What do I need to understand about same-sex attraction?
Same-sex attraction (SSA) refers to emotional, physical, romantic, or sexual attraction to a person of the same gender. If you experience same-sex attraction, you may or may not choose to use a sexual orientation label to describe yourself. Either way, same-sex attraction is a technical term describing the experience without imposing a label. This website uses this term to be inclusive of people who are not comfortable using a label, not to deny the existence of a gay, lesbian, or bisexual identity.
Same-sex attraction is not the same for everyone. Some people choose to use a sexual identity label and others don’t. This article offers a basic definition of common sexual orientation labels.
Sexual orientation may refer to emotional, romantic, or sexual attractions as well as a sense of identity. For some, it is helpful to distinguish between sexual attraction, emotional attraction, and identity, rather than grouping them all together as “sexual orientation.”
The most common labels are lesbian (a woman attracted to women), gay (a man attracted to men), and bisexual (a man or woman attracted to both genders). Some women may also use the term gay to describe themselves. People may use other labels, and some who experience same-sex attraction choose not to use a label to describe themselves. How people choose to identify may change over time.
Attraction is not identity. People can make their own choices about how to identify. There are active, temple recommend–holding Church members who comply with the law of chastity and identify themselves as gay, lesbian, or bisexual. There are active Church members who experience same-sex attraction and never choose to identify themselves using a label. Our primary identity will always be as a child of God.
Sexual desires are complex and shaped by many factors. While a romantic, emotional, or sexual attraction can signal a sexual orientation, you should not automatically assume that it does. Sexual desire can be fluid and changeable.
Same-sex attraction and gender dysphoria are very different. For example, those who experience gender dysphoria may or may not also experience same-sex attraction, and the majority of those who experience same-sex attraction do not desire to change their gender. From a psychological and ministerial perspective, the two are different.
What causes same-sex attraction?
The Church does not take a position on the cause of same-sex attraction.
Feelings of same-sex attraction are not a sin. Elder M. Russell Ballard stated:
“Let us be clear: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints believes that ‘the experience of same-sex attraction is a complex reality for many people. The attraction itself is not a sin, but acting on it is. Even though individuals do not choose to have such attractions, they do choose how to respond to them. With love and understanding, the Church reaches out to all God’s children, including [those with same-sex attraction]’” (“The Lord Needs You Now!” Ensign, Sept. 2015, 29).
While same-sex attraction is not a sin, it can be a challenge. While one may not have chosen to have these feelings, he or she can commit to keep God’s commandments. The parent of a child who experiences same-sex attraction or identifies as gay should choose to love and embrace that child. As a community of Church members, we should choose to create a welcoming community.
I have an appointment with a member who identifies as lesbian, gay, bisexual, or experiences same-sex attraction. What should I do or say?
“Well, initial reactions are critical. And the inclination, the temptation that people have often is anger, or rejection. Sometimes it’s simply denial on both sides of the question, whatever it may be. And it’s important to have enough self-control to lay all that aside and just have a little patience, and to begin to talk, and to begin to listen, and begin to try to understand better. We lose nothing by spending time together, by trying to understand. Even where there is not agreement on a course to follow at the moment, or how to respond, or how to react, we don’t have to do everything today. We don’t have to resolve everything in a month, or a week, or a year. These things are questions of resolution over time, and accommodation over time, and seeking the will of the Lord over time, and guided by Him over time. So I hope we will give ourselves the time, and have the patience to listen and understand, and not insist on everything being resolved within a certain framework of time.” —Elder D. Todd Christofferson
“One thing that is always important is to recognize the feelings of a person, that they are real. That they are authentic. That we don’t deny that someone feels a certain way. We take the reality where it is, and we go from there. And we want people to feel that they have a home here. That we have much, much more in common than anything that’s different about us. Some of the experiences that are related there, we talk about that in this website. And I believe it is crucial that we always continue to feel that, to express that, to acknowledge the reality of people’s feelings and circumstances and go from there.” —Elder D. Todd Christofferson
How can I include or reach out to those who experience same-sex attraction in my ward or stake?
“As a Church, nobody should be more loving and compassionate. … Let us be at the forefront in terms of expressing love, compassion, and outreach. Let’s not have families exclude or be disrespectful of those who choose a different lifestyle as a result of their feelings about their own gender.
“Clearly the hardest thing that I had when I was stake president is, I was stake president when AIDS was—the medical community first became aware of AIDS—and we had a significant number of our men who found that they had AIDS. Some of them had not been in the Church—the majority of them, a few had—and we found that we had 17 men with AIDS. And at that point there was no cure. And all 17 of them ultimately died of AIDS while I was stake president.
“I learned some incredible lessons through that process. That as a Latter-day Saint community it’s a loving and compassionate community. I watched bishops who made incredible sacrifices to take care of some of these young men who were dying. I watched them try very hard to reconnect them with their families and to have their families take care of them. And again, at that time there was no cure, and no abeyance of it. I watched them take care of each other. And I watched some of them, one of them comes to mind in particular, who, with a returned missionary and a single incidence of conduct, took it upon himself to take care of the most difficult situations, and those that were most ill, and he was the last one to die.
“I think that the lesson that I learned from that is that as a church, nobody should be more loving and compassionate. No family who has anybody who has a same-gender issue should exclude them from the family circle. They need to be part of the family circle.” —Elder Quentin L. Cook
“Do we teach the Proclamation on the Family? Do we teach Heavenly Father’s plan? Do we teach the first chapter in the second handbook? Yes, we do. We have a plan of salvation. And having children come into our lives is part of Heavenly Father’s plan. But let us be at the forefront in terms of expressing love, compassion, and outreach to those. And let’s not have families exclude or be disrespectful of those who choose a different lifestyle as a result of their feelings about their own gender. I feel very strongly about this, as you can tell. I think it’s a very important principle.” —Elder Quentin L. Cook
How can I help those in my ward or stake feel that they are loved, valued, and needed?
As Church members, we all have a responsibility to create a supportive and loving environment for all our brothers and sisters. Such a support network makes it much easier to live the gospel and to seek the Spirit while navigating any aspect of mortality.
“I don’t believe I’ve ever met anybody who didn’t want to belong to something that made them feel worthwhile, that made them feel that they had value.
“When people wonder, is there a place for me? It may be any number of things behind that, and now they ask themselves, do I fit? Do I belong here? Do they really need me? And I want to say emphatically, “Yes!”
“I think of the metaphor of Paul, which I love very much, where the church is the body of Christ. And he says we are baptized in to that body. And he says it’s one body. Many members but one body.
“I understand people’s feelings at times that they may not feel needed. And sometimes others are guilty of saying we don’t need this person, we don’t need that person, we are fine as we are. Neither one is true. That’s not the Christian way. That’s not the way Christ sees us. He sees all of us with infinite worth. And whatever our condition at the moment may be, the body of Christ is there to sustain each member. When a person feels isolated, I don’t deny the reality of the feeling and why it’s so natural to feel that way. But, each of us, whenever that sense may come upon us, must stop and think, Jesus Christ died for me. Jesus Christ thought me worthy of His blood. And He loves me. He has hopes for me. And he can make a difference in my life. His grace can transform me. And maybe this person sitting next to me, ignoring me, or even wanting to move away, maybe he or she doesn’t. But that doesn’t change the reality of what Christ feels toward me and the possibilities I have in Christ.
“It breaks my heart if someone comes, and is very vulnerable, and says, ‘I want to try it. I want to be here.’ And then get a cold shoulder or a lack of interest. And that is tragic. That is really tragic. We have to be better than that.
“The fact that people can bring different gifts and perspectives and the wide range of variance and backgrounds and challenges that people face will show us what really is essential in the gospel of Christ. And that much of the rest, that has been perhaps acquired over time, and is more cultural than doctrinal can slip away, and we can really learn to be disciples.
“The diversity we find now in the Church may be just the beginning. Frankly, I think we will see greater and greater diversity. In the ancient church there was tremendous diversity. And it’s not just diversity for diversity’s sake, but the fact that people can bring different gifts and perspectives and the wide range of variance and backgrounds and challenges that people face will show us what really is essential in the gospel of Christ. And that much of the rest, that has been perhaps acquired over time and is more cultural than doctrinal, can slip away, and we can really learn to be disciples.” —Elder D. Todd Christofferson
How do I minister to the “one” in the case of LGBTQ members?
Watch Jean B. Bingham’s (General Relief Society President) video, “Focus on the One.”
“When you focus on the one, you can really lift and strengthen. You know, I have had the opportunity to visit different areas of the world. And we have attended church in many different wards and branches. And until you’ve seen people that are different than you, in lots of different ways, I think it is easy to get focused on a very narrow segment and feel like that’s the only way to be. I think when we get outside ourselves, when we consider others, it helps us realize that we are all a family, a family of Heavenly Father.
“Someone might say, ‘Well, I don’t have a need for other people.’ But maybe they have a need for you. When you choose to put yourself out there, you are blessing someone else’s life.
“I think one of the things that we can do is to focus on the one. You know, can you find one person that looks like they would love to visit, or that they need someone to listen to them? Can you look for the person who is sitting on the outside, sitting on the fringe? That gives me a purpose. That gives us a purpose. When we feel not so comfortable with large groups, we just focus on the one.
“One of the best ways to form a good relationship is not come in with assumptions, or preconceived notions, keeping an open mind, an open heart. Sometimes we tend to pigeon hole people, or we assume that they are a certain way because of a certain situation in their life, or their family. And it’s always surprising; if you keep your mind open and your heart open, you find out lots of wonderful things about people that you might not have ever expected. When you’ve experienced, when you’ve seen, when you’ve opened your heart to other people, you see that we all belong.” —Sister Jean B. Bingham
“It’s important for every individual to have a relationship with Christ because salvation is a personal, individual experience.
“We do not save people by congregations. We are ourselves saved, one individual at a time. This is a very personal relationship with Christ. The Savior understands us, because He is not an abstraction. Because He is a living, breathing, real Son of God. The living Son of the living God. People who think they have sinned too much or gone too far or been away for too long and somehow can’t come back into the circle, my declaration is that no one can fall lower than the light of Christ shines. That isn’t possible.
“I think by coming to participate in the sacrament, the Lord’s supper, is the most dramatic way weekly that we can show that we want to identify with Him, and that in fact there will be a reciprocal gift and power that comes back from that. As we come to participate and be solidly with the Savior in that act, that solidity and that engagement comes back to us, and we leave that congregation, we leave that meeting, with a strength and a power, and an understanding from Him, that we didn’t have before. Part of it is because we understand Him better. But clearly it represents the fact that He understands us. My personal experience, as well as my apostolic calling, is to declare personally that Christ does know us. He has walked the thorny, difficult rock-strewn path of our lives. How He did that I don’t know. I don’t know. He didn’t have a divorce. So you could say, ‘How does He know about me because I had one?’ I don’t know how He does that. But if someone out there has had a divorce, He understands.
“This sounds awkward to say, but God loves me in a sense almost as much as He loved His only Begotten Son. At least I can say this, that He gave His Only Begotten Son for me. And that says something about my worth in His eyes. And my worth in the eyes of the Savior. And His willingness to go to Gethsemane and Calvary for me. I’ll never have to do that. I don’t have to bleed. And I don’t have to die for someone else’s sin. And I don’t have to be that lonely. But I understand it. And I love it. And I appreciate it. And what it means to me is that He understands me. That He loves me and that He reaches me. So I can’t explain how that happens. I just know that it does.” —Elder Jeffrey R. Holland
Will the Church ever change its doctrine and sanction same-sex marriage?
Central to God’s plan, the doctrine of marriage between a man and woman is an integral teaching of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and will not change:
As a doctrinal principle, based on the scriptures, the Church affirms that marriage between a man and a woman is essential to the Creator’s plan for the eternal destiny of His children. The Church also affirms that God’s law defines marriage as the legal and lawful union between a man and a woman.
Only a man and a woman who are legally and lawfully wedded as husband and wife should have sexual relations. Any other sexual relations, including those between persons of the same sex, are sinful and undermine the divinely created institution of the family.
“There is no change in the Church’s position of what is morally right. But what is changing—and what needs to change—is helping Church members respond sensitively and thoughtfully when they encounter same-sex attraction in their own families, among other Church members, or elsewhere.” —President Dallin H. Oaks
Marriage is an important part of God’s plan for our happiness. Eternal marriage between a man and a woman is essential (at some point) in our progression to reach exaltation, a state defined as living the kind of life our Heavenly Parents currently enjoy.
“In the celestial glory there are three heavens or degrees; And in order to obtain the highest, a man must enter into this order of the priesthood [meaning the new and everlasting covenant of marriage]; And if he does not, he cannot obtain it. He may enter into the other, but that is the end of his kingdom; he cannot have an increase” (Doctrine and Covenants 131:1–4).
How can I help members who identify as gay or experience same-sex attraction feel loved, welcomed, and inspired at church?
Watch Carol F. McConkie’s (First Counselor in the General Young Women Presidency) video, “Lifting Others.”
“It is so important that we understand, first of all, that everyone is in a different place along the path, and that we develop an awareness of the people that are around us.
“I know people who come to church every Sunday so that they can be inspired and uplifted and who just simply walk away feeling judged and unloved; unneeded. Like there is no place for them at church. We need to do this differently. We need to be deeply aware of what the purpose of coming to church on Sunday is and make sure that everyone who comes feels loved, needed, accepted, and lifted. Everybody has struggles we don’t even know about. And it’s so important that we be aware that everyone around us is loved of God. And that we need to see them through Christlike eyes. And we cannot allow judgment to dictate the way we interact with people. It’s just simply not right. I feel that the Lord places us where we are and connects us with the people around us for a purpose.
“Because it’s not only about our own progression, but about helping others progress. And I have come to recognize that we are placed where we are so that we can love and lift others.
“We just cannot be, or even call ourselves a disciple of Christ, if we are not helping others along that path. The gospel of Jesus Christ does not marginalize people. People marginalize people. And we have to fix that. We need to be sensitive and love them and allow them the opportunity to grow and to blossom and to be their best selves. They have talents and abilities and personality that is needed in the kingdom of God. And if we are going to build the kingdom of God on the earth, we need everyone to come, to come and do their part. And we need to recognize that when anyone’s shadow darkens the door of the chapel, they ought to feel immediately embraced, and loved, and lifted, and inspired when they walk out that door, to go and be better. Because they know the Lord loves them. And because they have friends in their faith.”
Should I recommend professional counseling to gay members and/or their families?
A change in attraction should not be expected or demanded as an outcome by parents, leaders, or professional counselors. However, seeking insight from a professional counselor is a sign of strength and humility. If a person chooses to seek such help, others should respect his or her right to determine the desired outcomes.
Sometimes it can be difficult to view oneself objectively. Seeking insight from a professional counselor can help many aspects of life—from addressing patterns of depression and anxiety to strengthening a marriage. As Elder Jeffrey R. Holland has noted, professional help can sometimes be just as important as spiritual help (see “Like A Broken Vessel,” Oct. 2013 general conference).
When one seeks therapy, the Church recommends approaches that respect “client self-determination.”
In other words, the individual has the right to determine desired outcomes, and therapists and counselors should respect his or her wishes. For someone who experiences same-sex attraction or identifies as gay, counseling may help the person approach his or her sexuality in healthier, more fulfilling ways. However, counseling and therapy are not needed by everyone.
While shifts in sexuality can and do occur for some people, it is unethical to focus professional treatment on an assumption that a change in sexual orientation will or must occur. Again, the individual has the right to define the desired outcome.
How do I help members who experience gender dysphoria or identify as transgender?
This website does not discuss gender dysphoria or transgender issues. However, many of the general principles shared on this website (for example, the importance of inclusion and kindness) do apply to Latter-day Saints who experience gender dysphoria or identify as transgender. However, same-sex attraction and gender dysphoria are very different. For example, those who experience gender dysphoria may or may not also experience same-sex attraction, and the majority of those who experience same-sex attraction do not desire to change their gender. From a psychological and ministerial perspective, the two are different. For more information see “Transgender” in Life Help, ChurchofJesusChrist.org.
How can I support members and their families who may be experiencing depression or thoughts of suicide?
People who experience same-sex attraction or identify themselves as gay may be at higher risk for depression or suicide. People who are depressed or who may be contemplating suicide need to know they are loved and should be referred to a competent mental health professional. Feelings of depression are real and can be overwhelming and debilitating.
Elder Jeffrey R. Holland speaks compassionately of dealing with depression:
“Whatever your struggle, my brothers and sisters—mental or emotional or physical or otherwise—do not vote against the preciousness of life by ending it!
“Trust in God. Hold on in His love. Know that one day the dawn will break brightly, and all shadows of mortality will flee. Though we may feel we are ‘like a broken vessel,’ as the Psalmist says, we must remember, that vessel is in the hands of the divine potter” (“Like a Broken Vessel,” Oct. 2013 general conference).
When feelings of depression turn to suicidal thoughts, it is critical to have someone to talk to. People who are suicidal are in significant physical, mental, or emotional pain; are often isolated; and may feel they have no hope for the future. They may feel there is no other way to end the crippling pain except through taking their own life. Thoughts of death by suicide are often contemplated, considered, and reconsidered before any attempt is made. During this period of contemplation, intervention can save a life.
If it appears someone may be at risk, the best thing one can do is talk to them about it. It may seem awkward or presumptuous, but people who are depressed often desperately need someone to talk to, someone to help them process thoughts and feelings. These conversations may be difficult, but they are critical in reducing the feelings of isolation and hopelessness that can lead to suicide. If it appears that a person is at immediate risk of attempting suicide, call the national suicide prevention lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).
Are there restrictions on Church participation for members who identify as gay or experience same-sex attraction?
“Someone who is adhering to the norm of chastity, someone who is following the covenants, and the standards, teachings of the gospel of Christ, though they may be dealing with same-sex attraction, really there is no reason they cannot be fully participative, that they can’t be a full-fledged member of the Church, and hold callings, and speak, and enter the temple, and serve there, and all the other opportunities and blessings that can come from Church membership will be available to them.
“There are examples of this among Church members. There are multiple examples. And though no one would say it is always easy, all of us are endeavoring to maintain those norms and keep our covenants. And we’re all in the same boat, in the same company in that regard. So, I say there are many, relatively speaking, who are finding that success in their lives, and that happiness.” —Elder D. Todd Christofferson
Why shouldn’t leaders encourage heterosexual marriage for those who experience same-sex attraction or identify as gay?
“We don’t counsel people that heterosexual marriage is a panacea. You’ll see in some of these experiences that are related on this site that it has been a successful experience in a few cases, or some have expressed the success they have found in marriage and in raising a family, and in the joy and all that has filled out and blessed their lives as a consequence. But that we know is not always true. And it’s not always successful. Sometimes it’s been even disastrous. We think it’s something that a person can evaluate, and they can discuss, and both with priesthood leaders and family and others, and make decisions. But we simply don’t take a uniform position on saying, ‘Yes, always,’ or ‘No, always.’” —Elder D. Todd Christofferson
What is the counsel about acting on sexual impulses?
“Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you?” (1 Corinthians 3:16).
Our bodies are a special gift from God. They provide our spirits with a way to experience the physical world. They are key to our potential exaltation. Learning to master our bodies is an important part of becoming like our Heavenly Parents. Mastery takes time, practice, and patience, but it has eternal consequences.
God has commanded us to “bridle all [our] passions, that [we] may be filled with love” (Alma 38:12).
Living the law of chastity is a source of great blessings. As President Marion G. Romney declared: “I can think of no blessings to be more fervently desired than those promised to the pure and the virtuous. Jesus spoke of specific rewards for different virtues but reserved the greatest, so it seems to me, for the pure in heart, ‘for they,’ said he, ‘shall see God’ (Matthew 5:8). And not only shall they see the Lord, but they shall feel at home in his presence.
Sexuality is an important part of being human and is also a source of passions that need to be bridled. Despite these intense feelings, there are Latter-day Saints who faithfully adhere to the Lord’s moral law over many years.
These individuals have made a determined commitment to live a chaste life and avoid anything that will reduce inhibitions. Additionally, they have provided exceptional service to others, especially in a Church setting. In so doing, they have found joy, contentment, and peace.
Children and youth need the help of parents and trustworthy adults to learn about and understand sexuality in its divine context: Parents have primary responsibility for the sex education of their children. Teaching this subject honestly and plainly in the home will help young people avoid serious moral sins.
Where schools have undertaken sex education, parents should seek to ensure that the instructions given to their children are consistent with sound moral and ethical values.
Experimentation with sexual expression outside marriage is a serious sin.
The Lord’s law of chastity is:
Abstinence from sexual relations outside of a marriage between a man and a woman according to God’s law.
Fidelity within marriage.
Physical intimacy between husband and wife is intended to be beautiful and sacred. It is ordained of God for the creation of children and for the expression of love between husband and wife.
Only a man and a woman who are legally and lawfully wedded as husband and wife should have sexual relations. In God’s sight, moral cleanliness is very important. Violations of the law of chastity are very serious (see Exodus 20:14; Matthew 5:28; Alma 39:5). They misuse the sacred power God has given to create life.
God’s commandments forbid all unchaste behavior, either same-sex or heterosexual. Church leaders counsel members who have violated the law of chastity. Leaders help them have a clear understanding of faith in Jesus Christ and His Atonement, the process of repentance, and the purpose of life on earth. Behavior that is inconsistent with the law of chastity may be cause for holding a Church membership council (see 38.6.5). It can be forgiven through sincere repentance.