Sex between straight men challenges traditional sexual identities

Attractions, behaviours and identities do not always align, says UBC professor Tony Silva


If straight men have sex with other men, that means that they’re closeted, and have internalized homophobia, right?

Not necessarily, according to University of British Columbia sociology professor Tony Silva.

Silva’s new book Still Straight: Sexual Flexibility Among White Men In Rural America (New York University press, 264 pages, $28), poses a challenge to and questions those notions about straight and LGBT people.

Drawing upon interviews with 60 white men from rural areas in the United States over three years, Silva delves into the sex lives of straight men who have hookups, sexual friendships and secretive loving relationships with other men, but remain mostly attracted to women and strongly identify with straight culture.

Although straight men have been known to have sex with other men in all-male environments, such as prison or the military, this murky area of sexual identity and experience has been clouded by issues of secrecy, privacy, homophobia and denial.

Also, though this isn’t the first look at this subject, examination of this area remains limited.

Silva makes the assertion that the men he focuses on in his book aren’t closeted, bisexual or experimenting, and that they aren’t a version of the tortured love story in Brokeback Mountain.

In a recent Q&A with the University of British Columbia, Silva explains differentiations about sexual behaviour, attraction and identity, and addresses issues of homphobia.

Why do straight-identified men have sex with other men?

The majority of the men I interviewed reported that they are primarily attracted to women, not men. Most of these men are also married to women and prefer to have sex with women. They explained that although they loved their wives, their marital sex lives were not as active as they wanted. Sex with men allowed them to have more sex. They don’t consider sex with men cheating and see it as a loophole in their marriage contract.

Some of them also have stereotypical beliefs about women’s sexuality and think that if they have extramarital sex with women, the women could become “emotionally clingy” and that it could threaten their marriage. People who live in small towns and rural areas typically consider marriage as an important part of their identity. These men think that sex with men is a lot less complicated with no attachment. I find it particularly interesting and ironic that their conservative beliefs about gender actually encourage them to have sex with men.

Other men chose to have sex with men for reasons related to masculinity. Some men enjoyed receiving anal sex from other men because this act allowed them to experience pleasure, but without the pressure they felt when they had sex with women. For example, several men explained that they felt like they were expected to be in control when they had sex with women, but not with men. Several single men were lonely or wanted to experience human touch, but were unsure how to do so platonically in a way that felt masculine. Sex helped them connect with other men in a way that felt masculine to them, ironic as that may sound.

Why do these men still identify as straight? Why are they not considered bisexual?

Most of the men identified as straight because they felt that this identity best reflected their romantic relationships with women, their integration in communities composed mostly of straight people, or the way they understood their masculinity. Identifying as straight also meant they could avoid stigma and feel connected to a socially dominant group. Many felt that sex with men was irrelevant to their identities given other aspects of their lives. They felt that heterosexuality and masculinity were “normal” and expected of them.

Furthermore, sexuality is multidimensional and attractions, behaviours and identities do not always align. Sexual identities may describe how individuals perceive themselves, but they do not always indicate a person’s attractions or sexual behaviours.

For example, when a “closeted” gay or bisexual man has sex with another man, he views that sex as reflecting his secret gay/bisexual identity. When a straight-identified man has sex with another man, he views himself as straight despite sex with men.

While many people understandably think that men are “closeted” if they have sex with other men yet identify as straight, this is not exactly true. These men are secretive about their sexual behaviour, but not their identity. In fact, sexual encounters with men are mostly irrelevant to their identity.

How do these men view homosexuality and LGBTQ2+ rights?

A minority of the men I interviewed were homophobic and held prejudice against LGBTQ2+ people and this prejudice makes the thought of an LGBTQ2+ identity unappealing to them. However, the majority of the men, supported same-sex marriage and the right for same-sex couples to raise children.

To confirm these interview findings, I analyzed one nationally representative survey called the National Survey of Family Growth. I looked at the responses of straight-identified men who reported consensual sex with at least two other men, compared to those who had not, on questions about LGBTQ2+ rights and masculinity. They were similar in their attitudes to other straight men. In other words, straight men who have sex with men are no more prejudiced than other straight men.

This story originally appeared in the Georgia Straight.

 @cinecraig 

Comments (2)

  • Tom March 24, 2021 01:36 PM

    For men sex is a hunger like eating. If he can’t get to eat at a fancy french restaurant, he’ll go to a hot dog stand. In other words if a man can’t get what he wants from a woman, he’ll settle for a man…Ok.

  • Gary March 24, 2021 07:51 PM

    Really well written, thoughtful article. l have no idea where l fit in. My first sexual encounter was with a male cousin who convinced me that it would be fun and nobody needs to know. l was 11 years old and had not clue what the hell he was talking about until his penis entered my rectum. lt actually didn’t hurt, l felt pretty good about it all because l figured that he (somebody) loved me and that was all good.
    l didn’t have any sexual encounters for another 4 years and it was always with females and l really thought that was awesome, then in the late 70’s l went out clubbing and met this really pretty guy, blond young and built. l was totally taken with him and dated him for months, introduced him to my family at get togethers, nothing unusual, my family are all pretty understanding. Then he turned into someone l had not foreseen, really jealous, possessive and totally unlikable after that.
    Again, l moved on, l eventually got married and that was pretty perfect, had a girl and a boy, that was more than perfect and then l got the urge to experiment outside the marriage and l turned to men and prostitutes. There was no guilt or remorse. Prostitutes probably don’t look for love, and the men, they just really wanted release, as did l.
    l’m intentionally celibate and in my early 60s and find l love my own company most, and there’s porn on the internet.
    Again, l don’t know where l fit on the spectrum, l just know that l don’t think men having sex with other men is all that unique historically, or really worth thinking too hard about.

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