Unwanted same sex attraction – what is it?

//Unwanted same sex attraction – what is it?

Unwanted same sex attraction – what is it?

rainbow-roseUnwanted same sex attraction? Shakespeare said “a rose by any other name would smell as sweet” but in the ex-gay/conversion therapy world it’s all about semantics. I’m sorry honey, you may call it ‘unwanted same sex attraction’ but let’s call a spade a spade; YOU’RE GAY!

Whilst the fundamental 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 the wording and terminology that is used.

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 was not uncommon for people to label themselves ‘former homosexuals’. 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 same sex attraction’.

Why the change to ‘unwanted same sex attraction?

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, an ex-gay philosophy often promoted is ‘no one is gay, deep down inside we are all heterosexual. You have attractions to the same sex because you are broken‘   Using the term ‘same sex attractions’ once again is an attempt to distance themselves from the reality of their true orientation. I cover that in more detail here. Acronyms like SSA or USAA are used to sound clinical, like an illness such as MS or behaviour such as PTSD. People with ‘unwanted same sex attraction’ strongly resist adopting a gay identity, so acronyms like SSA or USSA is another way of distancing themsleves from that. Heterosexuals don’t walk around talking about their OSA or there unwanted opposite sex attraction (UOSA).

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  ‘but we only work with people who have ‘unwanted’ same sex attractions’. They would never say it is okay to be a Christian and gay, however, because then their message to the ‘unwanted’s’ becomes redundant.

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’?

unwanted same sex attractionThis 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 never 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 and are keen to use the term ‘unwanted same sex attraction’. Maybe one of the reasons they were so defensive was because of this.

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About the Author:

Anthony Venn-Brown
Anthony Venn-Brown is one of Australia’s foremost commentators on faith and sexuality. His best-selling autobiography 'A Life of Unlearning – a preacher’s struggle with his homosexuality, church and faith', details his journey from being one of the first in the world to experience religious gay conversion therapy, becoming a married, high profile preacher in Australia's growing mega-churches, such as Hillsong, to living as an openly gay man. Anthony was the co-founder and former leader of Freedom2b. He is an educator and consultant on LGBT/faith issues and leader in deconstructing the ex-gay/reparative/conversion therapy myth. Anthony is the founder and CEO of Ambassadors & Bridge Builders International. Anthony has been recognised on a number of occassions for his contribution and impact including being twice voted one of 'The 25 Most Influential Gay and Lesbian Australians’.


  1. Warren Hartley February 12, 2013 at 9:34 am - Reply

    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. Anthony Venn-Brown February 12, 2013 at 12:43 pm - Reply

    the acronym SSA is really quite strange isn't it.

  3. Anthony Venn-Brown February 12, 2013 at 12:45 pm - Reply

    SSA….clinical…..distancing….an illness like MS or PTSD…..not to do with an orientation. You don't get heterosexuals walking around talkiing about their OSA or there unwanted opposite sex attraction.

    • Sophia Chokhmah February 13, 2013 at 2:10 am - Reply

      Very good point….The SSA label helps to desensitize and exacerbate denial of orientation. Not healthy 🙁

  4. Anthony Venn-Brown February 13, 2013 at 2:12 am - Reply

    yep it is saying I am not gay…..I wont acknowledge that part of me = denial

  5. Anonymous February 24, 2013 at 11:42 pm - Reply


    That recording is SO annoying… I guess it's Peter Janetzki? Condescending and rude to the caller. He keeps interrupting her and trying to derail her point. He then accuses HER of doing what HE is actually doing. It's weird! He only listens to find points to attack her on and is not actually engaging in ANY meaningful discussion. He only wishes to make his points and railroad her. Sort of a hit-and-run-then-steamroll style of interaction. What a massive, massive JERK. Seriously. Major jerk. And ignorant, to boot. Whether it's Janetzki or that other bloke, Wegner, both are very ill-educated. I researched their credentials. So, given their spectacularly weak educations and their Bible-literalist fundamentalism… well, one could not expect anything close to actual knowledge or sophistication. I feel for the lass who called those jerks.

    • Anthony Venn-Brown February 25, 2013 at 12:27 am - Reply

      thanks for your comments. I did wonder, coming from the other side of the debate< if it was just me who was reacting to Peter Janetski comments. I thought the female caller was respectful and genuine. She was just offering another point of view. Surely that wasn't out of line with a show such as this particularly on such a topic. One would expect that. I did feel that Peter was appearing incredibly defensive. More so than when I called in some years ago. I suspect that there is more to his reaction than was he was letting on. Possibly it is because of some direction they have had from the Christian Counsellors Association of Australia (CCAA) that Liberty Inc has had to change wording on their site.

      here is what was stated in the December 2012 newsletter.

      "Recently, we had the wind knocked out of our sails when CCAA
      strongly requested Liberty Inc immediately take down our website as
      they believe the wording on our website may offend some people
      who may perceive the comments to be judgemental and harmful.
      CCAA does not support “judgemental” advertising. The offending
      words that needed to be changed were “recovering from”, and
      “sexual brokenness” and “same-sex attraction”. As you will notice,
      we have complied with their request. You’ll notice our new slogan
      “to foster the freedom of relational and sexual wholeness …”.
      All our brochures and advertising material have the slogan that we’ve
      used for the last twenty years, so these will need to be updated as
      well with the new wording. Our concern is that whilst we are happy
      to comply to keep the unity of the Spirit, how sad if we are not able to
      acknowledge our true position in Christ – that we are all broken and
      only in and through Him do we have fullness. That’s been our story."

    • Anonymous February 25, 2013 at 3:54 am - Reply

      What rubbish. Those jackasses are in the business of telling people who are sexually different that they are broken. It is, to me, a monstrous and unforgivable message. It is a message that literally kills people… and they don't care. They don't believe it is destructive and they don't want to believe it. And honestly – look at their level of training. I had NO idea a person with just a bachelor's degree could call himself a "counselor." That's Wegner's training. Wow. I'm highly disappointed someone with such ill training can attain that kind of professional standing.

      Janetzki has a master's, it appears. That's still very minimal training. In the U.S., people with master's degrees can be licensed therapists. But their training is so, so scant. I've supervised quite a few and found I had to do an awful lot of extra supervision. Frankly, I don't think people with only a master's degree should be able to be licensed therapists. This is not a prejudice; truly. It's based on many years working in psychology and supervising more therapists than I can count. Without fail, there is a huge difference between the master's degreed ones and the doctoral level therapists. And those with social work master's degrees are the worst, in my experience. It is of interest to me to note that is Janetzki's degree.

      There are a couple of Ph.D.s and M.D.s who believe like these two, but they are extremely rare and have NO support from their professional bodies. All of the science is against them… reminds me of when the church imprisoned Galileo for saying that the earth is not the center of the universe. It didn't change reality of course; it simply showed that fundamentalist religion is just plain stupid when it comes to science.

    • Anthony Venn-Brown February 25, 2013 at 5:08 am - Reply

      thanks again for these comments and doing the additional research. What you say is disturbing enough. What I find even more frightening is the people who run ex-gay programs in Australia with no qualifications at all but only a personal experience. One here in Australia under their heading What Liberty does not do says " do not promise or practise therapy. Liberty is a support ministry and we recommend people seek professional help where appropriate;"
      on the other hand their 2012 report states "• This year I met with approximately 10 individuals to discuss overcoming same-sex attraction. This has represented a very diverse variety of people. The age of those I have met with has ranged from 18 to 65 and most are single, with only a couple currently married.
      Support/support groups? Not official therapy but I think many would view that as a form particularly those seeking help/support.

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