Thursday, October 29, 2009

Understanding Male Sexuality: Information You Did Not Learn From Your Parents, Your Friends or in Your High School Sex Education Class! (Part II)

When other people travel, the process of getting to the destination may become as important as what happens at the destination. A few people even travel from place to place without even being concerned about reaching a particular destination. For these people, the real enjoyment of the trip is not what happens at the destination, but all the different experiences along the way. Some men, see the sexual experience in much the same way as travel is seen by the destination-oriented person. For them, the events, sensations and feelings leading to orgasm and ejaculation are of little importance, except that they are what leads to the "big payoff."

For other men--men whom I believe, on average, enjoy their sexuality far more than the "destination-oriented" men--the feelings and sensations involved in getting to the destination (the destination being orgasm and ejaculation)--take on as much or more importance than the orgasm itself. In short, these men are maximizing what they get from the total sexual experience, not just the experience in its last stage. An analogy may be helpful with respect to other kinds of sensations experienced by the human body. People who enjoy eating at fine restaurants are constantly bombarding their taste receptors with a continually changing collection of new, different and exciting sensations. Many human beings often get quickly "bored" if their eyes are not bombarded with new and different visual stimuli. Hence, the popularity of television!

Sexual feelings and sensations are not unlike the sensations of vision and taste in this regard. There is a constantly- changing panorama of sensations available to us, that change from one moment to the next during periods of sexual arousal. Men must simply learn how to take advantage of all of this.

Many men believe that it is somehow "unmasculine" to take advantage of (take time to "enjoy") these sexual experiences that occur prior to orgasm. They may have been taught at an early age that masturbation is somehow wrong, that is, either sinful or harmful to one's health. Young males are usually not reluctant to admit to each other that they enjoy "being" with a girl. But any discussion of sexual activities that do not involve being with a girl is considered inappropriate.

These same men bring these views into their adult relationships with their partners. Orgasm and ejaculation becomes the focus of their partner-sex as well, rather than full enjoyment of all aspects of sexual feelings.

As indicated before, arousal normally starts with a triggering mechanism. Boys learn at an early age that there are some arousal triggering mechanisms that are "ok", that is, socially accepted, and arousal triggering mechanisms that are "not ok." Arousal triggering mechanisms that are considered socially acceptable generally involve visual stimuli by a member of the opposite sex. In our "predominately straight" society, arousal that is triggered by a member of the same sex is not considered socially acceptable. Gay men have coped with this by forming separate (parallel) societies.

In addition to the problem faced by gays, there are many other arousal triggering mechanisms that work quite well but are not exactly coffee-room topics of discussion among the majority of men. For example, a close-fitting garment, a hand-held vibrator, an experience involving being "restrained" (bondage experience) or even simply a thought that is found to be sexually arousing. Most men are very embarrassed to acknowledge that these triggering mechanisms--those which do not involve visual or tactile stimulation by a woman--even exist, let alone spend time to learn how to take full advantage of them. In addition, while the vast majority of these arousal triggering mechanisms are quite harmless, sadly, several forms of illegal or otherwise inappropriate sexually deviant behavior have their origins here as well. Men often have questions that begin "Is it normal to be aroused by ___________ (Fill in the blank). I tell these men that if it's not illegal nor causes harm to someone else, then its "ok" and "normal."

Once the arousal has begun, there are physical and psychological changes that take place in men. As outlined earlier, typically, an involuntary message is sent from the brain to the nerves that control a series of valves on the veins by which blood is drained from the penis. At the same time, blood continues to enter the penis through the main artery, the heartbeat rate increases, and blood pressure rises. With blood flowing in faster than it is returned, the penis starts to become erect.
When the penis is flaccid, touch seems little different than touch on any other part of the anatomy. But as erection starts to take place, the nerve endings concentrated in the penis start to become more sensitive and pleasant to the touch. Sexual tension has started. The first sexual feelings are rather unfocused, but as arousal begins, the man's attention increasingly is focused on the sensations emanating from the groin area. Many men believe these sexual sensations occur only in the penis, but there are many other places in the groin area that are quite sensitive as well.
Equally interesting are the psychological changes that are taking place, something that few men acknowledge. At the initial stages of arousal, the man has no particular psychological "urge" to press forward to ejaculation. But as the arousal and erection continues, the psychological urge to press forward to ejaculation becomes stronger and stronger. This is the essence of building sexual tension. Psychologically, the man experiences the feeling of wanting more and more stimulation to continue and increase the intensity of the sexual feelings. The entire experience can be likened to the winding of a "sexual" spring. Increasing stimulation causes the "sexual" spring to be wound tighter and tighter, increasing the sexual tension. These sensations are extremely pleasant, but at the same time, the unreleased tension is also described as very "frustrating" by most men. Interestingly, some men describe this as a "delicious" frustration, and many agree that it is among the best, if not the best of experiences that life has to offer. The tighter the sexual spring can be wound, the more exciting the sexual "ride" and the more "extreme" the ultimate release will be. This is a human experience not to be missed. Fully recognizing this and fully taking advantage of these sensations and psychological urges in an effort to more completely enjoy them for a longer period of time without moving directly forward to orgasm is something that most men must learn. But the results are well worth the effort, both in terms of the man's own enjoyment as well as for the benefit and enjoyment of a sexual partner.

Testosterone Cycles, Refractory Periods, and "Wet" Dreams
Some research has suggested that testosterone produced by the sex organs in males and the adrenal glands (on top of the kidneys) in females, has less to do with whether a man will become sexually aroused than is widely believed. Other recent research suggests that it is not testosterone, but a compound closely related to testosterone that is important. Ordinarily, after ejaculation, a man has no further interest in sexual activity of any kind. For a period of 10 minutes to perhaps more than an hour for some men, a man is physically unable to achieve either another orgasm, even if he is able to either keep or achieve another erection. The is called the refractory period.

The internet references I have checked suggest that the generally pleasant feelings of satiety, a lack of interest in further sexual activity and sleepiness following the male orgasm (which many women do not appear to fully understand or appreciate) are primarily liked to a chemical called oxytocin that is released during orgasm. If a man has an orgasm in the early morning hours, he may want to sleep afterward for an hour or two at minimum. Testosterone levels in the body tend to rise, not fall, for a period of time after orgasm. Sexual activity (intercourse or masturbation) prior to sleep in the evening may act as an excellent, natural sleeping pill. Most men have a daily cycle of testosterone levels that peaks somewhere between 4:00 and 6:00 a.m. This coincides with the period of time when many men have early morning erections, but some research has revealed that these early morning erections are more a result of involuntary reflexes during dream sleep--not the sexually explicit content of the dream nor the testosterone level in the body.

Most men, however, (including me) have certainly had the experience of abruptly waking from an erotic dream to discover an erection on the verge of ejaculation, and I question whether these research findings are completely valid. These involuntary erection (in younger men particularly, sometimes leading to orgasm) are a normal part of the sleep cycle for most men, and according to research, most men have perhaps three or four during each night. there are various theories as to why nature planned it this way. One theory suggests that this is a way the male penis "renews" itself with an ample supply of oxygen.

These erection cycles are quite normal. In fact a man who does not have such cycles is likely physically impotent. A simple test that is sometimes used is to wrap the base of the penis tightly with a strip of postage stamps before retiring. If the circle of stamps tears during the night, the man is not physically impotent.
In the early years of post-pubescence, night-time erections are frequently accompanied by a full- fledged ejaculation, resulting in crusty spots on the
pajamas and sheets in the morning. Most young men are somewhat embarrassed by this, but it is quite normal. Wet dreams gradually occur less frequently as men grow older, and masturbation is more frequent and sexual intercourse become increasingly important.

There is considerable discussion in the medical literature I have read with respect to the exact role of testosterone in the body. There appears to be broad-based agreement that testosterone (or perhaps compounds closely related to testosterone) are primarily responsible for sexual desire in both men and women. In short, individuals with low testosterone levels tend to experience lowered interest in sexual activity and have fewer sexual fantasies.

Testosterone is not necessary, however, for a man to be able to have an erection or an orgasm--it's just that when testosterone levels are low or absent, the desire to engage in sexual activities of any form will be reduced. This conclusion, however surprising, is supported by research involving men who have been castrated. These men are still capable of both obtaining erections and having orgasms, though the semen will, of course, contain no sperm. Hence, the interest in the use of castration as an approach for dealing with sex offenders.

I visited with a woman whose husband had been tested to have virtually zero testosterone levels. He still had normal erections, and they were having intercourse about 8 times a week. In other words, his ability to achieve an erection from physical stimuli was unaffected by the zero testosterone levels. However, he was not aroused and could not achieve an erection by any visual or psychological stimuli--photos of nude women, pornographic videotapes or anything similar. So the contention that testosterone is not necessary to achieve an erection, but is necessary if a man (or a woman, for that matter) is to be interested in having sex (the sex drive) seems to be consistent with this evidence. Since testosterone is produced by glands in addition to the testis, castrated males still have testosterone at some level, albeit probably lower than normal without drug therapy.

Most, but not all, of the testosterone in males is produced by the testis, although small amounts are produced by the adrenal glands, and testosterone is also stored in large amounts in body fat.

Unwanted Erections and "Bashful Kidneys"
I have had a number of letters from men complaining of erections that occur unexpectedly in potentially embarrassing situations,for example, in a locker room, a public shower, while having a massage, or similar situation. Since your brain tells you when you are aroused, these responses are automatic and not under conscious control. The nerves running to the valves that control blood flow in and out of the penis are tied directly to the portion of the brain responsible for arousal and erection. Frequently, the situation in which the unexpected erections occur involve "novel" tactile stimulation from a massage, the texture or fit of an article of clothing, or something similar, There is no simple way to avoid the "problem" of an unwanted erection other than to avoid the stimulus that is causing it. The novelty of the situation is in part, responsible. Over time, when a man becomes familiar with the tactile sensations, the erections may subside, at least to a certain degree. It may be helpful to remember than men do not normally seek to avoid having erections, and erections should be enjoyed, not scorned.

Another common problem is the so-called "bashful kidney." A bashful kidney is a situation where a man has difficulty urinating in a public rest room, This problem was actually discussed in Ann Landers a number of years ago. The problem is exacerbated if the rest room is noisy, crowded, and the individual urinals offer little or no privacy. In addition, long trips in a car or on a bus or airplane seem to make the problem worse. Again, there is no simple solution as the muscles that control the flow of urine are not entirely under voluntary control. Over time, as a man ages, the problem tends to gradually recede. A rest room with private stalls may be the only solution.

Taboo Topics: Masturbation
Masturbation remains a taboo topic within much of American society. Parents who openly discuss nearly any other sexual behavior topic with their children often are embarrassed when the subject of masturbation is approached. There are biblical passages which suggest, at least in some people's minds, that masturbation is sinful. And the "Boy Scout Manual" in the 1940s made note that masturbation was somehow harmful. Various physical maladies over time have been associated with or blamed on masturbation. Examples include pimples (nearly every adolescent boy has them, so there must be a connection) lack of agility and ability in sports, near-sightedness, and even blindness.

I remember discussing the subject with a medical doctor during the 1950s when I was about 13 years old. His advice was, "I'm not going to discourage you from doing that, but I don't believe that it is a good idea, either. I thought to myself, "That is certainly strange advice, I wonder what he means." But I was too scared to ask any more questions.

Fortunately, today most medical doctors are enlightened, and now believe that masturbation is not only normal, but perhaps even necessary for good sexual health, at least for post-pubescent males who lack other "sexual outlets." A medical text published in 1975, "Funk and Wagnall's Family Medical Guide," in its discussion of treatment for enlarged prostate, notes that "All viable males need to have a periodic release of sperm. Years of such abuse can have an effect later in life." The text does not give advice, however, as to the specific techniques that should be used to ensure that this periodic release of sperm takes place.

Who?
Virtually all males masturbate, though some more frequently than others. Masturbation usually continues throughout adulthood, even when other forms of sexual activity are available. Most adolescent males are very embarrassed their self-stimulation activities. Only a small percentage of male adolescents discuss their masturbation even with close male friends, and most are terrified that their friends will find out. Many are also terrified that they will be " discovered in the act" by a parent. So, many adolescent males learn to get it over quickly, to minimize the chance of being discovered. Only later in life do they learn that the ability to delay orgasm is very important to learn in order to maximize sexual pleasure. So all the "quickie" techniques must be unlearned.

Frequency
Although as a man ages, the frequency of masturbation tends to gradually decline, but continues even for most married men. Some men believe they should not do this when they have opportunities for sexual activity with their partners and therefore try not to masturbate, in part, because they believe that masturbation implies partner rejection. As a result, they try to hide this from their wives (often by picking times and places where their wife is not around.

But I have visited with a number of men who have wives who are quite aware of their husband's masturbation practices and, indeed, encourage it. Some of the most happily married men I have encountered are those whose wives enjoy mutual masturbation, which becomes a regular part of the sexual activity. Part of the psychological problem that most men face is that this is a difficult subject to bring up with a partner, because any expressed interest in masturbation might be interpreted by the partner as a form of rejection. The men who have gotten past this point with their wives almost invariably report having a very satisfactory sex life. A favorite male sex fantasy is getting the opportunity to watch a woman masturbate, and many woman find watching men masturbate to be sexually exciting, once they get over any hangups with the basic idea. Unattached single men, and gay men, of course, tend to masturbate more frequently than married men. For gay men in a relationship, mutual
masturbation is a primary sexual outlet, if not the primary one.

While it is true that some women my interpret their male partner's interest in
masturbation as a form of rejection, other women may interpret this somewhat differently. By masturbating in front of the woman, the man is sharing the most personal of all activities. That a man is willing to do this with a partner is an expression of love, not rejection. Thus, mutual masturbation could be a highly erotic and loving activity for men and women. It could also be something
regularly done at the initial stages of love making.

Masturbation Techniques
Men employ a variety of masturbation techniques. The simplest technique is to begin by simply squeezing the penis. Once the penis becomes semi-erect, stroking normally takes place, from tip to base. By concentrating at first on the base of the penis and avoiding the tip permits the erection to proceed and is a basic technique for delaying ejaculation.

The entire groin area, including the penis, scrotum and the groin itself, gradually becomes more sensitive to the touch. Once the erection is underway, many men enjoy gently pressing on and massaging the scrotum. Gentle touch anywhere within the area can be sexually exciting, and even on other parts of the body, such as the male nipples.

Some men prefer to masturbate while lying prone on a bed, with the underside of the penis rubbing against the bed. Many men enjoy masturbating using a lubricant, rather than dry. Pre-ejaculate is an excellent lubricant, although the supply may be somewhat limited. Hand lotion or vaseline can be used, though, since these contain oils, they are probably not the best choice if intercourse with a condom is to follow. A clear, water based gel, such as KY gel, is made for this purpose and does not destroy condoms.

Some men enjoy using devices while masturbating--a vibrator, a shower massage unit or similar. Many of these devices produce an interesting, though short-lived effect. A shower massage unit or tub jet, for example, puts stimulation on the penis such that the feeling is much like having a giant vacuum cleaner sucking the semen out of the body. The whole thing is over in about 30 seconds, even without much of an erection. Interesting, but not something one might want to do on a regular basis,
Then there is masturbation employing articles of clothing, which can also be classified as a sexual fetish.

Taboo Topics: Fetishes
Fetishes are actually quite common among males, although men who enjoy fetishes are often very embarrassed by their turn-ons. Generally, a fetish is any situation where arousal occurs as the result of an inanimate object, most often an article of clothing. Fetishes are normally harmless, except for the possible psychological harm for a partner who does not understand what is going on. Fetishes are virtually entirely a male domain, and few if any women can relate to enjoying anything similar.I do not know for certain if a majority of men enjoy fetishes, but certainly a large number of men do, and they are quite "normal." College students who engage in "panty raids" of women's dormitories are revealing a very mild, and perhaps "peer group-acceptable" fetish. Men who enjoy seeing women dressed up in clothing that is over the edge of feminine attire--4 inch heels, fish-net stockings etc, are probably exhibiting a mild fetish. Most men, however, see this fetish as part of their overall heterosexual interest in women, and few men would regard this as "abnormal."
Transvestites--that is, men who are sexually aroused by dressing up in womens clothing, are sometimes treated by society as being abnormal, but many of these men are married to women and have otherwise normal sex lives. The only consequence of this fetish for many of these men is that they are sexually aroused by actually dressing in women's clothing.For a small percentage of men, however fetishes that involve women's clothing can ultimately lead to dissatisfaction with "being male."
Given the amount of e-mail I've received dealing with issues related to fetishes, I conclude that they are far more commonplace than is widely believed--even among professional therapists. Interestingly, the e-mail I receive suggests that among the most common are those involving clothing items not even mentioned in most discussions of the topics found in books--in particular, underwear, swimwear and jock- strap fetishes, and even fetishes involving other mens clothing items, such as lycra cycling shorts or tight-fitting blue jeans. In most instances, the clothing item that is responsible is worn, and is used in conjunction with masturbation or other forms of sex play. A combination of texture, fit and appearance seems to be involved in these kinds of fetishes.

While surveys on this are difficult to conduct accurately, one clue as to how commonplace a particular type of fetish might be can be obtained from the Internet. Internet newsgroups generally form on topics where there is widespread interest. So far, there is an internet newsgroup that deals strictly with underwear fetishes; another that deals specifically with garments made with lycra (that newsgroup attracts both men and women);and a third newsgroup dealing specifically with jock-strap fetishes. All of these newsgroups are quite active in exchanging information and preferences about brands and styles of garments that are best for the purpose.
Of course, there are newsgroups for many of the more widely known fetishes involving cross dressing and the like. There is even an internet site for those who get "involved" with plush (stuffed) toys! The list goes on and on! Just when you think you have heard it all, another, even stranger fetish pops up. For the men who have a fetish for blue jeans, a separate newsgroup has yet to form, so these men have been showing up on some of the other fetish-related newsgroups. A fetish based on a coarse-textured fabric. is somewhat different from fetishes involving lycra or silk garments, where the smooth, slippery rather than the rough-textured fabric plays a role. Also, many fetishes involve items of clothing normally worn in conjunction with sports activities, and there are small business operators who specifically cater to that market and sell products over the internet.

The recent popularity of boxer shorts made from silk is, at least in part, due to the fact that many men find the feel of silk against the skin arousing. Some men find the tight-fitting lycra or spandex compression shorts to also provide some interesting sensations in the groin area. Touch feels quite different through lycra than on bare skin. And there are plenty of fans of brief-style lycra swimwear. There are also mail-order clothing companies which cater to these kinds of interests.
Those who have underwear fetishes appear to be about equally divided between those who have a preference for briefs, bikinis and thong-type underwear, and those who have a preference for boxer-style shorts. The group interested in boxer- style shorts seem disinterested in other underwear styles, and vice versa. There is considerable specialization among the various groups.

Those interested in jock-straps have strong preferences as well, The various brands of jock-straps available on the market are carefully evaluated with respect to how tightly they "fit" and the feel of the material and the straps as well as the particular sensations they are capable of producing in the groin area. Some brands are clearly preferred over other brands, and there is considerable discussion on newsgroups over the comparative advantages and disadvantages of each brand.
A sub-group of jock-strap wearers are particularly interested in those which have plastic protective cups, such as those worn for sports requiring heavy protective gear. There are many different shapes and sizes of cups and each particular type has its own group of advocates. Some prefer the large cups often worn over clothing in sports such as hockey or boxing. Still others prefer tighter fitting cups that can be worn under other clothing items. Advocates of this form of activity claim that the sensations obtainable when even a slightly erect penis presses against a hard cup are quite enjoyable indeed. One unique activity engaged in my many men with underwear fetishes is underwear trading. This activity appears to take on a particular importance in gay society. The newsgroups are filled with requests by gay men to trade underwear, jock-straps, or other similar garments. Though there may be straight men who also engage in this activity,I have yet to hear from one, although some of the gay men I have visited with claim that their interest in underwear is incidental to their sexual orientation.

Among the underwear traders, there are specialists. Some prefer to trade underwear or jock-straps that are new, and still in the original packaging, much the same as someone might collect coins or model trains. They may catalog their collection in detail for other participants in the newsgroup to read. Other men, gays primarily, are interested in trading underwear, jockstraps or swimwear that are "used." A number of men have admitted to stealing (they call it liberating) these kinds of clothing items from laundry rooms, locker-rooms etc, when they are left unattended. Many of these men prefer, used, stained, garments, particularly if stained with semen. It's unclear as to whether the primary sexual interest is in the garment or the wearer. Garments from other gay men who are of a similar age and build appear to be most preferred. Underwear trading among gay men appears to be the first step in an internet dating ritual that, if the underwear seems ok, may eventually involve first a phone conversation and then perhaps actually meeting the underwear trader. In addition, many gay bars have underwear nights in which men dress up in
underwear.

Based on the internet sites and newsgroup activity, it may appear that underwear and jock- strap and similar fetishes are largely a gay activity, but straights engage in these activities as well. However, gays usually seem more willing to discuss fetishes, perhaps because they see many of the fetishes as merely a part of their overall interest in other men as objects of sexual attraction. I have visited with very happily married men whose wives not only knew about the underwear fetish, but help their husbands pick out underwear that is particularly arousing to them! In these instances, the underwear was simply part of the overall sexual chemistry between the man and his wife. All of these activities are quite safe, harmless fun. The only down side is the potential embarrassment for the man who enjoys these sorts of activities should someone "discover" them.

Sexual Repression and Sexual Enjoyment: Now and Then
Those who visit primate exhibits at zoos are often amazed at the speed by which the sex act takes place:in some instances, less than 30 seconds from start to finish. I understand this varies somewhat by primate species, with the sex act taking considerably more time (more "monkey play") in some species than in others. The idea to drag out the sexual act into something that lasts much longer than a few minutes is uncommon among living things and is part of what makes us human. I've often thought about the concept of "sexual enjoyment" in various societies and for those who grew up in various families which have either quite restrictive attitudes or quite liberal-minded attitudes toward sexuality and sexual activities. I also like to think about this issue as societal values change over time, from the restrictive views of the immediate post World War II era, to the free-love era of the early 70s, to the more conservative know-your-partner views increasingly favored in an era marked by AIDS and other STD's.

An interesting question, I believe, is under what conditions do humans secure the greatest enjoyment from their sexuality. Consider first a family with very restrictive religious or other views toward sexuality. Are those living in such
families actually experiencing less "enjoyment" from their sexuality. Those living in such families likely have less opportunity to date, engage in sexual intercourse and other forms of "partner sex may not be available at all." But under such conditions, whatever sexual activity does take place acquires a new meaning in terms of its importance. In addition, the "delicious frustration" of not being able to have an orgasm whenever one wishes in itself becomes a source of sexual pleasure.
Or consider sexual attitudes during the 1950s versus currently with respect to the role of sex in dating behavior. In the 1950s, I gather, pre-marital sex was considered quite "wild" and not something "good" young men and women engaged in. By the 1980s, sexual intercourse was common after the second or third date. The attitude of the 80s seemed to be "sex first, we will get to know each other later on." Does this new set of attitudes mean that the Generation Xers are enjoying their sexuality more than those living in the 1950s. Somehow I doubt it. The attitude in which sex after the second date is expected puts enormous pressure on he psychological relationship between the two people. Women reach adulthood believing "that's what men are after." Men begin to think that "If I don't offer to have sex with her after the second date, she will think there is something wrong with me" (that is, she will think I must be gay or something!). It's no wonder men and women stumble into relationships they don't really want, and find out only much later (often after marriage) that they are "psychologically incompatible". Many of the ills of current society, illegitimate births, high divorce rates, spouse abuse, are linked to these so-called "modern liberal attitudes" with respect to the role of sex in a relationship. This idea goes right along with the "orgasm centered" attitudes many men have about their sexuality. Or consider the free love of the 70s, a period of time when young adults experimented a lot with promiscuous sex, drugs and on and on. Did sex somehow acquire more meaning because of the then-new liberal views that prevailed in this time period? Did the young people who became adults during this period really get more enjoyment out of their sexuality than did their parents? Again somehow, I doubt it. The freedom to do anything you want in the sex department does not automatically mean that the sexual pleasure quotient has increased. Could it be that men living in societies where intercourse is less free and frequent are actually getting more out of their sexuality than those men living in societies where sex is more readily available? The quantity versus quality issue thus reappears. These issues are certainly worthy of pondering. If our response to the AIDS epidemic has accomplished anything positive, it has focused our attention on the importance of a relationship in partner sex. It is not at all sad that humanity once again focuses on the importance of knowing very well the partner you have sex with. If this delays intercourse a few dates longer, so be it.

Sexual Orientation and Preference Issues
I have visited with many men who are well past their teens and are still quite uncertain of their sexual preference. I conclude that this is actually quite common. The media portray male sexuality as if most men are either straight or gay, with but a few men falling in a middle category that is potentially aroused by members of either sex. I have visited with many gays who were aware of their sexual preference at a very early age, perhaps nearly from the moment they realized they were male. Obviously there are many men who are clearly heterosexual, or straight, and have no same-sex interests whatsoever. However, I have visited with a surprising number of men where the preference is not nearly that clear. One book I have--Sexual Happiness for Men: A Practical Approach--that discusses sexual orientation issues lists seven different categories of sexual preference, depending on the relative arousal in and
preference for same-sex versus different-sex activities. These categories are based on the original work by Alfred Kinsey (who, interestingly, was an entomologist by training). Using this categorization, bisexuals are only those who are equally aroused by both same- and different-sex activities, and thus have no preference for one over the other. Most men, however do have some preference for one or the other.
Sexual preference is, at least to a certain degree determined by whether a man is aroused by a member of the opposite sex or by a member of the same sex. You don't get to tell your brain what you find arousing: your brain tells you! Very few straight men are so straight that there are not certain kinds of same sex-activities that are at least slightly arousing. Most heterosexual men, for example, would likely get a bit aroused if they were placed in a room with a group of other men who were all masturbating! Similarly, few gay men are so gay that they would not be aroused by any form of different- sex activity. Sexual preference for most men is just that, a preference. This preference is often expressed by who the man falls in love with, and while what (or perhaps who) triggers the arousal mechanism is important, other factors are also involved, and expressions of same-sex sexual interest are quite common in situations where contact with members of the opposite sex is limited (army, boys schools, prisons, etc). When the situation changes these interests may recede as well, and many of these men return to a heterosexual life. Once a man discovers an activity that he finds very arousing, other available activities that are less arousing normally recede into the background. Thus, if a predominately though not exclusively heterosexual individual determines that certain kinds of different-sex activities are highly arousing, interests he might have had in same-sex activities will likely recede. Psychologists refer to this as a "psychodynamic" situation with outcomes that vary depending on the available options.

While many gays seem convinced that theirs was not a choice, this is not always the case, and it is possible for a man with some same-sex interests to go through life as a straight. I'm convinced this is part of what makes "coming out" difficult for many men with an interest in certain same-sex activities, because making a final decision as to preference is often not easy, and is a decision that cannot be easily reversed. This struggle seems to be critical for many of the men I have been visiting with who are having difficulty in deciding what their real sexual preference is. It is not surprising that this can be a difficult situation: A man who has come out as a gay will have difficulty if he decides that he wants to attempt to begin dating women, for example. Men who do not appear to have a preference often face a lot of problems, and are largely treated as if they were gays by the straight community, but these individuals are frequently rejected by the gay community as well for not being truly gay or comfortable with their "true" sexual orientation. Some recent research has suggested that a much higher proportion of men can be aroused by same-sex activities and images than is represented by the percentage of men who actually go into same-sex relationships and live as gays. Most of the remainder of these men undoubtedly primarily if not exclusively live as heterosexuals. So being gay or being straight involves both the arousal triggering mechanism and the ultimate choice of a partner. Even more interestingly, these choices do not necessarily remain constant over time.

I had a chance to discuss sexual orientation issues with two different men, both in their 30s or 40s who both were married, and both, I believe, also had families. Both claimed to have "normal" sex lives with their wives. Interestingly, however, both of these men occasionally had same-sex encounters (not with each other but each with another man) leading to orgasm. The wives in each instance were apparently unaware of the gay relationship. The decisions these two men faced were not simple. In one of the two cases, I was able to help the man come to the conclusion that ultimately the gay relationship could mean that he would have to leave his wife and family. He
ultimately reached the conclusion that this was not a price he was willing to pay for the same-sex relationship. In the other case, however, it was clear that the man was gradually leaning toward leaving his wife for the man he was having the affair with. I never did hear exactly what happened in this case, but I suspect very strongly that this man is no longer living with his wife. Despite the similar circumstances, each man likely made a different choice. I cite these cases to illustrate how complicated sexual preference can become!

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