Does Having Sex With Men Make You Gay?
Men have been having sex since the dawn of time. And no, I don't mean with women, I mean with other men. Dispute this all you want, make claims of biblical proportions, but it is a well documented fact that man-on-man sex is not new. However, sexual identifiers (i.e. gay, straight, lesbian, bisexual, etc.,) are: These terms are all rather modern when compared with the number of years that homo sapiens have been mating, without labels, with one another. So why have the more recent generations found a need to compartmentalize into neat, tidy little boxes, those who are anything other than heterosexual?
For the most part it is to connect with a community of people who are empathetic and understanding of each other. But, when it comes to the long practiced tradition of straight men having sex with other men, there seems to be a lot of debate. For the purpose of this article, we will not refer to these men as anything other than straight, and will not use quotations as it goes against their sexual identity, which will be respected.
Part of the reason for this debate is the narrow box that American society and culture places on men and how they have sex. Any deviation from what is perceived as normal is what people tend to use as a means for judging a man's sexual identity. This, however, hasn't always been the case. It has been widely documented that ancient civilizations such as the Greeks and Romans were no strangers to male-on-male sex. Not only were gay relationships common, but so was sex between two straight men. Often times sex between men would be used as a way to gain political power, advance in society, or as a means to develop stronger bonds among warriors.
Still, some would ask how can they be straight if they are having sex -- and I don't mean just intercourse, I am counting everything from a hand job to tossing salad and beyond -- with other men?
Unfortunately, sexuality is far more complicated than we currently understand, and the answer to that question is buried somewhere in a currently blurry spectrum of human sexuality.
Then again, the answer may just be as fluid as sex itself. In a discussion on The Huffington Post, one Canadian man talked about how he is a straight man who enjoys sex with other men. The two hosts grappled with this idea, and questioned him at length. Not only did he seem to baffle the hosts, but he also brought up some very interesting points about sexuality in and of itself. The conclusion?
He still enjoys sex with men, He still identifies as straight. He isn't the only one.
In the safety of his car in a busy parking lot, I sat with one man who asked to be known only as John because he is a self-identifying straight man who has oral sex with other men. According to John -- who has been with no more than five men -- part of why he enjoys hooking up with other men is the idea that it is something he isn't supposed to do. And, of course, the dick.
"It's more of, like, you're not supposed to do it kinda' thing. Being straight, it just intrigues me. I don't know. I like getting head and guys just seem to be better at it than girls because they have the package, I guess you could say. Another thing that intrigues me is the whole dick on dick thing. I don't know how that got into my mind, why I like it. I can't really explain it but something like that just turns me on."
That arousal is where John begins to question whether or not he is straight. When we first began talking he said most people would consider him bisexual; however, he has no desire to be in a relationship with another man. For him, that is what he says makes him straight.
"I would never, I mean I can't say never, but I would never be attracted to a guy to the point where I'm like, 'dude I wanna' take you on a date, I want to wine an' dine you.'"
But is the desire for romance the distinguishing factor in sexual identity? Some would argue it is.
"We need to make a distinction between sexual behavior and sexual identity," said Chelsea Reynolds.
Reynolds is a doctoral candidate at the University of Minnesota who researches online media and sexuality. "While guys who identify as straight may have sex with other men, this does not make them gay. Gayness, queerness, and other LGBTQ identities are representative of complex desires such as long-term partner preference, cultural belonging, and political orientation.
"Maybe you are a married Republican dad who had a one-night stand with another man in college. Does that make you bisexual? I would say hardly."
Part of this, Reynolds said, has to do with the way male sexuality is viewed by society. According to her, American society makes the assumption that all male sexuality needs to be constrained by heterosexual masculinity. "Men are expected to be macho, ladies' men ... Unfortunately, society limits sexual expression by placing people in boxes, essentially stereotyping the sex roles that are considered 'inappropriate' and 'appropriate' in culture."
Culture is one area where male sexuality is strictly confined: for example, consider the Latino notion of Machismo. This is the belief that men must be hyper-masculine, domineering, without emotion and avoid any tinge of femininity. Because Machismo is so ingrained into Latinos' minds, there is even less wiggle room for straight men who have sex with other men.
This is the case with 37-year-old Felix Rios,* a straight Latino man who also enjoys sex with other men. For him, the fear of being rejected by his community is also what keeps him quiet about his sexual liaisons. He is also married and has a son. In order to go about finding sexual partners he frequents gay bars and bathhouses.
"Outside [of the nightclub] you have to be strong; you have to able to do everything a man is expected to do, and it's hard. There is no room to be yourself," Rios said.
Although he has managed to keep his other life a secret, there have been times when he was almost found out. "[My lover] would text me and for a while my wife thought I was cheating on her with a woman. I had to break things off and change my number so that my wife wouldn't leave. It hurt, but that's just how it is."
Being wanted is also one reason some men might have sex with other men. John said that one of the reasons he hooks up with dudes is the feeling of being wanted. "I think it attests to getting your heart broken by a chick and you're just devastated. And you seek out whatever you can find I guess. You want to feel wanted, and why not feel wanted and get amazing head?"
Photo by Adolfo Tigerino
In her studies, Reynolds has found that in the case of straight women seeking out other women, it is usually because they feel neglected, but states that it doesn't seem to be the same active motivator in cases with straight men who seek out other men. From her research, Reynolds found that ads from straight men online generally emphasize the no-strings-attached, NSA, aspect of sex. She also found that these NSA encounters often involve glory holes or blindfolds to keep the acts anonymous.
"Straight guys on Craigslist really want to get off and that's it. Or at least that's what their ads say. It's possible that men who identify as straight but have sex with other men are trying to hang on to their normative masculine identity, and wanting to feel 'wanted' isn't traditionally masculine. That said, men might write one thing in an ad and feel an altogether separate thing psychologically."
Man-on-man sexual contact involving one or more straight guys is something that is baffling to many people, and for good reason. When we think of straight we assume it means that an individual's sexuality goes in one, and only one, direction. Which isn't completely wrong, but it is also entirely natural for people to find pleasure from contact in an erogenous area, regardless of societal stigmas involved.
In men the prostate is an area of tremendous pleasure, the equivalent to the G-spot in women. When touched or rubbed, it creates an intense sensation of beyond what can be felt from just penile copulation.
Located just inside the anus, it is easy to infer why a man would enjoy anal sex, or at the very least, would enjoy contact in that area. Straight men, when comfortable enough, will even admit to requesting that their girlfriends penetrate them to help them reach climax.
However, the real question here is: Does this make them gay?
With the idea that other people might know more about their own sexuality than we do in mind, it is important to remind ourselves that this isn't a question that we have the right to answer. What we can say based on what we know so far, is that sexuality is a unique trait that differs, sometimes greatly, from one individual to another.
For John, kissing can be a defining factor in what makes a man gay. And despite having kissed another man, he still maintains his heterosexuality because he feels that his desire for women outweighs everything else.
"I think I accidentally kissed a guy like in the heat of the moment, but honestly I think men -- and no offense to all men out there -- but I think men are ugly in general. I think our bodies are nasty. When you look at a female's body, there is something about the curvature of it, and I don't know."
Reynolds also notes that it is important to understand how Westernized culture, and what is currently labeled as acceptable sexual behaviors, heavily influences how a man might understand their own sexuality and how it may contribute to an overall confusion when things do not work out as simply as society has designated. However, on the opposite side, these same societal norms in play may also make it more readily accepted for straight women to be with other women as it is a common male fantasy.
"Bisexuality and sexual fluidity are perhaps the only areas in culture where women have more relative privilege than men," said Reynolds. "Some people argue women are more biologically inclined toward care-taking and other types of familial intimacies. A woman caring for her friend -- and exhibiting that care sexually -- may be more culturally acceptable because we are used to seeing women in touchy-feely roles. Some of the most common pornographic fantasies, like female nurses and the mommy-daughter duos, fetishize care-taking explicitly."
Further, Reynolds believes that as children are socialized into their expected sexualities and genders, they are taught to understand who they are. which they may later apply towards understanding others. "Young people are taught from a very early age that there are acceptable and unacceptable ways to be masculine and feminine. The culturally acceptable forms of masculinity involve being straight, so men whose sexualities are not so clear-cut threaten the social order and the masculine-feminine binary."
Reynolds also notes that while many men eroticize girl-on-girl action, they will also commonly invalidate lesbian relationships because there isn't a male involved to make it a legitimate union. Additionally, on the flip-side of that coin: Women, who are not traditionally taught to eroticize guy-on-guy action due to its implications of weakness and femininity, are taught to automatically link male-on-male intercourse to homosexuality and an inability for the woman involved to satisfy her partner without the introduction of purchased products.
"In psychoanalytical terms: If you're a straight woman and your boyfriend likes to bottom, there's not much you can do to satisfy that "feminine" desire without introducing sex toys into the mix. That can feel threatening," explains Reynolds.
"All of these perceptions reflect the normative gaze of contemporary culture, which allows people to think that bi men are actually gay, and that bi women are just 'going through a phase,'" said Reynolds.
At the end of the day however, the general consensus is that more harm than good comes from limiting one another through labels as restrictive as 'gay' and 'straight.'
"Gay and straight. That's a huge problem because it invalidates other forms of sexual desire, such as bisexuality or romantically straight people who have sex with same-gender partners. We need to move away from a binary mode of thinking and acknowledge that whatever people do in their bedrooms is their business, as long as there's explicit consent involved," said Reynolds.