There’s porn and there are gay people. But is there “gay porn?” Or is it simply porn featuring people of the same gender having sex together?

If it’s “gay porn,” then virtually no "straight" people would be looking at it. If it’s porn featuring same-gender sex, we’d expect plenty of straight people to be watching it.

It’s the latter, of course. Adults find all sorts of fantasies and images sexy—and they don’t necessarily have anything to do with their real-life desires. That is, enjoying scenes of two men having oral sex doesn’t make a man gay. Similarly, enjoying looking at fictional scenes of sexual coercion (or fantasizing being raped) doesn’t mean a person wants that in real life.

What arouses us is only a small part of our sexual orientation. If you want to know if someone’s gay, straight, or bisexual, ask them who they have sex with (and who they want to have sex with in real life), not what websites they like to watch.

The question came up in a consultation group I run, when a therapist asked why some straight men were attracted to porn featuring pre-operative transsexuals (typically advertised as “tranny” or “she-male” porn)—that is, images of people with women’s breasts and a penis.

Well, why wouldn’t they? Talk about having your cake and eating it too! Most straight men enjoy women’s breasts, and most straight men are fascinated with penises. This porn allows the viewer to enjoy both at the same time. And the arithmetical possibilities—whether the performer is onscreen with one other person or several—are increased geometrically. Fellatio, anyone? Submission-domination-submission-domination, anyone?

That’s why I discourage my straight patients from using the expression “gay fantasy,” and discourage my gay patients from saying “straight fantasy” (unless they’re fantasies ABOUT being gay or straight, which is a different matter). These expressions actually confuse things, because they suggest that the enjoyment of cross-orientation fantasies needs explanation. An investigation can be valuable, of course, especially if people have trouble acknowledging their curiosity or interests. Sometimes the content of a favorite fantasy is a metaphor or an indirect expression of interest. A same-gender fantasy may excite a straight person because of, say, power dynamics. A mixed-gender fantasy may excite a gay person because of, say, a sense of belonging. A same-gender fantasy may excite a straight person because, say, it involves power dynamics.

And some straight people like "gay porn" because it shows kissing.

It turns out that sexuality is more complicated than gay-or-straight. In 1948 Alfred Kinsey famously documented that “the world is not simply divided “into sheep and goats,” and presented his 7-point Kinsey Scale of sexual orientation. These days, expressions like GLBTQQI remind us that a person’s sexual orientation is a movie, not a photograph—behavior and self-identity can change over time. Curiosity and experimentation can take us in unexpected (even, sometimes, boring!) directions. In that sense, we’re all “queer,” and potentially or actually “questioning.”

Ultimately, it’s more important to enjoy our fantasies than to understand or decode them. Most of us enjoy mainstream entertainment—such as violent video games, syrupy romance novels, detailed historical documentaries, or utopian science fiction films—without wondering what our preferences for these things “mean.” We all know perfectly gentle people who enjoy the brutal weekly mayhem on CSI or Gray's Anatomy or whatever the latest adrenalin-pumper is. We may criticize their taste, but we don’t need to fear their violent impulses.

Unless, of course, we try to change the channel.

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