“Why am I Afraid to Have Sex? On the rare occasions when I’ve had sex, I can’t think of one that was a positive experience.”
That’s how a letter to me from a gay man in his mid-sixties began. [The message has been edited for clarity.]
He went on to say,
“I want to have an enduring, romantic, and monogamous relationship with another man, but how realistic is that at my age and with my sexual history?”
He noted several things that he thought might have contributed to his difficulty. Let’s take a look at each of his concerns:
. . .
“I’m in my sixties.”
It is very realistic for him to hope that he can have the relationship he wants at his age. Men can remain sexually active well into late life. I have known of many men who’ve had their first same-sex relationship at an age much older than this.
A man in his mid-sixties has a life expectancy of at least fifteen years, possibly much longer. His age and his sexual history should not deter him from seeking a satisfying sexual relationship with a partner.
So let’s talk about his other concerns.
. . .
He is not alone in what he wants. In urban areas, men with similar interests have formed groups to explore these things on a deeper level, and online groups exist as well.
Gay men negotiate the terms of their sexual relationships very early.
Gay men know how to negotiate the sexual terms of a relationship. Whether in person or on dating apps, the question, What are you into? comes up early in the conversation.
Usually, this question is interpreted to mean, Are you a top or a bottom? but a response, I’m relationship-oriented, will often sort the wheat from the chaff pretty quickly. It might frighten many potential suitors, but for him, those who look primarily for a hook-up are time-wasters anyway.
Demisexual? Do we really need one more term to describe sexual identities?
Initially, I resisted adding “demisexual” to our lexicon of sexual identity descriptors. I have changed my mind. Demisexual adds a dimension beyond sex to our discussions — one that hasn’t been addressed very much — particularly for men, I think.
Demisexuality refers to a sexual orientation in which people only experience sexual attraction to others with whom they have close emotional connections. In other words, without an emotional bond, a demisexual will not experience sexual attraction.
“I want to have an enduring, romantic, and monogamous relationship with another man.”
Love and sex are knotty problems; sometimes, love and sex go together, but they also can occur independently. In English, we use only the word love for all of those complexities.
Most of the time we associate love only with over-the-moon, toe-curling love.
When we base love too much on passion, and not enough on friendship, the relationship will die.
Many people predict that erotic love will die after about a year into a relationship. Then what’s left? If erotic love is all you’re after, the only monogamy is serial monogamy.
Phileal love, or friendship-like love, expresses our tastes, preferences, culture, and beliefs. This love is rich, emotional, and enduring.
For a relationship based on erotic love to survive, it must be resuscitated with phileal love. Otherwise, it goes on life-support.
Monogamy is difficult, or perhaps we should say, infidelity is easy. Gay or straight, neither does monogamy well.
In her TED talk, “Rethinking Infidelity,” Esther Perel said, “Infidelity shatters the grand ambition of love.” Part of that grand ambition is our desire for infinite passion without concern for friendship.
Is it possible we’d be better off with arranged marriages?
When I was in medical school, one of my preceptors was from Turkey, and his parents had arranged his marriage. I am embarrassed that I made some naive and insensitive comments like, How backward.
He responded quickly in a way that unquestionably would end our discussion. You Americans think you know everything. But look at your divorce rate. Arranged marriages are far more enduring.
Maybe demisexuals are onto something here. They want the qualities that promote endurance more than the characteristics that are emotionally intense but short-lived.
. . .
“I’m fearful, anxious, and self-conscious to the point that I (and probably the other guy) do not have a good time.”
A masseuse (with or without the “happy ending”) or a male escort might help him relieve his anxiety about sex. Tantric massage also could allow him to experience his sensual potential in the safety of a trained and skillful teacher.
These negotiations put him in control of the experience.
In contrast to a dating relationship, in the above situations, his partner works for him; he’s paying for the services so he dictates the terms of the transaction. And because they are transactional, he can call off the deal at any time he wishes. This boosts his feelings of security and erases all conflict about suitability for a long-term partnership.
These activities focus exclusively on what gives him physical pleasure. This would help desensitize him to some of what makes him anxious. Hopefully, this would then make him more confident as he meets other men more suited to his goal of a long-term, committed relationship.
He can take this new knowledge with him as he explores the treacherous world of dating.
. . .
“The first time I had sex, I caught gonorrhea. Another time, I had a panic attack the day after sex because I was so scared of having been exposed to HIV.”
Men who have sex with men (gay, straight, or bisexual) have higher risks for HIV and STDs, so his concern about those is justified.
Unfortunately, his first experience sensitized him to the dangers. Memories of that first experience create some of his anxiety. Anxiety interferes with sexual pleasure. He can reduce that anxiety by understanding what the actual chances for infection are and vetting a potential partner about his sexual experience.
Condoms and Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP) can significantly reduce risk. If he meets someone with whom he wants to have a relationship that might lead to sex, I would suggest he ask him to go with him to get tested.
. . .
“I’ve never had erectile dysfunction but I typically stay hard for a long time without having an orgasm.”
Delayed ejaculation is frequent as men grow older.
It simply takes longer to get there, and it’s a bumpy ride to get to that moment. We place far too much emphasis on orgasm as the only purpose for sex.
The pleasure of pillow talk and cuddling may exceed that of orgasm.
Both physical and psychological factors may be responsible for delayed ejaculation. Psychological problems that can lead to it include: sexual trauma, strict upbringing, relationship problems, and stress or depression.
. . .
“I’ve had relatively little sexual activity during my life but not for lack of desire.”
Sexual desire diminishes over the course of a lifetime, but sexual satisfaction can remain high if one understands the progression of sexuality across the life span.
But we find some very good news in what he’s written: He has the desire, and his sexual equipment works very well. We must focus our work with him on ways to reduce his anxiety to help him reach his goal. He also needs support for his emphasis on phileal love preceding erotic love.
. . .
I encourage men, particularly those who are older, to think about “slow sex.” We need to expand our definition of sex to include all forms of intimacy, physical and emotional.
Many men say they anticipate pleasure in cuddling more than in ejaculation. For some pillow talk may be more essential than cumming.
Somehow we’ve come to believe that semen is like a gift we leave for the host in appreciation for a delightful evening.
This post was previously published on Equality Includes You and is republished here with permission from the author.
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