Why do some straight men have sex with other men?
According to nationally-representative surveys in the United States, hundreds of thousands of straight-identified men have had sex with other men.
In the new book Still Straight: Sexual Flexibility among White Men in Rural America released today, UBC sociologist Dr. Tony Silva argues that these men – many of whom enjoy hunting, fishing and shooting guns – are not closeted, bisexual or just experimenting.
After interviewing 60 of these men over three years, Dr. Silva found that they enjoy a range of relationships with other men, from hookups to sexual friendships to secretive loving partnerships, all while strongly identifying with straight culture.
The majority of the men 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 the men 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. These men think that sex with men is a lot less complicated with no attachment. It is 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.
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.
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.
About the author:
Tony Silva is an assistant professor of sociology at the University of British Columbia. His areas of research include gender, sexuality, rural sociology, and qualitative and quantitative methods. He is the author of Still Straight: Sexual Flexibility among White Men in Rural America.
Wan Yee Lok