Neuroplasticity and Change in Sexual Desires

The truth that in Christ people can actually change in their lives is fundamental to the Christian message. Sanctification is definitive. What Christ has done brings us into a new reality of transformation (Hebrews 10:14, 1Peter 1:2). Such change is pretty key to our walk. Especially from the desire for things God says are not good, the Scriptures hold out the possibility of a healthy and happy departure (1Corinthians 6:9-11).


This, of course, contradicts the current cultural narrative that change is impossible for those whose desires go against the God-given covenant of marriage. In the interest of developing pathos, the idea of non-change is stressed for those with same-sex attraction. So then, the Bible telling us that we can leave desires like these unfulfilled sounds barbarous. The Bible does tell us that. But the first part isn’t true.


Different scientific data has steadily contradicted the conception of the same-sex attracted as being “born this way.” Monozygotic twins studies, for example, published in Hershberger, Journal of Sex Research (1997), Bailey et. al., Journal of Personality and Social Psychology (2000), Kendler et. al., American Journal of Psychiatry (2000), and Langstrom, et. al., Archives of Sexual Behavior (2010), have proven that same-sex attraction is not primarily genetic.


But the science has not done anything to thwart the cultural narrative. Eventually, the fallacy of born-this-way will have to be acknowledged, but not before it does a lot more damage. In the meantime, the results of another scientific movement will become increasingly hard to deny: knowledge of the brain. Neuroscientists, as reported in journals, have been exploring for some time the process of how the brain grows and transforms throughout our lives. The term, “neuroplasticity,” is replacing the term, “hard-wired,” to emphasize just how great this capacity for transformation is. I was happy to see this recently highlighted by a Harvest USA article by Jim Weidenaar, entitled, “Can you Re-Wire Your Brain?” You can also watch inspiring documentaries about it like “The Brain that Changes Itself,” based on a good book.


What does the neuroscience tell us? Just what counselors have known for a long time.  Desired change is hard, but possible. Under the right circumstances, very possible. In the Christian understanding, change in the area of any temptation is not usually like a magic pill that you can take, never to give you any trouble again. But, as neuroscience acknowledges, there are paths to different desires and behavior, as you think differently. In Christian experience, there is victory over sin that leads upward toward Christ.


The thief can become honest, but it does not happen if he thinks he is just hard-wired to steal. The adulteress can become loyal, but not by affirming her birth-rite as a cheater. Instead she finds a new identity in the faithfulness of Christ.  Her brain changes. The Christian gospel promises that we do not need to be forever bound to a life that does not please God (2Corinthians 5:17). And through the right relationships, we can be helped to desire different things.



Neuroscience helps us to better understand the equipment the Holy Spirit uses to make us new. The message of change, reinforced by neuroscience, brings hope about our unwanted desires. In Christ we are freed to determine ourselves differently.

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