I write the answer to this question based on my own personal experience as well as my observation of others. I am also assuming that you are coming from a framework where you (a) have a testimony of the gospel and want to live its teachings, (b) are male, and (c) experience a strong degree of homosexual attraction. If you don’t fit these categories, you are welcome to read on, but my answer is written with this kind of person in mind.
The reason why those feelings feel so natural is because they are natural! Stop reading for a moment and consider very carefully this question: What is it you really want and yearn for from another man? Is it really sex? As men we have a God-given, testosterone-fueled libido (strong sex drive). We are wired to find sexual expression pleasurable. But put that in perspective for a moment and consider everything that you desire from another man. Is it sex you want most of all, or is what you are really craving intimate closeness and affection from men?
For me, the answer to that question is easy. Affection and closeness to men is what I want, and that doesn’t feel wrong because it isn’t wrong. You can find examples of deep affection and intimacy in every part of the standard works. In the Old Testament, we have David and Jonathan. In the New, we have Jesus and His apostles. You can find Alma and Amulek, or the brothers Nephi and Lehi, or the sons of Mosiah in the Book of Mormon. In the restored Church history, look at the closeness and affection Joseph Smith describes for his friends and fellow-workers in the Kingdom.
Now some people try to suggest that these individuals were not only close friends, but sex partners as well. I think they’re totally missing the point. This desire for closeness with other men is something all men feel, though how much of this a particular man may need may vary. I hope it is clear I am talking about all men, even those who experience no level of homosexual attraction. This even extends to (appropriate) physical affection. I grabbed a screen shot of some General Authorities holding hands during General Conference a few years back. These men were being released from the Sunday School Presidency, and it was clear they had a very close and special relationship to each other. Are they “gay” because they are holding hands? No! Is it wrong for General Authorities to hold hands during General Conference? No!
What feels wrong (to me at least) is sexualizing or romanticizing those feelings. For me, what I feel and get from men is qualitatively different from what I get from my wife. The one cannot replace the other. I want, and need, both in my life.
I have talked to hundreds of guys over the years who experience homosexual attraction, and when they describe their first sexual experience, the vast majority of them say to me some variation of this: “I didn’t really want sex. I just wanted to be held in the arms of a strong man. I consented to the sex because that’s what I needed to do to keep feeling the physical and emotional closeness.”
Now I am not so naïve to claim that these men didn’t enjoy sex (though it’s surprising to me how many of them say their first experience, at least, is quite a letdown, not at all as enjoyable as they expected), and so gradually once men start having sex that increases in importance. But it’s still a surprise to me that sexual desire itself is so rarely part of what guys tell me motivates them, at least at first. Though I don’t have a lot of experience in this area, that was definitely true in my case as well.
Sorry to put it this bluntly, but it’s a damn shame that we live in a world where it is easier to get a man to have sex with you than it is to have him hold you or let you cry on his shoulder when you are having a hard time. That is not your fault, and it’s not my fault. But we can do something about it.
Despite the difficulty, I have managed to find men whom I do have that kind of closeness to, who support me and whom I can tell anything to and share everything with. They will even will give me safe, non-sexual hugs when I need it, and yet I can trust them to respect my sexual and romantic boundaries. Many of these men do not experience homosexual attractions, and can find it helpful to them as well. If we can step outside our cultural labels of what is “gay” and what is “straight” it seems perfectly normal for one man to comfort another by putting his arm around the other man and allowing him to cry and grieve. It’s only in our culture that is so hypersexualized and attuned to “gay” that this becomes uncomfortable for some people.
Even outside of difficult emotional times, most men have a need to spend time with other men. This is a large reason why sports clubs, ice fishing, hunting, and “man caves” were invented. It is a zone of masculinity created where men can spend time with and connect with other men.
If you are fortunate enough to serve in Church leadership (like the General Authorities pictured above), then it is possible that those needs can be met in Church service. But if not, it can be difficult because the Church culture does not approve of time spent outside the home. If you are not doing your calling, or doing your home teaching, then there is this unwritten expectation that you are supposed to be home with your family. Yet I do not see this written anywhere, and there are plenty of examples that indicate otherwise.
I am fortunate that I have a wife who understands me and supports my need for “guy time”. A large reason she is okay with it is because we are happily married and have a fully functioning marriage. She sees that not only am I a good and faithful husband and father, but that when I come back from my time with the guys, I am recharged and more fully engaged with the family. The time away makes the time I am with the family more effective.
It does require balance and compromise on everyone’s part. I am fortunate that I have a wife who understands this aspect of male needs and supports me. I also have to realize that I may not always get my needs met. (My friend Rex Goode likes to say that the Savior didn’t always get His needs met, but He was still obedient. Having little free time is no excuse for breaking my covenants.) There is no hard-and-fast rule for how much time I appropriate to spend with other men, and how much is too much. It needs to be with good friends who affirm my values and support the direction I want to achieve in life. It needs to be a group where I can be myself fully and have lots of fun, but in an honest and authentic way. It’s not about mere distraction or entertainment.
In other words, not only does it need to be the right amount of “guy time”, it also needs to be the right kind of “guy time.” I can’t give any hard and fast rule to this because everyone will be different, and as people change and mature, their needs evolve as well. But one thing my wife watches for is if I come home more engaged, recharged and energized with her and my family, more fully real and present, exercising leadership, then it’s not too much. On the other hand, I know men who return from their time away from their families only to be sullen, withdrawn, and short-tempered. It is likely this man is avoiding addressing issues in his life (and probably marriage) and the guy time is only a way to escape temporarily from these problems.
For me, however, in trying to strike that balance, I find that I hardly ever have to “white knuckle” obedience, or suppress any part of myself. I certainly don’t have to hate myself or lie to myself or others about “who I really am.” If I put Heavenly Father first, I really can have it all (though not necessarily right now).
This is not easy and not everyone is successful, but for me, it is worth it. It has entailed sacrifices, but if I had chosen to live as an openly gay man with a partner, that also would have involved sacrifices. I had to decide what I wanted, and what was worth it. That’s a much better way to make a decision than just going with what seems easier, because what appears easiest right now is not always the easiest long term.