What is 'unwanted' same sex attraction?

Whilst the fundamental core beliefs (homosexuality is a flawed, unnatural human experience, a choice, a sin, and it can be changed) remain the same, many things within the ex-gay world have changed over the last four decades since its formal existence (Exodus founded 1976). The most dramatic of these being the recent rejection of the reparative therapy model.

A more subtle and often unnoticed change has been around wording and terminology.

For the first twenty or so years, ex-gays and attempting ex-gays used terms like 'freedom from homosexuality', 'struggling with homosexuality' or having a 'homosexual problem'. It is difficult to pin point exactly when the shift in terminology happened or who introduced it but around the mid to late 90's the term 'unwanted same sex attraction' became the vernacular. Hence you will hear people describe themselves as 'struggling with unwanted same sex attraction', 'suffering from unwanted same sex attraction' or 'overcoming their same sex attraction'.

Why the change in terminology?

There were several reasons for the change.

Firstly, Christian men and women who were same sex oriented didn't want to use the term homosexual let alone adopt the identity. This shift had already happened within the lesbian, gay and bisexual worlds many years before as there were too many negative connotations attached to the word homosexual. The word homosexual these days is mostly used in a clinical/academic sense (homosexual/heterosexual) or by religious anti-gay groups and people who refuse to use the term gay.  For people wanting to rid themselves of their homosexuality the term unwanted same-sex-attraction was nicer/softer.

Secondly, using the phrase 'same sex attraction' was a way of distancing themselves from the term 'same sex orientation' that was becoming popular in academia. A sexual orientation (same, opposite or bi) is far more fundamental/innate than an attraction. Having unwanted same sex attractions could be perceived as being more about feelings, thoughts or emotions than behaviour or who you are oriented to fall in love with. The term same sex attraction is often used in academia these days, particularly with youth. The acronym LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) had a Q added to it.  This often referred to the inclusive word 'queer' but was also used for 'questioning', meaning young people still trying to sort out their identity and not able or willing to take on a gay or lesbian identity at their stage in life. 

Thirdly, 'no one is gay, deep down inside we are all heterosexual. You have attractions to the same sex because you are broken' is often promoted in ex-gay philosophy  Using the term 'same sex attractions' once again is an attempt to distance themselves from the reality of thier true orientation. I cover that in more detail here. 

Finally, the change to 'unwanted same sex attraction', was a way for ex-gay organisations to have the pressure taken off them from pro-gay groups. In other words they could say things like 'we only work with people who have 'unwanted' same sex attractions'.

More recently, terms like 'sexual brokenness' or 'relational brokenness' are used to describe the same thing. If you do an analysis of 'ex-gay' stories, particularly the high profile ones, you find common elements. They ARE broken. They always include stories of sexual abuse, sexual addictions/obsessions and screwed up childhoods and relationships. What they fail to see is that their brokenness is not caused by their sexual orientation itself but their response to it including self-hatred, denial, suppression, fear, secrecy and unhealthy behaviours. No wonder they end up in such a mess.

The term 'unwanted same sex attractions' is also being used these days on  Islamic websites and forums.

Why is the same sex attraction 'unwanted'?

This is the big question but pretty obvious when you think about it.
  • If you are locked in a Christian culture that is ignorant about sexual orientation then it is most likely 'unwanted'. 
  • If you have heard ill-informed sermons or messages that Sodom and Gomorrah were full of homosexuals and that God condemns it then it would be 'unwanted'. 
  • If you think that the acceptance or rejection of your sexual orientation has eternal consequences (heaven or hell)  then it would be 'unwanted'. 
  • If you think that coming out or accepting your same sex orientation will mean your family, friends or church would reject you it would be 'unwanted'. 
  • If you have only heard 'stories' about people who have 'overcome' their unwanted same sex attractions and are now married with children then it would be 'unwanted'. 
  • If you have never met a well adjusted, fulfilled gay man or women or heard anything positive about the LGBT community then it would be 'unwanted'
If you want to know why the unwanted same sex attraction message is no longer relevant you can read this article. 'Spiritual Gays' ......an oxymoron?

Peter Janetzki, on the Brisbane Christian radio station 96.5 FM, talked with Paul Wegner from Liberty Inc about unwanted same sex attraction. I think this ten minute snippet from the two hour show will give you some idea about how defensive people have become about the term 'unwanted same sex attraction'. Maybe one of the reasons they were so defensive was because of this.

© Anthony Venn-Brown 
Twitter: @gayambassador 

Anthony Venn-Brown is the co-founder and former leader of Freedom2b, Australia’s largest network of LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) people from Christian backgrounds. He is also an educator and consultant on LGBT/faith issues and leader in deconstructing the ‘ex-gay’ myth. Anthony’s autobiography 'A Life of Unlearning', details his journey from married, high profile preacher in Australia’s mega-churches to living as an openly gay man. Anthony has been twice voted ‘One of the 25 Most Influential Gay and Lesbian Australians’ (2007 & 2009) and  was one of four finalists for the 2011 ACON Community Hero Award. He is also the founder and director of Ambassadors & Bridge Builders International.


  1. I think you are right Anthony. I remember the use of the term 'Same Sex Attraction' while I was in the 'Choices' programme back in 1995 - 1997. It was usually shortened to SSA and it did feel like a very clinical word. I agree that it was used as an alternative term rather than identify as gay as of course the programme denied there was any such thing. I think the other reason it has become popular was that it is a useful term to sound like a psychopathology. The concept that homosexuality is a mental illness which can be cured and so the use of terms like SSA made sense within the worldview of ex-gay programmes. I've always felt that was the most destructive of the ex-gay messages, ie teaching that one is mentally ill and to not trust your feelings or instincts. It pathologised not just one's thinking but by extension the person.


  2. Thanks Warren for your input and feedback. it is most helpful. I have now addes this

    "Thirdly, 'no one is gay, deep down inside we are all heterosexual. You have attractions to the same sex because you are broken' is often promoted in ex-gay philosophy Using the term 'same sex attractions' once again is an attempt to distance themselves from the reality of thier true orientation. I cover that in more detail here."

  3. I am a 50 year old man,I have identified as homosexual since the age of 18. I have been accepted by peers,work colleagues and family. I am masculine and attractive and never had a problem attracting the same sex. I have explored all facets of the gay community including bars,community events, back rooms and night clubs around the world.I have had 3 gay relationships in my life the longest being 4 years. Until recently I have been a very unhappy man most of my life. I have had a drinking problem for many years a and had many thoughts of suicide. I have had a very good look at my depression over the last few years and fully realise that my unhappiness is to do with my sexuality and that I was not born gay. I developed same sex attraction as I had very poor relationships with males in my early childhood. I always found men a mystery and could not relate.To compensate for this(I beleive) in order to feel whole I felt sexual attraction towards men. If emotional needs and psychological needs arent' met as a child,homosexuality can develop. I was a perfect candidate for same sex attraction and "thinking" I was gay as I am also sensitive and have a gentleness to my nature. I was not rough and tumble nor a keen sportsman. In Australia as a male not liking sport is almost a crime. It is true that throughout this 30 year period I found men sexually attractive and wished to engage in sexual acts which I did act upon many many times. I always have felt empty though and for me personally bonding emotionally with another male as a partner never felt right. I now am on heterosexual dating websites and the comfort of a female in bed with me is something that finally feels right and my attraction to men is now one of"mateship" not sexual lust. I think my story supports the fact that there is no gay gene and also that homosexuality was removed as a disorder from the American Psychological Association by gay activism-not research. In response to "unwanted" feelings that you refer to. I don't tick any or your boxes. I had every reason to be a happy homosexual but I wasn't. I cant speak on behalf of others but gay men I know generally had "something" happen in their childhood.


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