Otherness: The Key to Sexual Attraction
There can be no denying the mysterious nature of sexual attractions. What is it that causes the vast majority of boys and girls, as they start to reach physical maturity, to become drawn sexually and emotionally to the opposite sex? It is too universal to be a matter of having been taught. Opposite sex attractions are found and predominate in every place and in every age of human history.
As those who believe that man is more than the accidental result of genetic mutations over a vast span of time, we have to believe that God intentionally gave us opposite sex attractions. And many of us would believe that He did not make us this way just for the purposes of procreation. Surely He could have made one sex able to reproduce itself, having some mechanism built in to prevent overpopulation.
We know that God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him, male and female He created them (Genesis 1:27). And when He did create them, Adam was immediately drawn to Eve.
What is the source of this attraction? Is it a matter of physics like the attraction of the positive and negative poles of a magnet? Is it simply a biological trait built into us like the mechanism in a male dog that draws it to a female dog when she is in heat? The materialist world, seeing man as no more than a combination of atoms or, at best, a higher form of animal, might see sexual attraction this way. In fact it does. The whole sexual revolution has been built on the premise that sex is nothing but a biological process necessary for sustaining the species, a process driven by the desire for orgasmic pleasure. Who or what is used to bring about orgasm doesn’t matter much—with the one qualification usually being that a sexual partner must be willing.
No, it appears to be more complex and subtle than such programmed attractions. We know this in many ways, one of which is that the most satisfying sexual pleasure is truly relational, not mechanical. Sex and love are somehow wonderfully intertwined.
The best explanation I have heard explaining the basis for sexual attractions is that sexual attractions are rooted in “otherness”. (A concept developed theologically in most major religions: by Rabbi J.B.Soloveitchik in Judaism, Leanne Payne in Protestantism, and Pope John Paul II in Catholicism.) A man is drawn by those characteristics that are common to women, but not as common to men; and conversely, a woman is drawn to those qualities that are common to men, but are less common to women. A woman is drawn to a man by manly qualities of leadership, initiation, and aggressiveness, as well as by those physical attributes that make men and women different. Likewise, a man is drawn to a woman by her womanly beauty, nurture, and responsiveness, as well as her female physical attributes. To illustrate at a very basic level, a woman may be attracted by a man’s broad shoulders, something most women don’t have, and a man often is attracted to a woman by her breasts, something unique to women.
When attraction goes beyond the physical and becomes emotional or romantic, it appears to tie in with the deeper qualities of the masculine and feminine which are found in men and women respectively. “He will be my protector.” “She makes me feel good about myself.”
So if “otherness” is the what, how about the why? Why did God make us this way? To me the answer is clear. God is relational, and He chose to make us relational also. And man could not be truly relational if he were of only one type. Going further, God is love, and He made us to love, but to love one just like ourselves would ultimately be to simply love ourselves. To relate and to love we must escape from ourselves and be drawn to another—one who is truly “other”.
We are made in the image of God, and God is relational. Man is relational in that he is made male and female, and man and woman, when they come together as God planned—in mind, spirit and body—become one also. This lesson is found in the Torah early in Exodus.
Such oneness can occur only if the two different creatures “fit” together. There has to be complementarity. And in God’s design there is the beautiful complementarity of the masculine and the feminine found in man and woman, man and woman each bringing to the relationship strengths not found in the other.
This concept of sexual and romantic attractions goes a long way to explaining a major cause of homosexuality, and to suggesting remedies for it.
Beginning with One’s Own Gender
Before I can view a woman as my “other” I have to have a sense of my own manhood. We see how often same sex attracted (SSA) men lack a sense of their own manhood. They don’t feel like they are women, most of them that is, but rather, they feel something more like they are perpetual adolescents or young boys. For them manhood is “other.” Men (real men in their inner sense) have qualities that SSA men don’t have, and so the SSA men are drawn to other men. But such attractions lack both a true otherness and real complementarity, and so they can never bring the deep satisfaction and sense of completion experienced in a Godly man-woman relationship.
What happens so often to an SSA man is he finds that “real men”—those who possess the true masculine qualities—are not attracted to him and will not respond to him as he would like, and so he finds a substitute, someone more like himself—another SSA man. But this man is not truly “other” either, and even though one or both may play the role, or build up their bodies to look like “real men” do, the otherness and complementarity is not there, and so the relationship never satisfies a man’s deepest longings. I believe this is part of why there are such extraordinary levels of promiscuity among homosexual men, and why there is almost universal extracurricular sexual activity even among SSA men who have made some sort of commitment to each other.
In many situations lesbianism includes a flight from men. It is man who has hurt, or used, or failed to protect a woman, and so she is blocked from healthy relationships with men. Some may convey a belief that no “other” is needed, that strength, protection and sexual intimacy can be found just as well with other women as they could be with a man, perhaps better. Again, this belief is usually rooted in a woman’s desire to protect herself from further abuse at the hands of men, whose otherness (including greater physical strength or position of authority) the woman has experienced to be destructive. In this case, instead of a man’s otherness attracting her, a woman may find herself repulsed, threatened, or embittered against manhood in general. But deep down she desires—even needs—the strength and protection of the masculine.
In a healthy way, a woman might receive masculine strength and protection from a husband, male friends at her workplace, her community or place of worship and/or other healthy men in her life. She can certainly receive these things from G-d. But if she has closed herself off from letting these healthy sources of masculinity in through relationships with men, she will seek for that strength and protection elsewhere. Instead of appreciating men’s otherness, she flees and/or scorns masculinity as expressed in men, and she may either try to develop the masculine in herself or to find it in another woman. But similar to homosexual men, in truth neither SSA woman has the true masculine to offer the other, so in their effort to simulate the real thing, their relationship will most likely take on unrealistic expectations, resulting in dependency, codependency, jealousy and struggles to dominate.
What is offered here is a far from complete explanation of male or female homosexuality; other factors are often present, and in women especially, sometimes these patterns don’t fit at all. But for a great many SSA men and women, the inability to see the opposite sex as their “other”—and a needed other, at that—is a key factor in the development and continuance of their homosexuality.
This understanding of homosexuality suggests a twofold approach for men and women seeking to overcome homosexuality. First, they have to deal with their false perceptions of themselves as men and women, and second, where they actually never have gone through the processes where boys become men and girls become women, they have to undertake that growth process now.
The second—growing up—is the subject of my book Growth Into Manhood: Resuming the Journey, so I will not go into it here as regards men.
But let’s take a look at it with respect to women. Perhaps because “growing up” is not as critical in overcoming lesbianism, I have never seen it written about in much depth for women. But I still think it is a part of the process for many women. For them, I believe the growth process is going to involve a willingness to walk through areas of great fear, in particular a willingness to be vulnerable in ways that are characteristic of the feminine. (Vulnerability is not the same as weakness. In fact, for women with a history of having been hurt by men, letting themselves become vulnerable can take enormous strength). The vulnerability I am addressing here is that which comes when a woman let’s herself respond to, or even depend on, the true masculine qualities in a man. God intended women to learn this experientially while growing up as little girls with a father who was their protector. Sadly, many little girls did not experience their fathers as protectors. For a woman who did not, coming to respond to and depend on the masculine qualities of a man (or men) in her life is something she will have to learn how to do as an adult. This will mean laying down her constant need to be in control and to always be her own protector.
Developing a Healthy Gender Identity
As regards perception of our selves as men and women, rare is the SSA man or woman who does not have some seriously flawed perceptions of themselves as men and women. For some individuals, such inaccurate self-perceptions are central to their continued homosexuality.
Most of the SSA men and women I have ministered to are far more complete as men or women than they perceive themselves to be. If you struggle with your sense of your manhood or womanhood, consider the following:
1. Your body—every cell in it for that matter—identifies you as a man or woman. Stand in front of a mirror, and you will see a man or a woman.
2. God sees you as a man or woman. He only made two types of people in His image, men and woman. He sees you as a son or daughter. There is no in-between. And as a perfect and loving father He wants to affirm you in your manhood or womanhood.
3. Almost certainly the opposite sex, most of the time, perceives you accurately as a man or woman.
4. With the same sex it is probably the same, although past experiences may have given you a heightened sensitivity to “not measuring up” somehow, and this may cause you to exaggerate the number of times when you feel the same sex doesn’t see you accurately as a man or woman.
5. Within all men and women there is a blend of the masculine and the feminine. God made us this way. And some men have an extra measure of the feminine—such qualities as sensitivity, discernment, and responsiveness—and some women have an extra measure of the masculine—leadership ability, initiative, physical strength, and so forth—but these are a part of God’s beautiful diversity. They do not undermine our true manhood or womanhood.
This brings us back to the matter of our growth as men or women. The problem in women is not an excess of the masculine, or in men, an excess of the feminine, the problem is when we have failed to develop those gender qualities that are normal expressions of our manhood or womanhood.
As we let go of the false ways we have perceived ourselves as men or woman, and as we grow in our manhood or womanhood, we will develop that deep inner sense of manhood or womanhood. Subsequently, we will look at those of the opposite sex and begin to see them as other. And finally, this sense of otherness will start to nurture within us healthy, Godly sexual and romantic desire.