Gay Men and New Year, New Sex:
Mind, Heart, Body
Happy New Year! As I start my 31st year as a gay men’s specialist psychotherapist, life/career/relationship coach, and AASECT-Certified sex therapist, I challenge myself to think of expansive, new ideas. The new year, for all of us, is like a blank piece of paper to write on, or a blank canvas to paint on, or a blank computer screen to type on! I don’t so much make new year’s resolutions so much as just giving thought to a subtle shift in focus or perspective that I’d like to take in the new year, like gently shifting your weight from one foot to the other. I’d like to encourage you to do the same, not by setting yourself up for disappointment by abandoning too-ambitious resolutions, but a more relaxed “movement” in our thinking that will be easier to sustain.
Think of the various needs, curiosities, desires, and priorities you have. Upon reflection, what would like less of this year, compared to last year? What would you like more of?
This can apply to work, relationships, health, exercise, diet, finances, family, community – all of the roles we find ourselves functioning in during the course of every year. But for now, let’s apply that to sex. It’s a new year, so what kind of “new sex” would you like to cultivate for yourself this year? What would feel interesting, fun, exciting, challenging, rewarding, in terms of how sex affects your mind, heart, and body?
- Mind – Currently, how do you think about sex? When you hear the word sex, what comes to mind? Is it a positive feeling? A negative one? A scary one? An exciting one? How does that compare to how you want to be thinking about sex?
In your current feelings, set of interests, and values, what kinds of changes would you like to make in your sexual expression repertoire if you had the kind of “year in sex” that you would like? Would you “shift weight” from inhibited to disinhibited? From feeling unworthy about your body/yourself to feeling worthy/valuable? From criticizing yourself to appreciating yourself, even if you’re “perfectly imperfect”? From self-denial to indulgence? From carelessness to intention/purpose? From isolation to connection? From guilt to confidence? From shyness to boldness? From fear to courage?
In cognitive therapy, we believe that consciously changing your thoughts, changes your feelings, which changes your behavior, which changes your experience of the world subjectively and interpersonally. Changing our thoughts comes from a place of inner self-empowerment; it challenges the notion that we are helpless to change our circumstances. We can always change something about ourselves or our situations, even if it’s just changing our attitude or perspective about them (my book from 2013, Self-Empowerment: Have the Life You Want!” discusses this in more detail; available on Amazon or Lulu.com).
It’s an old saying that the greatest sex organ is our mind. In BDSM play, mind-games that play with the dynamics of dominance and submission can be fun, almost like riding a rollercoaster. Ask yourself, “If I really put my head in the game this year about sex, what would I be changing about how I think of myself and my partners?
- Heart – While recreational sex or “hook-ups” certainly have their place in gay men’s leisure, there is always an emotional or “heart” component to sex. “Love-making” with a primary partner exemplifies this, but so can Consensual Non-Monogamy or Polyamory, where love and affection in your life might mean more than one person.
I recently was discussing this with a client, who has a primary partner/husband but also has a consistent “fuck buddy.” Qualitatively, the feelings can be a bit different; his feelings for his husband have a long history, a shared life/home together, a blending of their families, and a commitment to an indefinite future together. But there is also a brotherly, fraternal love of sorts that he shares with his fuck buddy that is different; more like a friend to pal around with, “friend with benefits” style, whether that’s doing recreational activities in the community, or in the bedroom. Even things like group sex or sex in a bathhouse, sex club, pool party, etc. can have a “heart” aspect to it of a sense of positive masculinity and a shared sense of identity and brotherhood.
What changes would you like to see in yourself this year, about the heart aspect of sex? Is your goal to move from disconnected to connected, whether with a trick/hookup or a partner? From isolation to joy? From shying away from the other to opening our embrace? From taking for granted to savoring? From keeping our desires and fantasies secret, to stating and expressing them, and inviting others to meet them?
The innovative work of Justin Lehmiller, PhD, author of the book, Tell Me What You Want, describes research that couples who share their sexual fantasies with one another report higher levels of relationship satisfaction, and couples who act on those fantasies report higher levels still (and of course we’re talking about consensual partners and ideally adhering to the Six Principles of Sexual Health, described by Braun-Harvey and Vigorito in their book, Treating Out of Control Sexual Behavior (which I discussed in another article/podcast episode).
- Body – And, of course, changes or goals to our sex life certainly involve the body. The mind and the heart are important, but sex is primarily a physical activity, and a human need, not unlike the need for food, water, sleep, and protection from the elements.
Just like the “heart wants what it wants,” the body “wants what it wants” too. It’s said among my sex therapist colleagues, “When it comes to sex, if you fight your body, your body will win.” This is why gay men worldwide risk violence, oppression, discrimination, legal risks, and many hardships in virulently anti-gay environments, but still seek to connect with other gay men; just like straight people, sexual instinct is a primary drive. While it is a problem in many situations that don’t adhere to the Six Principles of Sexual Health, we are talking about adult (or peer adolescent) experiences among fully consensual partners free of coercion.
That said, what do you feel your body wants this year? What more of something? What less of something? How do I want to feel or experience, or at least experiment with? What have I experienced before that I want again? What I have I not experienced, but have a curiosity about feeling? In the new year, what would I like to think or feel more of about or in my body? What do I want to feel less of, or de-emphasize, or liberate myself from? What changes do I want to make in my approach to sexual encounters this year? Do I want to bulk up or build muscle? Do I want to be leaner? Do I want to have more stamina? Do I want to get more rest and listen when my body needs to take a break from talking on the phone or videoconference, or “visualizing” a computer or phone screen, or typing a lot of stuff, from emails to work reports? Do I need to be walking and ambulating more, or maybe less, this year? Do I want to change my relationship to food, sleep, and exercise in order to feel more nourished and complete?
When can have “new goals” that are specific, measurable, and time-limited (as my colleague in Detroit, Joe Kort, PhD, recently described in his popular Tik-Tok video about new year goals) that have to do with diet, exercise, housekeeping, accounting, spending/saving, communicating – in all kinds of home, family, work, and administrative ways? What about goals that are specific, measurable, and maybe even time-limited in sex? Do I want to spend a month as a Top or as a Bottom, seeking out sex with partners who evoke that role in me? What would be a “new box to check” or “new territory to explore,” even if it’s just for a portion of what this new year means for us?
We can invoke the self-empowerment to “refresh” our approach to just about anything: work, self-esteem, relationships, diet, exercise, personal habits, sociological involvement, etc., but we can also do this about sex. We don’t need to have the same sex in the new year that we did in the last, unless that really works for us. That’s how we keep up with the times, evolve, and stay fresh. Even if we ultimately double-down on what has always “worked” for us in the past, we have an opportunity to “consider our contract option” to re-up, or, re-negotiate the terms.
If you would like more specific help in reaching your goals, consider psychotherapy (for residents of California, where I’m a Licensed Clinical Social Worker), or coaching for life, career, executive, or relationship goals. I’d be happy to help! Email me at Ken@GayTherapyLA.com, or call/text me at 310-339-5778.