Dr. Aqualus Gordon believes straight men who find themselves attracted to other men should require no explanation and should definitely not be seen as pathological.
I keep coming across content around the web discussing the seemingly abnormal sexual interests and behaviors of straight men. These discussions frequently involve self-identified straight men who have found themselves sexually or romantically interested (or curious about) other men. On occasion, these discussions involve men who’ve had sexual or romantic experiences (or even relationships) with other men, while continuing to identify themselves as straight/heterosexual. These men often begin to question their heterosexuality—either because of their own confusion or because others begin to question the straight identity of these men
Take, for instance, this post on the subreddit r/sex, where a self-identified straight man describes his worry that others will view him negatively because of his openness to gay sexual experiences. He writes:
I’m self-identified as a straight man…I, however, have this thing I feel is an issue. I can get turned on by both straight and gay porn…And, here’s where it gets complicated. I’ve acted on this a few times…I only feel it’s an issue because I don’t feel comfortable talking to anyone about it and need some guidance or maybe validation…
So, please, be honest. Have you ever fantasized about this? Have you played around with another dude? And, biggest question of all…did you tell your future gf/wife about it? (I mean, I could see them not taking it well, because of the stigma.) Or would you just hush up about it, and continue the tradition of not talking about it?
This scenario doesn’t seem to be all that uncommon. In fact, The Huffington Post recently published an article by Dr. Joe Kort, titled: Why Some Straight Men Are Romantically or Sexually Attracted to Other Men, which discusses the prevalence of homosexual attraction among men who describe themselves as straight. Dr. Kort offers several explanations about why straight-identified men would express interest in other men. His list of explanations includes: narcissism, sexual addiction, cuckolding, exhibitionism, voyeurism, sex for money, shame seeking, having a high sex drive, “father hunger,” fetishism, “homosexual obsessive compulsive disorder, and “homosexual imprinting” from childhood sexual abuse.
While Dr. Kort is helping bring-to-light the fact that men who identify as straight may also have some sexual and/or romantic interest in other men, his explanations for these occurrences completely miss the mark. Few of them are backed by research and many of them are not explanations so much as descriptions of specific behaviors (e.g. exhibitionism, cuckholding). What’s worse, most of these “explanations” pathologize (i.e. regard as psychologically abnormal or unhealthy) the interests and behaviors of these men.
The idea that straight men who’ve had gay experiences or who express attraction to other men require an explanation for their behaviors/interests is based in archaic & uniformed notions of sexuality. As a social scientist who specializes in male sexuality, I’ve spent a lot of time researching and talking to men about their sexual and romantic interests and behaviors. If I’ve learned anything about men in this regard, it’s that the labels “straight, gay, and bisexual” are at best vague references to the true complexity of an individual’s sexual orientation. In fact what’s considered gay or straight behavior varies from culture to culture. Some cultures see any intimacy between men as evidence of homosexuality. Some cultures only consider being the receptive sexual partner (i.e., the “bottom”) as evidence of homosexuality. And a few cultures even view homosexual activity as a natural part of masculine development. These variations from culture to culture in what is considered “straight” behavior suggest that there is no hard-and-fast rule about what it means to be straight.
It’s been nearly three-quarters of a century since sex researcher Alfred Kinsey published his famous Kinsey Scale, and along with it an entire volume of research discounting the idea that sexual orientation is structured in a black & white (or gay & straight) way. Kinsey described sexual orientation as ranging from exclusively heterosexual to exclusively homosexual and suggested that very few men (or women) were truly “exclusively straight” or “exclusively gay.” As a biologist, Kinsey understood that the occurrence of absolutes is a rare thing in nature. He knew that even a guy who knows himself to be straight and completely attracted to women might, under certain circumstances, find himself sexually and/or romantically interested in another man. This is known to happen when women are absent or unavailable – e.g. in prison.
I’m not saying that we should stop using labels to describe our sexual orientations. Many people (gay, straight, bisexual, etc) gain a sense of connection and community by associating with others that identify similarly to themselves. But it is important to also keep in mind that these labels don’t reflect the true complexity of our sexualities. And we should be no more surprised to find out that a self-identified “straight” man has had a gay experience than we are to discover that a man with self-described “brown” hair also has natural blond highlights.
Photo: tobyotter / flickr