Sex Question Friday: Can A Man Fantasize About Another Man And Still Be “Straight?”

September 6, 2013 by Justin Lehmiller

Bisexual man kissing a woman, but holding hands with another man behind her back. 

Every Friday on the blog, I answer people’s questions about sex, love, and relationships. This week’s question comes from a reader who wanted to know whether a guy can still be straight if he watches gay porn and fantasizes about being with other men.

If a boyfriend (of a female, so a “straight guy”) appears to prefer gay male porn, gets incredibly turned on by it and fantasizes about anal sex (both giving and receiving) and oral sex (both giving and receiving) with a guy, is he really straight or is this a sign of something he’s not sharing?

Thanks for this very interesting question! However, I have to begin with a question myself: has this man ever revealed his sexual identity to you? You seem to be assuming that he is straight because he has a girlfriend—however, this may not be a valid assumption. If he has not discussed or disclosed his sexual identity with you, it is entirely possible that he is simply bisexual and therefore has sexual interest in both men and women.

Alternatively, if he explicitly identifies himself as straight or heterosexual, yet fantasizes about and becomes sexually aroused by other men, then we have a quite different story. Let me begin by saying that there is an important distinction between someone’s sexual identity and their sexual behavior. Although these things usually match up, they are discrepant for many people, and this can be true for both men and women. Such discrepancies are what make it so difficult for researchers to determine the prevalence of homosexuality in the population. Depending upon how you define “homosexuality” (e.g., as a matter of attraction, identity, behavior, etc.), you end up with very different numbers. As some evidence of this, let’s look at the National Health and Social Life Survey, one of the best nationally representative sex surveys ever conducted in the US [1]. In this survey, 2.8% of the men identified as gay or bisexual; however, far more guys said that they had previously had sex with another man as an adult (5%) or had feelings of sexual attraction toward another man before (6%). As this and several other studies have made clear, not every man who has same-sex attractions or behaviors adopts a gay or bisexual identity.

How do we account for this? One possibility is that some of these men continue to identify as straight because being openly gay or bisexual is socially stigmatized. Indeed, this is part of the reason some guys on the “down low” (i.e., straight-identified men who have sex with both men and women) do not adopt bisexual identities and distance themselves from the LGBT community [2]. In other words, adopting a straight identity can be a strategy that enables one to blend in and survive in very homophobic environments.

However, this is not the only possible reason. There may be religious factors at play for some men, and for others, the sexual identity/behavior discrepancy may be the result of having a “fluid” sexuality, in which one’s patterns of sexual attraction, behavior, and identity actually change over time. Sexual fluidity is something that has typically only been discussed in women (see here for more on this), but I have seen some recent research suggesting that a small number of men seem to experience some degree of fluidity as well [3].

As you can see, sexual identities are incredibly complex and they do not always match up with people’s behaviors for a variety of reasons. Thus, it is entirely possible for a man to have a straight identity yet be sexually attracted to other men. Although most of us have a strong tendency to want to put everyone into neat little categories when it comes to sexuality, this probably isn’t the best approach. Instead, it may be better to think about sexuality as falling along a continuum (a la the classic Kinsey Scale) in which people can be heterosexual or homosexual to varying degrees. If more of us looked at sexuality in terms of a continuum instead of trying to put everyone into rigid categories of straight or gay, we could have a much greater understanding and appreciation of just how much diversity there is in human sexuality.

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[1] Laumann, E.O., Gagnon, J., Michael, R., & Michaels, S. (1994). The social organization of sexuality: Sexual practices in the United States. Chicago: University of Chicago Press

[2] Lapinski, M. K., Braz, M. E., & Maloney, E. K. (2010). The down low, social stigma, and risky sexual behaviors: Insights from African-American men who have sex with men. Journal of Homosexuality, 57, 610-633.

[3] Mock, S.E., & Eibach, R.P. (2012). Stability and change in sexual orientation identity over a 10-year period in adulthood. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 41, 641-648.

Image Source: iStockphoto

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Written by
Dr. Justin Lehmiller
Founder & Owner of Sex and Psychology

Dr. Justin Lehmiller is a social psychologist and Research Fellow at The Kinsey Institute. He runs the Sex and Psychology blog and podcast and is author of the popular book Tell Me What You Want. Dr. Lehmiller is an award-winning educator, and a prolific researcher who has published more than 50 academic works.

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