Pride and Problems

June is unofficially “Gay Pride Month,” when major cities around the world host gay and lesbian focused celebrations and events featuring parades, parties, festivals and forums. In Los Angeles (home of The Sexual Recovery Institute), Pride takes place this weekend, June 8th – 10th, in the form of a huge parade and a weekend-long outdoor festival.

And there is much to celebrate. Without doubt, the GLBT (Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender) community has come an incredibly long way since the American Psychiatric Association was labeling homosexuality as a diagnosable and treatable pathology in the 1960s and early 1970s.

In most American urban areas, gay people now can adopt children and openly build lives together without fear of repression or overt discrimination. Gay marriage is now legal in many countries (Canada, England, and Spain, to name just a few), and the topic is being addressed in the US.

Most notably, last month, for the first time, a US President spoke out in favor of marriage equality. But for every step forward, we slide a half-step back, and gay and lesbian people remain in many ways marginalized, stereotyped, and highly susceptible to prejudice, negative bias and oppression.

Sadly—as is typical in minority populations that struggle with equality and esteem—gay men have higher rates of alcoholism and other addictions than do heterosexual men. And though gay and straight men are equally susceptible to problem patterns of sexual behavior (sexual addiction), straight men are much more likely to seek help for this type of issue.

This stems in part from the fact that sexual hook-ups with multiple partners in multiple venues are much more acceptable in the gay community than among the majority population. And though this acceptance of gay men “having a lot of sex” can in part be viewed as a positive cultural response to being surrounded by a largely shame-based, homophobic society, living in a counterculture of unfettered sexual expression can also enable problematic sexual behaviors among those predisposed to impulsive and/or compulsive behaviors.

Statistics suggest approximately 10 percent of gay men are sex addicts—men whose lives worsen in direct proportion to the self-destructive patterns of sexual behavior over which they have little control. This figure may seem low to compulsively sexual gay men because those individuals tend to surround themselves with other men who are also acting out sexually. Thus, to most gay sex addicts, it looks like everyone out there is a guest at the never-ending party, where everyone is having as much hot sex as is the sex addict.

Even those more isolated men who chose to be sexual solely online or in private settings (like adult bookstores or XXX theatres) see a densely populated sex culture (porn, chat-rooms, virtual sex, etc.) whenever they look for sex. It is just plain harder to view yourself as having a problem when it looks like everyone else around you is doing the same thing.

It is important to note that gay male sex addicts are not compulsively sexual because of their sexual orientation. Rather, they are compulsively sexual as a consequence of their individual psychological issues and biological predisposition toward addiction. This is exactly the same set of symptoms presented by straight male sex addicts.

Those concerned that a diagnosis of sexual addiction for a gay man might be “sex negative” or, even worse, a condemnation of homosexuality in general, should note that approximately 85 percent of the men who currently seek sexual addiction treatment are married heterosexual men who are having sex with women (in strip clubs, sensual massage parlors, via online hook-ups and affairs, etc.).

Unfortunately for the gay sex addict, his increasingly destructive patterns of behavior take place against a cultural background of dramatically greater sexual and social freedoms than those enjoyed by his heterosexual peers. In some ways, the single gay man who has problems with sex, alcohol, or drugs is a prisoner of his own freedoms, having fewer cultural opportunities for self-examination and less cultural support for behavioral change (in the areas of alcohol, drug, and sexual addictions) than does the average heterosexual man.

Without the right to marry (in most states), and with fewer resources available toward developing healthy communities and families, gay sex addicts often experience fewer consequences as a result of their compulsive sexuality, making it less likely they will face the kinds of threats—divorce, loss of parental rights, loss of standing in the community—that cause straight men to seek help. However, this is beginning to change, and that change is happening at an ever-quickening pace.

As growing numbers of gay men move toward marriage and other committed relationship models, more of those men than ever are entering treatment for sexual addiction, primarily because they are now more likely to face consequences related to their sexual acting out that mirror the consequences faced by straight men.

So we see that one distinct advantage of long-term relationships is the accountability and responsibility to another person they bring about, which means an addict is likely to be confronted about the negative aspects of his behavior much sooner than if he were single.

Crystal Meth: the “Other Sex Addiction”

Many sex addicts (gay and straight) struggle with multiple or co-occurring addictions. In a survey of male sex addicts, approximately 87% of respondents reported that they regularly abuse either addictive substances and/or other addictive behaviors (gambling, eating, etc.).

Though more research is needed, it’s reasonable to assume that gay male sex addicts will report an even higher frequency of multiple addictions than their straight counterparts, since addiction studies repeatedly show that gay men in general have higher substance and behavioral addiction rates than straight men.

Anecdotal evidence suggests that for a majority of sex addicts, especially gay male sex addicts, the “secondary drug of choice” is crystal methamphetamine. Meth is by far the most dangerous and troublesome drug to have infiltrated the gay community.

Often called “the sex drug,” crystal meth is the preferred “party favor” for anonymous sexual activity in bathhouses and sex clubs, and for anonymous Internet and smart-phone hookups. Like all “speed” drugs (amphetamines), meth causes feelings of euphoria, intensity and power, along with the drive to obsessively do whatever activity the user wishes to engage in, including having sex.

In fact, users say the drug allows them to be sexual for an entire day—even two or three—without sleeping, eating, or coming down (especially when Viagra or Cialis is along for the ride). Safe sex while intoxicated and disinhibited by drugs is often not a priority, especially for the sexually addicted man who is already accustomed to multiple anonymous encounters. This propensity for unsafe sex while abusing drugs greatly increases the individual’s risk for contracting or transmitting HIV and other STDs.

Finding Recovery

There are large numbers of gay men, no one really knows how many, who utilize the intensity and emotional power of addictive sex to self-soothe, distract, and emotionally medicate themselves in ways that not only go against their own beliefs and values, but bring them emotional, health, relationship, legal, financial and other problems. For these men, the first step toward personal growth is to gain as much knowledge as possible about sexual addiction.

To this end, a self-evaluation test for gay men can be found HERE. They may also want to read the book, Cruise Control: Understanding Sex Addiction in Gay Men. And, of course, they should look into 12-step support groups for sexual addiction.

Generally speaking, the most supportive of these groups is SCA (Sexual Compulsives Anonymous). SAA (Sex Addicts Anonymous) and SLAA (Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous) are also welcoming of gays. SA (Sexaholics Anonymous)is generally considered the least gay friendly “S” program, but individual groups vary and some may be welcoming.

Gay sex addicts who are also struggling with Crystal Meth should consider joining CMA (Crystal Meth Anonymous) in addition to a sexual recovery program.

Making an appointment with a gay-friendly sexual addiction treatment professional for assessment is also a useful and nonjudgmental way to learn more about the problem. These clinicians can be found in most major cities, and many are willing to treat clients long-distance if necessary.

The best way to locate an appropriate therapist is to visit the Society for the Advancement of Sexual Health website. It is important to remember that finding a therapist who is familiar with both sex addiction and gay issues is sometimes not an easy task. Gay sex addicts occasionally need to do a bit of “therapist shopping” before they find the right clinician.

It is perfectly acceptable to “interview” therapists in your first session as to their level of knowledge and comfort with your situation. Fellow 12-step group members are also an excellent resource if you are looking for a good therapist.

Robert Weiss LCSW, CSAT-S is the author of three books on sexual addiction and an expert on the juxtaposition of human sexuality, intimacy, and technology. He is Founding Director of The Sexual Recovery Institute, www.sexualrecovery.com, in Los Angeles and Director of Intimacy and Sexual Disorders Services at The Ranch in Tennessee, www.recoveryranch.com, and Promises Treatment Centers in California, www.promises.com. Mr. Weiss is a clinical psychotherapist and educator. He has provided sexual addiction treatment training internationally for psychology professionals, addiction treatment centers, and the US military. A media expert for Time, Newsweek, and the New York Times, Mr. Weiss has been featured on CNN, The Today Show, Oprah, and ESPN among many others. Rob is the Sex and Intimacy blogger for Psych-Central, an online psychology site, and can also be found on Twitter at @RobWeissMSW.

 


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    Last reviewed: 6 Jun 2012

APA Reference
Weiss LCSW, R. (2012). Sexual Freedom vs. Sexual Addiction: The Gay Male Conundrum. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 30, 2014, from http://blogs.psychcentral.com/sex/2012/06/sexual-freedom-vs-sexual-addiction-the-gay-male-conundrum/

 

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