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What ex-gay men can teach us about marriage

Marriage | Who better to explain the differences between ‘intergendered’ and ‘monogendered’ unions?

Sam Andreades ministered at a church in New York’s Greenwich Village  for many years and founded G.A.M.E. (Gender Affirming Ministry Endeavor), which serves those with same-sex attraction who want to follow Christ. Andreades has just finished his Doctor of Ministry work at Covenant Theological Seminary in St. Louis, and his dissertation, which grew out of his pastoral experience, is titled “Does She Matter? Emotional Intimacy in Marriage in Light of Gender Distinction.” 

Andreades interviewed Christian husbands with a gay background who are now happily married to women, asking why they prefer “intergendered” to “monogendered” marriage. He learned that gender distinction contributes depth and intimacy to marriages—and this sheds light on why God gave us the commands He did about heterosexual marriage. Here's an article he wrote for WORLD that brings out some of his key findings. —Marvin Olasky  

The stones the builders rejected

The wave of same-sex marriage now breaks across the country amidst retreating (and diminishing) cries to defend traditional marriage, but very little is heard in the splashing about what makes one better than the other. It is worth pausing for air to ask: Are there actually any benefits to traditional marriages over same-sex marriages? Is there some reason the Bible prescribes one and not the other? When Jesus defined the institution by joining the two Genesis quotations, “God made them male and female. For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife …” (Mark 10:6-7), was He making a crucial point in making marriage an issue of gender?

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There are people who can tell us the answer. There are those who can teach us the difference between “intergendered” unions (between two people of different genders) and “monogendered” unions (between those of the same gender). In fact, there are plenty of them in our churches. Sadly, they get ignored, insulted, or shunned, yet they are the ones before whom we should all be quiet and listen.

Who, you ask? Simply those who feel long-term same-sex attraction (SSA), and who may have even acted on those feelings in gay relationships in the past but who came to decide, in their Christian commitment, to marry the opposite gender instead. Ex-gay Christians who have been happily married for years are the best instructors on what the difference is. They have been there and can compare. It was to just these people that I turned to explore these questions of marriage in my doctoral qualitative research project[i] under Covenant Theological Seminary.

I decided to limit the scope of my study to husbands with SSA, talking in depth with them about how their Christian wives, as women, made a difference in their relationships. Based on the national conversation, you might expect that finding such men would be formidable. Actually, they were not hard to find at all. Just how many “mixed-orientation couples”[ii] reside in America is unknown,[iii] but author and ex-wife of a gay man, Amity Pierce Buxton, who founded the Straight Spouse Network serving thousands of spouses in similar situations, estimates the number to be 2 million.[iv] Not all of these are Christian or happy, of course, but there seem to be plenty that are. I know because they have been teaching me. What did I learn?

Love led to good sex

As sociologists, psychologists, policy-makers, and marriage counselors have realized the failing health of the institution of marriage in this country, they have focused a great deal of attention on what makes marriages work well. The answer, upon which these folks have converged, can be summed up as emotional intimacy. A variety of disciplines now understand achieving emotional closeness to be the prime determiner of a happy marriage. It is the thing that makes marriages last longer, grow stronger, and endure the more formidable shocks of life. It is the stuff of solid unions.

The first thing I learned in talking to the husbands in my study is that those espousing the power of emotional intimacy are right. As would be expected, SSA did indeed present an obstacle to closeness in these marriages. As one husband put it, “It is difficult because they [women] are different. And, in our case, where we had to work through that, initially without the sexual dynamic, it was really hard. Because there wasn’t even … you couldn’t kind of patch things up with sex.”

What I did not expect was the repeated confession that this seemingly insurmountable obstacle of SSA was overcome through emotional intimacy. Although I did not ask about it, most participants made some kind of statement, in passing, about how sexual intimacy with their wives grew from emotional intimacy with them. One said, “[Titillation from] the female body … always felt like it was kind of a reach to me … times I got … excited … was all emotional and psychological.” Another recalled how “the tenderness, the patience of … my wife toward me [awakened our] exploring one another. …” So the power of emotional intimacy to make marriages successful was confirmed in this unexpected way. This also comports with findings that some in mixed-orientation marriages experience a lessening of SSA over time.[v], [vi]

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ENDNOTES

[i] In contrast to statistical research, this kind of research interviews a smaller number of people in great depth, hopefully granting a deep understanding of a particular experience.

[ii] The term is coined in Mark A. Yarhouse and others, “Characteristics of Mixed Orientation Couples: An Empirical Study,” Edification: The Transdisciplinary Journal of Christian Psychology 4, no. 2 (2011): 41, 42.

[iii] Ibid., 41.

[iv] Amity Pierce Buxton, “Writing Our Own Script: How Bisexual Men and Their Heterosexual Wives Maintain Their Marriages after Disclosure,” Journal of Bisexuality 1, no. 2-3 (2001): 155.

[v] Mark A. Yarhouse, Christine H. Gow, and Edward B. Davis, “Intact Marriages in Which One Partner Experiences Same-Sex Attraction: A 5-Year Follow-up Study,” Family Journal 17, no. 4 (2009), 330, found a lowering in the mean reported level of SSA from prior to the marriage to later times as the marriage continued.

[vi] In their extensive literature review, former Wheaton College professor of psychology Stanton L. Jones, along with Mark A. Yarhouse, the clinical psychologist who formed the Institute for the Study of Sexual Identity at Regent University, find that “nearly every study ever conducted on change of [sexual] orientation [by SSA people] found some evidence of change,” especially if the attempts were religiously motivated: Stanton L. Jones and Mark A. Yarhouse, Ex-Gays?: A Longitudinal Study of Religiously Mediated Change in Sexual Orientation (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2007), 78, 94. Several dozen studies on change in orientation were published in the 1950s-1970s, but serious research disappeared when DSM removed homosexuality as a disorder from its pages in 1973. In the last ten years, there has been a resurgence of such studies, with more rigorous standards and similar results.

[vii] Sabino Kornrich, of the Center for Advanced Studies in the Social Sciences at Juan March Institute of Madrid, and Julie Brines and Katrina Leupp of the University of Washington, show that American couples with more gender distinct housework arrangements have more (and more vigorous) sex, in Sabino Kornrich, Julie Brines, and Katrina Leupp, “Egalitarianism, Housework, and Sexual Frequency in Marriage,” American Sociological Review 78, no. 1 (2013): 30, 42-43. To explain their results, they quote Pepper Schwartz to the effect that “introducing more distance or difference, rather than connection and similarity, helps to resurrect passion in long-term, stable relationships,” 30.

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