A man is bisexual if he feels a persistent sexual and/or romantic attraction to both men and women.
A man can seek sex with men but not be gay or bi.
My saying this has worried some of my readers, who conclude that I am “biphobic,” or that I don’t believe there are any bisexuals.
Gay men challenge me for writing that a straight man can have gay sex. They claim that I am keeping closeted gay men in the closet and reinforcing their false belief that they are straight. Bisexuals write to me saying these men I claim are straight are truly bisexual, and that I am engaging in bi-erasure by validating these men who self-identify as heterosexual.
Here is the primary difference between straight men who have sex with men and gay or bi men: Straight men who have gay sex report to me that they are attracted to the sexual acts but not to the men themselves. Gay and bi guys tell me they are attracted both to the guy and to the sex.
That is a fundamental difference: “just sex” versus “sexual identity.”
I know some people find this distinction difficult. Perhaps it will help to go into more detail.
First, bisexuals exist. Of course, they do.
The key to understanding what I’m trying to say about men who seek sex with men (and women) is that these men can be motivated by things other than desire and orientation.
I have met people, both in my practice and socially, who are attracted to both men and women. As someone recently wrote on Facebook, “I’m not a little bit gay and I’m not a little bit straight. I am bisexual.”
To me that says it all. Bisexuality is its own sexual orientation and identity.
Bisexuality is expressed in so many different ways that it is difficult to write about in a way that satisfies everybody. I’m not completely satisfied myself with what I have written so far, but as I write more and listen more to bisexuals, I will get better.
The key to understanding what I’m trying to say about men who seek sex with men (and women) is that these men can be motivated by things other than desire and orientation. There are the trivial cases, such as men who have sex with men for money, as in the sex trade or porn.
But there are other more profound and more subtle reasons why straight men seek sex with men.
Because I’m a practicing psychotherapist and sexologist, clients come to see me troubled by a compulsion to have sex with men, and these clients have a strong sense that they are not gay. Often, we discover in therapy that they were sexually abused by men in childhood and are now compulsively “revisiting the scene of the sexual crime.” In other words, they have a condition we call “compulsive trauma reenactment.”
When gay or bisexual men come into my office and are, indeed, clinging to heterosexual privilege, they never say they want to be gay (or bisexual) and ask me to help them get there. Instead, they hope I will help them confirm that they are straight.
As I explain in my writings, in therapy it is possible to distinguish these men from gay or bi men, most simply because they’re not turned on by guys. As a client and I discuss and explore his childhood experiences, the abuse will be “remembered” — it’s never really been forgotten — and the complete pattern of trauma reenactment will emerge. Because of such complications as internalized homophobia, the diagnostic process is not really this simple.
Some people question whether or not these men are clinging to heterosexual privilege by maintaining a self-identified straight identity.
This is a good question.
The answer is no. The truth is that these men come into my office having read my books on coming out and say to me, “If I am gay, help me get there. I don’t feel like I am, and yet I am having all this gay sex which is usually unfulfilling.”
These men are being very sincere in that they want to be gay if that is what they are. They are confusing their need for gay sex for a gay identity. The truth is, they are not gay.
When gay or bisexual men come into my office and are, indeed, clinging to heterosexual privilege, they never say they want to be gay (or bisexual) and ask me to help them get there. Instead, they hope I will help them confirm that they are straight. These truly gay or bisexual men have to learn to accept their orientations and remove their internalized homophobia or biphobia.
I need to say the obvious: a man’s sexual orientation does not change.
If he is gay, straight, or bi, no therapy will change this core part of his identity. If a man has a gay or bi identity, the trajectory of this identity will push its way out whether he wants it to or not. If he is straight, his sexual behavior can never make him gay or bi.
If he is gay, straight, or bi, no therapy will change this core part of his identity. If a man has a gay or bi identity, the trajectory of this identity will push its way out whether he wants it to or not.
It’s also important to note that many bisexual men are not “50-50 bisexual.” They are not equally drawn to both men and women.
A recent clinical paper by Ritch Savin-Williams and Zhana Vrangalova focuses on men who are “mostly heterosexual.” This paper is discussed in detail in Chapter 16 of my book, Is My Husband Gay, Straight, or Bi? These mostly heterosexual men are deeply and fundamentally attracted to both men and women — and are thereby bisexual — but rarely seek male sexual company.
The paper is statistical in nature and does not attempt to explain why these men are this way. The study is significant, however, in definitely establishing the existence of this group. A significant number of men really are “mostly heterosexual.”
Some straight men seek sex with men because men are more willing to cater to their special sexual needs and it is difficult for them to find women who will do this.
Some straight men have a single same-sex passionate encounter that seems to be very “circumstantial”; they are not generally attracted to men in any fundamental sense, but the moment was right for a passionate connection and it happened.
This is reality; this is biology. Human beings are never as “cut and dried” as simple-minded people would like them to be. But there is beauty in this fluidity.
I’ve also treated gay men who were deeply in love with a woman (and often married to her) but not sexually attracted to women in general. These gay men’s love is real; it simply isn’t in alignment with their orientation. I help “mixed orientation” couples cope with the challenges of living in our society, but these men remain gay despite their loyalty to their wives and children.
In my writings I list a variety of other situations in which straight men have sex with men; in prisons, in boarding schools, in remote outposts, etc.
There is nothing profound or subtle about this aspect of sexual fluidity. Men will take the opportunities that are available to them, even if they would prefer something else.
A bisexual male has a genuine deep attraction to men.
Men turn him on. He enjoys men’s bodies and men’s company. Something in his psyche is in passionate alignment with men, as well as with women.
But other men seek sex with men without this psychic alignment. These men are not bisexual.
This is reality; this is biology. Human beings are never as “cut and dried” as simple-minded people would like them to be.
But there is beauty in this fluidity.
Finally, and most importantly, the only way to know for sure if a man is gay, straight, bisexual or anything in between is to ask him how he self-identifies.
It is not up to anyone but the man himself to decide what is right for him.
This article originally appeared on PsychologyToday.com.