But one man who grew up acting on his same-sex attractions has learned to embrace chastity as a Catholic convert. Journalist David Morrison, a former activist, is author of the book "Beyond Gay" (Our Sunday Visitor) and founder and moderator of Courage Online, an online support community.
He shared with ZENIT how living chastely helped diminish the degree of his same-sex attractions.
Q: What do you think contributed to your same-sex attractions?
Morrison: Whether same-sex attractions have a genetic origin or component, or stems from relationship problems during early life provides one of the more energetic contemporary scientific debates.
Unfortunately, the discussion has a tendency to slosh out from the purely scientific and into the headlines, but given the broader culture I suppose it's probably inevitable that it do so.
In my own case, I believe significant relationship problems with both of my parents, as well as with my peers, contributed to the development of same-sex attractions in my life and personality. I don't blame my parents at all; they became the people they were because of the upbringing they had and they tried to do the best they could rearing me. But my father was very emotionally distant throughout my childhood, while my mother was likely too emotionally available.
In addition, my parent's marriage was strained in many ways and that cannot help but have been felt by a child. If pressed on the matter I guess I would say it was possible that I might have had a sort of personality that might have been vulnerable to the development of same-sex attractions. But at the bottom line I think certain relationship and environmental factors needed to be in place for it to flourish.
Q: Did outside sources, such as the media culture, influence your ideas about same-sex attractions? How?
Morrison: I was born in 1963 and probably the key time for the culture to have a big influence on me was in the period from 1976 to 1986.
It was around 1976 that I became sexually aware -- I began to have sexual desires and began acting out sexually, initially with myself though masturbation but also with other, older, boys whose bodies, experience and authority I tended to idolize. Looking back on it I can say that they, to some extent, took advantage of having a younger boy around with whom they could satisfy some fundamental lusts.
I don't recall too many explicit "fag" jokes. As the homosexual liberation or gay movement drew more attention nationwide I remember there being jokes about that and about AIDS. But I was always able to hide my same-sex attractions, and the older boys with whom I sometimes acted out sexually did not seem to associate my willingness to have some forms of sex with them with definitive homosexuality on my part.
Probably the biggest cultural influence on my same-sex attractions came when I was around 19 or so and it was more or less inevitable that, if you lived with any same-sex attractions, you would have sex and define yourself as gay. The only alternative the culture provided -- simply not telling anyone that you lived with same-sex attractions -- was unacceptable since that was a ticket to a truly miserable and fearful life.
In retrospect I would have appreciated a cultural alternative to the extremes of either walking around afraid of anyone finding out that I lived with same-sex attractions or defining myself as gay and hitting the party scene.
Q: At what point did you discover a way to counteract your same-sex attractions?
Morrison: I am not sure I have discovered a way to "counteract" same-sex attractions. Rather, I think I discovered some of the same things that anyone who moves from a life defined by a temporal desire to one defined by seeking Christ also discovers.
The degrees of temptations we face often fade when we stop indulging them; seeking chastity and reigning in one's passions weakens them and, in the case of same-sex attractions, I believe living chastely helped diminish the degree of same-sex attractions that I experienced.
For the record, I believe men and women can diminish same-sex attractions over time and to varying degrees. In my own life that has been my experience, even though I have never sought therapy to diminish those same-sex attractions.
Even though I still live with a degree of same-sex attractions, that degree is less now than it was three years ago and I expect I will experience it even less strongly three years from now.
I haven't sought therapy to diminish the same-sex attractions I experience because such therapy is expensive in money, time and emotional energy and, given my background, I have had bigger obstacles to overcome in therapy than same-sex attractions.
Q: How did you decide to change? Was there a special moment of conversion?
Morrison: I never really decided to try to change my sexual desires. I did convert to a belief in Jesus Christ and to seeking him, first to Anglicanism and, later, to Roman Catholicism.
I came to Christ because, like the blind man on the roadside, I was in despair and had nothing to lose. No one evangelized me or offered to bring to me to Church.
By roughly age 30 I had achieved a lot of what contemporary gay culture said a man could achieve. I had a lover of seven years. I had a good job and was respected by my peers at work. My partner and I owned property together and enjoyed an active sex life. I was openly gay in all quarters of my life. But nonetheless I remained unhappy. With everything I had, life seemed and felt empty.
For a long time I thought the problem lay in something about my life and I tried to change different things to see if they might make a difference.
One day, when I had the house to myself, it popped into my mind to pray and I prayed the classic Skeptic's Prayer: "Lord, I don't even know if you exist, but if you exist I sure need you in my life." He came into my life and nothing has been the same since.
Q: How did your faith play into your struggle to change your homosexual behavior?
Morrison: I didn't come to obedience to chastity immediately. I spent a couple of years trying to straddle the line between obedience and sexual activity by calling myself a "gay Christian," someone who could believe in Christ and still have gay sex.
But as I came to pray more and learn more about Jesus Christ, about historic Christianity and about the saints, and as I as saw the witness other faithful Christians made about the role of Christ in their lives, I came to the conclusion that I no longer wanted to be a "gay Christian."
I wanted to be Christ's, and if loving him meant living chastely, and if he was willing to help me do so, then that is what I wanted and what I want today.
Q: Have the teachings of Pope John Paul II helped you? Why?
Morrison: I think John Paul has performed a service to Christians and even some non-Christians by his careful explanations and annunciation of the theology of the body.
I think there is such confusion today about the role our bodies play in our spiritual lives and the importance of our bodies as part of our creation. John Paul II has laid a foundation for a very important part of the Church's message for the next millennia.
Q: How can the Church encourage people who engage in homosexual behavior to be celibate and live chastely?
Morrison: The Church can do all single people a favor by encouraging them, whether or not they live with same-sex attractions, to develop deeper and stronger relationships and friendships that don't involve sex.
So many people today, and not just the young, are confused about what genuine friendship is and how important it is to have emotional intimacy in our lives. The Church instructs single men and women to live chastely, but she does not instruct us to live in isolation.
The Church needs to help educate people that emotionally and intimately satisfying lives can be had without sexual activity.
Q: What advice do you have for others who have same-sex attractions?
Morrison: Don't think that your same-sex attractions must, per se, define your life. The human person is too magnificently complex to be boiled down to the label "I am a gay man" or "I am a lesbian."
Particularly if you are young and have not acted out sexually, don't believe that you will necessarily experience the same degree of same-sex attractions that you do today.
Don't imagine that because you live with same-sex attractions God must not love you or that you can't seek him or that you cannot seek to become a saint.