“Sexplain” it to me

Joe Kort, PhD, founder and director of The Center for Relationship and Sexual Health in Royal Oak, Michigan, was asked to talk about straight men having sex with other men and why some women end up with these men when they do not want this type of relationship. Men’s Health magazine published Dr. Kort’s responses through a “Sexplain it” column. Here is an edited version of the article in Men’s Health.

Straight men can, and do, have sex with other men. Studies show that 1 in 10 men say they are straight and have sex with other men. This does not necessarily mean they are gay; in many instances, they are attracted to the sex act. Often, it is an erotic orientation; it can be one of their fantasies.

It should not be surprising that the women in their life often struggle with this. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that three million women in the US are with men who have had sex with other men, and these men are not gay.

When working with couples, the woman in the relationship cannot figure out why her partner is attracted to men. “Am I not satisfying him in bed?” This the most common question I am asked.

Just because you are sexual with the same gender, doesn’t always reflect your sexual orientation. Some men were sexually abused as boys and re-enact this trauma as adults by engaging in same sex. Most are not gay or bisexual and many simply enjoy hookups with no strings attached, thus, no complications and no commitments. They don’t consider sex with men cheating. Some have admitted that they weren’t having as much sex in their relationship with their female partner as they had hoped. They feel having sex with men – not women – fills their sexual needs without damaging their relationship.

In general, these straight men identify as straight because they want romantic, committed relationships with women despite having sex with men. Sexual encounters with men are irrelevant to their identity as straight, they feel. Many consider it kinky, normal or “a guy thing, not a gay thing.”

Sometimes, women are attracted to unavailable men. I have seen this quite a bit in my practice over the years. A woman is attracted to the unavailability of the man because his attention is elsewhere, but she doesn’t have anything concrete to pinpoint until she discovers he has broken the agreement and has cheated.

That brings up another very important question. Does the couple have an agreement about their relationship? What are the boundaries they established? Is the relationship monogamous or open? Did the couple discuss the type of relationship they wanted?

An agreement cannot be broken if one was not made.

Communication is vital in any relationship. I ask couples, “what do each of you want and not want in a relationship, and have you discussed it openly and honestly?” Start with a simple dialogue and see where it leads. When you feel comfortable, talk about your fantasies. Maybe your partner likes to have sex with men and that is one of his fantasies.

When you have an expectation, discuss it with your partner. Don’t think your partner is a mind reader. If you expect the relationship to be monogamous, tell your partner that. If he wants something different, learn about this early on in the relationship, not after you find him “cheating” with other men.

The person you are dating potentially could be your life partner; get your desires and feelings out in the open right away. If you are mismatched, now is the time to learn that. Talk with your partner, share your sexual fantasies and negotiate a sexual relationship that will work for the two of you. You may find your entire relationship deepens and grows stronger because you have a greater understanding of each other’s needs and desires. There never should be unstated expectations.

As the relationship evolves, deepens and changes, these conversations must continue. One of you may decide you want to explore your sexuality beyond monogamy. Keep talking and sharing and adjusting your agreement to fit where you are in your relationship. There should be no surprises.

Here are a few more thoughts that may help women who find out their straight partner is having sex with men:

Sometimes women who have been abused, violated or even raped by men are more drawn to other men who are going to betray them, keep secrets and violate their trust. It is very important to work on resolving your trauma so you can make healthier and more clear-minded choices.

Look for early red flags. In a new relationship, sometimes we don’t see the issues. They won’t go away.

If that relationship doesn’t work out, don’t jump into another relationship until you feel you are healthy again. If you are struggling with the breakup, take some time for yourself to start healing before you start dating again. Don’t set timelines. Trust your feelings. Dating to help you get over the pain from the last relationship does not work.

Date on your terms and keep the boundaries you have set. It is okay to say, “I want to take it slowly.”

Trust your intuition. If you feel the relationship is moving in a direction you don’t like, you can put on the brakes.

Know what you want. Be selective about who you date. Learn from the last experience.