Teenage Unwanted Same-sex Attraction (SSA)

A Parent’s Guide to the Birds, the Bees and Beyond

The phone rings and it is a parent (usually the mother) calling to set up a consult regarding her teenage son having unwanted same-sex attraction.  “My son thinks he’s gay but doesn’t want to be, and we don’t know what to do to help him.”   After a brief conversation, the mother agrees that she and her husband will make an appointment to meet with me.

So many things go through a parent’s mind when they find their teenage son struggles with unwanted same-sex attraction.  They wonder how this happened? They blame each other sometimes, and other times they each blame themselves.  How could unwanted same-sex attraction be something that our teenager struggles with?

While not always the case with teenage unwanted same-sex attraction, often the mother will be over-involved in her son’s life and the father will be under-involved. One is smothering and the other is absent more than he is present.  This is where I briefly explain to parents that “Mom you need to turn it down and Dad you need to turn it up!”  Rather, the mother needs to give her son some room to breathe and grow, and the father needs to involve himself more in his son’s life.  Teenage unwanted same-sex attraction is about a boy failing to fully identify with, and feel accepted by, his gender.  The father will play a major role in his son’s journey.

A father will often feel at a loss when addressing his teenager’s unwanted same-sex attraction.  He fears that he won’t know what to do or to say to his son, or will even explain that he feels he and his son have nothing in common.  Such a sense of loss may lead a man to feeling like a failure as a father and even as a man.  What’s a dad to do?

When addressing teenage unwanted same-sex attraction, fathers need to be available, strong, and generous toward their sons.  This is where the four A’s come into play: affection, acceptance, approval and affirmation.   Fathers need to draw their sons into masculinity: boys are born, but men are built!  Men build other men.  A father should consider talking with several trusted men in his life in order to gain their support and involvement in his son’s life.  All of this can take some time, but be encouraged dad, because your loving efforts will not go unnoticed.

A teenage son struggling with unwanted same-sex attraction will most likely encounter feelings of shame, guilt, fear, sadness, etc.  The very act of sharing this struggle with his father can be shameful.  However this can be a wonderful opportunity for the father to reframe the situation: it is an extremely courageous act to step into your fear and share your struggles with another man.  This is something many men, including dad, find difficulty in doing.  The son needs to know this.  Don’t miss the opportunity to turn a shame moment into a potential affirmation of your son’s strength and masculinity.

Most importantly, fathers and mothers need to understand that their teenager’s unwanted same-sex attraction is not just the “son’s issue”.  Rather, parents should consider this systemically, or how the family communicates and relates as a whole.  With this in mind, it can be very beneficial for dad to be involved in the therapeutic process by joining the son in his sessions.

Teenagers who struggle with unwanted same-sex attraction need a safe place to turn with their questions, fears and struggles.  There is no better place than a father and mother who make themselves available to their child with open arms and unconditional love.

Posted by Thaddeus Heffner, MMFT – February 22, 2011

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