Homosexuality Caused by Failure to Bond with Same-Sex Parent?

| by Dr Warren Throckmorton

Recently, I wrote an article regarding three misconceptions about homosexuality. The response to
this article, published on Christian Post, was voluminous and intense. On the
plus side, some readers were relieved to see these misconceptions addressed, but
on the down side, others attacked my orthodoxy and competence. Given this
response and the admittedly brief treatment of each of the misconceptions, I
plan additional articles which will elucidate each point. Although this deeper
examination may raise additional questions, I hope to address some issues
provoked by the initial article on misconceptions in ministry.

The first misconception I identified was "all gay people are attracted to the
same sex because they did not bond with their parents or were sexually abused."
Some readers questioned whether anyone actually holds such an exclusive
position. I have been active in writing about and researching sexual orientation
and identity formation for over 10 years and my impression is that many, if not
most, Christian ministries hold to the view that same-sex attraction stems from
a failure of bonding with the same-sex parent. At a Focus on the Family Love Won
Out conference in 2007, founder and past-president of the National Association
for the Research and Therapy of Homosexuality, the leading group of
professionals associated with the bonding-failure theory, was asked by CNN
reporter Gary Tuchman, "So you're categorically saying that if a father and son
have a normal relationship, that child will not be gay." Dr. Nicolosi replied
succinctly, "Yes." Other ministries such as Exodus International often suggest
that there may be other causes but present the bonding-failure view as the usual
pathway to homosexuality.

I labeled this theory as a misconception because there are gay people who
grew up living in clearly loving homes and were quite bonded with their parents,
both same- and opposite-sex. Although some same-sex attracted people experienced
difficult relationships with their parents, so do many people who have never
been attracted to the same sex. In some cases, the difficult relationship began
after the same-sex attraction became apparent. In any event, the negative family
relationships experienced by some same-sex attracted people do not validate the
bonding-failure theory for those gays and lesbians who had warm, happy

Furthermore, the scientific research regarding homosexuality allows no
confidence in one particular family constellation as creating homosexuals. A
recent study from Andrew Francis of Emory University found that boys in
fatherless homes were no more likely to report same-sex activity than boys where
fathers were in the home. Surely, if the lack of a bond with father was crucial,
then this study would have found more homosexual behavior among fatherless boys.
Another recent study compared adults who were abused and neglected as children
with those who were not and found no differences in the likelihood of homosexual
relationships. In that same study, sexual abuse was associated with a somewhat
increased probability of adult homosexuality for men but not for women. Even for
the men, many sexually abused boys did not grow up to be homosexual; all
homosexuals were not abused. For some people, sexual abuse may have real
ramifications for their adult sexual behavior, however one may experience
same-sex attraction even if one was not sexually abused. Based on current
research, it seems more likely that different factors operate differently for
different people to form the direction of sexual attractions.

Some hold to the early childhood origins idea because they sincerely hope
there are no innate or pre-natal causes for homosexuality. However, Christian
orthodoxy is not dependent on a particular theory of homosexual causation. Last
year, Al Mohler, President of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, stirred
controversy when he wrote that evangelicals should be prepared to acknowledge
biological factors in sexual orientation. Mohler said:

"Christians must be very careful not to claim that science can never prove a
biological basis for sexual orientation. We can and must insist that no
scientific finding can change the basic sinfulness of all homosexual behavior.
The general trend of the research points to at least some biological factors
behind sexual attraction, gender identity, and sexual orientation. This does not
alter God's moral verdict on homosexual sin (or heterosexual sin, for that
matter), but it does hold some promise that a deeper knowledge of homosexuality
and its cause will allow for more effective ministries to those who struggle
with this particular pattern of temptation."

Mohler calls for Christians to be careful researchers and consumers of the
science on sexual orientation. In my view, many Christians hold to family
dynamics theories because they believe their Christianity requires it. Dr.
Mohler correctly calls Evangelicals to expand their thinking regarding
biological factors and sexual behavior. This is apropos for heterosexuality as
well given that some recent research has reported a link between a genetic
aberration and lower levels of relationship commitment among straight males. It
is conceivable that research will find genetic markers associated with
promiscuity which might appear to excuse unfaithfulness. However, these findings
will not change the historic Christian standard of fidelity in marriage.
Although some same-sex attracted people believe the failure-to-bond theory
provides a good framework to help them understand their situation, others find a
painful dead-end. Listen to how one family described their experience with the
failure-to-bond theory:

"As parents of a same-sex-attracted son, there was no mountain too high for us
to connect our son and our family to the "best help" for our issues. We found a
counselor for him, and then joined him in many sessions and spent a good deal of
time examining our parent – child relationships; classifying them as "close" or
"distant" and figuring out why. With our broken hearts on the table each week,
we looked for the magic thread, the exact moment we disabled our son's sexuality
so as to examine it, repent of it, be forgiven and put this nightmare away. Our
counselor finally admitted that we were "unique" and that our son was "unique,"
not fitting into the usual (how does the term "usual" apply to sexually fallen
humans?) categories and that he basically did not know what else to say to help
to untangle these conflicts for our son. We went on to read many books, we
attended a famous conference 1000's of miles away from our home, only to meet
one of the most famous authors whose flippant response to us upon introducing
ourselves to him was "Yes – I can see it, the mother who did all the research
and coordination to get here, the dad who has no idea why he is here and the son
who is miserable being here." The three of us were after words of life, not
words of sarcasm."

I can accurately say now that navel gazing your potential contribution to a
child's same-sex attraction is nothing short of anguish. Our son would tell you
that his father and mother did not contribute to his same-sex attraction. We
actually wish some days that it were that easy to put into an equation like "Dad
ignored you for some formative years, mom made up for it, you identify with mom
not dad – therein lies the reason!" Alas, this is not true in our family. We
never ignored our children, our family has been busy bearing one another up, and
our son takes responsibility for his same-sex attraction. If we were
responsible, we would have accepted the blame gladly. Instead, now, we find
ourselves relying on the truths of Scripture such as Romans 8 and II Corinthians
1:3-4. My husband and I come from a promiscuous past, we were products of the
sexual revolution and legalized abortion. We are the right parents for this son of
ours because we know restoration of sexual brokenness through a relationship
with the living Lord Jesus. That is the relationship we pray that our son
examines and gazes upon. In the meantime, we adore him and he us and we
celebrate God's goodness and sovereignty.

I do not believe this family is rare. No family is perfect of course but
there is little evidence that enduring sexual preferences are set due to subtle
dynamics of family life. Much of anguish and hostility expressed by same-sex
attracted sons and daughters and their parents derive from a failure of
well-meaning helpers to recognize the complexity of human sexuality and each
individual. Ministry in this arena could start with a familiar dictum from health – first, do no harm.


Warren Throckmorton, PhD is an associate professor of psychology at Grove City
College and fellow for psychology and public policy with the Center for Vision
& Values. He can be reached via his blog,