The Flesh and Same Sex Attraction

From The Catholic Lane
By Dale O’Leary

“Be transformed by the renewing of your mind,” (Rom. 12:2)

Advances in neurobiology may be on the verge of explaining what St. Paul knew by inspiration – the interaction of the mind and the flesh. (Rom.7: 23-25).

While we may think of the flesh of the part of us below the neck, the brain is flesh. Our experiences — positive and negative, traumas and joys, repeated behaviors and reactions to stress — set up neural pathways and shape the architecture of the brain. These are like tracks on which our conscious thoughts ride.

Our brains do not come pre-programmed, rather the person comes into the world with senses open to experience and looking for particular kinds of experiences, the first being the light in the mother’s eyes. If the mother, father and others around the baby respond to the baby appropriately, the baby’s brain makes connections which create a secure attachment — first to the mother and then to the father. Through interaction with the mother, the baby learns love, joy, peace, patience, gentleness, faith, teachability and temperance (Gal. 5: 22-23). These products of secure attachment are developed through a pattern of attunement with the mother called “affect regulation.” The baby experiences love from the mother and learns how to love. The researchers in this field have pinpointed the age at which the baby begins to experience joy. The mother reflects that joy back in shared exchanges.

But, life is not just love and joy. Learning how to endure unpleasant experiences is essential to healthy development. When there is pain, the securely attached child receives comfort. When the securely attached baby’s actions displease the mother, she responds with a shame face, but then smiles signaling reconciliation. The baby learns, “I can be wrong, but I can be forgiven.” This is the foundation for an inner peace. A baby’s needs cannot always be immediately satisfied. A mother teaches the baby patience by letting him wait before meeting needs, but meeting the needs before the baby becomes hysterical or hopeless. If a baby is treated with gentleness, he learns to be gentle.

Faith in the supernatural begins with faith in one’s parents. The securely attached child trusts that his parents have his best interests at heart; from this he learns he can trust in God. The mother teaches the child how to do things and the child learns that he can gain knowledge from others; he becomes teachable. The ability to regulate one’s affect – the total reaction to feelings – allows a person to temper their reactions and their desires. He isn’t governed by feelings.

If, for whatever reason, this affect regulation is not provided at the proper time, the baby will not securely attach, but develops an insecure attachment. There are various forms of insecure attachment; the main three being avoidant, resistance, and disorganized. The insecurely attached baby must cope with stress on his own. To do so he develops various coping mechanisms. While these provide a form of comfort, there is a high probability that these behaviors will become dysfunctional patterns of thinking which carry over into childhood, adolescence, and can become the seed of psychological disorders.

St. Paul tells us that the “works of the flesh” are “adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath strife, seditions, heresies, envyings, murders, drunkenness, revellings and such.” (Gal. 5: 19-21) These are patterns of thinking which cause us to be led by our feelings. It is against these that we struggle.

“They that are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with its affections and lusts.” (Gal. 5: 2)

How do we do this? We have to focus our mind on those “works of the flesh” we want to change and recognize when we are getting on a track that will lead in the wrong direction and make a conscious decision not to go that way. We crucify the “flesh” – that is, we willingly endure the pain of not choosing the path our brain tells us will provide quick relief. In most cases our brain is misguided – the track we are tempted to follow may provide a temporary relief or pleasure, but down the line there will be suffering.

There is nothing new here. Spiritual directors have for centuries guided souls using the wisdom of scripture. Wise therapists have also been able to help clients change their minds and thereby change their brains. What is new is that science is now able to show us this process in action. We can see the effect on the brain of secure and insecure attachment, see how the connections in the brain are formed, and identify the various chemical reactions.

This can be very helpful to the person trying to crucify the flesh. If given a brain scan at the moment when one felt a strong temptation, the person could see the temptation as a bright spot in the brain and realize he has the power to change the brain by changing his mind.

How does this relate to the question of Same-Sex Attraction?

If, as a number of therapists and researchers have suggested, those who fail to develop a healthy appreciation for their sexual identity (the condition labeled as Gender Identity Disorder, GID) may be suffering from a particular form of insecure attachment and such a disordered sexual identity is probably the most common path to SSA, then it is reasonable to conclude that, in many cases, SSA is an attachment disorder.

There is overwhelming evidence that SSA is not genetically or hormonally predetermined, however, because an attachment disorder affects the development of the right side of the brain, it is imbedded in the neural architecture. It feels “natural.” Because the problem begins in early childhood, the person is convinced that he always “felt different.”

If SSA originates as an attachment disorder, then it is not a normal and healthy variant of human sexual attraction; it is intrinsically disordered. There is ample evidence that SSA rarely occurs alone. Persons with SSA are far more likely than those without SSA to suffer from a number of other psychological disorders. It may be that these problems originated separately from insecure attachment, or they may be effects of SSA.

It may be that persons who later develop SSA were as babies more sensitive to the mother feelings (maternal affect). A child with GID is more likely to experience rejection from peers. A child with an attachment disorder is more likely to be targeted by pedophiles and traumatized by sexual abuse. A dysfunctional family is almost by definition less able to provide for the psychological and emotional needs of the children, and living in a dysfunctional family can be a wounding experience even to those who are securely attached. One only has to look at the list of other “works of the flesh” to see how many of them are more common among persons with SSA.

In addition, persons with SSA are more likely to be addicted to sexual fantasy, pornography, masturbation, paraphilias, and other sexual aberrations. Sexual addiction causes chemical changes in the brain. These set up neural pathways. Changing such pathways is difficult but not impossible. It can happen miraculously through grace, but for most it requires substantial effort. Even when other ways of reacting have been developed, the path may remain intact, liable to be activated during periods of stress.

Just as persons in recovery from other addictions are told to avoid becoming hungry, angry, lonely or tired, persons with SSA must learn to avoid situations that will make them vulnerable. In Romans 1, St. Paul specifically addresses sexual activity between persons of the same sex. He speaks of how men became “vain in their imaginations.” The Greek word for “imaginations” “dialogismois” (dialogismois) is sometimes translated as reasoning, but a more modern translation might be “rationalizations.” Most people who follow the tracks set up by insecure attachment will when challenged provide elaborate rationalization for their behavior. Later in the chapterSt. Paulspeaks of persons with SSA as “without natural affection.” The Greek word used is “astorgous” (astorgous), which refers to the lack of the natural affection between parents and children. Insecure attachment is a failure to establish the natural bond between parent and child. This can lead to deep feelings of alienation. The child doesn’t trust the parents and the parent may view the child as difficult.

Because attachment disorders affect early brain development, change is not easy, but understanding the cause increases the probability that effective prevention and treatment can be developed.

In the second chapter of his letter to the Romans, St. Paul warns against judgment of those who have fallen into sin. Who among us has not given into bad habits because we weren’t willing to endure the pain of “crucifying the flesh.” In Galatians St.Paul calls to reach out to those who are wounded:

“Brothers if a man be overtaken in a fault you who are spiritual restore such a one in a spirit of meekness, considering that you could also be tempted. Bear one another burdens and so fulfill the law of Christ (Gal 6: 1-2).”

These men and women are burdened – insecure attachment is a terrible burden — but how do we help them bear it? First, with love and prayer, then with research into the prevention and treatment of these problems. We must be like the father of the prodigal son; we have to stand at the gate and watch for any hint of return, always ready to welcome them back. We must defend the family and marriage – not because all families are perfect, but because children have the best chance when raised by their married biological parents. The more we understand the importance of attachment and affect regulation, the more we see the importance of the father/mother/child triad.

Those who want to increase their understanding of attachment will find John Bowlby’s A Secure Base: Parent-Child Attachment and Healthy Human Development an excellent place to begin. Those who want to understand the advances in the science of brain development can consult the works of Allan Schore. Susan Bradley’s book Affect Regulation and the Development of Psychopathology provides a summary of the material. Bradley views GID as an anxiety disorder which can be traced back to a failure in attachment:

In the area of gender identity disorder (GID), with which I am very familiar, the same basic formulation applies. I have argued elsewhere (Zucker and Bradley, 1995) that what makes GID different from anxiety disorders is that there are factors in the family making gender more salient. Specifically, boys with GID appear to believe that they will be more valued by their families or that they will get in less trouble as girls than as boys. These beliefs are related to parents’ experiences within their families of origin, especially tendencies on the part of mothers to be frightened by male aggression or to be in need of nurturing, which they perceive as a female characteristic. Girls with GID have a perception of themselves as “protectors,” specifically of their mothers but also of other women. They appear to be identifying with the aggressors (often their father, but sometimes with other aggressive males). Beyond these specific dynamics, both boys and girls with GID display the temperament and attachment difficulties I have described above. Their interactions with parents are conflicted, and these children become highly distressed and anxious, with perceptions of themselves as bad and their parents as angry. I conceptualize the symptoms of GID as a child’s solution to intolerable affects. This is confirmed by the fact that GID typically has its onset at a time in the child’s life when the family has been particularly stressed and the parents are either more angry or less available or both. The GID symptoms, particularly the assumption of the role and behaviors of the opposite sex, act to quench the child’s anxiety and to make him or her feel more valued, stronger, or safer. (p. 202)

Jeffrey Schwartz in The Mind and the Brain: Neuroplasticity and the Power of Mental Force explains with many examples how we have the power to change our brains. Joseph Nicolosi of NARTH has incorporated these insights into therapy. His article on the subject “The Primacy of Affect” can be found at

By bringing together the new insights into how the brain works with theories of psychopathology and the spiritual insight of St. Paul concerning the works of the flesh, we can provide those who are suffering with real support. If we are able to reject rationalizations and the pride which says that our sinful desires are the “real me” and therefore take precedence over God’s law, we can, by changing our minds, change our brains and thereby cease to be captives of our past. The following words of St. Paul can be our guide:

“Casting down imaginations and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ” (II Cor. 10: 5).

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12 Responses to The Flesh and Same Sex Attraction

  1. toadspittle says:

    “Advances in neurobiology may be on the verge of explaining what St. Paul knew by inspiration – the interaction of the mind and the flesh. (Rom.7: 23-25)”
    …on the other hand, they may not. Better to wait and see before running this kind of pseudo-scientific gibberish, thinks Toad..

    For example…
    “Sexual addiction causes chemical changes in the brain. These set up neural pathways. Changing such pathways is difficult but not impossible. It can happen miraculously through grace, but for most it requires substantial effort.”
    What “scientific” evidence does “Dale” have to support this?

    Perhaps “substantial effort” might include a litte light “waterboarding” to change the pathways?


  2. toadspittle says:

    “It may be that persons who later develop SSA were as babies more sensitive to the mother feelings (maternal affect.”…muses “Dale.” On the other hand, of course, it may not.
    And then, it may be that men named “Dale” are more sensitive to the supposed horrid perils of SSA(?) then men named, say, “Benedict”, or “Dominic”, or “Damian”, or even “Boris”. On the other hand, it may not….

    Difficult, innit?


  3. toadspittle says:

    Well, having read the above (for my sins!) through carefully a second time, and calmed down a bit, instead of childishly teasing Dale for his name…
    1: I get the impression that Dale has never brought up a child of his own. Anyone know?
    2: Just what, apart from prayer and reading St. Paul at “Gays” until they begin to whimper, does Dale actually, suggest we do about it? Make it a criminal offence again? Lock them all up in the loony bin? Brain surgery? What?
    3: “By bringing together the new insights into how the brain works with theories of psychopathology and the spiritual insight of St. Paul concerning the works of the flesh, we can provide those who are suffering with real support.” How, for a start, does Dale suggest persuading outwardly cheerful homosexuals that they are, in fact, really “suffering”?
    4. How will we give these poor demented souls “real support”? Follow them around and tell them to “Stop doing that! This very minute!” ?
    5: Why don’t we just mind our own bloody business?


  4. toadspittle says:

    Sorry too much Toad on here already, but can this be pure coincidence? I think not.


  5. teresa says:

    I am not so sure about the scientificity of this article. But I do agree with the author that addiction whatever kind it is can be a really serious problem. As for gay people I heard that some of them do find their sexual orientation to be very disturbing themselves, the problem nowardays is, that these homosexual people get no attention nor help anymore. They are supposed to be proud and gay, but some of them do want to be like normal people and the society today doesn’t allow them to, yes there are really cases known, because an acquaintance of mine knows one homosexual who wants to change his own sexual orientation and wants to become straight.
    Also Sigmund Freud says, homosexuality is an abnormality. But of course they will censor him today.


  6. toadspittle says:


    “…some of them (Gays) do want to be like normal people and the society today doesn’t allow them to, yes there are really cases known, because an acquaintance of mine knows one homosexual who wants to change his own sexual orientation and wants to become straight.”
    Says Teresa.
    Well what the heck is stopping him? What “society” isn’t allowing him to? His gay friends? None of my gay friends has ever tried to stop me being “non-gay”. Why should they? If anyone wants to quit being gay, he’s half way there already. Like stopping smoking, or backing odds-on favourites at Cheltenham. If you don’t want to do it – just don’t do it!
    It’s none of our business, is it?

    “Also Sigmund Freud says, homosexuality is an abnormality. But of course they will censor him today. “ Of course being gay is an abnormality – so is collecting stamps, or running marathons, or reading philosophy, or preferring Mahler to Madonna, or – like me – being fonder of dogs than I am of most people.
    Contributing to CP&S is about as abnormal as you can get. Should we all undergo “treatment” and get our heads examined then?
    (Yes, very probably. (insert smiley face.)

    Leave a Reply

    Enter your comment here…


  7. JabbaPapa says:

    The “science” in the article is gibberish, teresa.

    But then, most articles attempting to attach all forms of the homosexual impulse to any one overriding universal cause are liable to be gibberish.

    1) Nature versus Nurture

    The article falsely adheres to the discredited position that post-natal education and experience are the central elements in the formation of any personality.

    In fact, there are several distinct elements providing the formation of the individual.

    Genetics (some behaviour patterns are predetermined by the individual’s DNA and its individual mutations) — intra-uterine hormonal balance provided by the mother, and other mother to fetus biological transfer — intra-uterine language learning (fetuses are not usually deaf — the formation of the initial neural matrix of the newborn is informed by the structures and rhythms and the underlying meta-syntax of the speech that the fetus hears while still in the womb) — any particular birth trauma — then onwards to the classical elements of pedagogy and social structures etc that are pretty much common knowledge.

    The discovery that the individual learning experience commences inside the womb is the proverbial spanner in the works of ALL educational theory prior to that discovery, and those that continue to cling to such theory should not be listened to when they are discussing anything that pertains to the nature of that discovery (their opinions on any unrelated questions continue to be valuable).

    2) The homosexual urge, in my opinion, has multiple causes.

    There is, undoubtedly, a common genetic mutation which can cause individuals having that mutation to be attracted to members of their own sex. Many of us will have met some people who are self-evidently just intrinsically homosexual by their very nature.

    However, it has been plausibly argued that the homosexual urge can also be caused by intra-uterine hormonal imbalances, including imbalances caused by medications ; by social pressure ; by social environment ; by conversion during adolescence or childhood ; by resolution of an ambiguous bisexual nature towards homosexuality ; and there are even cases of heterosexual people having gone into a coma or having a stroke and being homosexual upon their recovery, or vice-versa.

    The homosexual urge remains “abnormal” in the strictly statistical sense of that word, given that only about 1.5% of the general population manifests that urge.

    There is however one statistical anomaly that argues quite strongly towards genetic mutation being the principle cause —

    The 1.5% is not gender-neutral — it’s 2% males, 1% females.

    And females, by virtue of having two identical strands of DNA, whereas males have two different ones, are FAR less likely to have genetic mutations than males — because any intra-uterine damage to any of their original DNA at the earliest stage of development is far more likely to be detected and eliminated than in the male (though if the DNA of the spermatozoon is itself mutated, then that mutation will obviously not be eliminated in this way).

    The rather drastically lower incidence of homosexuality in the female sex compared to the male is therefore suggestive of a significant genetic cause for the homosexual urge, in my opinion.


  8. teresa says:

    It is certainly not my problem, but as related to me by my acquaintance his homosexual friend finds it to be frustrating that homosexuality is not taken seriously as a psychological abnormality but taken, just as you mentioned before, as a “hobby”. It is for him not a hobby, and he can’t stop being homosexual without professional help from psychologists, if he could stop being homosexual his homosexuality would be a harmless hobby but it is certainly not a hobby like commenting on CP&S. It is not just like picking up a stamp and lay it down. I don’t know too many homosexuals that the few I know do keep thinking about their homosexuality all the time. Not just like you can go away from CP&S and forget our blog for a while and then come back to comment just for fun. Our society forbids psychologists to take homosexuality seriously, it is, like Toad tells us, according to the new ideology of political correctness, just a hobby like stamp collecting. And this attitude seems to be not helping the homosexuals too much.


  9. JabbaPapa says:

    None of which means that a deliberate change in one’s sexual preference, or especially one’s sexual behaviour is impossible in vue of these causes.

    Cases where the sexual urge could be deliberately modified would include any cases of homosexuality caused by social reasons, or educational ones, and so on ; cases where the individual is a bisexual rather than homosexual ; and cases where the person seeks sexual abstinence to replace sexual intercourse.


  10. toadspittle says:

    Toad did NOT say homosexuality was a hobby. Read it again. He did not use the word “hobby.” Teresa did. For some people stamp collectiong is a passion.Toad agreed with Freud (and Teresa, in fact) that it was one of a series of abnormalities, which most of us “enjoy” in some form or another.

    Some are dangerous, like smoking. Some are not, like knitting.
    Into which camp homosexuality falls, we must decide for ouselves. Or so I believe. It is certainly no danger to me.

    “Our society forbids psychologists to take homosexuality seriously.” Is I have to sadly say, utter tripe. No other word for it.


  11. toadspittle says:


    Oh, what I’d give for a response from a psychologist! Still,you never know..


    Boris was wrong to ban the dopey ads, I think. Let’s have a bit of knockabout, Pro-Gay, Anti-Gay farce.
    Free speech! Cheer us all up!


  12. Wall Eyed Mr Whippy says:

    Liberal Commie Gay Whales against the Bomb say – just leave people in peace willya?

    ….A psychologist.


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