Dear Patrick: Do you think that an individual who has been gay all of his life could have a successful experience with a member of the opposite sex? If this is possible, what would it take to bring it to fruition?
My motivation is complicated, and I have spent the last six months in therapy trying to understand my fixation. Part of it is curiosity. Straight men are hooked on pussy. Maybe I am missing out on something. If it is part of the human experience, I want to understand it. Also, I do not want to feel trapped by my gay identity. I want to have a choice.
I know this is the opposite of what everybody says about being gay. I have been told over and over again that I was born this way and the only choice I have is to accept it. This was difficult when I was younger and was constantly being called names, threatened, physically intimidated, and even getting assaulted at school. As an adult, I can take much better care of myself. Now I have good friends, I’ve had lots of loving relationships and excellent sex.
I am kind of in between boyfriends. Once I settle down with somebody new, it would be difficult to do anything about this question mark I have hanging over my head. So I would like to get started on this goal right now.
I have only told one other person about this. My best friend looked at me like I was crazy. He was quite emphatic that I need to get over my internalized homophobia. I hope that is not what you think because I believe I am proud to be gay.
This is a touchy subject, as you discovered when you tried to discuss it with a close friend. Gay men and lesbians struggle to have decent lives, but their efforts are limited and harshly opposed by right-wing homophobes (and some homophobes, frankly, whose views on every other topic fall to the left of the political continuum). Religiously-inspired politicians and pundits trumpet that a gay sexual orientation as a sinful choice.
Ever since there has been a gay-rights movement, it seemed there was only one logical response to this propaganda: an insistence that no one chooses to be gay. And, in fact, this is how many people experience the focus of their romantic and erotic impulses. Few gay or straight people have ever felt they had a choice about whether they got turned on by men or women.
On a scientific level, we still don’t really know whether sexual orientation is heavily influenced by physical factors like genes or brain structure, or whether an individual’s responses to one gender or another are shaped by environment, learning, social expectations, or personal choice. I doubt that it will ever be easy to reach a final answer to this question because of the complexity of human bonding and arousal. We are probably influenced by many factors, including biology and as well as conditioning.
Unfortunately, the debate on this topic has ceased to be a debate. The homophobes say, “You could change. You don’t have to be gay. God doesn’t want you to be gay. Therapy could help you to change. Prayer and fasting and laying on of hands could cure you.” Lesbians, gay men, and their allies reply, “Nothing will change who I am, and it is cruel to punish me when this is beyond my control.” After more than a century of being on the antigay bandwagon, the field of psychology reversed itself, and now a therapist who tries to change someone’s sexual orientation, even if the client genuinely wants to do so, can lose his or her license.
Back in 1982, William H. Masters (yes, the guy they made a television show about) published Homosexuality in Perspective, a pretty decent piece of research that has dropped out of any discussion of the origins of human sexuality. In part, I think this is because he found that a small number of gay people were able to shift their emotions and physical responses so that they could enjoy heterosexual activity. One unanswered question is how he determined that his research subjects were gay and not bisexual. Most social science and even medical research relies on self-report to determine this very important parameter. Bisexuality is often not even presented as an option—much like what happens in the rest of our society.
Based on the few studies we have of human sexual behavior, I suspect that many if not most men and women are potentially bisexual. When people are placed in single-sex environments, the majority of them shift their erotic attention to members of their own sex. Human eroticism seems remarkably plastic. Desire may alter to fill any container that will allow it to expand and unfold. But with rejection a likely outcome from both straight and gay peers, it takes an exceptional amount of courage to identify as bisexual and create a life that allows you to explore pleasure with others regardless of their gender.
The question you ask highlights another under-examined problem with the terms of this debate. Is sexual orientation a matter of affiliation with a specific community, or should it be based 100% on behavior? You are asking for help to behave bisexually, but you are not asking for any support to identify as a bisexual. It sounds to me as if a successful or enjoyable encounter with a woman would not change your perception of yourself as a gay man. You have made a life for yourself in that community. Men would continue to enjoy 99.9% of your attention. But knowing you could do something else, if you really wanted to, would boost your self-esteem. You don’t really know how a successful experiment with a woman would affect you, though. You might decide it was something you’d like to experience again. And that would be okay—but it is a big change, one that you may not be prepared to go through smoothly.
Are you prepared for the fact that if your peers learn of your heterosexual dalliance, it may radically alter how they perceive you? In a polarized world where all sexual choices have moral and political connotations, one “transgression” with a female partner could be enough to cancel out a lifetime of happy homosexuality. Gay men can be as nasty toward guys who break the rules as a bunch of straight jocks on the high school football team.
I’m not bringing any of this up to discourage you. I just want to make sure you are well-informed about the pluses and minuses of embarking upon this adventure. As it happens, I do know gay men who wanted exactly what you want. And most of them were able to achieve their goal. It can be a challenge to meet a woman you physically desire. If you could find someone who enjoys the same sexual trips and tricks that you like, that’s a big help. You might start by looking at images of women and real women and do a mental experiment to see if you have any sexual fantasies about them. Is your interest piqued by the slender, boyish girl with big, intellectual glasses? Do you wonder what the curvy big girl has under her long skirts? When you jerk off, set aside some time to play around with straight porn or your own, private thoughts. Create a working model of what you’d like to do with a girl. So far, your motives sound pretty abstract.
When you are in bed, naked, with another person, the flesh needs to live up to the mind’s ambitions. If you can get yourself off with an image of male/female coupling, you can have more confidence in your ability to hit a home run. (Come on, you know there had to be a sports metaphor somewhere in my answer!)
Figure out where you are going to look for a partner. Do you want to cruise the Internet, talk to female friends, hire a professional? Each of these options has pluses and minuses. Some large cities have polysexual parties where people of all genders and sexual orientations are invited to enjoy public eroticism. Attending a few events like this, if you can find them, will provide more opportunities for you to figure out how to make your dream come true.
Once you hook up with a willing partner, do you want to tell her what your agenda is, or not? Some women will get turned on by the prospect of “helping” a gay man to see them as hot and fulfilling. Others will be unsure that you really want them or offended that they are “just” part of a larger plan. Be aware that dating guys and dating women come with slightly different expectations and communication styles. Women are more likely than gay men to expect a great time in bed to be the first encounter in a series of events leading to more sex and further intimacy. It seems to be harder for most women to be straightforward about what they want in bed than it is for most gay men. There are, of course, delightful exceptions to this generalization. Two men who are having sex will usually pace themselves by delaying orgasm for as long as possible. Once a guy comes, sexual interest usually disappears, and he wants to stop fooling around and sleep. Women who are erotically self-aware may want to have more than one orgasm. Instead of delaying gratification, they may expect to reach orgasm several times. If you rely on nothing but your cock, you will get frustrated with yourself. Be prepared with some sex toys and include the use of other body parts that don’t need to have an erection to be useful (hands, mouth).
As you can see from the questions and suggestions above, your plan is not easy to accomplish. You might get lucky and find that magical hookup that goes perfectly. Or you might stumble around for months wondering why women are so hard to get.
In the meantime, I want to offer you another way to think about this issue. None of us have a choice about the existential ground we are thrown onto when we are born. We do not have a choice about the biological template we inherit from our parents. This may predispose us to have certain talents or problems. Yet we have free will about how we react to the gift of our Self. You may not have chosen to get an erection when you saw another man’s body. But you do have a choice about whether to be honest about your reaction. And you have a choice about how you treat other men—whether you skulk around and feel ashamed of what you want or own it and wear it with pride. You have already exhibited a higher level of freedom in your life than most gay people have enjoyed in the last 2,000 years of monotheistic hegemony.
Having sex with other men may not represent some of your best and most difficult choices. Freedom is about authenticity and honesty. You may not actually have to enjoy a cross-sexual experience in order to feel less oppressed or limited by your gay identity.