have no alternatives. They may have an established sense of “self”, but woman don’t seem like a real option, at least not a “safe” option. Being married to a woman may be acceptable and as a result create children they truly love, but if his wife is abusive to his sense of masculinity in a way which he perceives to be the feminine, he may go looking elsewhere for safe vulnerable contact. Again, he’s looking to get his needs met. He wants respect and safety. If he feels like his wife is the problem, he might look for other women, but if the wounds are done in a way that it feels like it’s femininity which is the problem, he may turn to men.
III. Could the argument actually be counter-productive?
In fact, some of the men I know had parents who made them attend “scared straight”-type lectures or posted photos of sickly AIDs patients on their bedroom walls. The message he heard: “this is how we see you”. He certainly wasn’t going to invite friends over to hang out with stuff like that around. I was in a similar boat: my parents put a “how to make friends” chart on my wall. The message I heard: “you can’t have friends because you’re not good enough, result: stopped inviting friends over to hang out. A shame message followed by isolation, sound familiar? Right; “Shame and Attachment Loss” the root causes of eroticized same-sex attractions. In other words, because these parents were inattentive to their children’s love needs and emotional wounds, they actually ended up exacerbating the problem. Hint: the inattentiveness contributes to the shame and attachment loss in the first place.
So, if one makes an argument to someone who has an incomplete concept-of-theirself (self identity) that if he gets what he wants it will be very bad, they reinforce a “double-bind”. He certainly isn’t going to participate in straight sex, ick. So what’s left, being alone for the rest of his life? (anticipatory attachment loss) Remember, to him, this isn’t some business plan he’s developed, these are feelings which arise from inside him, from a mysterious origin. He’s taught by society that it’s “who he is”, and so believes he can’t change.
So think critically about the mindset of someone you’re lecturing about medical harm. What they’re thinking is “why is it so wrong if we really love each other?”, “why is it wrong if we’re careful?”, “I just want him to love me.”, and “my partner really gets me, this guy doesn’t, why would I listen to him?”. Lecturing people about what’s good and bad for them doesn’t work unless you speak from a position of respect in their life, and then usually only if they invite you. Doing anything else is likely to trigger anticipatory shame. If you’re not in that position, you may demonstrate that you really don’t “get” him because your argument is so far removed from what’s truly important in his life.
IV. What do we say instead?
So here’s a question: how do you know that saying something is what he needs? What are his needs? What is the issue? Think about this critically before speaking your advice:
Let’s go back to basics here: eroticized same-sex attractions come from needs for love which haven’t been met. Specifically, needs for same-sex attachment. i.e. acceptance, affirmation, and affection. In other words, when he’s having sex with that other man, these thoughts and judgements about himself are floating through his head: “He accepts me as I am.”, “He values me.”, and “A man who wants me!” If you want him outside of the gay lifestyle, you need to treat him in such a way that he believes these things when he is with you, but not erotically. You can’t just say it to him, you have to do it. Let’s take a look at what that looks like.
His needs are:
Acceptance: A sense of self, belonging, as a gendered being, as a man or woman. None of this androgynous “child of God” stuff, use “son of God” or “daughter of God”. Yes, God has actually spoken the words, “I love you, son.” to me. He didn’t say “I love you, child.”
Affirmation: Acknowledge they have the right to feel their own emotions. And allow them to feel their emotions without heaping shame on them. Also, recognize any negative judgements they may be making about themselves, and be careful about breaking from empathy to offer your judgement only if they agree. “I hear you saying you’re too fat, would you for me to share how I see you?” If they say, “no”, don’t say it. If they say “yes”, something along the lines of “I believe you look very masculine, and powerful.” or whatever other cogent, up-lifting, true statement which address their core needs you happen to think of.
Affection: Don’t treat them like they’re watching you on TV: to hear you and follow you but never touch touch and never reflect back their emotions. Empathy in infancy begins with touch. In our shell-shocked culture where sex sells everything, we’ve found many men with eroticized same-sex attractions have been touch-deprived. For some guidelines about healthy ways to express affection for them: 1) hugs are an absolute must, and for further reading check out Gary Chapman’s The 5 Love Languages, and Richard Cohen’s Coming Out Straight. For more resources, check out the Act 1 video where we dive head first on why logical arguments usually don’t work, and our book recommendations. But yeah, if you’re not touching him like you would a real brother or son, you’re doing it wrong.
And they come from emotional wounds which haven’t healed. Maybe you can get training in how to help him heal his wounds, but at least learn how to support him on his way. Get started here: with the only 3 things I wish my straight Christian friends knew about homosexuality.
You don’t need to cover-over any truths here, you don’t need to reject any scripture. I’m not suggesting that. I am suggesting that if he already knows that you don’t approve of gay sex, or that you think it’s harmful, and that didn’t change his mind: hearing it again won’t help. He needs someone to come through on their promise to “love their neighbor”. So in that way, “medical harm” arguments aren’t the arguments to convince your gay friend to turn straight, they’re the arguments to convince you to get the training you need to be able to help him for real.