Emotionally Absent Fathers: Furthering the Understanding of Homosexuality

By Seutter, Ray A.; Rovers, Martin | Journal of Psychology and Theology, Spring 2004 | Go to article overview
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Emotionally Absent Fathers: Furthering the Understanding of Homosexuality

Seutter, Ray A., Rovers, Martin, Journal of Psychology and Theology

Homosexuality is a complex and multi-factorial mosaic. The debate regarding the etiology of homosexuality ranges from the biological to psychological, from the essential / materialist to the constructionist. This study explored emotionally absent fathers as one variable in the understanding of homosexuality. The levels of father-son and mother-son emotional connectedness / distance, measured in terms of intimacy and intimidation, were studied among male Catholic seminarians in Canada. Results indicated that those seminarians who identified their sexual orientation as homosexual scored significantly lower on their level of intimacy with their fathers than did heterosexual seminarians. No such differences existed in the relationship of seminarians and their mothers. There were no significant differences on the intimidation scores. Results lend new credence to the "weak father" theory of homosexuality and to the importance of same-sex emotional connectedness in the psychosexual gender development of individuals. Implications for therapy are discussed with suggestions for further research.


Sexual orientation is an important and complex psychological variable, "a complex mosaic of biologic, psychological and social/cultural factors" (Byne & Parsons, 1993, p.229). There is a lot of discussion in the current debate on homosexuality regarding its etiology and implications for therapy (Griffin, 1999; Schuklenk & Ristow, 1996; Tam, 1997). Currently there exists no scientific consensus on this subject.

The purpose of this article is to study family of origin, especially the influence of intergenerational intimacy and intergenerational intimidation in the father-son and the mother-son relationship, and its possible impact on the emergence of same sex attraction. From a therapeutic perspective, different understandings of homosexuality and distinctive client realities call for sensitivity and expertise in dealing with clients who approach therapy to deal with issues of homosexuality, as will be discussed later in this article.

Perspectives on the Etiology of Homosexuality

A diversity of theoretical concepts, each with their proponents and opponents, exist that endeavor to explain the origins of homosexuality (Herek, 1991). The debate regarding the etiology of homosexuality often follows the nature/nurture divide (Byne, 1997; E. Stein, 1990; T.S. Stein, 1997; Herdt, 1992). The controversy seems to be between the essentialists and the constructionists (Stein, 1999). The essentialists, also called determinists and materialists (Yarhouse & Jones, 1996) accentuate the biological, inherited origins of sexual orientation probably has much to do with genes, hormones and brain structure, or "natural kinds" (LeVay, 1996). Essentialists assert that sexual orientation is a universalizing reality that fits all kinds of people across cultures and history (Stein, 1999). For the essentialist, sexual orientation is an enduring reality, an essence at the core of our being that occurs naturally. While there is suggestive but incomplete evidence for a biological basis (Bailey & Pillard, 1991; Levay, 1991), there is also critique (Byne, 1995, 1996; Fausto-Sterling, 1995, 1997). On the other side, the constructionists assert that sexual orientations are not natural human kinds, but rather, need to be seen as social human kinds as a result of social process (Stein, 1999). Constructionists emphasize the developmental, environmental, and especially the family of origin influences on the homosexual, as well as the "repeatedly reinforced choices" made by individuals (Satinover, 1996). For the constructionists, sexual orientation is fashioned by shared cultural meanings and understandings and is experienced by people in different ways. Research here is also inconclusive (Kitzinger, 1995; Kitzinger & Wilkinson, 1993) and often this research is based upon self-identified lesbian and gay people.

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