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Gay men having sex with women?

Dear Alice,

Do gay guys actually go with girls just so no one knows they are gay? How would they be able to "perform" on the girl if they weren't attracted to them?

Dear Reader,

You ask a really complicated question! To answer your question plainly with the information that you’ve shared, it’s likely that some gay men do have sexual relationships with women to hide their true orientation, due to fear of coming out. Indeed, there are gay men who feel pressured to mask their sexuality because of cultural, familial, religious, or personal beliefs that being gay is wrong. It's also possible that someone who identifies as gay may want to have sex with someone of another gender. However, "performance" when it comes to sex, which may be interpreted as arousal and possibly ejaculation, aren't determined exclusively by attraction. Unfortunately, while you've asked a great question, research in this area tends to be outdated, and lacking in some areas, like in the difference between feelings of arousal compared with sexual identity. Much of what is known comes from surveys or anecdotal evidence, which may not be as scientific as a research study, but still can offer great perspective on the topic.

Sexually speaking, an erection or becoming aroused isn’t a measure of a person's sexual orientation. People can get erections for many reasons. They may be aroused by physical sensations of touching, fantasizing about having sex with someone else during the act, or it may occur for no particular reason at all, among other reasons. When it comes to sexual arousal, the brain is one of the key organs at play. Regardless of sexual orientation, many people may find themselves aroused and able to "perform," even if they aren't attracted to the person they're having sex with. For example, a cisgender straight man may not be attracted to the particular cisgender straight woman he's having sex with. In that instance, a cisgender gay man may be able to get an erection and ejaculate equally well. 

Identity is also a difficult thing to put a label on. Just because someone identifies a certain way doesn't mean that behaviors and identities are congruous. Sexuality is often fluid, and preferences and behaviors may change over time as a result. In fact, some surveys have shown that gay men have had sex with people of other genders throughout their life. And, although scientific studies in this field are rare, sexual arousal to women has been measured in groups of men with several different sexual orientations, including those who identify as gay. So while there may be men who are having sex with women in order to hide their identity, there are also men who are doing it simply because they enjoy it. 

It might be more accurate to think of an individual’s sexuality identities as falling along a continuum. When thinking about sexual attraction and romantic attraction, there are as many different sexual identities and behaviors as there are people. As detailed in Asexuality from the Go Ask Alice! archives, sexual orientation is usually comprised of several parts: attraction, how one acts on that attraction, and how one identifies (gay, straight, bisexual, etc). People often think about being straight, gay, bisexual, or other identities as both a person's romantic and sexual attractions. However, attraction has a bit more nuance than that. A cisgender man may experience romantic attraction towards other men, sexual attraction towards men and women, but he chooses to identify as gay. Another cisgender man in that same situation may choose to identify as homoromantic bisexual. And another may even identify as straight. Self-identification is a lifelong process, with an especially formative period during the teenage years. Surveys among high school students found differences between identity and sexual behaviors, with many of the self-identified gay or lesbian students mentioning that they engage in sexual activities with those of other genders. 

Identifying one's sexuality and choosing whether or not to share this information with others can be a complex and confusing process. It can be even more complicated without a supportive network. For someone feeling confused about their sexuality, it might be helpful to speak with a mental health professional, particularly one who specializes in sexual identity. Sexuality, as many parts of a person's identity, is ever changing.

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Last updated Jun 30, 2022
Originally published Oct 23, 1998

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