When It Comes to Sex, Gay Pride is One Thing– Gay Self-Esteem is Another
June, in addition to being a month where you suddenly discover that you actually have friends who wear jorts, is also Pride month. As a community, we’ve got a lot to be proud of– marriage equality, increased visibility, new protection laws. All of this is well and good and worth wearing rainbow booty shorts (or jorts as the case may be) for.
But as a gay man, the road to being proud of myself, accepting myself and loving myself, hasn’t been an easy one. Especially when it comes to sex.
The myth out there in the world is that gay men are all like Samantha Jones, Kim Cattrall’s character from Sex and the City. After all, she was written mostly by gay men and possess this freedom and open sexuality that we as a culture largely associate with gay men. Gay men in their shirtless, house music dancing glory look like a group who have sex when and wherever they want and it isn’t a big deal. Sometimes idolized by straight men and women alike, gay men can get away with a sexually open outlook that their hetero counterparts can’t. But the reality is much trickier and in my case more problematic.
Highs Not so High:
As a former addict and alcoholic, my relationship with sex has often mirrored the ways I used chemicals. Like cocaine or booze, sex was something I used to escape life, to fill emotional voids and generally get attention that I was sure would make me all better. Yet just like substances, the high from sex only lasted a few moments and I was left looking and dealing with myself. The “chasing down and looking for sex” becomes all encompassing. The highs are fewer and less reliable. On top of all this, I still carry with me old childhood Catholic baggage around sex and being gay. I’ve had to hit rock bottom around my sexual behaviors a few times. While not as physically awful as coming off drugs and alcohol, it’s uncomfortable and really difficult. The moral of the story with my sex addiction is the same as my other addictions: I can’t escape myself.
Trust me, I’ve tried. But since drugs, alcohol, chocolate, Netflix, shopping and sex don’t work, the only other option is to learn to deal with myself. More than that, I had to learn to love myself and figure out this magical unicorn called “self-esteem.” Attitude? Sure. Moxie? You bet. Sassiness? In spades! But real, honest to goodness self-esteem? Not so much. When I got sober from drugs and alcohol in 2009, I had to look at all of myself- the good and the bad. Countless meetings, inventories and hours crying were how I spent the better part of a year. This painful process, which for an addict like myself took entirely too long had an amazing silver lining. I wound up really liking myself. I took myself to the movies and dinner and generally liked being around Sean.
Baby, I’m Coming Up:
My first sober forays into sex were, as expected, clunky and mildly disastrous. Sex with stupid guys, time invested on dead-end weirdos and crack addict-like behavior on gay dating apps pushed me away from dating at a year and a half sober. I decided I should continue to date Sean. I threw myself into writing, meditation and hanging out with other sober people. Then one day out of nowhere and after a shower, I got this idea that maybe I was truly ready to start dating again. In a twist out of a bad Sandra Bullock movie, I literally met my future husband a few days after this post-shower thought. Crazy but true.
A Whole New Sexy World:
As a new couple our sex life was off the charts and amazing. But it was also something I had never experienced. It was sex that was sober and sex that was totally on my terms. It felt weird and alien but incredible. Sex with someone I loved versus sex to fix my broken self was a whole new world. I was having sex with a partner how cared about me and who wanted to be with me just as I was. We had sex like any new couple which is to say all of the time. It felt good and like a reward for fixing the broken little addict I’d been my whole life. Seven years into our relationship and like normal non-bunny human beings, our sex lives slowed down. We are still gay men with perhaps a higher appetite than our straight counterparts but we’re in this for the long haul. Daily hand holding, cuddling and hugs mean more than hot hookups ever did, as corny as that might sound. Our relationship is the most honest one I’ve ever had and one where I routinely admit I’ve screwed up.
Filled With Pride:
The point is a healthy outlook on sex and a happy marriage wouldn’t be possible for me had I not worked on myself. In sobriety, I have met dozens of other gay men who share my experiences, who battle self-esteem in a society that doesn’t always validate their existence and who manage to get better despite the odds. This isn’t to say every gay man is an addict or damaged goods or has trouble with self-esteem. But for me this was all certainly true. Today, however, I accept and love all parts of myself and my past. On day at a time, I have over 8 years sober, 5 years married and countless improvements in my day to day life. When Pride rolls around these days, I can honestly say I’m proud of myself, my relationship and my sex life. Maybe not rainbow jorts proud, but proud nonetheless.
Sean Paul Mahoney is a freelance writer, humorist and blogger who lives in Portland, Oregon with his husband and two cats. New work can be found weekly on seanologues.com