Gay Men and Knowing Your Sexual Self
In the years since I got my credential as an AASECT Certified Sex Therapist from the American Association of Sex Educators, Counselors, and Therapists, I’ve been honored to work with gay male clients who are sharing with me some of their most private concerns about not only their overall mental health and well-being (which I’ve been a specialist in for 31 years in 2023), but more specifically in sexual topics, whether in sex therapy, sex education coaching, couples therapy, relationship coaching, or similar item in my range of professional services offered for gay men worldwide, online, in my practice.
Talking about your sexuality — especially for gay men who have generally had their sexuality invalidated, discouraged, unacknowledged, oppressed, opposed, and undermined – can be a difficult thing. But there are times when trusting a qualified, credential professional is important, and this can be with your physician or your therapist/coach/educator. Talking about sex always has a physical, emotional, interpersonal, cultural, or even spiritual meaning.
When I work with my gay male clients about issues related to sex, I’m asking them to turn their attention to their own thoughts and feelings, to determine what’s right for them, and what’s not right for them, in so many of these areas. It starts with being able to self-reflect, and identify what “makes you you” in your personal value system of what you want your life, and more specifically your sex life, to be all about.
I’d like to focus now on helping you with this self-reflection as a self-care, self-knowledge exercise. I think if you do this kind of exercise to cultivate your insights into your own sexuality, it will help you to enjoy sex more and to make the most of it in this lifetime.
Early Teachings and Perspectives
Gay boys growing up have a sexual development that is different from straight boys largely in how it’s behaviorally modeled by others – or validated by others – or not. While even heterosexual sexual issues are still taboo in many families even through puberty (or beyond!), gay boys have their development in age-appropriate ways just like straight boys do.
While a little boy might be asked by teachers or relatives who think they are being “funny” by asking an eight-year-old, “Do you have a girlfriend at school?” this would never happen with, “Do you have a boyfriend?” And believe me, as you probably know, if an eight-year-old straight boy has an age-appropriate “crush” on another little girl, you know that an eight-year-old gay boy might have a crush on another little boy. But who gets the validation by adults in that? This is my beef with most adults and sexual issues with kids: They say “Oh, all things about sex are inappropriate for children,” and yet just look at how much sexualizing adults actually do of kids. Telling them fairy tales about love and romance between a prince and the princess. Asking about heterosexual “crushes” at school. Beauty pageants with little girls in very adult women’s makeup and clothing styles. Heterosexual pairings for school dance exercises, even in elementary school. Valentines Day imagery, even in grade school. “Barbie and Ken” doll displays. Children are, actually, constantly sexualized (in a heterosexual way), and yet the Right-wing bigots scream and yell about how it’s “grooming” kids for sexual abuse if they attend a drag queen story hour at the local library. It doesn’t make sense. If you look for examples of how children are indoctrinated with exclusively heterosexist imagery, you don’t need to look far.
My great colleague, Joe Kort, PhD, a renowned sex and relationship therapist near Detroit and author of several books on gay men’s well-being, has said it’s really a form of “covert sexual abuse” of children to force heterosexist sexualization of on them, even before puberty. It’s the heterosexist assumption that all children are, and will continue to develop as, heterosexuals, when we know this is not the case. It’s just a presumption and a naïve “wishful thinking” on the part of homophobic bigots. Sure, LGBT children are a numerical minority, but their validation in the earliest years of education is zero, while straight children get imagery that validates their existence everywhere.
The double standards from ignorant adults that send a message to gay little boys is maddening. And that’s only the beginning of a lifetime of this, despite our current “Macy’s decorates for Pride” hollow corporate niche marketing every June.
Think about how this was for you, growing up: What do you remember about your earliest teachings and perspectives about sex and romance that came from your parents, grandparents, religious institutions, schools, government, and local culture? Can you remember how heterosexist ideas were promoted on you, versus probably no validation of same-sex, age-appropriate ideas like “crushes” or school dances? I certainly had same-sex crushes, kept secret, long before puberty, on everyone from adult actors to peer classmates. And yet notice how, as gay boys, we all knew enough to keep them secret. That’s interesting: exactly how did we know to do that? When no one ever sat us down and said, “Hey, if you have a crush on same-sex schoolmate, keep that a secret, OK?” The fact that we did know that shows you the extent of heterosexism and homophobic oppression that gay boys are exposed to from the youngest of ages. Even wrapping a newborn girl in a pink blanket and a newborn boy in a blue blanket is gender apartheid from the word go.
Later in elementary school, did have sex education? I had comprehensive sex ed in both fifth and sixth grade, which was fairly progressive for 1976 Northern Virginia public schools. What was your formal, or school, education about sex? Did you have “abstinence only,” or “comprehensive” sex ed? Did they include anything about LGBTQ+ people? Was your education in a religious institution, like a Catholic private school? What did they teach you there, that was the same or different from your adult perspectives now? For all of these, why do you think these institutions made the curriculum and policy decisions they did? What kind of values informed this content or these policies? My guess is that the bedrock of this content was based in Judeo-Christian teachings – aggressive mandates – about traditional gender roles and certainly exclusive of anything that acknowledges or validates anything except heterosexuality (and even that, for the purpose of marriage and procreation of the species).
In your family growing up, how was affection, or the “implication” of sex modeled for you? Did you ever see your parents kissing or hugging? Did you ever “walk in” on them during sex? How did you feel about this? How did your parents respond?
Did you ever have exposure to adult material as a child, like finding hidden magazines or videos, or stumble on to an online adult entertainment website?
How did all of these exposures to information influence and affect you? Did they make you more, or less, comfortable about the topic of sex?
How did you first learn the practical mechanics what straight couples, gay male couples, lesbians, or intersex people do during sex?
How were you exposed to information about kink or BDSM play, or sex with equipment or adult toys?
No matter what exposures we had as kids to anything “sexual,” we most likely were made to feel “othered” without really knowing what “othered” is. With everything related to relationships, love, romance, domestic life, and that “kissy-huggy stuff”, we had to “translate” everything from a straight to a gay perspective. If we saw a straight couple on TV doing something, we had to “translate” what it would be like for us if we were, likely, the woman character in the show. Take whatever movie or TV shows were popular when you were a kid, and you probably know what I mean. Every gay boy seems to have his “TV crushes” on adult men, even though, certainly, sex between children and adults is taboo, and for very good psychological, social, and developmental reasons. Still, when I was a kid, if I had had the chance to hug and probably kiss the very adult Henry Winkler in his leather motorcycle jacket playing “Fonzie,” the bad-boy biker stud on the 70s sitcom, “Happy Days,” I probably would have taken it. Same when I saw John Travolta play Danny Zuko in “Grease”, when I was 14 (I guess that was the start of my obsession with men in leather). I remember that overwhelming feeling of attraction to Christopher Reeve as “Superman,” Mesmerized by his blue eyes that left me with a realization that I was actually very, very gay — when I was 14. It’s the same if my slightly older sister had a chance to kiss Bobby Sherman or Paul McCartney, music heartthrobs of the day.
I’m not advocating child-adult sex, but those feelings in kids and teens can be there, just as they can be for “crushes” on peers our own age at school. And yet discussing this at all in today’s hysterical discourse would be impossible. Adult parents, school administrators, clergy, and others have a really hard time understanding that kids can have very powerful romantic, and, usually at puberty, very strong sexual feelings, in their own developmentally-evolving way, and yet these feelings are almost never validated and talked about, certainly for gay, lesbian, or bisexual kids. Adults normalizing both opposite- and same-sex attractions while at the same time teaching about sexual boundaries to protect children and teens from exploitation and harm would go a long way in supporting the new generation. Part of the reason we have the societal problems we do, from sexual abuse to teen pregnancy to sexual assaults to LGBT teen suicide, is because these things aren’t talked about in compassionate and yet pragmatic terms.
Later in your childhood, around puberty or just after, as a teenager, in what ways were you, as a young boy or teen boy, “encouraged” to have heterosexual sex with girls? Young boys actually get a lot of messages or pressure to “become a man” by losing their virginity to a girl, either from their straight peers (most likely) but also subtly from their parents, especially their fathers, who would like nothing more than to find a used condom in their son’s “Star Wars” waste paper basket in his bedroom as the parents come home from a weekend away. “Atta boy!” these fathers seem to say, though they would be loathe to admit it. And yet that pressure to be “Atta boy!” is there, yet if it were their teenage daughter gettin’ it from some other father’s son, there would be hell to pay. Yet again, another double standard that invalidates both straight female and gay male sexuality, from the youngest of ages on.
So the many difficulties that I see my gay male clients have is, at least in part, influenced by the stress us gay guys have had to navigate from these very pervasive but covert “messages” we receive growing up that we have to somehow re-interpret to make them fit our perspective as gay boys and young men.
How did you deal with these stressors? Or did you even realize they were there – until now?
Relating to Your Own Body
How tall are you now? OK, now: do you remember being much shorter? Probably not very well. We grow so gradually, we barely realize it. Changes happen in our body throughout our whole lifetime, but they tend to happen without our being all that aware of them, until we suddenly look in the mirror and see ourselves evolve in some way, for better or worse.
How have you related to your own body in your lifetime? Has this generally been a pleasant experience, or an unpleasant one? Do you like your body now? Did you ever like it more, or less, than you do now? How do you think your body compares to other men (even gay men) your age, better or worse? Why better or worse? What are you putting value on?
How do you compare your body now, to when you were a little boy, or a teenager, or if you’re older now, as a young man, versus being a middle-aged man, or senior now? Did you have a favorite “era” for your body? Would you want to go back to that? What do you want for your body in the coming years, say one or two decades from now? What would be a nice future? What would be an undesirable future? How does this fit into your sexual identity and expression?
Part of knowing ourselves sexually is having some perception about our bodies – including the erotic zones like our mouth, cock, balls, ass, pits, hands, feet, etc.? Do you feel like with the body you now dwell in, that these erotic zones are put to good use periodically in a way that you derive pleasure from? What would have to change for you to get more enjoyment out of them? What changes would you like about your body – or in your mind, about how you feel about your body?
Your body is a lot of what we’re working with in our sexual selves, but there are other considerations like our mind, heart, and spirit. All of these are present when we enter “sexual space” in our lives. Or do you? When was the last time you felt like you were in a “sexual space,” either alone or with a partner? What was going on in your mind, versus what your body was doing? Were these things pleasant? Were they in congruence with one another?
Changes: Past to Present
In the course of your entire “resume” of your sexual expression, how has that changed from the very earliest thoughts and feelings? Do you have an all-time favorite sexual encounter? When, where, and with whom was that? What makes it your favorite? Do you have an all-time worst, such as a time you were abused, assaulted, mistreated, or devalued?
Sometimes, gay men experience changes in their sexual expression over time from those initial nervous-but-still-exciting ones, to expanding their sexual repertoire (the number of twinks who are proficient in fisting these days boggles my mind; that wasn’t so years ago). The introduction of sex in the context of relationships, sex with more than one person, kink in sex, or exploring various roles and styles are things that might represent gradual change in a gay man’s sexual history.
Have you seen the changes in your sexual expression as welcome, or unwelcome? Are you glad, or not, that you’re having more, or less, sex now? If it’s different now from your past, is that in a good way, such as being more comfortable, or in a bad way, like feeling rejected for some reason?
Changes over time in some ways just “happen” to us, but we also have to remember that if we want certain desirable changes to our sexual expression, such as for our future, we need to identify and implement ways to make those changes happen. We always want to close the gap between how your sex life is, and how you would like it to be, at every age or phase of life.
It can be exciting and fun to think of your sexual fantasies. Sometimes fantasies are about reliving an encounter that actually happened, or they can be about an encounter that “could” happen in the real world, or they can be things that could never happen, such as having sex with Superman (although Henry Cavill is actually real, that chance is to say “unlikely”).
In your fantasies, are you aroused by roles or scenarios where you are submissive to a partner, or dominant with one? What people populate your fantasies? What setting do your fantasies take place? What activities are you doing, during, before, or after sex? How do you feel about your fantasies – are these pleasant or exciting things to imagine, or do you feel guilty or uneasy or even “disturbed” by what your imagination gives you?
It might help to know that the excellent work by sexologist Justin Lehmiller, PhD, who wrote a book (Tell Me What You Want) about his study of 4,000 people and their sexual fantasies, found that our sexual fantasies from person to person, and worldwide across cultures, are remarkably similar. No matter what fantasy you have, however unique you think it is, there is probably an entire community of people who feel the same way or have the same kinks. The Internet has been great for validating this, with various groups or content websites. That can be validating, to know that you’re not at all “weird” or “unique” or “alone” in some of the most evocative scenarios.
Hopes – speculation for future adventures
What are your current hopes for the future of your sexual expression? Is there something that you’re looking forward to trying, if you have the chance? Is there a way that you could let yourself have that chance? What would you have to do to manifest a fantasy or a hope for what you want to experience? What resources would you need to rally to bring yourself into that domain?
What about fears? What do you fear, about your sexual self? Is there a FOMO, Fear of Missing Out? Is there a fear a desired fantasy might turn unpleasant or dangerous? Is there a fear of a practical impediment, such as erectile dysfunction, or premature ejaculation, or what I call a “hygiene accident” that inhibits you? What could you do, in your own sexual self-empowerment, to mitigate these fears? Are the fears realistic, or are they the product of your neurotic, anxious thinking that aren’t really grounded in a rational risk?
Do you think other gay men have had these fears? Do think they overcome them? How do they do that? Could you borrow from them, and do the same?
For so many of us, there is a fear of what we “do;” but there can also be a fear of what we don’t do, such as a missed opportunity. Older people very seldom regret what they did, within reason, they tend to regret shying away from an opportunity (see the show tune, “No Time at All,” from Broadway’s “Pippin” by Stephen Schwartz, for an excellent comedic exploration of this idea).
When you are at your “sexual best,” what is that? What represents the best of your sexual self emotionally? What would you be feeling, or maybe just “not” feeling something, like guilt or shame?
What about physically? When you are at your best sexual self physically, where in your body do you feel that? Or is it about feeling another guy’s body physically? What part of your body’s stimulation represents the pinnacle of your satisfactory sexual experience?
Where are you socially at your best sexual self? In a bedroom with one other person? More than one other person? A party? A commercial venue, like a sex club or bath house? A loud dance floor? A quiet forest? A gritty urban alley? A soft barn hayloft? A car backseat? A hot tub? A pool? What kind of social context, or people, are you with?
Worst – when “good” goes “bad”
Reflecting on knowing your sexual self, what represents the worst of your sexual experience? What kind of states are emotionally painful? Nervousness? Anxiety? Guilt? Shame? Doubt? Fear? Pain? Humiliation? Isolation? Devaluing? Loneliness? Frustration? Longing? Helplessness? Despair? Regret?
How can you heal from any sexual experiences where you felt these things? How can you at least try to prevent feeling these in the future? What would need to change to have it be very unlikely that you would feel these in the future? Who can help with that?
Relational vs. Recreational
Knowing your sexual self, how do you feel about more “recreational” sex like a hookup or anonymous or group scene, sometimes called “sport fucking,” versus more “relational” sex, such as with a date, partner, spouse, fuck buddy, friend-with-benefits, or even an ex?
If you know that you feel a certain way about either, both, or neither, how do you feel about how this is? Is there anything about your involvement in recreational versus relational sex that you’d like to change? Not everyone would say they want more “relational” sex, like “lovemaking,”, some guys feel that they want the personal liberation and a certain self-indulgence in opportunities for recreational sex. Consensual Non-Monogamy or open relationships often can address this, as can a couple picking up a third partner at a party or gay cruise/resort. Some guys who are tired of recreational sex might try to turn things toward more opportunities for relational sex; what would it take for this shift to happen? What kinds of changes in thinking or behavior help a guy regulate his involvement in the “range” of sexual expression from the relational, to the recreational, and back again? Can you see yourself cultivating the self-empowerment it would take to increase your capacity for how you regulate this spectrum of experience?
What have you learned about yourself by doing this as a self-reflection exercise? What surprised you about what you thought about or felt? What felt good about reflecting this way? What caused any negative feelings?
Now that you know more about your Sexual Self, what do you want to do with it? Where do you want to take yourself with it? How can you see your sexual expression as malleable, where you’re able to do more of what is satisfying or fun for you, and less of what doesn’t feel right for you?
Start an agenda about the ways you want to change your thinking or behavior as a result of this more in-depth self-reflection about your Sexual Self. Energize and empower your sense of Sexual Volition, taking charge an ownership of your body in new ways, of what you do with it, and with whom. Assert that what you want to happen, does happen, all within the context of the Six Principles of Sexual Health (and how they are applied to gay men, which is former blog and podcast episode you can refer to).
If this is easy for you, celebrate. If it’s not so easy, consider enlisting help, either through sex therapy (for guys who reside in California), or coaching (for guys in other states or countries, worldwide). Due to my long experience, there isn’t much I haven’t worked with gay men on, so there’s no need to be shy or certainly not ashamed, no matter how “odd” you might think your own situation or outlook is. I’m not here to judge, unlike so many other figures like parents, teachers, clergy, politicians, and even some physicians and therapists, including some of the gay male ones! I’m here to help. Why? Because it’s my job; some people paint houses or sell shoes. I like to empower gay men to take their mental health and well-being to the next level. I see it as my calling, but also my honor, because I think in some ways it’s my way of honoring the memory of all the gay men who died of AIDS, and should still be here with us, and they aren’t. But if we can learn to live better, despite the all-too-real challenges we still face in bigotry and oppression worldwide, we honor their legacy, in the way they would probably encourage us to do – by getting laid, and laid well.
For information on therapy , sex therapy, or coaching services, call/text 310-339-5778 (phone or WhatsApp), or email Ken@GayTherapyLA.com or Ken@GayCoachingLA.com. You owe it to yourself to make the most of life, and that can be very rewarding, at every phase of life.