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‘Straight’ Men Who Have Sex With Men

Why would a man in a heterosexual relationship be sexual with other men?

Image by Fizkes on Shutterstock
Source: Image by Fizkes on Shutterstock

With more than 25 years of experience treating sex and intimacy issues, I can tell you that it’s not uncommon for betrayed female partners to express concern about their male partner viewing gay pornography or engaging in sex with other men – all the while insisting they’re heterosexual and love their wives.

Consider this email I received from a betrayed wife (made anonymous and used here with permission):

Recently, I discovered that my husband of six years has been viewing porn of other men. I found out when I borrowed his laptop to check my email, started to type in the address of my email service, and got a porn site instead. Surveying his computer, I found folders containing hundreds of videos of men having sex with other men. When I confronted my husband, he said he’s addicted to porn but he’s never cheated on me. (I think that using porn is cheating, but he disagrees.) He also insists that he’s not gay or even bisexual, and that his same-sex porn use is related to childhood sexual abuse.

After that, I asked to see his phone. Handing it over to me and knowing what I was about to find, he admitted he’d been cheating on me since the beginning of our relationship using hookup apps, and he was mostly cheating with men.

With all of that, he still swears he’s not gay or bisexual. Honestly, I don’t care either way, as long as he stops lying and keeping secrets and is monogamous with me from here on out. Am I crazy for wanting to stay with him? Am I wasting my time hoping he’ll change his behavior? Is he secretly gay and just using me as a cover? Is he really an addict, or is he just using that as an excuse? I’m really confused, and I think that he is, too.

Needless to say, without a full psycho-social-sexual assessment, there was no way for me to answer the wife’s questions. I did, however, reach out to this couple, and it was quickly apparent that the husband’s behavior clearly met the World Health Organization’s criteria for Compulsive Sexual Behavior Disorder. Based on that, I recommended treatment for sexual compulsivity at Seeking Integrity: Los Angeles, where I was able to remain directly involved in his and his wife’s healing process.

Regarding his sexual orientation, the clinical team explained that there are many reasons why a man in a relationship with a woman might choose to act out sexually with members of the same sex. The most common are as follows:

  • He is physically attracted to other men and always has been, whether he’s admitted it or not. If so, he may be gay and using his wife as a cover. He might also be bisexual – attracted to both his wife and the men he acts out with.
  • He is re-enacting unresolved early life trauma (in an attempt to ‘master’ and ‘control’ it, even though it’s in the past and therefore cannot be mastered or controlled). His trauma could also be manifesting as a fetish-type behavior, where he has sexualized male body parts but has no wish to be romantic and intimately connected with other men.
  • His use of pornography has uncovered a latent sexual interest in men, and now he is acting on that. (I wrote about this phenomenon several months ago. You can find that article at this link.)

Regardless of where same-sex attractions come from, it is important to understand that once they are part of a man’s arousal template, they’re not going away. This doesn’t, however, mean he has to act on those attractions. Ultimately, such men (and their female partners) need to accept and deal with these attractions in the healthiest way possible for them.

As often happens, when this particular client entered treatment he wanted it both ways. He loved his wife and wanted to stay with her, but he also wanted to indulge his attraction to men. He suggested that maybe he could look at gay porn on a limited basis, or they could have an open relationship that would allow him to be sexual outside their relationship once or twice a month, or, well, the list of options was endless.

His wife, on the other hand, wanted a monogamous relationship. Period. That’s what she was promised when they started dating, that’s what she was promised when they got engaged, and that’s what she expected when they got married. From her perspective, any use of pornography (regardless of the nature of that pornography) was cheating, and she absolutely did not, under any circumstances, want an open relationship. She continually said that she does not care if her husband is bisexual, as long he honors his marriage vows and no longer keeps secrets.

At the end of the day, the client had to make a choice. Was he going to stay in his marriage and honor his commitment to monogamy, thereby choosing to not act on his attractions to men, or was he going to end his marriage and explore a different type of relationship and sexuality?

When faced with this choice, his answer was clear and decisive. He wanted to stay with his wife, heal his sexual compulsivity, and create the family and relationship they both desired. Eventually, in a couple’s counseling session, he stated, “I’m a bisexual man in a monogamous marriage to a woman that I love very much, and that’s the most important thing in my life. I can live without porn and I can live without sex with men, but I can’t live without my wife.” As this was their mutual goal, we headed in that direction to see how things might (or might not) work out.

Not every story like this ends this way. Many such men will, over time, conclude that a heterosexual relationship is not the right path for them no matter how much they love the woman they are with. Other times, the couple will choose to have an open relationship – but with clear boundaries and rules. The possible ‘solutions’ to this issue are in fact too many and too varied to list.

No matter what, my job is not to push for or judge any of these decisions. Instead, I must hear what the client and his partner say and help them make the best decision possible for themselves and their relationship. The real goal here is honesty and mutual decision-making based on that honesty. Without that, both the individuals and the relationship will continue to suffer.