From time to time I receive questions about a body or sexual issue, always male, that doesn’t require a long article as an answer. I’ve been reluctant to take on personal issues on this blog because I’m a theologian, not a counselor. On the other hand, some body and sexual issues are raised in areas in which I have some expertise, such as biblical or theological interpretations of sexual practices, social history of the body, cultural analysis of bodily behaviors, and a lifetime of experience of living in my body. So I guess there are a number of issues I could comment on. Moreover, when I took the required pastoral counseling course in seminary some 50 years ago we were told that pastors should know enough to know when to refer difficult cases (unless he or she has done advanced work in pastoral counseling). I guess there’s no reason I couldn’t do that online. So I have started this post by answering briefly a couple of questions I received and I invite further questions regarding male body issues and sexuality.
I think it’s important to note (as if it’s not obvious) that I grew up in a different era (1950s-1960s) when I think boys and young men were a little more secure about their bodies. We swam naked and showered with one another as a matter of course in high school and the YMCA and on Boy Scout outings. We came from nuclear families that were seemingly more intact than in later decades. But we also experienced the beginnings of the sexual revolution in the 1960s with all the radical changes in our society’s understandings of sexuality and gender roles that it unleashed. Since then there has been a kind of neo-conservative reaction to try to recover the family life of the 1950s, especially among Evangelical Christians. But that model is no longer available. There have been too many social and cultural changes. Many issues have to be re-thought, and that adds to the confusions men and boys experience today in terms of masculinity and healthy male attitudes toward their bodies and their sexual needs and desires.
I, too, have had to rethink many issues in response to changing social norms and cultural patterns. I dealt with pastoral issues in parish ministry in five different congregations from inner city to suburb for over 40 years. I have remained happily married to one woman for 44 years. We raised three kids, two of them gay sons who “came out” during their high school years in the late 1990s. I think boys in recent years have had few male role models to emulate, which accounts for some of the toxic masculinity we see in their sexual behavior with women. So maybe just by living through the last 50-60 years I have some wisdom to share that comes from experience as well as my studies.
I have several other blog posts dedicated to giving brief answers on specific topics. So I will offer this post to give brief answers to questions related to male body and sexual issues that are within my competence to answer. I will post questions and answers in the chronological order in which I receive them with the most recent on top. Questions that are sent through the blog platform come to me anonymously. So you are invited to ask and readers may, as always, respond to my answers with their comments.
Content: Issues Addressed
Sexting – October 20, 2020
Male Body Image – September 18, 2020
Racial Body Issues – September 19, 2020
Gay Black issues – September 20, 2020
Body size issues – September 21, 2020
What Makes Gay Sex “Gay?” – September 4, 2020
Sexual Activity With College Roommate – August 28, 2020
Having Sex During COVID-19 – August 20, 2020
Can Masturbation Be Addictive? – August 15, 2020
To Ejaculate or Not to Ejaculate; That is the Question – August 10, 2020
Male Shirtlessness in Public -August 5, 2020
Shower Modesty, Selfies, and Cameras – August 1, 2020
Cuddling with Your Straight Apartment Mate – July 25, 2020
A Low Libido – July 20, 2020
Manscaping – July 1, 2020
Is it morally okay for a single gay Christian to use sex toys? – June 10, 2020
Erection on a Massage Table – May 31, 2020
Young Man Desires Older Men – May 25, 2020
Sleeping Naked – May 22, 2020
Sex With Family Nearby – May 21, 2020
Do I have to tell my parents I’m gay? – May 18, 2020
Church-Inflicted Shame – May 15, 2020
October 20, 2020
In your answer about having sex during COVID-19, you reference that article published by the staff of the Mayo Clinic. It gives as one possibility of safe sex: “You might also consider engaging in sexual activity with partners via text, photos or videos, ideally using an encrypted platform to provide privacy protection.” What are the legalities of the practice of sexting? What do you think of it?
Answer: Sexting — the use of the iphone to take and send nude or sexually-enticing or explicit photos — is a relatively new development in human sexual relationships. Surveys indicate that it is practiced equally by males and females, as might be expected since it involves two-way communication. But there are some differences between the attitudes of men and women toward sexting. I will answer the legal issues first, then address the gender differences more fully, and finally say what I think of it.
I doubt that the highly reputable Mayo Clinic would have put this suggestion on their web site if it were illegal. In the USA and many other Western countries it is actually legal to send nude or sexually-explicit photos or videos through social media platforms if these are being sent to one person who has consented to receiving them and if sender and receiver are of age (18 and older).
Here is what is illegal in the USA.
It is illegal to share such photos or videos with other people without the consent of the person who is portrayed in them or to harass someone by sending unwanted nude or sexually-suggestive or explicit photos.
It is illegal for minors (under the age of 18) to send nude or sexually-explicit photos of themselves. Even 17-year olds have been prosecuted as sex offenders for sharing nude images of minors even if they are also minors.
But there’s also the social media platforms to consider. Facebook has been the most conservative of these platforms. Even classic paintings such as those of Michelangelo haven’t passed muster with FB’s censors. FB has loosened up a little. It doesn’t allow nude images but goes on to clarify that in spite of this, “we aspire to respect people’s right to share content of personal importance, whether those are photos of a sculpture like Michelangelo’s David or family photos of a child breastfeeding.” This policy would apply also to FB’s Messenger.
Google’s social network does not allow sexually-explicit material, or anything that drives traffic to pornographic sites. But, of course, Google Images abound in pornographic sites on which “amateurs” can post photos and videos.
Instagram has rules about posting nude or sexually-explicit photos, but this social platform apparently abounds in such photos. (I personally don’t use it, so I’m relying on what people tell me.)
I don’t use Twitter either, but it is the most permissive of the large social networking sites. Users are instructed, “You may not use obscene or pornographic images in either your profile photo, header photo, or user background,” but users are allowed to post pornography in their feed.
People can use Face Time and Zoom to carry on conversations while nude or engaging in a sexual act. Unless Zoom links are encrypted, you run the risk of screen capture and getting pictures of yourself posted on the internet. The advice from Mayo Clinic recommended “ideally using an encrypted platform to provide privacy protection.”
Snapchat is apparently designed to send photos that become inaccessible after a while. This seems a fairly safe way to send nude or sexually-explicit photos. But people with the right technology can still capture the images.
Millions of people around the world are sexting or sending nude photos on these social platforms but there’s a risk of being reprimanded or having one’s use suspended. Remember that these are private companies that can set their own rules and degree of enforcement. They’re concerned about not turning away users who object to these images because having many users draws the advertisers who pay for the platform. Not everything you can do legally on the streets of New York City can be posted on social platforms.
The final risk is the personal one. Do you want to send pictures of your penis or your breasts to someone and take the chance that the picture won’t be just between you and your “friend?” Revenge porn has become a major issue as alienated lovers post nude photos of their exes in retaliation for some slight or betrayal.
As far as the difference between men and women are concerned, research has shown that women are more often the initiators of sexting and men more often the recipients of sexts. It is thought that women feel pressured or coerced into sending nude photos to men with whom they are in a relationship. The women used sexting as a way of dealing with insecurities about their relationship. The men are happy to receive the photos because it satisfies their sexual needs and are usually happy to reciprocate. See the study of 222 undergraduate students at Butler University during the spring term in 2016. Springston, Katie M. (2017) “Gender Differences in Participation in and Motivations for Sexting: The Effects of Gender Role Attitudes, Masculinity, and Femininity,” Butler Journal of Undergraduate Research: Vol. 3 , Article 9. Retrieved from: https://digitalcommons.butler.edu/bjur/vol3/iss1/9
I was asked, presumably as a matter of moral principle, what I think about the practice. It is widespread among youth and young adults and probably among more “mature” adults as well as they figure out the technology of sexting. Much of the moral concern centers on teen sexting because they are immature in their sexual relationships, they run the greatest risk of having their photos shared, and the practice is illegal. There are legal efforts to get the serious charge of child sex offender reduced for teens sexting between themselves. I agree with these efforts. We all know that the brains of teenagers are not yet fully developed, including their ability to make moral judgments. An underage teen couple sending photos to each other should not land therm in jail or get branded as sex offenders. But circulating someone’s nude photo without their permission should be a criminal offense. Let me also affirm that teens should be discouraged from sexting and focus here just on consenting adults.
Sexting between consenting adults is legal. You just have to deal with the social media platforms and the level of trust between sender and receiver. I agree with the researchers that sexting works best between couples who are in a relationship as a way of re-enforcing the intimacy they are already sharing. In such a relationship sexting can be a playful way of dealing with sex as the photographer figures out different positions to assume while still handling the iphone camera. I say this as one who isn’t good at taking any kind of selfie. But, as with all things, practice can make perfect. This is not something I would do, but I don’t see anything immoral about consenting adults sharing their nakedness whether in the flesh or in images. The photograph has become the modern equivalent of the Renaissance nude that patrons had painted of their wives and mistresses.
Male Body Image
September 18, 2020
I’m surprised that I haven’t received any questions yet about body image issues because therapists say that’s the most frequent male body issues they deal with. That’s a tough issue to address because it’s so subjective. That may be why there’s not enough discussion about male body-related self-image issues. People think that women have body image and body shame problems, but these issues are no less problems for men. Negative body image issues may be size (tall, short, overweight, thin, etc.), sexuality, and racial issues.
I have a friend who can relate to all three issues. He’s a 6’4″ gay Black male and he’s related these issues to me.
Being Black: well, there’s always the issue of avoiding a police encounter. He’s tired of being disrespected and ignored even though he’s an educated professional person.
Being Black and gay: after being subjected to slurs and taunts from school mates, friends, and family in his country of origin, he moved to Chicago where he’s received insensitive comments from gay white boys.
Being tall: try finding a mattress to stretch out on or fitting comfortably into an airplane seat.
I can sympathize with his complaints but can’t empathize with them because I’m a short straight White man — the opposite in every category from my friend except for being male. Yet I know that size, sexuality, and race are real issues for many men. So I thank him for sharing these issues with me as a friend and I want to use the issues he raises to address the topic of body image. In fact, I will address three topics in this brief answer. These issues are too important to ignore in the array of body issues dealt with in this blog post.
Racial Body Issues
September 19, 2020
Black men have some real body image problems that have been imposed on them. That’s because Black bodies in America cannot be understood or healed without consideration of their intersection with White bodies (white supremacy) and blue bodies (police). [Note: I use capital letters for Black and White since they are names of races; blues are not a race.]This was the thesis of Resmaa Menakem, My Grandmother’s Hands: Racialized Trauma and the Pathway to Mending our Hearts and Bodies (Las Vegas: Central recovery Press, 2017).
Certainly we must continue to battle systemic racism through our work for justice, because racism is a social and cultural issue. For example, Black men are far more likely to be stopped on the street or for minor traffic violations than Whites. We must develop programs to sensitize police to their inherent racism in how they respond to Black men in particular. But having a Black body is also a personal issue that affects self-image.
Menakem, who is “a healer, and a therapist, not a philosopher or literary stylist” (he’s a licensed clinical social worker), maintains that the real seats of the problem are embedded in our “soul brain” and “lizard nerves.” Our bodies embody a history of how we respond to threats. The basic responses our lizard or reptilian brain offers are fight, flight, or freeze. (See Frank Answers About Embodied Racism.)
Menakem suggests that racial traumas are passed through families by the experiences of physical abuse; through unsafe structures, institutions, and cultural norms; and through our genes as is being revealed through recent work on epigenetics. Our bodies are actually shaped by our experiences, like Menakem’s grandmother’s hands that picked cotton.
Menakem proposes therapies leading to behavioral changes precisely by the interaction of these three bodies. Black bodies can’t be healed without healing White bodies and blue bodies because otherwise they will always be responding to White supremacy and blue harassment. If Black bodies embody the traumas of enslavement, KKK terrorism, and the memory of the hanging tree, White bodies also embody the traumas our ancestors whose experiences compelled them to leave Europe for America. For example, I wonder what traumas my grandfather experienced that brought him to America in the late 19th century at age 14 with his 12-year old brother in tow? What traumas did he pass on to his children (my father among them)? What impact did that make on how I was raised? Or how I raised my children? These traumas can be passed on from generation to generation unless we identify and recognize them and develop ways of acting on that information.
Did our White immigrant grandparents, poor and struggling, see themselves as a notch above Blacks because they were White? What experiences have blue bodies had that makes them so quick to take down Black bodies? Do they have an embodied fear of big Black men? Does blue culture itself have an embodied instinct to protect (White) social norms that gets transmitted through police culture?
Healing the racial traumas in our bodies (for Blacks, Whites, and blues) comes by “fostering resilience in our bodies and plasticity in our brains.” Menakem’s hope is that through reading the book in whole or in part readers will create a “little extra room in your nervous system for flow, for resilience for coherence, for growth and above all, for possibility.” I strongly recommend it for all Americans. All bodies—Black, blue, and White—need healing from the effects of embodied racism. We must continue to work for justice. But that can take us only so far. The real issues of racism are embodied. That’s what we need to work on in our own bodies and then in a mix of bodies — Black, White, and blue.
But in the meantime, in face of continuing blue body overreaction to situations demonstrations are needed to assert that “Black Lives Matter.”
Gay Black Body Issues
September 20, 2020
Gay Black bodies aren’t immune from body image problems imposed on them either. I’m told that trawling through a grid of shirtless men on Grindr for sex or companionship is a regular pastime for single gay men. Often for queer Black men who don’t display the White beauty standards that predominate on social dating apps, navigating online sex can be frustrating. They either experience rejection (“Sorry, I’m not into Blacks”) or fetishes (“Oh, I’m SO into Blacks”).
Having struggled to be accepted by parents and friends, gay youths gravitate toward the gay ghettos of major cities. But just living in a gay-oriented community can be frustrating for gay men of color. Michael Hobbs wrote a shattering account of gay life in the gay ghettos in his article, “Together Alone,” in Huffington Post Highline (March 2, 2017). https://highline.huffingtonpost.com/articles/en/gay-loneliness/
He reports that mental health issues, physical health issues, sexual addiction, erectile dysfunction, substance abuse and suicide are higher among gay men than among any other group in American society. These statistics would ring true in other countries as well. Gay men also embody traumas. Many struggled with coming out to family and friends and experienced marginalization by society. They gravitated toward gay ghettos like Boystown or the Castro but found that others came to those communities with the same baggage. Gay men grew up being perpetually wary of how straight people perceived them and found out that they also needed to be wary about how other gay men perceived them. Body shame abounds for gay men because, as my friend said, “they say mean things.” As one of Hobbes’ interviewees (Paul) put it: “…it’s not your gayness that gets you rejected. It’s your weight, or your income, or your race.”
Alex Keuroghlian, a psychiatrist at the Fenway Institute’s Center for Population Research in LGBT Health., says: “We see gay men who have never been sexually or physically assaulted with similar post-traumatic stress symptoms to people who have been in combat situations or who have been raped.” Gay men are “primed to expect rejection,” says Keuroglian. “We’re constantly scanning social situations for ways we may not fit into them.” Like most people, gay Blacks connect with their own kind where acceptance might be expected.
I’m not a gay man and I’ve never lived in a gay ghetto. I suppose I’ve lived in White ghettos for much of my life. And my reaction was to get out of them, to go to other places and experience more of the world. I have actually lived in a Black community on the near south side of Chicago when I served as the pastor of a predominantly Black congregation in the 1980s. We had gay members in the congregation, both Black and White. I had two AIDS funerals in the church — Black brothers, both gay. The interesting thing is that our congregation’s Black youths got out of the community when they went off to college. Some returned to Chicago, but most got jobs after college and went where their jobs took them.
My recommendations to young gay Blacks are: get off Grindr and get out of the gay ghetto. Many of you have good jobs. Instead of being together alone with your own “kind,” be alone together with all kinds of people. Socialize with school friends or business/professional associates. Navigate relationships with real people you can meet in the flesh rather than virtually on a dating app. You never know where it could lead.
Body Size Issues
September 21, 2020
As for body size issues, it’s true that tall people encounter a lot of size issues, which can be a real inconvenience to themselves and to others, like sitting in an airplane seat. Whole lists can be compiled of problems tall bodies present. (Just check Google.) My problem was the opposite. I was a small, skinny kid who wore glasses and was easily picked on by bullies in middle school. It ceased in high school, but I was still small for my age.
There wasn’t anything I could do about it because my grandfather and father were short men. I had their genes. But people called attention to my size in their comments. When I attended my 55th high school class reunion one of the women said, “Oh, I remember you. You were so small.” How embarrassing. That’s how I appeared to the girls in my class and they remembered their perception about me after 55 years!
What I learned, however, was to accept my body for what it was. People who are not the average size in height or weight have to gain acceptance for other things, like their intelligence or talent. The problem is that they then disregard their bodies as the way they make an impression on others. I know because I did. But our bodies can’t be avoided; they’re how we present ourselves to the world, for example, in the clothes we choose to wear.
As I thought about these issues of body image, whether it’s one’s physical size, race, or sexuality, I have some suggestions to make.
First, talk about your insecurities with a friend. Don’t keep your negative self-image bottled up within you. A buddy will probably counter your arguments and give you reason to reconsider your assessment of yourself. I still remember when I went on a canoe trip in the Adirondacks with a college buddy, a real outdoorsman whom I admired because I thought he had good looks and easy relationships with girls, he complimented me on how I handled the canoe. “You’re a wiry little guy,” he said. I was on cloud nine. Little but wiry. Bits of affirmation can go a long way.
Second, get away from social media and with all its critical chatter and spend time in places where you can talk with a friend, like in a coffee shop or even taking a walk through a park. I’ve enjoyed “walks and talks” with friends. I had a younger friend a few years ago, who suggested that we walk barefoot and shirtless across a grassy field while we talked. I thought the feeling of Earth under my feet and and the warmth of the sun and the breeze on my body made our conversation also more natural. But being fully or partially naked with each other also prompts camaraderie and honesty. Maybe this is why so much business and relationship-building gets done in the saunas of Sweden, Finland, South Korea and Japan.
Third, take care of your body. If you take steps to be healthier through exercise and diet, you will feel better about yourself. Instead of focusing on what you are not, focus on what you take control of. For me, it was getting into yoga after surgery and a year of chemotherapy for colon cancer. I couldn’t control what the disease and its treatment did to my body, but I could control how I rehabilitated it. Yoga poses also brought to mind the fact that I was in the elementary school boys’ gymnastics show in 7th and 8th grades and I realized how much more I was in my body than my self-perception had been. And I remembered an eighth grade girl telling me how agile I was climbing up the pole. Another positive stroke that went a long way.
Fourth, don’t compare yourself to media-portrayed bodies. Working out will help strengthen your muscles and focus your mind, but you’re not going to develop the physique of the models whose job is to work on their bodies full time so they can display the ideal body advertisers are looking for. If I can hold yoga poses supported by my breath without collapsing, that’s an accomplishment. I feel good about being in my body.
Fifth, be willing to be vulnerable. If you’re feeling low and need to be held in a hug, ask for one. I have my wife to hug, and she needs my hugs. But men also need bonding with other men. We did when we were kids when a boy was feeling low and another boy held him because he didn’t know what to say. (I think of scenes in the coming-of-age movie Stand By Me where River Phoenix put his arm around the sobbing Wil Weedon.) Adult men need that kind of affirmation and support too. Loving touch is itself healing. In fact, a hug is probably the most healing thing we can give to another. Male cuddling is therapeutic. Men need affirmation and affection from other men. Hopefully when this COVID-19 pandemic is under control we can end social distancing and everyone can hug again. One of the major things we’ve lost in this pandemic is human touch.
P.S. I showed my blog articles to my friend, and he responded:
I really like your reflections on these issues. They are thoughtfully-written. I’m certainly very honored that the experiences I’ve shared with you served as a genesis for some of your blog entries. I’m still very unsure as to where I fit in but I do know that I’d much rather be who I am than anyone else.
What Makes Gay Sex “Gay?”
September 4, 2020
Maybe you can answer this question. Gay men engage in the same kind of sex that straight men can engage in – masturbation (including mutual), oral and anal, which we can do with a man or a woman. I’ve participated in a circle jerk with my high school buddies and once when I was sleeping over at a friend’s house he gave me a blow job during the night. I knew he was doing it but pretended to be asleep and didn’t say anything about it in the morning. I thought, “Well, that felt good. I wonder if I could get my girlfriend to give me one.” So if I can have this kind of sex with a guy or a girl, and I’m straight, what makes it “gay?” What’s the difference?
These are supposed to be brief answers, so I won’t write the longer essay that the question deserves. I should state upfront that my answer is based on a lot of reading and knowing a lot of gay men, including the two gay sons my wife and I raised. I recommend reading Toby Johnson, Gay Perspecive: Things our [homo]sexuality tells us about the nature of God and the Universe (Austin, TX: Peregrine Ventures, 2008).
Here’s the main answer to your question. Gay sex is not expressed just in sexual techniques. It’s an attitude about sex that is comfortable with pleasure. That’s really what being gay is all about — as well as doing it exclusively with persons of the same sex.
So the first thing about gay sex is that gay men have sex with each other for pleasure, not for any practical outcome such as making a baby or, in the case of the ancient Greeks, tutoring youths into the ways of sex and society.
I should note that while a pederastic relationships in ancient Greece were for the purpose of mentoring youth into sex and society. While it was an acceptable social norm in ancient Greece, a continuing same-sex relationship when the pupil became a mature adult was not. The Greek Platonists and the Roman Stoics took a dim view of sex generally, except as needed for procreation. Christianity taught that the sole purpose of sex is procreation. They rejected Greek pederastic relationships and male-on-male sex because it is “contrary to nature”—that is, it cannot produce babies. The ancient and medieval church even prized celibacy over marriage as a higher spiritual calling. The Protestant reformers prized marriage over celibacy and allowed that pleasure should accompany sex within marriage, but they confined sex and its joys to the marital union of a man and a woman.
For the gay person the sole purpose of sex is to give and receive pleasure. This is something straight men could learn from gay men. The gay man wants to give pleasure to his male partner. Every part of his partner’s body is worth pleasuring. The straight man should learn how to give pleasure to his woman. The old Book of Common Prayer of the Church of England had the man say to the woman in the marriage rite, “With my body I thee worship.” That should be restored to marriage rites.
The second thing about gay sex is that the homosexual loves the male body. He loves to explore and show his body. He will gladly remove his shirt in public and even march in the Gay Pride Parade in his briefs. He will work out in the gym to sculpt a well-proportioned body, preferably with a gym buddy. Can a straight man love his body without feeling self-conscious about it?
The gay man also wants to see and explore the bodies of other men. Seeing is an important sense to the gay man, followed by touch. The gay man is not opposed to clothing. Indeed, gay men are very fashion conscious. They like tight-fitting clothes that show off their body. They love to wrap the male body in beautiful and stylistic clothing. Clothing exists for protection against the elements and also to hide blemishes. The gay man loves the naked male body, blemishes and all. He so loves the beauty of the male body that he wants to see and touch and ravish it all over. He wants to hold it up close.
The third thing about gay sex is that the gay man is very matter-of-fact about it. Since he rejects the biological function of sex to produce babies, he can enjoy it for its own sake. This allows the gay man to indulge his fantasies, which results in sexual play acting. He does not rush to orgasm if he is enjoying sex. It is equally important to spend time with foreplay. In the fact, the foreplay is part of the sex itself. Sex should be playful. This is something straight men could learn from gay men that would make their sex with women more enjoyable for the opposite sex. I recommend reading John J. McNeill, Sex As Hod Intended: A Reflection On Human Sexuality As Play (Maple Shade, NJ: Lethe Press, 2008).
Fourth, the gay man is willing to try different sexual positions and experiment with different kinds of sex. Orgasm can come from a variety of practices: oral, anal, intercrural (between the thighs), manual, frictional, simultaneous, sequential, from the front, from behind, on the belly, on the back, with toys and without. What is your sexual repertoire, straight man? I’ll admit that mine has been rather limited. Maybe your female sex partner has some ideas you haven’t thought of.
Finally, the gay man like the straight man would like to settle into housekeeping with a partner. We know this from ancient literature and it continues to be true today. Many gays and lesbians were into domestic partnerships for years before same-sex marriage became legal. But gay men and lesbians enter into marriage as equals since patriarchalism or matriarchalism doesn’t exist in a same-sex world. As heterosexual couples strive to realize equality in their marital relationship, they might be able to learn from from the model of gay/lesbian equality in married partnerships.
A stable relationship full of sex, affection, romance, mutual caring is a blessing to be cultivated. It might even eventuate in the responsibilities of parenting if gay partners offer foster care parenting for children who have been messed up by the straight world, perhaps leading to adoption. Or the gay couple lacking parental responsibilities of parenthood can make themselves available for other volunteer work in their community, and many do.
Not all gay men live up to this description of gay sex and sexuality. A downside of the gay love of the body is that gay men can be very judgmental about their own body and other men’s bodies and what they regard as imperfections. Body shame and body shaming unfortunately does occur in the gay community.
Also, we should recognize that sexuality exists on a spectrum with exclusive homo and hetero sexualities at either end. This means that most men are somewhere in between. In our modern Western society in which sexuality is clinically defined in terms of binary opposites (homo or hetero, gay or straight) the ease with which men moved between male-on-male sex and male-on-female sex in, say, Greek, Roman, and Celtic societies, is not readily available to us. We define that practice as bi-sexual, but that is also a limiting category. For example, in all-male environments (boarding schools, military barracks, prisons) boys and men may have sex with other boys and men but then turn or return to sex with women when the female option is available.
You experienced something that is more generally associated with gay sex. Was your male friend who gave you that enjoyable blow job gay? You received it without protest. You were awakened by his touching your body with his hands and mouth, but you didn’t say, “what are you doing?” or just roll over on your stomach. Why not? Out of curiosity? Having this experience didn’t make you gay. If you were gay you would have enjoyed the bj for its own sake, for the pleasure it gave you, and for the friend you received it from, and you might have even offered reciprocity rather than thinking about getting a bj from your girlfriend. Or was bringing your girl friend into your thoughts a way of rationalizing the fact that you enjoyed an experience of male-on-male sex but wanted to reassure yourself that you aren’t gay? These are nagging questions for straight men because of our sexually polarized social norms.
Many boys have had experiences similar to yours. I received a blow job when I was asleep from a classmate who was my roommate on a college choir tour during which we sometimes shared the same bed. It was an awkward experience and I let it happen without saying anything. But the next night I slept on my belly. I’m sorry you were taken advantage of. Your friend, like my classmate, was using your body as an object of his lust. Sex ought to be by mutual consent and be mutually satisfying. Only then can we experience sex as a pleasurable experience with our partner, whether that partner is male or female.
Sexual Activity With College Roommate
August 28, 2020
Question: I’m just starting my freshman in year in college during this strange time of the coronavirus pandemic. I found your blog this summer and really enjoyed reading it. I appreciated your views on topics like masturbation, naked male bonding, and gay integrity. Jerking off in my room at home or a few times with my buddies this summer has been my only sexual outlet. I also decided over the summer that I’m gay because I like being with boys more than girls. I’ve moved into my dorm and have a roommate whom I’m just getting to know. I’m wondering if I should tell him that I’m gay and ask whether we could jerk off together sometime. I saw your answer about naked male cuddling and I’d like to experience it. It would provide relief from the tensions of starting school during the coronavirus pandemic. What do you think? – College Joe
Dear College Joe:
There’s a lot going on your life. You’re moving onto a college campus and into a dorm room with another guy during this COVID-19 pandemic. You don’t know how well your college community will deal with the coronavirus and whether you will be able to finish the term on campus with in-person classes. This is a lot to be anxious about. To that add the mental turbulence of discerning your sexuality.
You’re sharing a room or a suite with another guy who is also away from home for the first time and faces the same anxieties you do about going to college during this uncertain time. You two really need each other. You will be talking to each other, including about personal matters, as you get acquainted. What will you share with each other?
Roommate relationships can be full of land mines. You’ve got to live with this guy and you want it to go well because it can be a real bummer to have a roommate you don’t get along with. In general I would be careful about coming on too strong to your roommate until the two of you get to know each other better. I’d hold off on telling him that you decided you’re gay as the first thing. You don’t know what his reaction would be to the news that he might have a gay roommate. Homophobia is deeply embodied and can come out in strange ways. The important thing is to share with each other things about your lives and backgrounds. If eventually (not as the first thing) you share some of your sexual experiences in the past he may share some of his, if he has any to share. For example, if you tell him you jerked off with your buddies, you can tell from his reaction and response whether this turns him on or off and learn whether he has had such experiences. That could also open up a conversation about your sexuality and his. By then he’s gotten used to sharing living space with you.
Actually, you don’t say what your living arrangements are. Campus life even in the dorms can’t be normal under the coronavirus circumstances. Are you two living together in a single room or are you in a suite with adjoining bathroom and bedrooms? I’ve heard and read that a lot of students have private rooms because of COVID-19 precautions.
In any event, you are in close quarters and are likely to see each other naked at some point. If not because you share a room, then because you share a bathroom and you may both need to be getting ready for an early class at the same time. Are you comfortable being naked in front of someone else? How does your roommate handle nakedness? A lot of guys your age haven’t had much experience being nude with other guys like some of us older guys had when we were your age because of gang showers (even in college dorms). I would be careful not to show too much interest in his body, like getting a hard on the first time you see him naked. If he’s straight and suspects or knows that you’re gay, that could give him cause for alarm. If you’re together in the bathroom and you have a morning woodie, are you embarrassed about having an erection? Is he? Is an erection on a male really something to be embarrassed about? Can you joke about it?
Masturbating when you share a small room with another guy has always been tricky. (I know from decades ago when I lived in dorm rooms with roommates.) All the guys do it. In the dorm arrangement with two to a room many waited until they had the room to themselves to jerk off. But there was always the risk that the roommate would return unexpectedly and catch you in the act. That could be an embarrassing experience for both of you. You could do it at night while you think he’s asleep but he may hear you breathing harder and the mattress creaking and know what you’re doing. If you sleep in bunk beds you know what the guy on the top or lower bunk is doing. If you each have your own room that solves the problem. But since masturbation is not a taboo subject today like it was when I was your age, and if your roommate is comfortable discussing it, I suggest talking about it. Then neither of you have to hide the fact that you’re going to be jerking off as need arises.
You mention naked male bonding. Ordinary male bonding should be a part of your relationship first. This includes doing things together, like eating together, going to the library together, exploring your college town together, etc. Become friends and be relaxed with each other’s nudity. Boys are likely to walk around the dorm room or suite or even the residence hallway semi-naked. If you can be physically naked with each other, that makes it easier to be emotionally open. And the opportunity for naked male cuddling may arise.
That reminds me to tell you that you will not only be getting acquainted with your roommate but with other guys in the dorm. In my freshman year my relationship with my roommate was pretty perfunctory, even though we shared the same room. He seemed to be uptight much of the time. I found myself hanging out with other guys in our hall. One of them (who was two years older than me) became my roommate the next year — in fact, the next three years in college, and two years after that when we went to seminary together. He was my best man at my wedding. So we really bonded as buddies. Yet even in my sophomore year, when rooming with the guy I had bonded with, I developed a friendship with another young man and we went on a canoe trip together at the end of the spring term. The point is, you may develop a friendship with another boy in the dorm whom you get to feel pretty relaxed, if not intimate, with.
The academic reality you face is that some of your classes may be online. Or if too many positive cases break out the college may go on lock down. So you and your roommate may be spending a lot of time together in close quarters. As horniness arises, you and your roommate may turn to each other to do some “experimenting.” It’s a well known phenomenon that when men are deprived of women they turn to each other for sexual release. Your roommate might turn to you unexpectedly and say, “Do with me what you did with your buddies last summer.” This could be your opportunity to jerk off together, if that’s what you want. There’s nothing uniquely gay about it. It’s just simultaneous masturbation, and all boys and men masturbate. And it’s the safest form of sex. See what I wrote below in answering a question about sex during COVID-19. You and your roommate or your dorm friend might even experiment with masturbating each other, which would probably be a next step for you.
Now — continuing this fantasy — the quarantine situation is ripe for the naked cuddling you desire. Just tell your roommate or your dorm friend, “I really need a human touch. Would you come and lay with me.” It would be best if this was a natural development in your relationship rather than the result of too much alcohol. It’s actually not too uncommon for boys and men to cuddle and sleep together, as perhaps you read in my previous brief answer about apartment mates cuddling during COVID-19 (scroll down). Maybe your roommate or dorm friend has already done this. Being body-to-body naked, however, may be a new experience for both of you.
If this happens and you spend the night sleeping together naked, maybe nothing else will happen. OR, maybe horniness will arise and the two of you could end up getting into heavier stuff. (Try to avoid kissing on the mouth during COVID-19). As in all things sexual, if he resists going further, take it as a “No.” If he wants to go further…well, that’s up to you. Should it happen that the cuddling turns into a more sexual activity than just spooning, the two of you need to consider whether this was a special occurrence between friends or the beginning of a regular practice. You want to avoid taking your relationship farther than either of you care or dare to go, because here’s the thing: you’d like to continue being compatible roommates or dorm friends, learning from each other and supporting each other during your year on campus in this time of COVID-19. Developing a sexual relationship especially with your roommate strikes me as having some relationship pitfalls that should be avoided.
Best wishes to you and your roommate for a successful academic year. I’m sure you’ll figure out these relationships. If other issues arise, don’t hesitate to send another question. I hope you’re able to stay on campus for the year and not be sent home because of an outbreak of COVID-19. That requires everyone following the rules. Be safe. Be well.
P.S. A commentator provide an alternative answer to College Joe. It is posted in the Comments section.
P.P.S. “College Joe” responded:
I appreciate your thoughtful and wise response. You guessed correctly that I am alone in my suite room and connected with my roommate only through the joint bathroom. We don’t actually see each other all that often during the day. College during COVID is not very social. We even bring our food back to our dorm rooms from the cafeteria. My roommate and I and others in the dorm are being very cautious about physical contact to avoid testing positive. I’m still thinking about my sexual identity but my sex life for the time being will be in the fantasies your words and images stimulated. Thanks for those!
P.P.S. Quick response. Fantasies are a good thing. We all have them. They stir our imaginations and can actually be the source of much creativity. But it’s wise not to act them out. Let sexual intimacy occur in the moment between two people with mutual consent.
Having Sex During COVID-19
August 20, 2020
Question: It looks like this pandemic is going to last for a while. I miss having sex. I want sex with someone besides myself. How does one have safe sex during COVID-19?
Answer: Yes, you and a lot of other men want sex. Sex is possible during the COVID-19 pandemic. For starts, here’s a link to what is posted on the Mayo Clinic Website about having sex during the coronavirus pandemic.
The New York City government put out an even more detailed outline offering guidance on what to do and not to do sexually during the pandemic.
NYC’s guidelines were given great reviews.
Here’s a concise tip from a medical expert.
“Coronavirus is a respiratory virus, spread by saliva, nasal secretions, and respiratory droplets in the air from coughing or sneezing. Although it hasn’t been found in semen or vaginal fluid, it is certainly transmissible through kissing. In reality, because infectious respiratory droplets can travel up to six feet, this may inevitably occur during sex.” — Dr. Sean G. Kelly, MD, infectious disease specialist at Vanderbilt University Medical Center.
Since you asked for my advice, I’ll give a common sense version — based on “the science,” as they say, but also using my imagination. Because I think having sex during COVID-19 calls for creativity.
It has not been proven that you can be infected just by having sex. But your risks of contracting COVID-19 are reduced if you know that your partner has worn a mask when out and about, maintained social distance, avoided crowds, used hand sanitizer where available, and washed her or his hands when returning home. This applies to husbands and wives as well as girlfriends and boyfriends. Sex between people who live together is probably less risky than between partners who don’t live together because you know about your partner’s comings and goings.
I suspect you are not living with your sex partner or else you wouldn’t sound so desperate. Nor do you say whether you wants straight or gay sex. My guess is that you want a woman, but my answer could be equally applicable to same-sex activity.
In situations where your partner lives elsewhere I would wear a mask even during sex and make hand washing a part of the sexual ritual. Kissing is out. Stay out of each other’s faces. Instead explore all the rest of your partner’s body.
Obviously, don’t have sex if you have virus symptoms or other symptoms. Allergies, for example, can produce sneezing which scatters aerosol droplets more than six feet.
While it is not proven that the virus can be spread through sex, the researchers say that the novel coronavirus has been found in semen, vaginal fluid, urine, and fecal matter. So wear a condom and avoid oral sex. Sex from behind is safer than sex from above where facial contact is inevitable.
During the pandemic, we have time on our hands. There’s no need to rush to the finish line. This is an opportunity to improve your foreplay even while avoiding being in each other’s face. Dim the lights, burn candles, play soft music, use aromatic scents. My suggestion is to work on each other from behind. Slowly undress each other, touching bare body parts lightly as pieces of clothing are removed. Hug from behind, fondling each other’s breasts and genitals. Plant kisses on each body part except the face. This could be done standing from behind or lying face down on the bed. On the bed or on the floor explore the partner’s body by giving her/him a gentle sensuous massage, using a light touch. You could also lightly move feathers over your partner’s body. Move your fingers on the backside from head to toe, gently massaging between the legs, working toward the anus and the genitalia from behind.
Since you’ve been using your hands on each other’s body, mutual masterbation may be the way to climax. It’s been said long before the novel coronavirus came along that masturbation is the safest sex you can have. Mutual masturbation can be a safe form of sex if you find a way to keep out of each other’s face. You can actually keep your faces six feet away from each other’s by lying down with heads opposite (not next to) each other, hands reaching for the other’s penis/vagina. It is also possible to wear masks while masturbating each other.
When you’re finished, take a shower together, soaping up each other thoroughly as a disinfectant. In the shower, your romance might be rekindled. Other suggestions for good safe sex during COVID are welcome in the comments.
Can Masturbation Be Addictive?
August 15, 2020
Question: Thanks for answering the double question I submitted about whether frequent masturbation reduces the risk of prostate cancer and if semen retention makes for better sex. As I said, I masturbate a lot—almost daily for the past seven years since I began doing it at age thirteen. So another thing I’ve read about is addiction to masturbation. Do you think it’s possible to become addicted to masturbation?
Answer: Thanks for submitting another question. There’s some disagreement among psychologists about whether masturbation can really be considered an addiction like addictions to alcohol, drugs, tobacco, porn, or even sex (with partners). Unlike these other addictions, masturbation does no harm to the body or to relationships (unless you prefer satisfying yourself more than your marital partner). So if masturbation is considered an addiction it would be for psychological reasons.
People masturbate because it is a safe form of sex that gives pleasure and releases tension in the body. These are biochemical reactions. Masturbation releases the chemical dopamine into the body, which is associated with pleasure. This makes you feel better and puts you in a good mood after you’ve had sex. In addition, the hormone oxytocin is released during orgasm (usually with ejaculation in men) and lowers cortisol levels. Cortisol is a main stress hormone, and is usually present in high levels in stressed out people. Touching your genitals and coming to a climax can boost dopamine and oxytocins and help you feel more relaxed. Masturbation or any sex at night will also help you sleep better because you are more relaxed in mind and body.
I think there is a correlation between stress and the urge to masturbate, especially in teenagers. Hormones in teens are ragging, and teens are under a lot of stress from school (learning, conflicts, relationships, etc.). It’s not surprising that teens masturbate daily, maybe even twice a day. The same psychological pressures are present when a young person goes off to college or begins a job. At the present time there is undoubtedly a lot of stress building up in our bodies due to dealing daily with the COVID-19 threat. Under these conditions masturbation can function as a release valve and bring a sense of calm and peace to the mind and body. It’s a safer way to relieve the body and mind of stress than using addictive substances or engaging in aggressive behavior. Mayo Clinic even recommends it as the safest form of sex during the COVID-19 pandemic. So it comes highly recommended by the health experts.
The body itself shows its need for rest after sex. There is what’s called a refractory period after sex during which time the penis can’t get erect. We have probably all had this experience. For teens it could be a matter of minutes. But as you get older the period may last hours and even days. Experiment on yourself. After you’ve masturbated, how long does it take before you have an arousal and a solid hard erection? That hormone Oxytocin which is released in ejaculation is the main driver of the refactory period. If you masturbate daily you’re building up higher levels of oxytocin in your body that may affect the length of each refractory period. Boys and men who try to push through anyway will be functioning with sub-optimal energy levels. Periodic abstention for at least three days would allow the body to recover physiologically and give you better sex the next time.
Having said all this, there is a value in giving it a rest. What you can do about masturbation that you can’t do with other addictions is just stop doing it. I don’t mean stop forever, but for a day or two or three or even a week. As I discussed in the answer to your previous question (see the following post), one of the reasons given for semen retention is to use the body’s energy for other purposes. A century ago health professionals were trying to ween boys off of masturbation (which they did think was addictive!) by engaging them in sports or exercise. We know that adults today still engage in physical exercise or sports to relieve tensions from work or home. Those who are involved in creative projects that require intense concentration are usually not thinking about sex at that moment. In these activities the body’s energy is being channeled in other directions. Test yourself to see how long you can resist the urge. There can be benefits to periodic abstinence. Maybe you’ll get that article written without always thinking about your crotch.
To Ejaculate or Not to Ejaculate; That is the Question
August 10, 2020
Question: I’ve been reading online about the benefits of frequent masturbation, since I do it a lot. There are studies that suggest that frequent masturbation (21+ days per month) can reduce the risk of prostate cancer. But there are also articles that claim that by masturbating frequently you actually lower your sexual energy. Do you know about these conflicting claims and do you have any words of wisdom about them?
Answer: As a matter of fact, I am aware of the major study about the relationship of ejaculation (not only by masturbation) to prostate cancer, and I also know of Chinese/Tibetan/Indian ideas about the value of semen retention. I am not an authority on either, but I have an interest in both. I am a colon cancer survivor since 2006 and the causes of cancer, especially in the lower part of the body, became matters of interest to me. I am also a yogi and have studied Indian yoga philosophy, Tibetan Tantra’s interest in managing the body’s energy (pranayama), and related theories of the body’s energy in Taoism (chi).
The major study is reported in an article by Michael Leitzmann and colleagues in the Journal of the American Medical Association in 2004, titled “Ejaculation frequency and risk of prostate cancer.” The data and this report have since been analyzed and discussed in other journal articles. Leitzman et al. reported on a study of over 29,000 male health professionals whose health was followed for a period of 18 years. The data collected included the question of frequency of ejaculation. Several thousand reported incidents of prostrate cancer at the end of the study. By comparing the frequency of ejaculation all the men in the study had reported, the Leitzmann report concluded that high ejaculation frequency was associated with a lower incidence of prostate cancer. Averaged across a lifetime, those men with higher frequency of ejaculation (21 or more times per month) lowered by 33% the risk of developing prostate cancer. Those with a lower frequency of ejaculation (4 to 7 times per month) lowered the risk by 11%. So the headlines in the news feed proclaim that frequent ejaculation reduces prostate cancer risk. It’s a remedy many are happy to undertake.
But before you get too excited, let me note several problems with this study. It does not distinguish between types of ejaculation (masturbation, sexual intercourse, or wet dreams). Also, the subjects self-reported. A problem with many self-reported studies is that subjects are asked to remember things that occurred over a period of years. Most importantly, the study of health professionals was a select group (cohort) who might be more concerned about leading a healthy life than the average man. So this was not a study of the general male population.
Moreover, the problem with cancer is that it’s hard to pinpoint the cause. We all have cancer cells in the body. What factors cause them to metastasize? In my family my father had rectal cancer, a sister had breast cancer, my brother had pelvic cancer, and I had colon cancer. In my case it looks like genes were a major cause. Genetics can also be associated with prostate cancer. Life style choices (e.g. alcohol, smoking, diet, drugs) and quality of environment (like working conditions) can also be contributing factors to various cancers.
The correlation between frequency of ejaculation and prostate cancer should concern all men, but especially older men who ejaculate less frequently since incidents of prostrate cancer usually occur most frequently in older men.
Prostate massage (also known as “prostate milking”) was adopted in the late 19th century as a medical procedure to address such conditions as enlarged prostate, prostate inflammation, difficulty in urinating, and erectile dysfunction. An examination of the prostate requires inserting the finger into the anus to feel the prostate glands. Relief is provided by massaging the glands, resulting in the expulsion of seminal. General family medical practitioners used to do this, but don’t any more. Prostate massage might be done by a urologist, who will check out your prostate anyway if you go in for an exam.
Prostate massage was adopted as a therapeutic technique by the Royal Institute of Massage at Stockholm at the beginning of the 20th century. But because feeling the prostate is associated with anal sex (which, in fact, it is!), I would be cautious in asking an American licensed massage therapist about prostate milking unless you know that LMT pretty well because, ethically, it’s a “touchy” subject. That’s too bad because prostate massage for routine maintenance could probably help a lot of men. But the MT needs to know what he’s doing and use lots of oil.
The bottom line is that frequent ejaculation is associated with less risk of prostate cancer. But why that is the case remains a matter of speculation, not scientific study. Frequent ejaculation is no guarantee of not getting prostrate cancer, nor is infrequent ejaculation a guarantee of getting prostate cancer, since cancer can be caused by various factors.
And now about Asian practices of semen retention.
Why practice semen retention? In practical-minded Taoism, it was to have better sex! As strange as it may sound, semen retention improves your sex life. One of the common issues men have is premature ejaculation in intercourse. Sexual gratification usually takes longer for a woman to achieve. If a man is able to maintain sexual arousal for as long as he desires, it not only allows the woman to reach climax, it heightens the climaxes for both when they come together.
There are techniques that can be learned to do this, but they all involve retaining the semen. In medieval Tantra the techniques enabled adepts to have orgasms without ejaculation, thus conserving the body’s energy. The practices were esoteric and ritualized and required initiation. In Taoism the techniques are more ordinary, such as moving toward the edge and then pulling back. The point is to hold back orgasm while in coitus until you sense that your partner is coming. The sex is more intense if the partners can achieve orgasm simultaneously.
In non-western medical traditions such as Indian Ayurveda, Chinese or Tibetan medicine, it is widely believed that retention of semen is a source of health, strength, vitality, and general well-being. We can know in our own bodies the drain of energy that is felt after orgasm. We often have sex in bed at night precisely so we can fall asleep afterward. If it was an intense sex session we are spent. Orgasm depletes enormous energy from the endocrine and nervous systems, leaving the body weak and lethargic until the energies are gradually created again. The ancient Chinese had this all figured out. I recommend The Tao of Health, Sex, and Longevity: A Modern Practical Guide to the Ancient Way by Daniel P. Reid (New York: Touchstone, 1989), Part II: The Tao of Sex, especially Chapter 7: Ejaculation Control (pp. 254-72).
Ancient Greek physicians and philosophers such as Pythagoras, Hippocrates, Galen, and Aristotle were horrified by the waste of semen. In their view semen should be retained for procreation. As philosophers, they were also concerned about how the saved energy in the body should be used in a productive life. This was all before Christianity came along and embraced similar ideas, although unfortunately Catholicism enforced them as moral law through the confessional rather than as wisdom for life.
Paying attention to the body’s wisdom is always important. It is commonly known among athletes and martial artists that avoiding sex, including masturbation, before a competition or a game gives you more energy for the event since expelling the sexual energy results in a depletion of strength and concentration.
Bottom line: holding the charge until you’re ready to fire will produce better results. Even young couples who have sex frequently will improve their experience by taking a night off once in a while to replenish their sexual energy. This also applies to masturbation. If you give it an occasional rest you can build up energy for a bigger orgasm.
August 5, 2020
Question: It seems to me that I’ve seen more men shirtless outdoors this summer than in the past. I wouldn’t mind joining them sometimes like in a park, but I admit that I’m a bit modest about baring my body in public, except on the beach or at a pool. Also, my wife makes comments about seeing older men spoiling the landscape by showing their bare bulging bellies. That’s not very encouraging. She thinks men beyond 18 shouldn’t be shirtless in public, although young men who work out might be alright. Why do men go shirtless in public? Where do you think it’s appropriate? Where is it inappropriate? Thanks for your reflections on this.
Answer: Your question raises a general issue about male shirtlessness in public in an otherwise clothed society. Let’s grant at the outset that many women don’t appreciate seeing men going around shirtless, except maybe on the beach or at the pool. And let’s also recognize that there are many men who don’t want to be shirtless in public, sometimes not even on the beach or at a pool. You hear negative comments from your wife and you have your own sense of modesty about male shirtlessness in public. It might be worth exploring where this sense of modesty comes from.
I would point out, however, that there is a health benefit to exposing your skin to the sun for both men and women and for people of all ages. Direct exposure to the sun enables the body itself to produce vitamin D, which is important in strengthening the body’s immune system for fighting disease, as well as producing strong bones by allowing the intestines to absorb calcium. There’s been a tug-of-war between dermatologists who warn against getting skin cancer from too much exposure to the direct light of the sun and health experts who recommend at least a few minutes of exposure to the sin every day. (You can’t get too much vitamin D the natural way like you can with supplements.) Many of us can’t spend our days at the beach or an outdoor pool. But men can remove their shirts and walk or run or ride a bike in the sun, or even mow their lawn, getting exercise along with their daily dose of vitamin D.
That’s the health issue. It sometimes conflicts with the social/cultural issues of being shirtless in public. Actually, most men don’t appear shirtless in public venues other than the the beach or a pool. I wouldn’t attribute it only to male shyness, although there is that. But it’s also a matter of conforming to social norms. It’s a social norm that you can walk shirtless on the beach, but not down Main Street.
My question is: where do you see an increase in men being shirtless? Shirtless men can usually be seen everywhere in the summer months — biking, jogging, walking in the parks — , although not, I would say, in large numbers. In this summer of COVID-19 many venues where men are shirtless are closed, such as amusement parks, rock concerts, and ball parks.
Maybe men’s desire to be shirtless in the summer has found other outlets. Or maybe you’re seeing more men shirtless because you’re thinking you’d like to be shirtless yourself, so you’re paying more attention. In addition to exploring where your sense of modesty comes from, you might also explore why you’d like to go shirtless. What are you interested in experiencing?
I gave you the benefit of the doubt that maybe displays of male shirtlessness are actually increasing in places where that’s not usually been seen. A search of the internet produced a New York Times article of July 31, 2013 that discussed how many men are, in fact, appearing shirtless on the streets and sidewalks of the New York City. (The article was written during a heatwave.) The Times article attributed this fad to movie actor Orlando Bloom, who had been seen pushing his child in a baby stroller while shirtless on the streets of New York. Was NYC becoming like LA?
See the article with photos of shirtless men uptown and downtown at: https://www.nytimes.com/2013/08/01/fashion/shirtless-goes-the-city.html.
I have personally seen shirtless bikers and skateboarders on the streets of NYC when visiting there. Some may have been messengers in a hurry to deliver their package. Shirtlessness has been a part of male work history. In social history, men who have engaged in hard labor on land and sea have usually worked shirtless. In ancient and traditional societies working men usually wore no more than a loin cloth. Admittedly, this was in warmer climates like the Mediterranean world or tropical places. But it’s also the case that men sweat a lot and moistened shirts become a drag and uncomfortable. Shirtless workmen are all around us, especially in the building trades — carpenters, bricklayers, roofers, etc. We might expect to see men working shirtless on farms plowing the fields, harvesting vegetables, mowing hay.
As to why men bare their chests in public, I was tempted to answer: because they can. And if they can, many will. This is something of a male privilege, and I’m sorry women can’t go topless if they want to. (This prohibition in city ordinances has been challenged in some cities.) It’s been argued that women’s breasts can be sexually arousing and therefore should be considered one of the “private parts” of the body that should be covered in public. Apparently, men’s chests aren’t considered sexually arousing (although some women would dispute that). But it simply feels good to bare one’s chest outdoors and feel the sun and wind on one’s skin.
I would say that exposing one’s body in public gives one a sense of freedom. By this I don’t mean only free from the constrictions caused by wearing shirts in some physical activities, but free to connect with nature itself outdoors (feeling the sun and wind on one’s naked body), freedom to express self-confidence in public (knowing that people are likely to look at you if you are showing skin), and freedom to bond with other men (men more readily shed their shirts if other men do so — unfortunately all too often in party situations where they have been drinking and have lowered inhibitions).
So where do I think it is appropriate for men to be shirtless in public? And where do I think it might it be inappropriate? Generally, I think anywhere outdoors is appropriate. Anywhere indoors is probably inappropriate. But common sense must prevail both outdoors and in. I think urban bike messengers can deliver their packets while riding shirtless, but should have a shirt to throw on before they enter an office building. You expect men to wear bathing suits on the beach and even on the boardwalks and around the marinas, but signs posted on shops and indoor restaurants even along the boardwalks and marinas say, “no shirt, no service.”
I think shirtlessness is appropriate in any physical activity. Indoor gyms and yoga studios might request shirts on, in which case you have to abide by the management’s policy. But I still think it’s appropriate to work out and practice yoga shirtless even though the management says otherwise. Some women don’t like sweaty men on the next treadmill or yoga mat. But if you sweat, you keep a towel handy. It is certainly appropriate, in my view, for athletes, both youth and adults, to work out shirtless indoors or outdoors. Runners almost always run shirtless. Wearing a shirt would literally be a drag. If you see some shirtless young guys in the park throwing a football or a frisbee, and your wife isn’t with you, maybe you could ask to join them and shed your shirt and shoes too. Or just enjoy watching them—while being shirtless in the park.
There’s been a lot of discussion in recent years about body shame. It applies to men as well as to women. And there’s also been a lot of shaming of older men for being shirtless in public, which could be implied in the statement included in this question about “young men who work out might be okay.” Older men? Maybe not for your wife, and others like her. Who wants to see sagging muscles and wrinkled skin and expanded waists!?
But if senior men want to exercise and get vitamin D the natural way in the sun and experience a sense of liberation, God bless them! Let them be examples of vitality to shy young men and boys. We need not be ashamed of our bodies, and fortunately there are plenty of places and situations in which we can demonstrate that, as Ed O’Neill is doing on his shirtless bike ride through LA. Go Ed! Set an example for the shy young dudes.
Shower Modesty, Selfies and Cameras
August 1, 2020
It seems that men’s locker rooms are becoming more “private.” (I haven’t been in a women’s, so I wouldn’t know about the layout.) At my gym, partitions have been installed in what used to be an open shower area. Gyms I’ve used while traveling seem to have gone in this direction also. This seems very strange considering so many people are now sending nude pictures of themselves or posting them online. Why the dichotomy?
Answer: Yes, I guess gyms are providing partitioned shower stalls today. I haven’t been to the YMCA I used to be a member of in several years. But during the time I went regularly to the gym and used the showers, they began to add partitioned stalls on the opposite side of what remained of the “gang showers.”
There’s no question that younger men and adolescent boys are more concerned for their personal modesty than we were in my youth, when swimming at the Y and in high school was nude, along with nude showers, and the coach or teacher watching to make sure that you soaped down all over your body. Today the high school boys seldom take showers after gym class. Young men at the Ys shower in their bathing suits and do a “towel dance” to change into and out of it, so that none of their “private parts” can be seen. They simply have no experience of being naked with other guys and therefore aren’t comfortable with it. One of the issues men have in locker rooms and showers is penis size. Most men think their penis is too small. So they try to avoid having it seen. (There’s been a study of this.)
Another issue younger men are concerned about is gay men hanging around in a locker room or shower and coming on to them. Gay men do spend a lot of time at the gym. Having someone eyeball you and come onto you has been known to happen. But it would seem that men should be able to just say “no” if they don’t want to get into anything. Personally, I’ve never found this to be a problem. Only once in a steam room in which I was sitting on my towel rather than having it wrapped around my waste, a naked guy moved over from his bench to mine and sat next to me. (We were the only two persons in the steam room.) I got up and moved to another seat. He got the idea.
You mention that a lot of young men take nude selfies and post them online or send them to a friend via text messaging. But this is exactly one of the problems with being nude in the showers or locker rooms. Everyone has iphones and people are always taking them out to look at their messages. They’re also always taking photos. A lot of men don’t take nude pictures of themselves and they don’t want to be “captured” by someone else’s phone camera. But take a look at this selfie that someone snapped in a locker room and posted online.
Who knows why he is taking a selfie of his naked body. Maybe he wants to see how he is shaping up after a workout. Maybe he wants to send it to his girl friend or boy friend. But you see the guy reflected in the mirror who is sitting on the bench with a towel? He’s been “captured” in this naked guy’s selfie and ended up on the internet, which is where I found this image. He could have been standing up naked. There’s the problem of men being naked today in the showers and locker rooms. It certainly has to be factored into why there is more concern for privacy in gym locker rooms and showers than there used to be. I personally was casual about nudity in this setting when I went to the gym at the YMCA because that’s how it was when I was a high school youth swimming and showering naked in the Y. I’m comfortable being naked around other men. But today if I’m not careful I could unintentionally end up on the worldwide web being seen in my altogether.
There’s also the issue of surveillance cameras in the lockers rooms and showers. A lot of thefts in gyms take place in locker rooms. Cameras would help to discourage that. But in most states it is illegal to place cameras in places that are commonly regarded as private areas where people might be in a state of undress. In some states, however, it is legal for the management to install such security cameras if a sign is prominently posted calling attention to it. But there’s also been the problem of staff personnel or patrons installing their own hidden cameras. This is definitely illegal and even criminal. But photos from hidden cameras often end up on the internet, like this one.
There is a solution to all of these problems. Gyms and spas should have staff persons circulating in the showers, sauna, steam room, and locker room areas and calling out misbehavior when they see it. In the Korean Spa that I have gone to, staff are permanently placed in the locker room and occasionally they walk through the adjacent pool and steam room areas. Cameras are not allowed in these areas. You can go into the common areas to talk on your phone or take photos. Intimate and sexual behavior is also prohibited because it is a family facility in which fathers and sons can enjoy being nude together (and mothers and girls in the women’s area). If you are caught disregarding the rules, you can be ejected from the premises.
These issues make it difficult for men and boys to be showering together nude like in the old days. It’s too bad. Being naked together gives you a great feeling of male camaraderie. I don’t regret my youthful experiences at all. It made me comfortable in my skin. But unfortunately we will see less and less of this kind of male nakedness unless these issues are addressed and young men begin to experience the feeling of freedom that comes from being able to walk around confidently naked with other men.
Cuddling with your straight apartment mate
July 25, 2020
Dear Frank-Answers: We’re four months into the COVID-19 sheltering in place. My apartment mate and I have been careful to wear masks when out in public and maintain social distancing. We don’t have guests in our apartment. Most of the work we do for our employers is done online. This is a long time without human contact. Both of us have dated girls. We’re both straight. I can go into my bedroom and watch porn and jerk off. But I’m longing for an actual body to cuddle with. In my college fraternity we sometimes had a pile on when horsing around and slept together in the same bed when the house had guests. I’ve been wondering about whether my apartment mate would be interested in doing some cuddling. Do you think this is appropriate. Would it be too gay?
– Boy who wants to cuddle
Dear boy who wants to cuddle: One thing many of us have grown to understand during recent months is the value of touch for humans, as for other animals. Single people are acutely aware of the lack of human touch, I’m sure.
When “straight” men are deprived of women, like in the military or in prison, they turn to one another. Ancient Celtic warriors preferred sleeping with each other even if they had wives. They would not have thought of themselves as homosexual in the modern clinical sense, or even bi-sexual. Even “sexuality” is a modern concept. The ancient Celts, along with Greeks and Romans and Vikings, were men who married women and but also mentored boys and bonded with their comrades, sometimes bedding down with them.
In that same part of the world where ancient Celtic culture flourished a British study released a year ago March in the journal Men and Masculinities reported that 98 percent of the heterosexual men interviewed had shared a bed with another guy, and 93 percent of them had cuddled or spooned with one. The study was conducted by two researchers at Winchester and Durham Universities, sociologists Eric Anderson and Mark McCormick, who questioned 40 university athletes and reported that “in addition to cuddling, participants also engage in ‘spooning’ with their heterosexual male friends.”
This kind of research has its flaws. First, the sample is pretty narrow. It was self-selected among young university athletes who volunteered. Athletes are used to being around other male bodies, even being naked in locker rooms and showers, huddling and hugging one another on the sports field. Secondly, the participants self-reported so the researchers had to take their word for it. How much this reflects the general population of young men is hard to say. But it does suggest that a lot of young men, probably here in North America as well as well as in the British Isles, have occasionally hugged, cuddled, and even slept with another male — even naked.
This suggests that cuddling is not necessarily a gay thing, although gay men undoubtedly engage in it a lot. The emergence of “cuddle clubs” in the last several years that include both heterosexual and homosexual middle age men indicates that men need cuddling, just as women do. But even through male cuddling is a same-sex activity, what difference does it make? Why should gay men have all the benefits of intimate male bonding? Cuddling with a man isn’t going to make you gay if you don’t identify as gay and aren’t exclusively same-sex in your orientation.
But you don’t know if your roommate is as comfortable with cuddling another guy as you seem to be. Many men have a deep-seated homophobia and resist any kind of male intimacy. You will have to approach the subject delicately. You might tell your apartment mate: “I’m feeling a need to hold a real live human body. Have you ever cuddled a guy?” That allows him to share any experiences he might have had. Tell him about your experiences with your fraternity brothers. Discuss whether either of you have had any experience of hugging or cuddling with another boy. Maybe a brother or a best friend. Did you ever sleep with a buddy? Did you sleep with a brother or male friend? Did you sleep in just your underwear or even naked?
Many of us had these kinds of experiences when we were boys. It wasn’t a sexual thing. It was just the human need for touch and bonding. If he hasn’t had any experiences like this, ask him if he would like to experiment. Nothing sexual, just being together bodily for human touch. If he doesn’t think he could do that, you’ll have to let it go. But if he’s willing to try, start small. Sit together on the sofa or lay side by side on the bed. If you both like it, spooning might be the next step. Even being bed partners for the night.
By the way, the researchers in the British study asked the men who slept with another man about waking up with a morning erection. The British lads said they just joked about it. That’s a pretty straight way of handling such a situation. In case it is a concern, just remind your roommate that nocturnal penile tumescence (NPT), as nocturnal erections are called in medical circles, is not a result of sexual arousal or having a dream relating to sex. It’s a natural occurrence as the body renews itself during sleep, including the reproductive system, and there’s no point in hiding it. The morning woodie is simply the last of a whole series of nocturnal erections that occurs as you are waking up. Good luck, best wishes, and may this coronavirus soon abate.
Suffering from a low libido
July 20, 2020
I’m a healthy young man who is spending a lot of time at home because of the coronavirus pandemic. I’ve been married a few years and my wife is still going to her job in a health-related field. She’s careful to wear a mask and maintain social-distancing. Fortunately she doesn’t deal directly with patients. I get out of our apartment to ride my bike or walk or go to a grocery store. Otherwise I spend a lot of time at home looking for things to do. There’s only so much time I can do chores or watch TV or read or be on the computer. You’d think that one of the things we could do is have a lot of sex, but it doesn’t happen. It doesn’t seem that either of us are interested. It does worry me and I’m not sure what to do about it. I came across your blog and Frank Answers Briefly About Male Body Issues. I liked your “frank answers” and thought I’d ask if you have any suggestions about a low sex drive.
Frank answers: I think your situation is not uncommon these days when normal life is at a standstill. In fact, a study in the April 23 issue of Leisure Sciences reports that of 1559 adults asked about their pandemic sex lives, nearly half said that this “once popular form of leisure” had lost its luster for them. The pandemic seems to be diminishing libidos. If this is so, sequestering at home is not likely to produce a baby boom. But your “symptoms” are not only related to the pandemic situation.
First of all, men seem to think that they need to be having sex constantly or they’re not being “manly.” The reality is that our sex drive varies from one man to another and even within our own lives over time. It’s not uncommon to have a lot of sex when you first get married and then experience it tapering off as you settle into your routines of jobs and parental responsibilities.
The technical name for what you’re experiencing is “low libido.” There are many conditions that cause this. You are already describing some. Your wife is being productive out in the world and you’re not (hopefully just temporarily). That also affects your sense of self-worth as a man. Men tend to define themselves by their work. Losing a job or just being temporarily sidelined can produce depression. Depression takes a toll on our sex drive. (I experienced this when I lost a job in my late thirties. Fortunately my sex drive came back after we settled into our new situation.)
By the way, if you have been diagnosed with depression and are taking anti-depressant drugs, that medication can also contribute to the loss of libido. Check with your prescribing doctor. Viagra can help if you have erectile dysfunction in terms of not being able to sustain an erection. But Viagra isn’t always the answer to a low sex-drive because it’s not an aphrodisiac. It can get blood flowing to your penis but it can’t give you passion.
But blood flowing to your lower region is important for sex. How much exercise are you getting during this time of social isolation? Gyms and pools are open. But there are things you can do to get your heart pumping and your blood flowing. Do you run? Jogging is good cardio-vascular exercise. And it gets you outside in the fresh air. You could combine running with high intensity interval training (HIIT). Run as fast as you can for, say, a minute, and then walk for a minute. HIIT is an excellent way to blow off steam because it lowers levels of the stress hormone cortisol in your body. Elevated cortisol has been shown to significantly reduce testosterone, so keeping your stress in check is crucial for a healthy sex drive.
Cortisol is a hormone that functions like the body’s built-in alarm system. It causes the constriction of blood vessels, contributing to erectile dysfunction. If blood can’t flow freely into your penis it will inhibit your ability to maintain an erection to have and enjoy sex, which for a man is also anxiety-producing. We worry about our performance in bed, which just exacerbates the situation by giving us more stress.
We’re all under stress during this pandemic. For example, it seemed important for you to note that your wife wears a mask and maintains safe social distancing and doesn’t interact with patients (some of whom probably have COVID-19). Then she comes home from that environment. The threat of contagion and infection comes into your domestic situation. The constant need to be careful (like washing hands and cleaning surfaces) to avoid being infected by the coronavirus can be stressful.
So we’re back to stress producing cortisol, which can cause a precipitous drop in testosterone. Loss of testosterone leads to hypogonadism and that indeed causes a low libido. Normally hypogonadism is associated with aging. It can also be the result of a chronic illness like cancer. But you say that you are “a healthy young man.” You can find out whether your testosterone level is low with a simple blood test and your doctor can provide topical medication to apply to your skin. (I had this condition after chemotherapy for cancer). Or your doctor can prescribe internal medication, but any medication has side effects.
Another stress-reducing activity is learning to calm your mind through meditation. This isn’t easy to do because it requires a lot of guidance and practice. There are a lot of CDs available that can provide a guided meditation. With practice, sitting in a comfortable position, you can enter into a state of relaxation that quiets the mind. You can learn to notice the jumble of thoughts in your brain, but not just distracted by them. As I said, this takes practice. But it’s really worth learning how to have a productive time of meditation but doing it regularly, beginning with just a few minutes each day.
A calm mind also helps to deal with stress-producing insomnia and other sleep abnormalities, which can increase the feeling of fatigue and leave you less interested in sex. How are you sleeping at night? Are there issues you are worried about that keep you awake? Is concern about your sex life actually one of those worries?
All this suggests that loss of a sex drive is seldom attributable to one cause. It’s usually a combination of factors. At the moment you indicate that neither you nor your wife is interested in sex. She could be suffering from some of the same conditions you are experiencing since being out in the world and on her job during a pandemic must certainly be stressful for her.
In the meantime, the loss of sexual desire is not the same thing as the loss of a desire for intimacy. You need each other for more than sex. Even amid the anxieties of this pandemic, you should make every effort to connect emotionally and physically. Hug and kiss. Talk and touch. By doing these things, you can forge a closer bond and may even end up strengthening your relationship. And who knows what it might lead to in bed some night.
July 1, 2020
I’m curious: Why are men so into “manscaping” right now? I remember going through puberty and getting pubes as a sign I’m becoming a man, and couldn’t wait to show it off at the YMCA like I belonged with the other men there.
Frank answers: I had to look up “manscaping.” Once I did the concept became immediately clear to me. It’s about trimming hair growth on the male body just as landscaping is about cutting grass and trimming bushes.
You ask why are so many men are doing manscaping today, especially in the pubic area? Answers given include: it’s hygienic by preventing bacterial accumulation and yeast infections due to the pubes close proximity to evacuation areas. It gets rid of crotch stink by reducing sweating and body odors. It’s better for oral sex (for your partners, who don’t get a mouth full of pubic hair). It feels more sexy, and a man who feels sexy is a confident man. Young men (and maybe older men too who want to feel young) need some confidence in these insecure times.
As a practical matter, it’s necessary for men to cut hair because they are hairy beasts. Our facial hair in particular would keep on growing and we’d be tripping over our beards. How hair is cut has depended on cultural style. Back in ancient history Greek men, who engaged in philosophizing, allowed their head hair and beards to grow to moderate lengths. It was a sign that a boy was maturing into manhood when he could grow a beard. Roman men, who received military training to run a world empire, kept their hair short and their faces smooth, perhaps to prevent being grabbed by the hair in combat. Roman men invented daily shaving of beards. Did Greek and Roman men shave any other body hair? Figures on Greek urns and Greek and Roman statues portray men with manicured pubic hair and hairless torsos. Undoubtedly wrestlers shaved their bodies when oiling them. Greek athletes, who competed nude, may also have shaved body hair.
In our own modern Western history we see how hair styles have changed by looking at portrait paintings and old photos. Seventeenth century men wore long hair (cavalier style) with well-trimmed goatees and curly mustaches. Eighteenth century men wore wigs and were clean-shaven. Nineteenth century men let their own hair grow longer and had beards (which grew longer as the century progressed). During World War I soldiers’ hair was cut short and beards removed to keep out lice in the barracks and trenches. This remained a military style throughout the twentieth century. When I was a boy in the 1950s we all got crew cuts. By the late 1960s our hair was falling to our shoulders. In the early 1970s the Hippie scruffy style was “in.” In the conservative 1980s our hair was impeccably trimmed and we shaved our beards. In the 1990s beards began to come back. Since the 2000s balding men have shaved their heads but maintained well-trimmed beards.
What about body hair? In the 1980s men began to have body hair removed from their torsos by waxing and trimming their pubic hair. Hairy men like Esau became smooth men like Jacob (Genesis 25:25). This was not just a gay thing. Swimmers began shaving all body hair (arm pits, torsos, legs, even pubic when swimmers in competition began to wear bikinis) after Australian swimmers at the 1956 Summer Olympics competed completely shaven and won gold medals. It turned out that science as well as psychology was on their side. The smoother their bodies, and the less fabric to drag, the better their scores. Even high school boys developed a ritual of shaving all body hair, including their heads, at the start of swimming season. Whether or not they shaved all their pubic hair the older boys certainly shaved any trail on the abdomen leading down to that area.
The manscaping business is growing throughout the world in major metropolitan centers on all continents. You can get a professional shaving or waxing almost anywhere. Or just a trim. Pubic hair styles are available just as head hair styles are available. Many men are happy to have chest hair, belly hair, pit hair, a well-marked trail from the navel down, and pubic hair. But a bit of trimming might be in order once in a while. Combined with a regular workout, you too could have the torso of a Greek or Roman statue. Good luck on that!
Is it morally okay for a single gay Christian to use sex toys?
June 10, 2020
I’ve enjoyed your blog and had a question so I thought, why not? I’ll get right to it:
Question: I am a single gay Christian man, a young adult, and am wondering what you think about using sex toys for masturbation. Part of me feels intrigued and curious about using them but another part of me feels that they are unnatural, hedonistic and indulgent. Will they be addictive and make me incapable of or less desirous of a relationship with another man or are they more harmless than I think? I am unsure how to determine whether their use is something morally/theologically sound and whether my desire for exploration in this area is something good or errs more on the side of sin.
I find it difficult to cultivate a God-honoring relationship with my sexuality when there are many loud and, in my opinion, extreme voices in the secular world and at times in the theological academy on matters of human sexuality. I am suspicious of progressive Christianity’s overly positive view of sex but also reject the Catholic Church’s rigid and harmful teachings on it (e.g. homosexuality, sex only for procreation). My uncertainty on a question like this stems from the above tension.
Thanks for reading.
Frank answers: It would be interesting to have a conversation on your theological location between progressive and traditional Christianity. A a church that welcomes and affirms you as a gay Christian would have to be somewhat progressive, because the majority of church bodies wouldn’t.
First of all, I would say that Christianity generally has a positive view of sex because it is part of God’s creation, which God pronounced very good. But many of our attitudes about sexual practices are socially normed and culturally conditioned, and Christians have bought into these views thinking that they are biblical. Masturbation is one of those issues. The Bible says nothing about it. “Onanism,” as it has been called, is attributed to Onan in the Book of Genesis who spilled his seed instead of impregnating his deceased brother’s wife to produce an heir for his brother according to Levirite law. He was stoned to death for it. But that’s not masturbation, it’s coitus interruptus. Nineteenth century science tried mightily to suppress childhood masturbation and attributed to it such conditions as obsessive-compulsive behavior, nearsightedness, and pimples. So much for science. Now, of course, we’re taught that it’s completely natural and a safe sexual release.
Protestantism has had a more positive view of sex than Catholicism because of its protest against enforced celibacy and emphasis on marriage and family as Christian callings. Did you know that there are Christian sex toy stores owned by evangelical Christians or that evangelical women have Christian sex toy parties? These people are not “progressive Christians,” especially when it comes to abortion or homosexuality. But Evangelicals are into promoting satisfying Christian marriages and they apparently think that sex can be enhanced with the use of sex toys. Women especially are very interested in using dildos, vibrators, rubber penises and other sex enhancement equipment. I know gay men use sex toys too, although I don’t know about straight men. Since the claim is that these devices enhance actual sex, I guess the test is if the sex is better after using them. I suppose the same could be said of masturbating with the aid of a sex toy. Is it a more powerful sensation?
I’ve never used a sex toy and don’t really have a desire to do so. The sex I’ve enjoyed has been with my wife for 40-some years. But I admit that I did my share of masturbating before I got married, and occasionally within marriage. (Married couples might engage in mutual masturbation during pregnancy and the post-partem period).
What I’ve learned about sex is that it is physical, emotional, and spiritual. Our sexual desire is a biological urge (certainly useful for procreation). It is a way of expressing intimacy with someone you love. And in the act of orgasm there is a kind of mystical union in which you lose control of yourself and become one with the other. Can some of these same attributes apply to masturbation? I think they can.
Masturbation is self-pleasuring. So one might think that using a sex toy is just an extension of that. But I wouldn’t use a device while making love with someone else. So why would I use one when making love to myself? I wouldn’t put using a device in the category of a sin. But I would say that it can’t compare with the real experience.
Using a device could be like using porn. You are focusing on the toy or the image on the screen and therefore diverting attention from your body. How much better it is to build up to orgasm by focusing exclusively on your body, touching and rubbing it all over, pleasuring yourself the way you might want someone else to pleasure you. The body has plenty of erogenous zones, not only in the genitals. Become intimate with yourself. Love your body, You might even want to anoint your body with oil, including your genitals. Rub it in. As you rub your hands all over your body, twist and turn and arch your back as you do so. Build up to ejaculation slowly so that when it comes you feel it all over your body and lose yourself in the sensations that take over your body. Then just lay there allowing your body to absorb the powerful experience you have had—and give thanks to the Lord who created you with your marvelous gift of sexuality.
Erection on Massage Table
May 31, 2020
As a young gay guy I really enjoy your blog and appreciate your openness on many issues about the body and sexuality. When I read your blog post about massage I thought I’d like to get one when that’s possible (not during this coronavirus pandemic). But I have a question. What happens if you get an erection during the massage? Is that normal? Sometimes I can’t control myself, and I worry I may enjoy it too much, if you know what I mean…
Frank answers: You should get a massage when that becomes possible again. It’s good therapy for your body if you’ve been tense. This pandemic has created anxieties we may not be consciously aware of but are held in the body. Erections are known to happen because the massage is helping your blood circulation (which also flows to your penis) and when you’re lying face down your penis rubs against the massage table.
Quite frankly, massage is sensuous. You have a lot of erogenous zones throughout your body from head to foot, not just your penis, and the massage therapist is likely to press on several of them (they can be different in different bodies). If you get an erection, don’t worry about it. Professional massage therapists have probably seen them before and are used to dealing with them (mostly by ignoring them).
Anyway, why should a guy be worried about getting an erection. It’s a sign that things are healthy down there. You’re in the privacy of the massage studio, not out in public, and there is therapist-patient confidentiality. There are a lot of men with erectile dysfunction who have difficulty getting an erection. You should be grateful that erections come easily to you. If by “enjoying it too much” you mean having a spontaneous ejaculation, your massage therapist might have seen that before too and if it happens it will add to the release of all the tension in your body. On the other hand, if none of this happens (which is likely), you can still enjoy the massage.
Speaking man to man, as one who has had a lot of experience with massage — experiencing different modalities in different countries — , you should find a male massage therapist, even a gay massage therapist. Gay men know and love the male body. They know what they like and will give it to their clients. Male massage therapists have added strength. You don’t want just a rub down for relaxation. You want someone who does deep tissue and trigger point release to really relax those tense muscles and expel the toxins. I say go for it.
P. S. St. Augustine’s Erection
I can’t resist adding this story from The Confessions of Saint Augustine. This North African who later became the bishop of Hippo and one of the greatest theologians in the history of the Church, went to the public baths with his father when he was sixteen. These facilities, built throughout the vast Roman Empire, combined a gymnasium for exercise, pools of various temperature for bathing, and massage with perfumed oil, and the day was spent being nude. You removed your clothes when you arrived and put on clean clothes when you departed. Augustine wrote in this autobiographical work (actually addressed to God):
“The brambles of lust grew high above my head and there was no one to root them out, certainly not my father. One day at the public baths he saw the signs of active virility coming to life in me and this was enough to make him relish the thought of having grandchildren. He was happy to tell my mother about it…” (Book II, 3).
Young Augustine admits that his hormones were raging (“the brambles of lust grew high above my head’) and that his father associated what Augustine called “signs of active virility coming to life in me” with procreation. Young Augustine was clearly having an erection in the public baths. His father saw it and happily reported it to his mother. And the future saint wrote about it to tell God and everyone who has read his book over the last 1600 years. Having an erection in front of your massage therapist in private is nothing to be ashamed of.
Young Man Desires Older Men
May 25, 2020
Question: When I was a boy I had a fascination with older men’s bodies, such as my Dad’s, my soccer coach’s, and even my priest’s. Is it weird that I used to get hard thinking about my priest? I used to get hard even when sitting with him at church events or when he put his hand on my head in blessing. For some reason, even though I’ve had sexual relations with girls, I still have an interest in older men, but not in men my own age. I fantasized about a man at my gym who is probably about sixty the last time I jerked off. What do you think about this?
Frank answers: I don’t think it’s weird or unnatural for boys and youth to be fascinated by the bodies of older men. As boys go through puberty and adolescence their body is changing rapidly. They want to want to get a sense of what the end result will be like. Boys (and girls) compare their bodies with their peers’ bodies too. While they may think a peer’s body is more attractive than their own, the peer’s body hasn’t reached full development either.
It’s interesting whose bodies were of interest to you. They were all trustworthy men who had more to offer you than their physical body. They offered protection (your dad), skills (your soccer coach), and wisdom (your priest). These are qualities you would like to develop as you matured.
In many societies elders who would mentor young men included hunters, warriors, philosophers, and shamans, passing on the skills and wisdom young men needed to play a mature role in their society. Male mentoring processes included sexual initiation and social education. In ancient Greece and in the Celtic culture, among others, mentors provided youth with sexual experiences as well as with hunting, warrior, political, social, and religious skills. It was expected in these societies that the young men would marry a girl once they had established their place in society, produce and raise children, and mentor a young man in turn. Sometimes a homosexual relationship with their former mentor continued even when both were married.
You state that you continue to have an interest in older men, but not younger men, in spite of having had sexual relations with girls. But apparently you have not had sexual relations with older men, or any men. I suspect you have an interest in exploring these unrequited desires.
You should know that age differences between both homosexual and heterosexual couples is not unusual. Some women as well as some gay men prefer older men (and some younger men prefer older women). Some older men prefer younger men or younger women. So the age thing works in several directions. It is not fair to disparage these relationships. Older men have something to offer younger men, including emotional and financial stability and the wisdom that comes from added years of life experiences. And young men have their vitality to offer older men.
Of course, as Western society became more Christian pederastic and same-sex relationships became taboo. But some of this “mentoring” may have continued in monasteries in clandestine ways. Since you’re still fantasizing about a mature man’s body you may feel that something was omitted from the mentoring you received from these men in your youth. You had erections thinking about your priest (and maybe your soccer coach?), but you received no actual sexual initiation from them. That part of the mentoring was left unfulfilled.
What you may have desired was illegal under the age of consent (state laws of the age consent differ), socially disapproved of, and institutionally sanctioned even over the age of consent because of imbalance of power. Your priest and soccer coach would not want to be charged with sexual abuse of minors or ethical misconduct. Yet how pervasive this kind of mentoring was in ancient societies is thoroughly documented in the book by John Neill, The Origins and Role of Same-Sex Relations in Human Societies (Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2009). It is a practice not available to us in our society and culture.
Do you wonder whether you’re gay because you’re attracted to men, even though older men? Your masturbation fantasy wasn’t a woman you previously had sex with but a mature male you met at your gym. Are your sexual attractions and fantasies exclusively same-sex with older men? What do you feel toward the women you dated and had sex with?
You’ll have to discern in yourself where your attractions and desires lie. Putting people into sexual boxes is a result of modern clinical sexology. But as the Kinsey Institute reports indicate, most people are much more sexually fluid than that. It’s not unheard of for gay and straight men to date and develop a relationship simply because they are attracted to each other, and maybe for more than the sex. Right now your sexuality seems confused. It will take having more life experiences to sort it out.
May 22, 2020
Question: You mention in your article on nakedness and modesty your boyhood experience of sleeping naked and that you’ve continued to do it. I’ve read that there are health benefits to sleeping naked and would like to try it. Suppose your spouse doesn’t prefer to sleep naked but you do?
Answer: Yes, when I was a boy my country friend Buster introduced me to sleeping naked. I continued to do so during my teen years and from time to time throughout my life, although not consistently. Some factors discourage it, like having children who are likely to come into your bed during the night, visiting in someone’s home, or a really cold winter’s night. I note this just so you know I’m not a fanatic about it.
You should also know that it’s not uncommon. Polls vary, but one reported about 17% of American men and up to 30% of UK men sleeping naked. Pajamas are a 20th century invention. In earlier times night shirts and under garments served as sleep wear. A lot of men sleep just in boxers, briefs, or pj bottoms. So they’re at least partially naked.
There are definitely some health benefits to sleeping all naked. We sleep better when we’re not hot and sweaty, and sleeping naked will keep your body cooler. A study conducted by the U.S. National Institutes of Health found that keeping yourself cool while you sleep speeds the body’s metabolism by producing brown fat that burns calories. You can actually lose a bit of weight by sleeping naked.
The body’s self-repair mechanism during sleep works more effectively in a cooler environment. If you’re getting too cold during the night, just add a blanket rather than putting on pajamas. And don’t sleep in your briefs. Your penis and scrotum get no airing out that way. Tighty whities and Calvin Kleins constrict circulation and your balls can get twisted up in loose boxers. The skin breathes better and cardiovascular circulation is increased without the constrictions of bed clothing or underwear.
You may notice more erections during the night or in the morning when you’re waking up because without the constriction of pjs or underwear your penis has more space in which to expand. We usually have several erections during the night. The “morning woodie” is just the last of them before you wake up. Erections are a sign that the nerves and blood supply to the penis are healthy. The body is renewing the reproductive organs.
I take it that you’ve been married for a while and haven’t slept nude before. Changing routines can spice up a marriage. Just tell your spouse or partner that you’ve read about the health benefits of sleeping naked and that you’d like to try. Invite her or him to try it with you. If your spouse doesn’t feel comfortable doing that, it should be okay with you. You sleep naked and let your partner wear pajamas or a nightie. If the two of you are moved to have sex in bed during the night, removing your partner’s pjs can add to the eroticism of the moment. You might both fall asleep after sex and then both of you are cuddling naked.
In any event, spouses should share their bodies with each other. So spending time being naked for each other or with each other is a good thing. Sleeping naked together is one possibility. Go for it!
Sex With Family Nearby
May 21, 2020
Question: Is it shameful to have sex near family members?
Frank answers: You didn’t say what the family situation is so I can only answer with several scenarios. There are many situations in which couples want to enjoy sex when they are near other family members. The biggest one is always parents who want a moment for sex when their children are nearby, supposedly sleeping. Probably most parents have had the experience of beginning a romantic session when suddenly the bedroom door opens and a little person is standing there with some complaint or request. The more difficult situation is when an older child, like a teen, bursts in, sees what’s going on, and is totally embarrassed by it. This may require some conversation with the teen at a later time.
Then there are couples who may be visiting their parents or their parents may be visiting them. Having sex with your parents nearby always raises the adrenaline, and maybe for that reason heightens the passion. It might call for quiet sex using a different position. For example, if the bed is squeaky, try having sex on the floor using some well placed pillows.
There’s nothing inherently shameful about couples having sex with other family members nearby. However, there are situations where young couples having sex in a parents’ home is more ambiguous. Since the questioner uses the word “shameful,” maybe he or she grew up in a family where attitudes of shame were communicated about sex. Even though the children may now be married and sex is expected of married couples, they are not able to overcome the mentality that associates sex with shame—not with the teachers of that mentality sleeping in the next room. This is an issue the couple will have to come to terms with, maybe with the realization that they wouldn’t be in bed wondering about having sex with their parents nearby if their parents had not done the same thing to bring them into the world.
Could an unmarried couple bring a partner home for a visit and engage in sex in the parents’ home? There’s nothing shameful about this either, but you’d like to have a sense of your parents’ attitude about it to avoid a tense confrontation. This would also apply to unmarried young adults who are living at home while working and would like to bring in a boyfriend or girlfriend for an overnight visit. Are you’re parents okay with this? What about a gay son bringing his partner home for a visit? Frank family discussions about these situations are recommended but may be hard to pull off. In my view even parents with traditional attitudes about sex before marriage need to give adult children some leeway on this.
Do I have to tell my parents I’m Gay?
May 18, 2010
I read your Frank Answer About Gay Integrity with great interest. I’m gay. I knew it already in my teen age years but it became a certainly once I went away to the university. I’m living in an off-campus apartment with a gay roommate whom I met on campus last year. We’re both third year students, although the academic year is over early during to the pandemic shut down. We’re finishing our course work online and will probably return to our parents’ homes at the end of our lease and maybe find some summer work. I hope we’ll be able to connect with each other over the summer and look ahead to living together again next year. But here’s the thing. Your article strongly endorsed gay integrity as “coming out,” and you invited readers to post coming out stories in the comments. I’ve come out to friends on campus, but not to my parents. They’re conservative Christians and I don’t know how they would react. So my question is: do I really have to tell my parents? Maybe some day it will be necessary, but I’m just not ready to deal with that right now.
Frank answers No. You don’t have to tell your parents that you’re gay or that you’re living with another gay guy. Since you’re at the end of your junior year at the university, I assume you’re probably about 21 years old. So you’re not a minor. You’re an adult responsible for your own life. Your parents don’t need to know about your sex life either — even if they know your sexual self-identity. I’m sure with the novel coronavirus pandemic and the uncertainty about life in general, and your academic work in particular, you don’t need another tension right now.
But I wonder if your parents have any hunches about your sexuality. When our sons came out to us, it wasn’t a surprise as much as an “aha!” moment. Now some things about each of our boys made sense to us. I also wonder what your relationship to your parents has been like over the years. Have they been loving and supportive parents? That’s something you’ll have to assess. The chances are that if they have been loving and supportive to you, their son, they will probably also be loving and supportive to their gay son. The parent-child relationship is pretty strong throughout our human lives.
You will have to weigh that over against their conservative Christian faith, since that seems to be an issue that holds you back from coming out to them. What have they been taught in their church? What have you heard them say about homosexuality or gay people in ordinary conversation? Do they know any gay people? What do they think about those people?
You said that someday it might be necessary to tell your parents that you identify as gay. How far off is that “someday?” You say you and your roommate will probably split over the summer but find ways to reconnect. Yes, you will want to maintain your relationship in the flesh and not just virtually. That might mean visiting each other in the other’s home. I assume it won’t seem strange to each set of parents to have the young man their son has been living with come for a visit and perhaps discuss fall plans for living together again if and when your university reopens for in-person classes. Has your roommate come out to his parents? If he has, what was his experience like? If your relationship has had some intimate aspects, how will you express those when you are visiting in each other’s parents’ home? (That would be an issue even with a boyfriend/girlfriend relationship. I’ll tell you that it’s something my wife and I had to ponder when our sons and our daughter had boyfriends over to our house during their high school years and were hanging out in our basement family room.)
Let me say that any conversation between you and your parents should be just within the family, not including your boyfriend in the discussion. Hopefully, when the time comes the discussion will be at your initiative, not because your parents ask about your relationship with your boyfriend. It should also be at a time and place when you can give the topic your undivided attention. Not, for example, at some other social event when your bombshell announcement will derail the other event.
As I said in my blog article, I can’t imagine the difficulty of coming out to your parents, even if they are loving and supportive. And you need to realize that if it will be difficult for you to break the news to them, the news will be equally difficult for them to hear and digest. You say you knew you were gay already in high school, yet look how long it will have taken you to discuss it with your parents? You can’t expect them to adjust to the news that their son is gay the moment you tell them. They may actually react better than you think. After all, we live in a society that has become more accepting of homosexuals. But it will still take time for them to adjust to the idea. They will probably pepper you with questions. Your best approach will be honesty about yourself and your feelings. And express your love to them. If and when such a conversation occurs, I hope it will end with a hug.
May 15, 2020
Question: I see your articles as preaching embodiment. I see Jesus’ teachings as claiming our vitality vs. much of the Church’s teachings (vis-a-vis the zealot Paul) of the body as the thorn in the flesh. Evangelical shame and disembodiment of my youth led to numbness and PTSD. How do you suggest I heal and reclaim embodied living now in my middle-aged years?
Frank answers: As a middle age man raised in an evangelical church you may have grown up in the 1990s when Promise Keepers was going strong in evangelicalism with its promotion of “manly men” who showed no weakness, demonstrated an emotional stoicism, always held their feelings to themselves, and sucked up whatever wild pitches life threw at them. Evangelicals with a “focus on the family” stressed that men were the heads of their families. Gay liberation was seen as a threat to the family. This ran the danger of promoting a toxic masculinity in relations with women and avoided male intimacy with other men out of fear of being perceived as gay. “Iron John” was actually homophobic — afraid of men. Young men and boys were under pressure to meet the standards of being a “manly man.” You may have been a casualty of this promotion of “Christian masculinity.” (The 1990s movement was a replay of the “Muscular Christianity” of the late 19th/early 20th centuries, although without its more progressive social agenda. )
By way of addressing your issue, let me sort out a couple of issues, make some referrals, and offer some suggestions.
First, “embodiment” has become a concept with various meanings. I take it to mean experiencing something in the body. For example, I wrote I book on Embodied Liturgy. By that I meant experiencing public worship in the body and engaging in it bodily. Embodiment has to do with taking into your body the experiences of life, social norms, cultural practices, etc. These can be positive or negative. They can shape your behavior. For example, do you always have to be “proving” your masculinity in the light of what a “manly man” should be like?
Second, I will not quibble over how you see Jesus and St. Paul. I will note that Jesus called all people into abundant life under the reign of God and Paul extended this call of the crucified and risen Lord Jesus, the Christ (Messiah) of Israel, to the Gentiles. Paul’s worldview is a tough nut to crack since he was simultaneously a Pharisaic Jew, a Roman citizen, and an inhabitant of the Hellenistic cultural world who wrote in common (koine) Greek. He had a new reality to proclaim within and over against all these cultures. His emphasis was not on what Jesus taught but what Jesus did in his body (cross and resurrection) for the salvation of the world. He did not have a negative view of the body (soma) but of what desires of the flesh (sarx) do to make our body “a body of death” (Romans 7:25). Our body of death needs deliverance in the resurrection of the body. The extent to which Paul was influenced by the stoics, with their dim views of the passions of the flesh, has been discussed by many scholars. But hope in the resurrection of the body comes right out of Paul’s experience of the risen Christ. Paul was all about the body — the weak body and the strong body, the afflicted body and the triumphant body, the suffering body and the glorious body, the sacramental body and the communal body. In all these manifestations of body we participate in the body of Christ.
Third, in my Frank Answer About Nakedness and Modesty I recommended the book by Aaron Frost, Christian Body: Modesty and the Bible (self-published, but available on Amazon.com). Aaron comes out of an Evangelical background (Baptist) and understands that mindset about nudity and modesty. He argues that Evangelical views on these issues owe more to Victorian prudery than to the Bible. For a discussion of Victorian prudery see Michel Foucault, The History of Sexuality, Volume 1: An Introduction (New York: Vintage Books, 1990). It shows how profoundly society’s definitions and norms influence our understanding of our bodies. For a study on ancient Christian attitudes toward sex see Peter Brown, The Body and Society: Men, Women, and Sexual Renunciation in Early Christianity (New York: Columbia University Press, 1988; revised with a New Introduction 2008). It documents how deeply Greek Neo-Platonism affected ancient Christian negative views of the body and sexuality from St. Paul to St. Augustine of Hippo and into the Middle Ages.
With regard to your personal issues, numbness and PTSD (if this is a professional diagnosis) suggests that you experienced some trauma that resides in your body. Such traumas include but are not limited to accidents, diseases, physical, mental, or sexual abuse. This could be compounded by negative teachings about the body and sexuality in your church. Many men who “come out” as gay are ill treated by their church and even alienated from their families. Realizing this possibility, others suppress their sexuality. But suppression of that sexual desire eats away at them and lingers in the body and can cause toxic behavior.
It is possible that you suppressed your bodily self and your sexuality in reaction to images of masculinity you did not model. I would suggest that you practice a positive embodiment by engaging in activities that keep you present to your body. These might be physical activities such as workouts, running, swimming, yoga, etc. Just walking shirtless in a natural area on a nice day and feeling a connection with nature can be very therapeutic. Identifying with the natural world reinforces your belief that your body is not something to be ashamed of. It’s part of the natural world that God created. Accept it as it is and work on keeping it healthy by exercise and diet. Through these practices show some love toward your body and learn to love it.
I recommend reading the work of Dutch psychiatrist Bessel van der Kolk, The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma (New York: Viking, 2014). Van der Kolk has contributed to the recently-developed practice of somatic psychotherapy which is a holistic treatment of trauma that looks for the impact of trauma on the body and the need to discern what the body has to say about current mental disabilities. Most of the therapists are licensed clinical social workers with additional certification in somatic psychotherapy. If the traumas your body harbors impact negatively on your life and mentality, you might want to seek out such a clinical practitioner who can help you become more attuned to what you have embodied from your life experiences and work with you on overcoming the negative experiences.
Finally, it may be important for you to love your bodily self to the extent that you don’t mind sharing your bodily experiences and attitudes with others, for example, in a group that focuses on issues of body and sexuality. Many of the men who participate in such workshops or retreats are in the middle age bracket. Yoga retreats and workshops may offer such gatherings. If you find something by looking online, you can always call the organization and press for more information about what their retreats or workshops will be like. Maybe on “Meet Up” you might find a men’s discussion group that meets regularly. I wish you the best as you seek and experience healing.