Same-sex attraction is a sensitive and complex topic, especially within the Church. While many Church members know a loved one or are personally experiencing same-sex attraction, understanding how to reconcile our beliefs with loving others and our day-to-day experience can be difficult. How can we better understand others? How can we love and support others in the healthiest way possible? How can we help others find true happiness?
Part of the reason this topic is so difficult to tackle is that the language surrounding it is often politically charged and divisive. However, researchers from opposing backgrounds have come together to create a new study that bridges those divides and seeks to find the best way to support Mormons and those of other faiths experiencing same-sex attraction.
"Previous research on these issues has been criticized for being too biased one way or another," says Lee Beckstead, a licensed psychologist who worked with the American Psychological Association to evaluate interventions to change sexual orientation. "This study is different because the co-authors intentionally reached out to and joined with other researchers who come from diverse, even seemingly opposing backgrounds, for the sake of managing biases."
Though the topic might be complicated, the study's aims are simple: to create better support and understanding for those experiencing same-sex attraction and for their families.
"The study results are to be used to create a self-help guide for people with same-sex attractions," says Marybeth Raynes, a licensed clinical social worker and family therapist. "We are also seeking to open up the dialogue among families and friends about their lives."
Currently, the researchers are conducting a survey to gauge how people with same-sex attraction see themselves, how their family and other relationships impact them, and how their faith influences their life.
In order to get a variety of perspectives, the survey looks at those who experience same-sex attraction and 1) are single and celibate, 2) are single and not celibate, 3) are in a relationship where one is heterosexual and one is homosexual or experiences same-sex attraction, and 4) are in a same-sex relationship.
By receiving genuine feedback from LDS members, the study can better know how to support members in the Church who experience same-sex attraction in a variety of circumstances. Because the survey takes into account specific religions, Marybeth Raynes explains, "As we compile the data, we can find out what is unique about LDS people in this area of religion and same-sex attraction." Included in this are how bonds might be strengthened and strains minimized in family relationships and LDS communities.
"The Church has very strict standards when it comes to sexual behavior—that sexual intimacy is to be expressed only within a heterosexual marriage. So, if someone desires to live in harmony with gospel teachings on sexuality, their options are limited to staying single and sexually abstinent or marry someone of the opposite sex," says Ty Mansfield, a practicing marriage and family therapist and adjunct professor at BYU and UVU.
He continues, "The study seeks to understand the profiles of individuals in a number of different relationship statuses, but within that we really want to better understand how people do single or mixed-orientation marriage in the healthiest way possible. There isn’t a lot of research that helps us to understand the differences between why some are healthy and thrive being single and why some really struggle, or why some have healthy, thriving mixed-orientation marriages and why others struggle or end in divorce. The more we can understand about these life options, the better information we can have as we’re seeking to help Latter-day Saints who want to stay committed to their gospel covenants understand how they can do so in the healthiest, most resilient way possible."
In addition, the study can help family members of those experiencing same-sex attraction better understand what their loved ones are experiencing and better understand their life choices."[We] hope the results can help friends and family be more informed and supportive of same-sex attracted family and church members," Beckstead says. "The results overall have the potential to reduce potential fears, prejudice, and shame related to experiencing same-sex attractions."
And those who have participated in the survey have already noticed a difference becoming aware of these experiences has made in their lives. "I have talked to several women who have said that a benefit of the survey . . . is that they immediately have more information and/or language for their experiences," Raynes says. "They also said that this new information and language . . . may help them discuss their lives more openly and easily with their friends and families. Essentially, once they understand themselves better, they can more easily help others understand them."
To participate in the survey, go to 4optionssurvey.com.