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The risk factor

fisting, fist, gloves, gay news, Washington Blade

If you are determined to fist and your partner isn’t interested and he does not want to open the relationship, you are indeed facing a dealbreaker issue. (Photo by Bigstock)

Michael,

 

Your recent advice to the fisting top whose boyfriend wasn’t interested left me with mixed feelings.

On one hand, I like your drawing a line between saying, “This is important to me” as a way to make a request of your partner versus “you are obligated to participate.” But your seeming to lay down an ultimatum of “if your partner isn’t willing to join you, you have to either do without or end the relationship” perplexed me.

What about trying to negotiate an arrangement like “we’re an exclusive couple, except you can go to fisting parties every month or so, with the following ground rules”?

This might not be a workable solution for everybody — it does require a lot of time, communication and trust — but I’d hate to see an otherwise rewarding relationship fail because the parties didn’t have the tools or skills to think outside the box with regard to negotiation. Fisting is a fairly niche activity (and one that’s incredibly low-risk for a knowledgeable and responsible top) that there’s a world of difference between “I want to do this activity in a way we can both be OK with, which might involve casual outside partners” and “let’s go crazy and have an open relationship.”

 

Michael replies:

 

If you are determined to fist and your partner isn’t interested and he does not want to open the relationship, you are indeed facing a dealbreaker issue. If he does agree to your fisting other people, then of course you can go for it. But be aware that you might run into some hazards. Here are three big ones that people who open their relationships frequently encounter:

First, no matter how casual the sex you are having outside of your relationship or how unconnected you plan to be with outside sex partners, you may get interested in guys other than your boyfriend. It’s usually exciting to have sex in ways that you don’t have it at home and new sex partners are often a big turn-on. The result: sex with your long-term guy may start to seem bland, leading your thoughts and fantasies elsewhere. Where might that take you?

Second, although it may seem logical to both you and your partner that he shouldn’t feel threatened or jealous of your having sex with other people, especially if you are pursuing some sort of sexual activity that he doesn’t want to engage in with you, he may still ultimately get upset. Our feelings aren’t logical and if you’re spending time hooking up with others, your partner may wind up feeling hurt and angry, no matter what your agreement.

Third, even if you set limits on how often you are having outside sex, you’re still going to be putting energy and excitement into encounters with other guys rather than into life with your partner. This is usually not a recipe for maintaining a hot sex life or a strong relationship at home.

I get your point that a person in this situation might have a limited interaction with the guys he’s fisting, but it’s also true that fisting — just like negotiating with one’s primary partner — requires time, communication and trust, three main ingredients of bonding. So you may wind up developing a powerful bond with one of these guys. And then what?

Opening your relationship can seem like a fantastic way to have great sex that you aren’t having with your partner. But no matter how many rules you have in place, outside sex may put your relationship in a vulnerable spot. Before making such a move, I suggest you discuss two questions with your partner: Is hot sex with someone else worth the risk?  And can we have sex with other people while still nurturing and strengthening our relationship?

Finally, keep in mind that no matter how much planning or thinking you do beforehand, you can’t know in advance how things will turn out.

Michael Radkowsky, Psy.D. is a licensed psychologist who works with gay couples and individuals in D.C. He can be found online at personalgrowthzone.com. All identifying information has been changed for reasons of confidentiality. Have a question? Send it to Michael@personalgrowthzone.com.

15
Jan
2014

The elusive search

life partner, holding hands, love, same-sex, gay, gay news, Washington Blade

It’s difficult to stop wanting something that you want. The best you can do is strive to create a rich and satisfying life, while accepting the existential reality that none of us will get everything we would like, no matter how much we might yearn. (Photo by Till Krech; courtesy Wikimedia Commons)

Dear Michael:

 

I’m a well-educated man in my 50s, successful, healthy and active, with a handful of good friends. I’ve always wanted a life partner and it hasn’t happened. It hasn’t even come close to happening.

Looking back, there are two guys with whom I wish things might have worked out. My most successful romantic relationship was with a man who lived in another country, so I could only see him a few times a year for short periods. He said up-front that he was basically straight and that I was one of only two guys in his whole life he’d ever been with. He was a workaholic, so it didn’t seem to bother him that I wasn’t around.  I saw him under those conditions for a decade until he met a woman he wanted to marry, a few years back. Now there isn’t even anyone on the horizon.

How do I stop wanting to have a life partner? I can’t make it happen. I’ve spent decades trying to “let it happen” and frankly, I know it’s just not going to happen. But I still want it. I’ve done the “friends of friends” route, the ad in the newspaper route, the dating site route, the chatting someone up in the gay bookstore route, etc. If there’s a way to try that I haven’t attempted, I don’t know what that way is.

Maybe I’m just fooling myself, but I think I’d have everything if I had a special someone in my life. How do I stop wanting something I know isn’t going to happen?

 

Michael replies:

 

It’s difficult to stop wanting something that you want. The best you can do is strive to create a rich and satisfying life, as you’ve done, while accepting the existential reality that none of us will get everything we would like, no matter how much we might yearn.

Regarding your yearning for a close romantic relationship, my educated guess is that you actually have mixed feelings about letting that happen. You chose to spend about a third of your adult life in a quasi-relationship with a workaholic guy who lived in another country and told you he was straight.

Before you give up on the possibility of having a relationship, it is well worth your taking a close look at what may be getting in your way. If you were my client, I would want to know:

• By being alone, what might you be protecting yourself from?

• Who may have let you down in a big way earlier in life, leaving you unwilling to risk being hurt again?

• How might it serve you to think that situations and people may become something they’re not?

• What might be appealing about pining for something you don’t have, although you say that you wish to stop doing so?

If you want a shot at a future relationship, also look at how you think about yourself and potential romantic partners. Notwithstanding all you say you’ve tried in order to find a mate, you spent 10 years on an unavailable guy’s back burner. So, I encourage you to wonder:

• How do you feel about yourself?

• What do you think you have to offer as a partner?

• Do you believe that you really deserve to have what you say you want?

• Is it possible that you are rejecting men who are interested in you? That you are drawn to men who reject you?

I also suggest you consider whether you have a special affinity for supposedly straight men. Although I have data on only one of your significant relationships, I wonder if you may be harboring some less-than-positive feelings toward openly gay men, at least as potential romantic/sexual partners. If so, you’re vastly increasing your odds of winding up without a mate.

None of these questions have easy or quick answers. Therefore, if any of them resonate with you, please look for a good therapist to help you figure out how to increase the likelihood of finding a special guy for your future. I wish you the best.

Michael Radkowsky, Psy.D. is a licensed psychologist who works with gay individuals and couples in D.C. He can be found online at personalgrowthzone.com. All identifying information has been changed for reasons of confidentiality. Have a question? Send it to Michael@personalgrowthzone.com.

29
Jan
2014

Dwindling desire

relationship, gay news, Washington Blade

How about sex for emotional connection? Sex for attachment? Sex for closeness? Sex to celebrate just being together?

Dear Michael,

 

Valentine’s Day is here and I’m going to be celebrating with my partner of 15 years. We’ll go out for an intimate dinner and then … nothing. While our friends see us as the perfect couple — and in many ways we are — we never have sex anymore. We have a beautiful home, a garden, two children and a dog; enjoy snuggling on the couch while we watch a movie and cooking together; have lots to talk about, and are best friends; but the spark has been gone for some time.

Is there any way around this? We’re not eager to open our relationship because we’re fearful of how it might affect our marriage and our family. We both miss sex and certainly find other people attractive. In fact, we find each other attractive — we’re both in great shape. But having sex somehow clashes with our relationship. I know this may sound crazy, but it seems strange to even think about being sexual with someone I love so much and feel so close to.

Any ideas?

 

Michael replies:

 

The big message we get from our culture is that sex should stay as hot as it was when we initially got together with our partner. The implicit lesson is that something is wrong if we stop feeling that huge thrill.

But sex does change after you’ve been with your partner for a while. You can’t keep feeling the same sizzling excitement that you felt when you first met, because the newness is gone. Newness is what generates a lot of the sexual heat at the outset of a relationship.

This does seem like a major design flaw in our brains, if we’re interested in forming a long-term relationship. It’s almost cosmically funny that the more we invest in a relationship, the closer we get, and the more we love each other, the less spontaneous sexual attraction we may feel toward our partner.

Whatever the biological reasons for this, it’s up to each of us to figure out some way to generate long-term excitement around sex with our partner if we want to stay together, long term.

The first step is to accept reality: sex is not going to naturally be as steamy and irresistible as it was at the beginning. We all might take some time to mourn that loss, because easy steamy irresistibility is a lot of fun. Unfortunately, it is totally glorified in our culture as the gold standard of sex.

But it is just one way to have sex. And if you want a lasting monogamous relationship that includes sex, as opposed to having affairs, or a career of serial monogamy, you are going to have to discover a new way to have sex and a new meaning for sex in your relationship.

How about sex for emotional connection? Sex for attachment? Sex for closeness?  Sex to celebrate just being together?

Not to say that sex in a long-term relationship cannot be recreational or high-intensity. But expecting that the sex must always be hot in order to be worthwhile will lead you to be contemptuous of much of the sex that you have in your LTR. Not a helpful stance!

Another point for you to consider: as couples get closer, sex may start to feel like too much closeness, and avoiding sex may be a way to keep some useful distance. If I were working with you both, I would want to explore how much each of you are really standing on your own as two separate individuals who are in a relationship with each other, versus being enmeshed, with your feelings and reactions all tangled up with each other. While enmeshment may sound appealing, and is easy to fall into when you are building a life and a family together, it takes the oxygen out of a relationship, leaving people feeling smothered and wanting their space. One likely outcome: no sex. An experienced couples therapist can help you sort this out.

Finally, for all the reasons I’ve mentioned, resurrecting a sex life with your partner is bound to seem awkward. But it’s a damaging myth that great sex should just happen. There is nothing odd or unromantic about planning to have sex. I encourage you both to make this effort, and to expect things to be uncomfortable at the outset.

Good luck to the two of you. Thanks for writing about this important and very common issue and happy Valentine’s Day!

Michael Radkowsky, Psy.D. is a licensed psychologist who works with LGBT couples and individuals in D.C. He can be found online at personalgrowthzone.com. All identifying information has been changed for reasons of confidentiality. Have a question? Send it to Michael@personalgrowthzone.com.

12
Feb
2014

Don’t sweat the small stuff?

dirty dishes, chores, cleaning, gay news, Washington Blade

How do you get out of constantly fighting over the dishes?

Hi Michael,

 

My husband and I are having a horrible ongoing fight. Its epicenter is the ever-present pile of dirty dishes sitting in the kitchen sink or partially loaded into the dishwasher.

We are both busy professionals and often have different schedules so we can’t always eat together. When I’m in a hurry to make some breakfast or dinner, it’s exasperating to discover that the pan I need is soaking, or that there are no clean spoons or forks.

I’ve asked Bill repeatedly to be more considerate of me. He makes promises but they don’t materialize. Although this may seem like a small issue, I feel he is constantly disrespecting me by not keeping his word and so there are a lot of bad feelings.

I’m not even going to get into the laundry situation, but it’s similar.

We agreed to write you together, so here’s his version:

I can’t believe that David is so bent out of shape by this. I think he’s exaggerating when he says there are no clean utensils and also when he says I don’t keep my promises.  I do ultimately get the dishes into the dishwasher and run it. But like David, I have an extremely demanding job and some important extracurricular obligations. And sometimes I have to get out before I have time to finish cleaning up to his specifications by his deadline.

David has way stricter standards than I do — he is really a neat freak — and I think he should learn to compromise. I certainly have become way more attentive to cleaning up since we first moved in together. I may not be on his exact timeframe, but I do a pretty good job. How we do chores seems like an absurd reason to have tension in a relationship, much less consider divorce, but his constant carping is getting to me and the bad days are starting to outnumber the good.

Obviously, we see things very differently.  How do we settle this?

 

Michael replies:

 

You’re not alone. In my practice, I see couples go at it all the time over dishes, laundry, vacuuming and cleaning. And I tell them what I will now tell you: While you may have your preferred way of keeping the house and your preferred timeframe for doing so, your husband isn’t going to simply agree with you. Arguing about it will get you nowhere except further into a state of war.

So how do you get out of constantly fighting over the dishes?

First, the big picture. If you want to have a relationship that is generally loving, respectful and peaceful, keep these points at the forefront of your mind at all times:

• You and your partner will often have different ways of thinking, acting and seeing things. That’s life. There’s nothing to be gained by seeing your way as right and his way as wrong.

• Your spouse will regularly push your buttons, big time, simply by having a different point of view. Find a way to have a sense of humor about this if you want a better shot at enjoying your relationship, including the challenging parts. You may also find it useful to remember that people grow when they learn to live with things that are not perfect!

Now, about those dishes. If you want to go forward in your marriage with good feelings rather than bitterness, both of you have to find a way to negotiate around chores and other disagreements in good faith. The key components to doing so: strive to always be honest and respectful; work to influence your partner by explaining why you want what you want, rather than by strong-arming him or shaming him over his preferences; and keep your word when you commit to doing something, even if you don’t want to do it. These are simple concepts, but hard to practice consistently. It’s hard work to live up-close with someone who is profoundly different from you.

I do wonder if you are each holding fast to your position simply because you want to be the guy calling the shots rather than the guy being told what to do. If so, make it your practice to remind yourself that you have committed to building a life together.  Regularly ask yourself: how can I be collaborative? What am I willing to tolerate living with, or without, in order to share my life with my husband?

It can be quite difficult to turn your critical lens from your spouse to yourself, to go from thinking he is the problem to wondering what you can do to work together. If you remain stuck, please find a skilled couples therapist. Dirty dishes are no reason to have a miserable relationship.

Michael Radkowsky, Psy.D. is a licensed psychologist who works with gay couples and individuals in D.C. He can be found online at personalgrowthzone.com. All identifying information has been changed for reasons of confidentiality. Have a question? Send it to Michael@personalgrowthzone.com.

25
Feb
2014

Is poly a relationship cracker?

poly, polyamory, gay news, Washington Blade

Sweeping potential deal-breaker issues under the rug will haunt you later.

Dear Michael,

 

I’ve been with my wife Carol for seven years and she told me from the start that she considered herself polyamorous. This was a little outside my comfort zone but given that she wasn’t involved with anyone else, I didn’t really worry about it and kept dating her. We fell in love and ultimately got married.

We now have a 2-year old daughter. Carol has been seeing her new girlfriend Julie with increasing frequency for the past six months and now she wants to start spending one night a week at Julie’s place.

I’m unhappy for a few reasons. I think it’s presumptuous that I should regularly have to take care of our daughter alone. We’re supposed to be a family unit and I don’t know how I’d explain to my daughter where “Mommy Carol” is one night a week. And Carol’s regular absence from my life — because she’s dating another woman — is already damaging our relationship and making me jealous.

Carol says I came into this relationship with my eyes open. True, but I didn’t imagine the potential problems when I said “yes.” She also says that I should be happy that she’s having a wonderful connection with Julie and that if I would stop being bitter, her greater fulfillment in life would enrich our relationship. I think this is major self-serving B.S. Finally, she offers to give me a regular “night off” where I can leave all the childcare to her. But I like being home with our daughter and don’t want a “night off” — I just don’t want to be left alone with all the responsibility once a week while she is off having sex with another woman.

Is there some way to compromise? Because right now it’s hard to see myself staying in this marriage, and I strongly suspect that Carol feels the same way.

 

Michael replies:

 

The two of you have some difficult territory ahead.

It sounds as if you both have gotten into a “my-way-or-the-highway” situation.  What’s needed is for you and Carol to take a serious look at what’s important to each of you and to have a frank discussion where you listen to your spouse with curiosity.

Given that you and Carol had very different feelings about polyamory from the get-go, it would have been useful to have spoken in depth about what a poly lifestyle might mean to both of you before you married and certainly before you had your daughter. However, it’s not too late to talk together about what you each value most, as a first step toward figuring out how to go forward.

You may ultimately decide that you cannot stay in a relationship where your spouse is involved with another woman. But divorce is not a decision to be made impulsively just because you’ve hit gridlock. Especially because you have a young child together, there’s an awful lot at stake in finding a way to preserve your marriage if this is possible. Divorce is usually very tough on children.

Some questions for you to consider: What would it take for you to want to stay in this marriage? Can you tolerate Carol’s other relationship if she foregoes her sleepovers?  Or do you really only want a monogamous relationship?

Another question: Have you and Carol ever considered any rules or boundaries that might allow both of you to be content in your marriage? Such agreements are sometimes helpful, although they are not a guarantee of anything, and people often change their minds about what they are willing to tolerate.

From your description, neither of you is going to get everything you want. But that’s always the case. Marriage pushes us to figure out what’s most important to us. Try to find a way to be open minded and respectful of each other’s preferences for how you want to live your lives. Remember that blaming your partner for inflexibility isn’t going to lead her to shift in your direction.

Because you have some complex work to do, consider working with a skilled couples therapist who can help you and Carol to figure out how to do your best here and to see if it is possible to collaborate on your future. Good luck in finding a way forward.

Michael Radkowsky, Psy.D. is a licensed psychologist who works with LGBT couples and individuals in D.C. He can be found online at personalgrowthzone.com. All identifying information has been changed for reasons of confidentiality. Have a question? Send it to Michael@personalgrowthzone.com.

26
Mar
2014

Paths to pleasure

pleasure, men, gay news, Washington Blade

“I feel like I’m getting old and missing out if I’m not taking advantage of all the pleasure that I could enjoy. You only live once.”

Dear Michael,

 

I was intrigued by your Valentine’s Day column featuring the long-term couple who aren’t having sex anymore. I’m in a similar boat with my husband of 12 years, where we don’t have much sex and don’t do much when we do have sex (porn movies and mutual masturbation). To be honest, I hook up with other guys from time to time at the gym and I’m pretty sure Mark does too.  It’s far hotter and more exciting than the same old same old.

 

You suggest that couples should accept that sex with the same person loses some of its steaminess as time goes by and that we should focus on enjoying the other aspects of sex, like emotional connection and closeness.

 

My problem with this is when I don’t hook up, I’m jealous of the hotter sex that I hear my single (and some partnered) friends are having. There are so many gorgeous guys out there and life is short. I feel like I’m getting old and missing out if I’m not taking advantage of all the pleasure that I could enjoy. You only live once. It’s hard to just enjoy the warmth and coziness of ho-hum sex in my marriage when I could be out there screwing my brains out with some amazing guy, like I constantly hear my friends are doing. And yet, I love Mark and want to stay with him.

 

I feel like I’m going crazy over this and sometimes I’m really bummed about not getting the good stuff that others are enjoying.

 

Michael replies:

 

You are facing a few tough, inter-related dilemmas.

First, the FOMO (Fear of Missing Out) factor: Many gay men place a heavy emphasis on sex (think Grindr and similar apps). There’s nothing wrong with pursuing or enjoying sex, but when lots of sex/multiple partners is the standard of success in your circle and you believe you’re not meeting that standard, it’s easy to feel like you’re missing out. Even a guy who isn’t interested in pursuing high-volume sex may feel like a loser for following his own path.

Second, our entire culture glorifies youth and disparages aging and gay men are not immune to this outlook. The white-hot sex of a new connection is associated with youth, just as the inevitable decrease of this sort of sex in an ongoing relationship is associated with aging. Most of us don’t like the idea of getting older and letting go of youthful abilities and pleasures, so we glorify and chase intense sex while looking down on the less scorching sex that we’re more likely to have with a long-term mate. Who wants to give up on the prospect of hot sex?

Third, if you make the choice to be in a monogamous relationship, you are definitely going to miss out on possibly steamy sex with other guys. But if you are in a relationship and have outside sex, jealousy may sour your marriage, one of you may leave for a seemingly hotter prospect, the time and attention you spend on hookups may erode your connection with your spouse and the secrecy, if you are not open about what you are doing, may create distance. Also the quality and quantity of sex at home may decline as you put in less effort.

The truth is, aging is inevitable and we can’t have everything. What we can do is decide what’s most important to us and go for it.

Toward this end, figure out whether you want to keep looking for outside encounters so that you don’t miss out or whether you want to really make the best of the relationship you are in. I don’t think you can do both. Should you choose the latter, here’s a question: If you’re so bored sexually, why are you and Mark settling for merely jerking off together to porn? Couldn’t you find something more exciting to do together?

People have all kinds of reasons why they stop having good sex with their partners. The one that I hear most often in my practice is, “It shouldn’t take work.  Something must be wrong if we don’t spontaneously want to have sex.” But the truth is, nothing is wrong. It’s inevitable that the excitement of newness fades, but it is not inevitable that you have to stop having sex when it does. Nor does long-term sex have to be dull, unless you believe that it does and put no effort into making it worth having.

If you and Mark stay together and stay bored, please find a skilled couples therapist to help you find a way to have more cozy, intimate, connected sex that is even occasionally hot! Good luck.

 

Michael Radkowsky, Psy.D. is a licensed psychologist who works with gay couples and individuals in D.C. He can be found online at personalgrowthzone.com. All identifying information has been changed for reasons of confidentiality. Have a question? Send it to Michael@personalgrowthzone.com.

08
Apr
2014

Deal breaker or game changer?

close, angry gay couple, gay news, Washington Blade

(Photo by iStock)

Michael,

 

My husband, whom I have been with for 16 years, has been cheating on me.  I found out accidentally through a mis-sent text.  This has been going on for at least several months. I am heartbroken, angry and feel totally betrayed.

Dan says that his relationship with Bill meant nothing except fun sex. He swears it’s over and that he really wants to stay with me. But he also says that he sometimes just wants to have sex with someone else and that he thinks monogamy is unrealistic. That said, he says he will try to be monogamous if I insist on it as a prerequisite to staying in the relationship.

Well, I know that I do not want to have an open relationship. But I wonder if I am being realistic to expect that two men can really have a monogamous relationship. I also have no idea how to trust Dan if we stay together.

Any pointers would be greatly appreciated.

 

Michael replies:

 

Two men can have a monogamous relationship if they want to. The question is, does Dan really want to?

Relationships push people to figure out what’s most important to them. Dan has an opportunity to decide if he would rather be with you and be monogamous or end the marriage and enjoy playing the field. Just as you face the decision of leaving Dan or tolerating his hooking up from time to time.

These decisions may be excruciatingly hard for each of you to make. No one else can tell either of you what to do. Before deciding, talk together about why monogamy is important for you and about what Dan feels he would be giving up and why he might not want to commit to monogamy. The more you understand each other’s position, the more thoughtful a decision you can come to.

If you’re hoping to trust that Dan won’t hurt you again, know that it’s inevitable that people hurt each other from time to time in relationships. Sometimes intentionally, sometimes not.

If you’re hoping to trust that Dan will never lie to you again, understand that you can’t know for sure. Has he explained to you why he didn’t tell you about his affair? Did he think it would hurt you or did he want to avoid your asking him to choose between outside sex and marriage? Knowing his reasoning might help the two of you figure out what it would take to have an honest relationship in the future, if you both want this.

Some questions for you: Can you count on yourself to start paying closer attention going forward to what you are seeing, hearing and sensing, so that you are more likely to know if Dan steps out again? As a matter of self-protection, that would be a very good skill to have. If you’re not good at picking up on what’s really happening, how could you get better at this?

While being a great husband is no guarantee that your partner won’t cheat on you, can you identify any part you might have played in Dan’s decision to step out? Is there anything you might do to make it less likely that he’ll hook up with someone else if you stay married? Were you doing your best to keep your relationship and your sex life vibrant? Any big or bitter conflicts that you’ve been sweeping under the rug?

Because you’ve had a bad shock, give yourself some time before making any big decisions. While your anger and heartbreak are unlikely to disappear, you’re more likely to think clearly about your future when everything is less raw. If you decide to find a therapist to help you decide how to move forward, seek out someone who will not demonize Dan. That would not be helpful to your healing or to the possibility of your staying in your marriage.

Michael Radkowsky, Psy.D. is a licensed psychologist who works with LGBT couples and individuals in D.C. He can be found online at personalgrowthzone.com. All identifying information has been changed for reasons of confidentiality. Have a question? Send it to Michael@personalgrowthzone.com.

23
Apr
2014

Intimacy barrier

close, angry gay couple, gay news, Washington Blade

(Photo by iStock)

Hi Michael,

I love Julian, my boyfriend of three years, but lately, it’s hard for me to tell him. I feel exposed and uncomfortable when I do. It’s like I’m pulling away from him without wanting to. This is a new feeling.

Also, over the last few months I’ve felt more and more irritable with him — like we’re in competition. I don’t ever want to be wrong or lose an argument or do things his way instead of mine. This is even becoming an issue in our sex life.

Julian seems pretty shut down and defensive, too. I don’t know if he’s reacting to my own pulling away, or we’re just feeding off each other. So, we’re always bickering over nothing and sex has gotten pretty limited. Talking with him about what’s going on inside me feels too revealing right now.

I’m not sure what’s going on. Like I said, I want to be close and a few months ago we were talking seriously about marriage. Now, all of a sudden, I am running into this weird barrier inside me and Julian doesn’t seem much different.

Any advice? Or a helpful perspective?

Michael replies:

You are facing the same dilemma that others face in their relationships: While closeness can feel great, especially at the start of a relationship, closeness can also feel dangerous. The closer you get to each other — which discussions of marriage can do — and the more you care about each other, the more vulnerable you are to being hurt.

But if you try to protect yourself by keeping your partner at a distance, you’ll wind up with a limited relationship. You can’t let your partner really know you unless you are willing to get up close and open your heart to him.

The other big issue you have to contend with is that it’s impossible to have a close relationship when you are competing with each other. However, when two guys are in a relationship, they may find it really hard to avoid competing.

While the urge to compete is absolutely not limited to men, guys do tend more toward competition, especially with each other. So, collaboration with other men may not come easily, but that’s what gay men have to do in order to succeed in an intimate relationship.

It makes sense that you and Julian are distant and squabbling lately, especially since you’ve put marriage on the table. Though your situation is difficult, there is a big upside: your relationship is pushing you to figure out how to be truly close to another man. If you want to be in a long-term relationship, that’s something you need to figure out.

If closeness means more to you than playing it safe, if your goal is to be close to Julian more than to be the victor, consider this: Challenge though it is, you’ll have to be vulnerable with him and you’ll have to tolerate the discomfort and uncertainty that come with that. You’ll also have to learn how to collaborate, which means you can’t always win or be right.

Are you ready to shake things up? Make the first move and discuss your dilemma openly with Julian. You’ll be stepping out of the competitor position by moving toward him and you’ll be performing a courageous act of intimacy by letting him know what’s really going on inside of you.

Of course, there are good reasons for all of us to want to protect our hearts and figuring out how to accept vulnerability — our own and our partners’ — is tough work.  Also, it isn’t easy to shift from being a competitor to being a collaborator. For all these reasons, you and Julian may want to find a couples therapist to help you move toward a relationship where you can become loving teammates.

Michael Radkowsky, Psy.D. is a licensed psychologist who works with gay couples and individuals in D.C. He can be found online at personalgrowthzone.com. All identifying information has been changed for reasons of confidentiality. Have a question? Send it to Michael@personalgrowthzone.com.

24
Oct
2013

To fap or not to fap?

Fap, Masturbation, Gay News, Washington Blade, Porn

If you find yourself turning more often to the computer than another human for sex, it may be time to re-wire your brain. (Image by GenX; via Creative Commons)

Dear Michael,

What do you think about the No Fap movement? It’s started me thinking that I spend way too much time beating off in front of my computer screen and that I’ve been making less of an effort to actually have sex. I actually get off easier to online stuff, which I think is usually hotter than the real thing, but something seems troubling about this.

Michael replies:

Masturbating to internet porn is leading many guys, including you, to lose interest in sex with real people and to have erectile dysfunction or difficulty reaching orgasm when trying to have sex with another person.

How is this happening? Our brains’ wiring pushes us to continually seek opportunities for sex and to keep seeking out new partners to increase the likelihood of our genes getting passed down. Internet porn, unlike the porn of yore, is always available, often free and offers immediate stimulation of every imaginable variety at the click of a mouse. These attributes enable it to plug right into the brain’s innate desire to have frequent and varied sexual experiences. Addiction is almost unavoidable: The easy access and unlimited options can make internet porn way more alluring than real-life sex. And our brains, which don’t know the difference between virtual and real sex, want to keep getting off with what seems like an endless stream of hot partners.

As we rapidly access the next image, scene or story that is even more exciting than the one we just viewed, we are re-wiring our brains to have a higher and higher arousal threshold, making it hard to get hard when we’re simply with another guy. We’re also wiring our brains to get turned on by what’s on a screen rather than by what’s really in front of us, by voyeurism rather than by participatory sex and by an unending array of increasingly stimulating images rather than by an ongoing connection to another person. The result of all this: we lose interest in the real thing and get hooked on chasing ever more exciting porn, sitting at our computers or holding our smartphones in isolation.

There are some additional twists to this for gay men. Straight guys usually have opportunities to develop their sexuality with other people as they’re growing up and dating. Gay men usually have been closeted in their teens and often learn about their own sexual feelings and responses through images and fantasy, including lots of PMO (porn-masturbation-orgasm). As a result, we may have a tendency from the get-go to be more turned on by the virtual than by the real and this is worrisome. Studies find that the earlier men start fapping to internet porn, the longer it will take for them, if they do stop, to function successfully when having sex with a real person. Their brains have simply not developed robust pathways for non-porn arousal.

In addition, gay male culture is ever more saturated with sexualized hook-up websites and apps featuring headless torso shots. This emphasis on sex over any other kind of human connection synchs up with fapping to make it even more difficult for you to be aroused by a real person with whom you might relate in some way other than through sex.

Bottom line: You should be very concerned about your fapping to porn. The good news is that you can re-set your brain so that you are aroused by reality. But doing so isn’t easy, and requires time and a great deal of willpower. The key to change? Stop fapping to porn and other fantasy stimulation, in order to give your brain the opportunity to lower the arousal threshold you’ve jacked up through porn. Yes, you read this right: if fapping has left you unable to get turned on by an actual man in bed next to you, then you must give up porn, and the fantasies that porn has burned into your brain, if you want to enjoy and relate to what actually exists.

Given the highly addictive qualities of PMO, and given that people fap not just for sexual release but also for all sorts of self-soothing, walking away from it can be extremely difficult. Therefore, if you decide to make this move, be sure to have good support and perhaps a great therapist to help you manage the anxiety and stress that you will likely experience as you start to live without internet porn.

Michael Radkowsky, Psy.D. is a licensed psychologist who works with gay couples and individuals in D.C. He can be found online at personalgrowthzone.com. All identifying information has been changed for reasons of confidentiality. Have a question? Send it to Michael@personalgrowthzone.com.

07
Jun
2013

Heat of the moment

erection, hands, gay news, Washington Blade

(Photo by iStock)

Dear Michael,

My sex life with my boyfriend of six months is verging on dismal.  I have a really hard time staying hard and am doing my best to avoid his finding out or having this become an issue in our relationship.

This has been a problem for me in other relationships and has been a cause for concern to me for many years. Before I have sex, I’m always worried that I won’t be able to get or keep my erection, so I have to concentrate on things that will get me aroused. I have a virtual library in my head of fantasies and porn scenes that usually can do the trick but it isn’t easy to stay focused on them the whole time.

If I open my eyes I start to get nervous and often can lose my erection. The same thing often happens when my partner wants to do things that are outside of my routine. I get distracted and nervous about how it will go or if I will be able to stay hard, then I can’t. Things work best when I stick to my routine and stay focused on what’s in my head.

I also have trouble achieving orgasm. The only way I seem to be able to come is by blocking out whatever is happening and focusing on some fantasy inside my head that can get me off.

I know this is not a recipe for hot sex, but I am so afraid of things not going well and my boyfriend thinking I’m not attracted to him (which isn’t the case at all). In the past guys have dumped me over this and I don’t want to lose Jeff.  But I don’t know how to get out of this cycle of anxiety.

Michael replies:

Take a nice, slow, deep breath in, and then slowly exhale. Relax — this is fixable.

Right now your anxiety is running the show. And when you’re extremely anxious, it’s difficult to get hard, stay hard or come. You can help yourself by finding ways to stop being so fearful that you won’t be able to maintain an erection or reach orgasm.

First, accept the reality that, like all men, you are guaranteed at various times in the future to lose your erection or not reach orgasm. This happens and the more you worry about it, the more it happens. In my work, I find that it’s especially common for gay men to have these fears, perhaps because so much emphasis is often put on sexual performance in gay male relationships. It doesn’t feel great when only one of you has an erection.

Second, take some pressure off yourself by letting Jeff know that you have a history of getting anxious about getting hard and coming. Keeping this a secret makes your problem worse by heightening your pressure to perform well, in order to avoid being found out. And by not letting Jeff know that this is a long-standing struggle, you’re making it more likely that he will take it personally when you don’t get hard or come.

Yes, there is a risk that Jeff will believe your difficulties are somehow his fault or a rejection of him. You can’t control that, but you can give him the information that would help him understand that your anxiety has nothing to do with him.

Another important move for you to make: Take your attention off the state of your penis and off the fantasies and images in your head. Your focus on these things turns sex into a tense, almost solo experience, rather than one of intimate connection; and it keeps wiring your brain to be turned on by fantasy, not reality. Gently redirect your focus to simply enjoying the encounter with Jeff.

Your erection may come and go; you may or may not have an orgasm. You will reduce your anxiety by accepting that what you fear will sometimes happen and then staying in the moment with Jeff. Although an erection certainly comes in handy at times and orgasms feel great, you really don’t need to be hard, or to come, to give yourselves and each other pleasure.

Please remember that I’m giving you an outline for how you can move forward, not a comprehensive approach that uniquely fits all aspects of your struggle. So I urge you, and other readers facing this issue, to work with a therapist experienced with erectile dysfunction who can help you get a grip on your anxiety.

One more point: You may also want to consult with your physician or urologist to rule out any physical contributors to your difficulties.

Michael Radkowsky, Psy.D. is a licensed psychologist who works with gay individuals and couples in D.C. He can be found online at personalgrowthzone.com. All identifying information has been changed for reasons of confidentiality. Have a question? Send it to Michael@personalgrowthzone.com.

07
Nov
2013