Monday, December 6, 2010

Learning to act right (18)… Gay promiscuous paranoids?

Learning to act right (18)… Gay promiscuous paranoids?
Torrey Orton
December 6, 2010

Another surprise - from a request for a comment on the article Promiscuous Paranoids comes a learning experience for me and the writer. This response, like that of "sounding a bit stupid", gives me hope that the task of capturing ethical learnings may be more engaging for people than I have imagined. If engaged, the writing comes fluently and persuasively. I hope you enjoy this contribution.

I am aware that it may arouse a flurry or storm of discussion about some of the reported facts. The author is clear this is his experience. The 'facts' we may have in hand at any moment of decision-making might have been improved by a wide review of the available evidence for most of us. That we seldom can make such a review in the conduct of everyday life is not grounds for disregarding our decision processes, or others'.

Regarding the "Promiscuous Paranoids" post, you asked me for my comments, particularly as to how your post relates, if at all, to the "gay world".  Clearly I can only comment from my own experiences and so I'm not sure how representative of the general gay public this contribution will be.  From my understanding of your article/post (and I could be way off), your experience with (straight) men who would be considered to engage in binge sex and then fall into a committed relationship is that they may become highly paranoid and jealous that their girlfriends are getting it on with every other straight guy who shows the slightest bit of physical attraction toward her - his perception is based on him transferring his own previous binge sex behaviour onto his girlfriend and on to other men.  Further, this paranoia adds a high degree of uncertainty to the relationship as the male is constantly thinking that his female partner is cheating. 

From my own experience and my experience with my gay friends, binge sex is the norm amongst gay males, especially those in their late teens to late twenties.  It is accepted as a "rite of passage" to sleep with as many other males as possible and it is not abnormal for a gay male in his mid twenties to have had sexual encounters with over 150 different men (be they gay, bi, "straight", and/or married).  I myself have had sex/fooled around with approximately 175-200 different men.  Such a number would seem obscenely high to straight males and females, particularly of the older generation, and indeed I see it as quite high myself, although I do not see it as "abnormally high", at least for a gay male in his mid to late twenties. 

The acceptance of binge sex amongst the gay male population is evident even in gay male relationships which are "open relationships" - i.e. the male partners have agreed that having sex with other males outside of the relationship and/or and bringing in a third or fourth male partner for threesomes or group sex is fine.  The reasons for the partners agreeing to an open relationship are often varied however two of the main reasons are as follows:  Firstly, as sex is viewed quite casually amongst the gay male community, little importance is attached to having sex outside of the relationship, and secondly, because gay males are so sexually charged, one of the main reasons for a committed couple breaking up is due to the infidelity of one of the partners - an open relationship therefore eliminates that potential break up cause. 

Often partners in an open relationship attach rules to when it is permissible to have sex with a person outside of the relationship - for example, if one of the partners is away for work it may be permitted for one or both to seek a sexual partner.  Another example is where one of the partners in the relationship is HIV+ and does not want to transfer the virus on to the other partner.  I know of one such couple.  The partner with HIV is so fearful of passing the virus on to his partner that the pair do not have any sexual contact whatsoever and he allows his partner to have sex with other men.  Of course this raises a range of issues, including low-self esteem on the part of the HIV+ partner and whether or not the couple can truly be happy without any form of sexual contact with each other, but those issues are not within the scope of my comment now.  Rather it serves to highlight the range of circumstances and rules which a couple may attach to a gay couples "open" relationship.

Now, how does this high level of binge sex amongst gay males relate, if at all, to your post regarding binge sex in straight males?  In the times that I have been in a relationship, and I really only consider myself to have had two relationships, the issue of binge sex was one which had to be addressed at one time or another in each relationship.  During my first relationship I myself cheated on my partner with another male (and another female).  It was during my "coming out" phase and I was still scoping to see whether I was or was not gay. However I accept that that is not an excuse for my infidelity and needless to say that despite much effort, the relationship did not succeed.  

During my second relationship, my partner was aware of my previous infidelity and was constantly suspicious of whether I had remained faithful to him.  Despite my assurances to him, he always remained somewhat insecure and to this day, even though the relationship ended over two years ago and he has a new partner, he still questions me.  I know that I was always faithful to him - having cheated once before I am aware of the damage that can be done by infidelity and have vowed never to do it again.  However as a result of the binge sex mentality, and my actions in my previous relationship, my former partner still has doubts.  On a side note, my former partner is now in an "open" relationship - he lives interstate from his boyfriend (for now anyway) and they two have various rules as to when sex outside the relationship is and is not permitted.

Accordingly, while I myself never had doubts about my partners and their fidelity to me in my previous relationships, they were constantly questioning me about my fidelity toward them.  The effect of that on me was that I felt that they did not trust me and it led to intense feelings of frustration on my part, especially in my second relationship as I knew I had remained faithful. 

However, that is not to suggest that I have never experienced the "promiscuous paranoia" explained in your article - indeed I have.  However, rather than occurring in the context of a committed relationship, my "promiscuous paranoia" has occurred, time and time again, in the context of dating - i.e the initial stage of a potential relationship in which neither of the men have committed solely to each other.  As in the straight context, I transfer my own binge-sex behaviour onto all other men, including the guy I am dating.  Consequently, I automatically think he is having sex with every male he comes across who shows the slightest of interest toward him. Not only am I therefore paranoid that he is having sex with a number of other men, but it makes the "courtship" process even more complicated - I feel that I have to work extra hard to retain the interest of the guy and to have him settle on me as a partner, and discard all the other potential partners he is "clearly" having sex with. 

Even if the guy I am dating is not having sex with anyone (and I believe him), I usually still feel incredibly jealous at his previous sexual encounters, even though the number of my own previous sexual encounters towers way above his (his actual or stated number). The jealousy is usually so intense and unbearable that I either sabotage the developing relationship or simply stop seeing the guy altogether.  The sense of insecurity created by the "promiscuous paranoia" is extreme, making it very difficult to form positive and lasting relationships.

My point is this: the scenario of the "promiscuous paranoid" which you describe in relation to the "straight" community is also directly applicable to the "gay" male community. However it is even more heightened. The practice of binge sex is readily accepted amongst the gay male community and therefore the level of binge sex is higher. Levels of paranoia amongst gay males who are in committed relationships are also higher and to that extent more destructive.  Gay males (including myself) sabotage their own relationships to prevent the inevitable "cheating" which will occur (or in the mind of the paranoid individual, has already occurred). Their ability to remain in a committed long-term relationship is damaged, and in my case, highly under-developed. Self-esteem and self-worth issues therefore ensue.  It is my belief that it is at least in part because of this "promiscuous paranoia", that gay males have "mastered" the "open relationship", as discussed above, developing an extensive range of rules and principles in which sex with a person outside the relationship is permissible.

Having recently become aware of my under-developed relationship skills and the negative impact that binge sex has been having on me, I am actively working to develop normal, positive relationships, not (entirely) based on sex.  I am challenging my impulsive thought processes that would have normally led to me becoming highly jealous and even vindictive upon hearing of potential relationship partners and their previous sexual partners and am seeking to understand why it is that I am having such impulsive thoughts, rather than focusing on the thoughts themselves.  Inevitably the issues surround my own personal insecurities and my perception that I am, in some way, "un-lovable". 

Further, I have embarked upon a self-imposed "sex free" period - if only for a few weeks or months.  Taking sex out of the equation is forcing me to meet new people and begin to develop relationships the old fashioned way - simply by meeting up for coffee and talking.  Even if there is no spark and nothing develops with the person I'm meeting, it's still forcing me to go out and meet new people. Given my personal insecurities, that can only be a positive thing.

In essence, I have become acutely aware of the negative effects which promiscuous paranoia has had on me and my ability to form relationships and I am now seeking to rectify that.  It will no doubt be a difficult process and I'm sure I will have re-lapses into binge sex, if only due to the culture of binge sex within the gay community to which I belong. However, I realise that it is an incredibly important and necessary exercise if I am to ever have positive and long-lasting relationships.

See Trusting Judgment for a related learning experience.

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