Male to Male Sexual Feeling

Ed Tejirian questions the line between gay and straight and how it relates to relationships.

In 2011, the heaviest taboos connected with being gay have been lifted. Nevertheless, the cultural boundary line between “gay” and “straight” seems as definitive as ever, at least for men. I don’t think these categories of identity give us an accurate picture of male sexual feeling.

In the late 1970s, Frank, a young married man, came to me for psychotherapy because he thought he might be possessed by the devil. A dream in which he was having sex with his best friend was the key to discovering the meaning of the devil obsession—his desire for a sexual relationship with a man. The fear of possession soon evaporated. Although Frank and his friend acknowledged their mutual attraction, both pursued sexual relationships with women.

Back in the mid-1990s, I was teaching a graduate course in adolescent psychology at a public university in New York City. Most of my students were already teaching; their average age was mid to late 20s, with a few in their 50s. I had my graduate students read and write reaction papers to my book, Sexuality and the Devil: Symbols of Love, Power, and Fear in Male Psychology. The book contained Frank’s story, as well as chapters dealing with the relation between sexuality and culture. Several students, in their reaction papers, either hinted at or quite candidly told of experiencing some degree of same-sex feeling. I decided to ask them—gently and without pressure—in their subsequent reaction papers, if they had experienced same-sex attractions. They could say as much or as little as they wished on the subject.

In four different groups of students across four semesters, 25 of 74 women (33 percent) and 24 out of 56 men (42 percent) reported experiencing some degree of same-sex feeling or had an actual sexual experience with someone of the same sex (after the age of 16). Virtually all of them were aware that their same-sex feelings were disapproved of by society. Some women had shared these feelings with female friends or even boyfriends, but none of the men had told anyone about them except me. By all outward appearances, all the men fell into the normal range of what is socially considered “masculine.” Their public identification was heterosexual, while a few—privately to me—called themselves bisexual.

Here’s what some of the men in my classes told me:

Fred’s first awareness of a sexual response to another male was to an image of Michaelangelo’s “David” in a college art history class. He wrote, “For a while I was actually in my own reality and allowed myself to be turned on.” Sometimes, while having sex with his fiancée, images of perfect male bodies came into his mind. Echoing Frank’s feelings about his best friend, he said, “Everybody, regardless of gender, has looked at a close friend of the same sex with a little more than love, respect, and admiration.” But he saw no way to act on or reveal such feelings without being labeled and rejected as “homosexual.”

◊♦◊

Jason had recently been in a threesome with a woman and a male friend. Although nothing directly happened between him and his male friend, he felt emotionally close to him and felt a desire for something more. Jason did not know how to make this happen and asked himself, “Why I can’t take away the girl and just have something with the guy?”

◊♦◊

Charlie said, “I consider myself to be bisexual because I love both males and females, and if I ever feel like being physically close to a male and he’s open to it I will do it.” Although he said he had never felt the desire to have intercourse with a male, the night before we were to have an interview as a follow-up to his reaction paper, Charlie had a dream in which he was taking the “dominant” or “top” role in intercourse with another man. Two things are noteworthy here: prior to the dream, Charlie described himself—for the first time—as “bisexual,” one of the few “sexual identity” terms our culture provides. As with Frank, his dreaming self was ahead of his waking self in creating a scene of sexual intimacy with a man that he had not been quite ready to acknowledge a desire for.

◊♦◊

Brad had never had any sexual feelings about a man before college. But in college, he found people in a gay chat room to be friendly and struck up a friendship with another man, via the Internet. He said, “I kind of fell in love with him.” Their relationship culminated with Brad coming to orgasm while imagining performing oral sex on his cyber-friend.

◊♦◊

During college, Gary and another man struck up a friendship. The other man, who was gay, wrote Gary a letter telling him he was in love with him. Initially, Gary thought of breaking off the friendship. However, the warmth between them was such that they eventually had sex together. Gary met the woman who would became his fiancée in my class that semester.

◊♦◊

My students’ confidences demonstrated that some degree of sexual feeling between men is common enough to make it a normal aspect of male psychology. It is consistent with a core sense of a male self and occurs, as in my class, in men whose identities are heterosexual. My assumption is that in any group there are a fair number of men who experience some degree of same-sex feelings. But in the wider culture, in contrast to my students’ communications to me, they have learned to keep these thoughts and feelings to themselves.

◊♦◊

Ed Tejirian, Ph.D. is a therapist in New York City and the author of Male to Male: Sexual Feeling Across the Boundaries of Identity. Check out his website.

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Comments

  1. Henry Vandenburgh says:

    Sure. I’ve had this happen about twice since puberty. Probably not since I was in my early twenties. This was more a gestalt effect and didn’t contain sexual imagery. It was different somehow than my reactions to the charismatic leader type of guy (I had a few of those too in the radical movements of the sixties-seventies.) My male sexual attractions were more like my attractions to women. Generally, when I meet an attractive woman, I don’t have erotic imagery that’s specific right away either. When I worked in psychiatric nursing in the 1970s, though, we’d occasionally get men who’d had what the doctors called a “homosexual panic.” I can’t remember what the content of those men’s panics was now. They generally only discussed this stuff with the psychiatrist.

  2. Thanks for this article. It reflects my experience and what I thought were men’s experiences in general. While I support the progress the women’s movement and gay movement have made, I think one setback has been how men feel and interact with other men. There is a certain fear in men expressing the true nature of their feelings for other men. Or society is so quick to label. The full panoply of feelings men feel for each other should be celebrated rather denigrated for it is the source of real kinship…remember Plato?!?!?!

    • Yes, but Plato was also penis-in-anus level of gay. Men having sex with men in addition to this ‘kinship’ and camaraderie you’re referring to was just part of life in ancient Greece.

      I don’t think men are at the level in society yet where that level of openness is allowed or appreciated. Men kissing other men in public is still ‘shocking’ in most parts of the country, if not still ‘illegal’ on the books.

  3. wellokaythen says:

    The line between gay and straight seems blurry today because it has ALWAYS been an artificial, arbitrary construct, not a boundary between two absolute categories. Gay and straight are not biological divisions or scientifically grounded distinctions. The whole separation between heterosexual and homosexual is a cultural construct much more common in the West under the Judeo-Christian tradition than in other cultures.

    I’m not saying no other culture has ever made this distinction, but that distinction would have seemed really weird to the ancient Greeks and Romans, for example. In classical Greece, certain kinds of sex between men were considered perfectly natural, even expected, while other kinds of sex between men were considered completely shameful. Sexual morality depended on the age and social status of the two partners and who was the top and who was the bottom, not the gender of the partner.

    Maybe these two categories of gay and straight are useful in some ways, but let’s not forget that they’re just one set of labels, and deeply flawed labels at that.

  4. Natasha says:

    Thank you. This is probably THE best article I’ve read here since I started following some months ago.

    In response to the question on the home page header – can a man find another man sexually attractive and still be straight? – my answer would be, well what is ‘straight’? If the definition of straight is that a person has never felt any type of attraction to or for a person, or image of a person, of the same sex…then I guess they cannot. If the definition is exclusive of attraction and only focuses on sexual ACTS, then sure, why not? IMO sexuality is fairly fluid anyway, and I hate that people feel compelled to define every little sexual nuance that they have or may have sometime in the distant future.
    The above poster is right in saying that the line between gay and straight has always been blurry. I think it’s really more of an issue here in the west where there is an enormous emphasis on masculinity and there is a definite set of attribute that society for some reason considers ‘straight’ or ‘gay’ for men (i.e. a lisp, a swishy walk, effeminite hand gestures, liking or wearing pink, ADMIRING ANOTHER MAN). Here, being seen as gay when you are not seems to send a lot of hetero men into paroxysms of defensiveness, making them feel compelled to disorove their ‘gayness’ by over compensating with extreme ‘manliness’, thus also compelling them to internally chastise or berate themselves for any hint of sexual feeling/response for another man. I am, quite frankly, not surprised that a significant number of the authors male students seized the opportunity to confide their fantasies to him….
    .

  5. Alexander says:

    This is an honest question, from someone who thinks very anatomically/ scientifically/ organically –– should it be natural to mix genitalia and fecal matter? Based on my knowledge, most of today’s sexually transmitted infections stem from this kind of sexual contact, causing me to question if such is meant to be ‘natural.’ Not to mention, the strain of rectum muscles required for homosexual intercourse contrasted with the anatomic makeup of the female genitalia –– tissue –– is something that, I believe, should raise more questions about our reproductive/ sexual design.

    Is male same-sex attraction something to be embraced or snuffed (on a personal level; not societal)? Furthermore, could male same-sex attraction be a mere temptation that is to be resisted because of its dangerous implications when fully carried out? Could the ‘attraction’ be likened to our temptation, when angry, to strike the person with whom we’re angry?

    *This is hypothetical and not meant to be conclusive or offensive. I’m simply offering what I know from an anatomical background as a means to spark conversation. I’m not posting this with a desire for backlash, et cetera.

    -A mature man who, with this understanding, has never had same-sex attractions

    • I don’t believe that it is true that you get STIs through fecal matter, I think it’s when you have sex with a person of any gender and fail to use a condom, dental dam, etc. I think maybe you think it’s icky so you don’t want to believe that male-male attraction is “natural”.

      • Henry Vandenburgh says:

        What should be emphasized is that fecal matter is very bad in the vagina or the mouth. There are a few men who don’t believe this (or get carried away) and have infected partners. Also, it’s worth considering that the lower colon and anal area are extremely vascular (many blood vessles.) The mission of the colon is to reincorporate moisture, in fact. This is a partial explanation for why the AIDS rate has been higher among gay men and in Africa, where anal intercourse is used for birth control.

        I was aware as early as 1979 that dental dams and condoms should be used for oral sex with a new partner, but have drawn my own line a little south of that. (I have a psych nursing degree.) I don’t use them, or didn’t. I’m monogamous now, so it doesn’t matter. Post the beginning of the AIDS era, I could no longer ejaculate from oral. I tended to mainly do the clitoris and lips orally, so I was probably avoiding most secretions.

        One exciting alternative, though, is to eat a female partner through underpants. Generally well-received, especially if the woman is hypersensitive.

    • Please don’t think that being ‘gay’ means liking anal sex. I have considered myself to be ‘gay’ my whole life yet didn’t like the idea of anal sex until well into my 20’s. I was strictly oral, preferring oral ‘bottom’. Since sexuality is strictly in ones head, the genitals are secondary. It’s the emotional and sexual drive combined that, in my opinion, define one’s sexual orientation, not the specific position/act. Overall, I feel that labels only confuse the issue. After hitting 40 recently, I now feel that labeling myself as ‘gay’, ‘straight’ or ‘bi-sexual’ only serve to limit my mind and my future ideations about what I will do with whom. Perhaps ‘try-sexual’ is more accurate: I will try whatever I choose to, with whom-ever I choose. No one gets to choose these ideas and choices for me. I leave myself free to engender (hee hee) my sex life and emotional life with content I choose, thank you very much! FREE YOUR MIND !!!

  6. Has anyone contemplated writing an article about a bunch of gay men to see if they have any attraction to women. As a completely 100% gay male, the very thought makes me shudder. Furthermore, I’m not interested in a 100% complete straight male’s perspective as to the function of the anus. From a gay male perspective, it indeed is designed for sex. Moreover, straight men do butt fuck, so please leave your fecal matter out of it. More straight people spread STD’s and have contracted AIDS worldwide, so please stop saying male to male attraction is not normal because of your misguided scientific beliefs. Lastly, while I realize that some men are 100% straight, and I am their reflective counterpart, I believe most men fall in the middle. I’ve had my share of married men, bisexuals men, college kids, you name it. All purport to be “straight,” but they have no problem having an orgasm with me, thank you very much.
    The sad men delineated in this “conversion” week end, would be better served attending a local Gay Pride Parade, and realize they are 100% real who biologically have natural and beautiful attraction to other men. Better yet, maybe we need an atheist group to have a straight to gay conversion. We would not have to change any of the techniques described in this article.

  7. I’m a Cancer Im married with about 4 or 5 kids but I still have the OVERWHELMING attraction to my best friend! Who I’m not sure if he feels the same way. What should I do?

    My feelings for him go BEYOND FRIENDSHIP but I’m totally CONFUSED about this because of the fact that I’m a married man with kids and i have other responsibilities but my attraction for him is REAL. We’re in the same industry so we find ourselves taking trips together which makes our bond even CLOSER, plus it gets me out-of-town away from all of the preasures of the MARRIED LIFE (& EVERYTHING THAT COMES WITH IT) lol!

    My friend is in need of a lot of assistance at the moment & (he’s not very responsible) but I don’t mind being there for him WHENEVER he needs me! We talk to each multiple times a day but sometimes that STILL isn’t enuff for me. The only time i feel tempted to tell him my TRUE feelings is when we go on OUT-OF-TOWN trips, he doesn’t know this but i secretley relish our quiet time together especially when we are away from the familiarity of our city of Atlanta. We just seem to get CLOSER & CLOSER but Im not sure if i should tell him how truly CONFUSED i am & how this has TORMENTED me for some time.
    Im terrified that someone will see through the smoke screen & see things for what they are and that is… i want to FUCK him! There is said it! does that make me a bad person?

    • If your married, it kind of does make you a bad person. Perhaps you should tell her, and let her decide if she still wants to remain married to you, or find move on with her life while she still can and find someone who will truly appreciate her. I’m not saying having thoughts about a guy is wrong, just if your in a relationship it is, it’s wrong to have thoughts like that about anyone. Maybe once your wife and you separate, then you should consider talking with your friend.

    • That’s a tough one. Technically you would be cheating on your wife (I suppose a moral issue). You don’t mention if he’s married or heterosexual in your blog. If he is both it would make the situation a whole lot easier. I say that because if he’s homosexual he would be more inclined to go “public” with your relationship and your marriage would be terminated or ruined. If he’s heterosexual, you two could enjoy each other sexually on out of town trips with the understanding that “I won’t tell your wife and you won’t tell mine”, a pact that would be easy for both of you to keep. Good luck in however this plays out.

  8. very nice comments

  9. Hello everyone,

    I am currently in a relationship with my boyfriend with whom I live, we have been together for almost a year, recently I made a disturbing discovery, I went onto his skype account and found sexual conversations with about 3 different guys and a girl, when I confronted him, he confessed that he had done it about 2 or 3 times only for about 2 weeks, he then explained to me that he was just curious and that a lot of guys do that for curiosity, but I am devastated, I do not know what to do, I want to leave him but at the same time I don’t, I do not want to tell anybody I know because I am embarrassed. Please can anyone help me on this? Is it normal for a man to want to experiment these sorts of things? Is it a face he might be going through at this moment? He is 21 years old, and I am 26, turning 27 soon. Please, your help would be very much appreciated.

    Thank you

    Karla.

    • Hi Karla,
      I just read this. I was trying to research the same thing, only my fiance had been doing it for TWO YEARS. Chatting through Craigslist, with guys and girls. He claims that he was curious because it had never happened to him before, and I am sure too many movies make it seem like having that done to them won’t hurt or feel good. He had never really thought about that before, but honestly, it still grosses the hell out of me and makes me see him a little differently. He also understands he has a serious sex addiction, no not because of gay thoughts, because before that he had the same problem but only with girls. It’s something he cant control, that stupid craigslist… god I wish that section would just go under. The pain and turmoil its caused me. I met him when I was 18 I am no 24, and we have two children, so I am pissed. I hope things get better for you, I am still trying to make sense of it… I couldn’t even be intimate with him because I would think about it and get grossed out. Its one thing to have to “compete” with other girls, now I have to compete with guys too? GREAT, not.

  10. I am a third year student in Integrated Human physiology and Molecular Medicine… From what I have heard above about anal sex, I anal sex is really unhealthy ( gay or not) it has long-term effects: In your late ages your rectal muscle might be non-functional, you increasing chances of getting rectal cancer et cetera. So, it is really abnormal (biologically/scientifically) to have anal sex. My friend (doing masters) in Genetics and Integrative Human Biosciences once told me that Homosexuality is actually the result of an abnormal structuring (mutation) in one of the sexual chromosomes which then distorts the sexual spheres in the human psychology…People, even though such Ideas are not fully accepted by all expect in the broader field of science we really need to bear them in mind, or give them a thought if they make sense. NO OFFENSE
    Thank you : Clinton in South Africa

    • I would like to try to defuse some of the language here, and add comment. I would need to know the incidence of relaxed “rectal muscle” after a lifetime of the effects of defecation without anal sex, and its lack of incidence for those who practice anal sex, to then compare its incidence for those who do practice anal sex. As well, if an increased chance of getting cancer is sufficient to indicate an activity is “abnormal” then we must be sure to characterize cigarette smoking as abnormal, and myriad other activities would also qualify, such as consuming pan-fried meat, for which a connection has been made to increased risk of prostate cancer. It is not fair to reserve the word “abnormal” for one cancer-causing activity and not the next. Let’s see consistent use of that term in public discourse for everything related to cancer until it loses its emotional impact in discussions like this. Eating (pan-fried) hamburgers is abnormal, then. In addition, it seems intentional for you to write “abnormal structuring (mutation)” when you could have just said “mutation”. Next, the phrase “distorts the sexual spheres” is notional and unscientific and says nothing beyond asking the reader to impute any amount of educated meaning into it, to assist you in making your point.

      I am an uneducated man.

  11. Open minded says:

    MM and Karla,
    I just found out my fiance actually has butt fucked men….he said it was an addiction and easier then women because he never had luck and someone introduced him to it. If you can i would like to know how you guys are dealing with this. We went to a psychologist but i’m worried if he will cheat on me in the future like the man above who now wants a relationship with his coworker (no offense, glad your being honest, don’t cheat on your wife! Let her know, she has a right to know ). He said he won’t do it again cuz he has me now…..

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  1. [...] In Male to Male Sexual Feeling author Ed Tejirian questions the line between gay and straight relationships. Ed surveyed college students about their sexuality and what he found is a lot higher than the 3 to 4 percent in the Savin-William/Cohen study. In four different groups of students across four semesters, 25 of 74 women (33 percent) and 24 out of 56 men (42 percent) reported experiencing some degree of same-sex feeling or had an actual sexual experience with someone of the same sex (after the age of 16). Virtually all of them were aware that their same-sex feelings were disapproved of by society. [...]

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