A group of Latter-day Saint counselors and therapists got some up-close insight Thursday during a panel discussion at the Joseph Smith Memorial Building into the challenges faced by gay LDS men who marry.

Speaking to a standing-room-only audience, three LDS couples described their experiences with their heterosexual marriages, despite the fact that each of the husbands experience what they call same-sex attraction, or SSA. They said while they are basically happy, navigating the emotional and physical aspects of their relationships requires constant hard work.

All emphasized that marriage is not a "cure" for same-sex attraction.

They were panelists during the semiannual meeting of the Association of Mormon Counselors and Psychotherapists.

Because of the nature of the discussion, none of the participants wanted their identities publicized. Their names have been changed for this story.

Each of the men described a childhood that included being labeled as a "golden boy" by their peers and church leaders — a devout Latter-day Saint young man eager to learn and obey the faith's teachings with respect to marriage and family, and to serve an LDS mission.

All said they had at least one episode of feeling sexually attracted to girls during adolescence or when they returned from their missions. But a variety of factors came into play for each, both during adolescence and in dating young women, that had them wondering how they could possibly marry and have children, as their church teaches.

"Brett" said he had so internalized LDS teachings about chastity and morality as a young man that the thought of having a sexual relationship with a woman "was repulsive. I was disgusted by the female anatomy."

He was emotionally attracted to female friends, but couldn't get beyond the physical repulsion, and avoided holding hands or kissing women he dated. Dating his future wife off and on for an extended period, the more serious she became, the more "my same-sex desires came out. That's when I started getting into pornography" and other behaviors, "which only perpetuates the problem," he said.

Desperate to end the emotional pain, he confided in her, expecting the relationship to end. Instead, "she reacted very, very well. She looked at me and said, 'Are you crazy? That doesn't change the fact that I love you."' She began going to counseling with him, and they eventually married.

She didn't pressure him for physical intimacy once she realized the issue. Meantime, he found a male mentor who had been through the same experience and was able to provide detailed explanations and counsel.

"Joe" said he was attracted to women, but found dating and physical intimacy intimidating, difficult and "not very successful. I was having the opposite experience with people of the same sex that were attractive and did reciprocate," though his "spiritual identity" had always been "marriage and family," he said.

"That was always the goal, even when I was in the wilderness."

He dated his wife for three years, dealing with external pressure to move the relationship forward from family and friends who didn't know about his attraction to other men. He confided in her before they were engaged, and they built a level of trust that took into account his fears about physical intimacy.

"She took a risk ... but I do believe men can get to a point where they are capable of a relationship with a woman."

"Dan" was sexually abused by male siblings as a child, but was attracted to girls at a young age. When his early interest in girls was discouraged, and he was teased for being "skinny and effeminate," he turned toward boys, becoming addicted to gay pornography and acting out.

He served a mission, returned and married without telling his wife about his past, thinking he had overcome his attraction to men. But several months later he got back into pornography and the accompanying addictive behaviors. When she caught him looking at porn, he told her his story.

After that, it took years for them to be able to discuss his attraction to men. He said he "made a lot of mistakes" and the two of them talked about divorce, but he praised his wife for "hanging in there with me."

The wives said they see their husbands as much more than their same-sex attraction. Despite the challenges and public perception to the contrary, one said, "there are people who are married and dealing with this."

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