Sex

Straight Guise: Understanding Male Sexual Fluidity

Why straight men having sex with men confounds us.

Posted Jul 13, 2020

As a culture, we’ve begun to awaken in recent decades and acknowledge various previously unspoken manifestations of sexuality and eroticism, and we’ve devised and revised new labels for them, such as LGBTQ, pansexual, asexual, demisexual and more. These can sometimes help people self-identify and find a community they can feel at home in, and they can also serve as an instrument for self-advocacy and empowerment.

“Sexual fluidity” is a term that’s helped some, particularly younger people, feel a sense of community. It means that someone’s erotic desires and attractions can cross boundaries and/or evolve over time to another gender. This seems to me to be a good development. But there’s one label that isn’t bringing community or helping people feel at home: “male sexual fluidity.” When it comes to this label, it appears we’re still caught up in some cultural prejudices and stigmatization. 

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Source: istock by Getty Credit: Prostock-Studio

Male sexual fluidity

In my practice, I come across many men who identify as straight but engage in having sex with men or are attracted to watching gay porn. They’re attracted to sexual behaviors with men, not necessarily to the men. Sometimes their wife has discovered their Internet searches, prompting one or both into coming into my office. While these men don’t believe that they’re gay or bisexual, others—unfortunately including other therapists and even other gay and bisexual men—will insist that they’re truly gay or bi and simply in denial about it, in other words, closeted. While it’s true that closeted gay and bisexual men think they’re straight before coming out, these are not who I’m talking about here. 

Labels must come from the inside

There are several problems with imposing a label on these men. First, sexual or erotic identity cannot be determined from the outside. A person must feel it and identify with it from the inside. Sexual behavior doesn’t always equate with sexual identity. We cannot always be defined by what we do sexually. In other words, I like to say, “We’re not only what we orgasm.”

But who decided that a straight guy can’t have a homoerotic fantasy and even sexual contact with other men? Consider this: When a woman watches lesbian porn or admits to having fantasies about hooking up with another woman, she is accepted, even fetishized. Many women experience this and are not labeled as lesbians or bisexual. However, if a man admits to watching gay porn or fantasizing about sex with other men, even if it was only one thought and if he’s never acted on these impulses, he’s automatically labeled as a closeted gay man, or a bisexual in denial. 

The good and bad of labels

At some point in our sexual experience, labels can be important—quite liberating and affirming. On the other hand, labels can become confining rather than enlightening. They often don’t tell the whole story and can keep us in a mental box that’s at odds with our evolving eroticism. “Male sexual fluidity” at least offers the possibility that if someone is courageous enough to explore his sexuality, he may more accurately determine who he is in an organic, authentic way. It allows for nuance. 

Why do straight men have sex with men?

There are many reasons, which I’ve discovered through my therapy practice: 

Childhood Sexual Abuse. They may have been sexually abused by a man as a child, and the urges they feel are the product of the trauma they endured. By having sex with a man, they may be seeking resolution of the trauma (also known as trauma reenactment, not an actual sexual attraction, a trauma urge). 

Male Bonding. Some of them had no father or other male attachment figure, they may have been disenfranchised by other males growing up, and have a deep desire to connect to another male. Many boys while growing up participate in secret bonding experiences with other boys by masturbating together, and even masturbating each other (circle jerks). Most often they grow up to be happily married to a woman, never having thought of themselves as gay or bi. They didn’t confuse the acts with their sexual identity. They were simply attracted to the sexual contact they were sharing, thrilled by the taboo adventure of it. This doesn’t equate to being gay or bi. The gay or bi boy may be secretly and eagerly waiting for the next invitation. 

Ironically, adult men being sexual with a man helps them feel that missing connection. I believe this is due to the lack of permission males still have in bonding beyond work and sports, and that we’re still not teaching men how to emotionally connect with other men. Sex becomes an easy way to experience a connection, if only temporarily. 

Anal Sex. Some straight men enjoy receiving anal sex, and if they can’t get it from their wife or female partner because they feel judged or shamed, they turn to other men. I hear from men like this who insist that they didn’t see this as cheating on their spouse because they were just having sex with a man, even though they aren’t attracted to men. For them, it simply is a transactional event, nothing to do with their sexual identity. However, these men and their female partners worry that they’re not straight. I say to them, “Your anus doesn’t have a sexual orientation.”  Many gay men don’t at all enjoy anal sex. Should we then label them as “closet straights?” Or what of the many gay men who have had sex with women? Should we suspect them of actually being straight or bi?

Sex for Money: Some men identifying as straight have sex with other men for money, calling themselves “cash-sexuals,” because it’s not the sex that turns them on, rather the money and the power they feel of having control over someone’s wallet. They’re not gay or bi.

Kinks and Fetishes: Some men have sexual fantasies and engage in BDSM with other men. Again, it’s not about the men, it’s about the BDSM. They might be into cuckolding, hotwifing, foot fetishism, and other erotic interests that involve a man, but it isn’t about the man’s gender but rather about the sexual experience or fetish. They would never identify as being gay or bisexual. 

How do you know if you’re gay, bi or straight?

Over the years I’ve developed a simple set of questions for men who come into my office fearing that they are secretly gay or bisexual, or that their female partner or therapist has insisted they’re in denial. Here are the four questions that can be easily answered.  

            1. Youthful Noticing: In your youth, do you remember crushing on other boys or men, being distracted in the shower by the sight of naked men, or masturbating to other guys? Most gay and bisexual men answer yes. Straight men, on the other hand, remember no such attraction or interest. 

            2. Homophobia: Have you ever felt disgusted or fearful by the thought of being attracted to a man? This sort of homophobia is rampant in closeted gay and bisexual men. Straight men who have sex with men have no fear or disgust around this.  They just want to know if they are unconsciously gay or bi.

            3. The Beach Test: When you’re on the beach, who do you find yourself looking at more, women or men? Men with gay or bisexual erotic interests, if honest, will report they are mostly attracted to men’s fit bodies. Straight men rarely even notice the men other than to appreciate the arms, chest, and abs and wanting to look more like them, but they focus on women’s bodies. 

            4. Who do want to come home to, to wake up next to? Straight men will always answer, “a woman.” Gay men and bi men say either men and/or women or any gender. 

As for male sexual fluidity, we need to have more awareness and discussion concerning the prejudice about this, especially among therapists. These men and their partners deserve to have a safe space to go to that is informed. Again, too many labels are set in stone. At least male sexual fluidity opens up the possibility that men having sex with other men doesn’t automatically mean they’re gay or bi. We continually are discovering that the varieties of erotic attraction are endless and sometimes confounding. Let’s be more accepting of that. 

References

For more this topic, visit www.straightguise.com