From autumn 1999 - Head to Head: Homosexuality
Trevor Stammers argues both that 'the health risks of homosexual practice are higher than heterosexual practice' and that 'homosexuality and paedophilia are linked'. He reminds us that most HIV in the UK is acquired through gay sex, and that gay people are over-represented among paedophiles. However, worldwide most HIV is heterosexually transmitted, and it is promiscuity rather than particular sexual acts which spread STDs. Furthermore, if '35% of paedophiles are homosexual', then most paedophiles are heterosexually oriented. Using statistics about a few within the gay community to label all gay people as unhygienic and deviant only ferments prejudice, and denies the truth that 'all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God' (Rom 3:23). Everyone (not just gay people) should be delaying the onset of sexual activity. An age of consent of 18 for all would ensure greater protection.
Dr Stammers is right that 'homosexual orientation is often a transient phase of adolescent development', but 'recruitment' of confused teenagers into a gay lifestyle is uncommon, as they experience such pressure from their peers towards heterosexuality. Many people who experience homosexual feelings strive to make themselves 'normal' by having relationships with members of the opposite sex. Some even marry, often with disastrous results. The saddest statistic of all is that homosexual orientation is a risk factor for suicide in young men.
Teenagers don't choose the sexual feelings they experience. God, however, does give us a choice as to whether or not we express those feelings physically. I know from my own struggles with homosexuality that the church seems mainly silent on this issue. For many confused teenagers, only pro-gay organisations guarantee a sympathetic hearing but they do not usually offer a Christian perspective. Christians must speak out to ensure that young people with gay feelings can exercise a choice about their sexual activity, but must do so with compassion, and leave behind prejudice. Whilst we cannot compromise on what God says about sex, we must not 'load people down with burdens they can hardly carry, and ...not lift one finger to help them' (Lk 11:46). Rather, 'if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently' (Gal 6:1).
Senior House Officer
I also concur that ' 'recruitment' of teenagers into a gay lifestyle is uncommon', but it certainly does happen. My point is that lowering the legal age of consent will make this more (not less) likely.
We have to ask why it is that 72% of male HIV infection in the UK is acquired through homosexual intercourse. Among teenage men in 1996 92% of HIV was contracted in this way. Surely both promiscuity and the nature of specific sexual acts are important risk factors. The fact that the incidence of anal cancer among gay men is now greater than that of cervical cancer in women is not readily explained by promiscuity alone. The very term 'gay-bowel syndrome' emphasises that particular acts do spread disease, though of course promiscuity compounds the problem. Finally, if the health risks of homosexual practice are not higher than heterosexual, why are potential male blood donors banned for life if they have ever had sex with another man, even just once?  Surely this is an outrageous prejudice unless my central claim is true.
Suicide is always a great concern. I have no doubt that homophobic bullying, violence and verbal abuse all contribute to the self-loathing that drives some gay men to take their own lives. This is deplorable. However, the heartache and rejection accompanying the high promiscuity rates in the gay world are just as likely as homophobia to underlie the higher suicide rates. I do not know of any peer reviewed study that settles this issue one way or the other.
We cannot compromise on what God says about sex. From passages such as Matthew 19:4-6 and 1 Corinthians 7:1-9 it seems clear that biblically, coitus is only permitted within the commitment of heterosexual marriage. This is a challenge for all of us, whether gay or straight. We need to ensure that those who fall short of God's standard have a compassionate and gentle reception from those 'who are spiritual' (Gal 6:1), but the aim should be restoration to holy living. Such a wonderful message of grace is as open to the homosexual as anyone else. I agree with Donald that the church should do more to demonstrate that openess.