A Husband, A Father, A Mormon... And Gay?

BlogHer Original Post

I think the overall message of this story is positive. We're all born with drives, develop unique identities and are raised within cultures and belief systems that expect things from us. Alarmingly often, these things don't fit well together at all. The general approach has been simple: give up the culture or faith and go where you are accepted, or actively deny yourself to remain within the culture or faith.

In this post, Josh Weed shows how he has managed to remain within his chosen culture and faith not only without self-loathing, but without denial. That is important. One may not agree with his faith, may wonder whether it's healthy to embrace a life with no possibility of the sort of sexual satisfaction that comes from being intimate with someone to whom we're attracted, but at the end of the day, there is more power in self-truth and self-acceptance than anything else.

I know people who married someone to whom they were so very attracted and now only have sex a few times a month, if that. I know people who have kinks they only get to fantasize about because their long-term partners don't want to have anything to do with it. I know all kinds of sexual situations. If you asked me now whether it was something I could compromise in a relationship, I would respond with a resounding "No!" But I have in the past, and I will undoubtedly do it again. Sex is important, but relationships are a lot more than sex, whatever your reasons may be.

The path Josh has chosen works for him and for his wife -- and that's worth applauding. If while sharing his story, he is imparting the message that homosexuality is not a choice and that people who are same-sex oriented are not the spawn of Satan (as he does), so much the better.

But there are a couple of things that are troubling about the narrative that are also worth pointing out. The first, which was identified by the columnist Dan Savage, is that Josh seems to look down on relationships forged in the powerful chemicals of desire. While not an uncommon perception, to espouse the idea that the attraction we experience for others is a base thing to be denied does a terrible disservice to people who select partners in this way, and completely ignores the biological basis for attraction. In truth, the function of "lust" (our ability to experience attraction, desire, and arousal) is something that has been biologically honed over millions of years to ensure the survival of our species.

The primary purpose of attraction is to enable us to find partners that are the best genetic candidates for procreation. What may seem to us a random choice may not be so random, as Claus Wedekind found in 1995 when he asked 49 women to smell the shirts of 44 men and rate them in terms of attractiveness. What he discovered is that women had a tendency to feel attracted to the scents of men whose immune systems differed from their own. The reason for this makes sense: a child born of the union of parents with different immune systems has the best odds of being born with an immune system that can handle a wider number of health threats.

Lest the above should suggest that homosexuals have no such responses because they're not capable of procreating, let's skip over to a study by Ivanka Savic, Hans Berglund and Per Lindstrom which used brain imaging to determine how a testosterone derivate found in men's sweat and an estrogen-like steroid found in women's urine affected straight men, straight women and gay men. Smells, as you can imagine, activate specific areas of the brain used to process scent, so when researchers gave the sweat compound to straight men to smell, those were the areas that they saw light up. The same happened when straight women smelled the urine compound.

When straight men were given the urine compound (with the estrogen), however, the activity was primarily in the hypothalamus, which comes into play during sexual arousal. This also happened with the straight women who were exposed to the sweat compound (the testosterone derivative) -- as well as with the homosexual men.

Attraction, we have found, doesn't just help us identify suitable mates, it also works to establish long-term viability for relationships. For instance, an update to the study of the implications of immune system dissimilarities found that women that have more similar immune systems to their partners are more likely to cheat on them. Cheating is worth mentioning because it's often cited -- somewhat unfairly -- as a problem of our biology. What we seem to miss in these discussions is that biology has provided us with mechanisms to ensure long-term relationship viability.

As Jon K. Maner, David Aaron Rouby and Gian C. Gonzaga write in "Automatic inattention to attractive alternatives" for the journal Evolution and Human Behavior, research suggests that "humans possess psychological mechanisms designed to help them maintain their commitment to a long-term relationship, particularly when faced with attractive alternative relationship partners." This is possible through the bonds we develop with a partner, and they have as much to do with our biology as they do with our psychology.

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