Models of affectivity and sexuality
It often happens that people totally alien to gay reality talk about gay marriage or gay couples, simply extrapolating to the gay field models of affection and sexuality typical of the hetero world. It also happens that even gays themselves are often led to more or less consciously conform their behavior to heterosexual behaviors in situations more or less similar. In reality the models of hetero-affectivity and hetero-sexuality are not easily exportable to the gay world because while in the hetero reality dominate categories such as sexual complementarity, procreative purpose of sexuality in itself, and social dimension of the couple relationship, in the gay reality dominate categories such as sexual equality, non-procreative orientation of sexuality and in most cases privacy.
This chapter aims to point out the originality of models of gay affection and gay sexuality compared to hetero models.
Sexcentric models and models with widespread sexuality
The different conceptions of the emotional life can be classified according to the role that sexuality assumes in them. There are models in which reproductive sexuality dominates to such a point that the choice of the partner becomes secondary, in other cases sexuality, considered fundamental, even beyond the reproductive purpose, remains at the center of affective life, which means that an interpersonal relationship acquires an important meaning only when it results in sexual intercourse, that fidelity is identified exclusively with sexual fidelity and that the relationship goes into crisis when sexual intercourse is no longer gratifying.
Some statements typical of certain models of hetero sexuality such as: “the essential purpose of sexuality is the birth of children”, “masturbation is inadmissible because it means wasting the semen”, “the relationship between two people of the same sex cannot be a true relationship of love because it cannot transmit life”, “virginity is a very important virtue” and similar, are indices of sexcentric models.
Similarly, a sexcentric view of affectivity leads to believe that a heterosexual sexual contact cannot be truly gratifying when penetration is lacking, and also to consider all that precedes penetration, and more generally any other sexual practice, only as a preliminary.
The underlining of masculinity and femininity as well-defined roles at a social level springs also from a sexcentric dimension. The sexcentric dimension of affective life can lead to use a particular emphasis about sexual intercourse and, precisely for this reason, it can induce performance anxiety.
In spreading sexcentric models, a particular role is played by pornography that identifies sexuality with sexual intercourse and spreads, by imitation, non-spontaneous behavior patterns that can be profoundly conditioning. I often talk with guys, who are no longer very young, grown up with an sexual education or better with a sexual miseducation entrusted exclusively to pornography, the real damage caused to these guys by pornography is to prevent or delay the development of true affective sexuality. Many characteristics of hetero sexcentric models are uncritically assimilated even by gays who only transcribe those models in a gay key.
A powerful antidote against the damage of pornography is represented by “non-sexcentric” affective models derived from examples of family life. Gay guys who grew up in families where models of widespread sexuality are dominant between their parents (pampering, affectionate cuddling and so on) are, in a sense, vaccinated against the sexcentric visions of pornography.
The mechanical transcription in a gay key of hetero sexcentric models induces gay guys not to pay too much attention to their feelings but to consider only strictly sexual reactions as fundamental. I often talk with young people who attribute fundamental importance to technical sexuality as a center of affective life, typical in this sense are the situations of guys who focus totally on their sexual response, in these cases the hyper-valuation of technical sexuality leads sometimes to neurotic reactions such as sexual testing (sexual experiments), which can also occur in a repetitive and disturbing manner at the limit of the obsessive content.
In these situations it would be necessary a real emotional re-education or better a re-education to affective sexuality, which anyway is only possible with a partner who doesn’t have a sexcentric view of affectivity. However, affectivity can also be widespread, with characteristics that are not sexcentric at all. This doesn’t mean that in this case there is no sexuality in the strict sense of the term but only that this sexuality is a component of the emotional relationship but it is not its essence.
The substantial difference between sexcentric affectivity and widespread sexuality consists in the fact that a widespread sexuality permeates all the emotional behavior of a person and is not limited to technically sexual moments.
Obviously the widespread sexuality is not, in itself, neither heterosexual nor gay but it is a way of conceiving sexuality. It remains anyway that, from what I see, for a gay couple made up of guys who have lived a peaceful adolescence in a family climate authentically affective, widespread sexuality, in the absence of the conditionings of pornography, is a spontaneous dimension, not induced from the outside by imitation of pornography, but learned within the family, from real life.
The deeply affective and fulfilling meaning that a hug can have for a gay guy is not linked to the fact that the hug can be a prelude to a sexual intercourse but derives from the dimension of warmth and intimacy that the hug assumes in a dimension of widespread sexuality .
A significant consequence of widespread gay sexuality is found in a more labile border between friendship and love. This is a very important fact both because it stabilizes the gay couple when the mutual sexual interest tends to fade, and because it leads to a vision of betrayal that is much more elastic than the typically rigid vision of sexcentric conceptions.
For a gay, thinking of a possible sexualized dimension of friendship, outside the couple, is not necessarily equivalent to putting the couple relationship in crisis, precisely because sexuality is often not seen as the essence of the couple relationship, in this sense episodic infidelity becomes tolerable because it is understood as a sexualized way of showing one’s affection to a friend rather than as an attempt to build an alternative couple.
The possible gay couple
I would like to stop now on the concept of possible gay couple. Using this expression I mean to point out that for a gay the possibility of achieving 100% of his desires in terms of married life represents an event that is anything but common. A hetero has much more choice and a lot more freedom of action, for a gay the realization of a couple’s life is linked to the a priori unlikely eventuality that the guy he falls in love with is gay.
When a gay guy falls in love with a straight guy, that is he is strongly attracted to him at a global level, both emotional and sexual, sooner or later he must acknowledge that his wishes will not come true, the same gay guy can then find also concrete opportunities to get to know other gay guys and to be able to create a really possible couple relationship with them, this dimension of couple is often apparently weakened by the fact that there are other guys, also hetero, and, I would say, often hetero, towards whom the gay guy is decidedly more sexually attracted than he is towards his possible gay partner. On this basis one could automatically think of a fragility of relationship. In reality it is not so, if the possible couple doesn’t fully satisfy one of the two partners in terms of sexual desire, which can remain concentrated also on other guys (desired but impossible partners), it remains however that it is a “possible relationship”, in front of desires that are unattainable. The couple relationship in these terms cannot be sexcentric and changes, while maintaining a sexual dimension, placing at the center a diffused affectivity-sexuality.
It is the classic case of loving one’s own boyfriend in a profound way, considering him as a life partner in the most serious sense of the word, even without experiencing a strong sexual attraction towards him. In these situations sexuality is lived as a completion of the emotional relationship and not as a value in itself decisive, one lives an “affective” couple sexuality and at the same time a masturbation not dedicated to the partner but to an impossible guy towards whom one feels sexually attracted in a strong way. The mechanism that I have described is much more common than is believed and has an enormous value in the process of growth of the person because it takes guys away from very schematic vistas of the sexuality.
I must underline that these couple relationships are not of lesser value with respect to relationships in which sexual desire and affection are perfectly in agreement, but are with those in the same relation in which possible reality is with theoretical hypotheses.
The biggest fear for a gay guy is certainly not lacking of a partner with whom to have sex but not to be loved and the “possible couple” responds to this emotional need in a serious way and that is precisely why guys who live a relationship of “possible couple” are usually not frustrated, as one might think from the outside. It is evident that the sexcentric view of affectivity is incompatible with these situations.
Let us stop now to examine the role that sexuality plays in conditioning the relationships between gay guys in two different situations:
1) An attempt to put into practice an abstract model of a gay couple
2) A search for a balance without assuming prejudicially couple models of any kind
An attempt to put in practice an abstract model of a gay couple
According to the common way of seeing, a gay guy can best realize his sexuality in a couple relationship when that relationship starts from a mutual and strong sexual attraction. On this basis it is assumed that it is easier to build even a stable emotional relationship, in a sense the emotional needs appear here subordinated to sexual needs. To enter the specific through more immediate speeches, here is a passage from a mail of a 26 year old guy, that I will call Andew.
“I think that if one becomes conditioned in life, in the end it does not accomplish anything and that never deciding is worse than decide wrong things and I, on the other hand, didn’t want to watch the passing train. Project, if one doesn’t endeavor and doesn’t commit himself, afterwards can’t complain. I was tired of the half things that were mired in a go and come without end, If you want to stay with me ok, otherwise each one must go on along his own way.
So I see him the first time, I’m almost stunned, so sexy that I had never seen one like that. Guys, I’m really dazed. We met absolutely by chance, I had attended chats and even clubs, but I met him by chance at a business dinner of the company where I work. He was with a girl but he wasn’t absolutely interested in her, so I decided to play my cards and told him: “You’re beautiful!” He smiled at me and said: “You too!” Oh, I’m not ugly, before I had always around a lot of girls interested in me, but I wasn’t absolutely interested in them (I always kept them at a distance!), but now that someone knows about me I also find some guys who are interested in me, but some, poor guys, not to brag, but I would never fall in love with them.
In short, he smiles at me. We part from people a bit, you know how these things go, you see that he is there and you feel encouraged, we touched a bit (in the intimate sense) and he agreed. I really exploded. I was single and I had never been with a guy, he had made his experiences, but in the end I didn’t care. In short, the fact is that I went to him the same evening and everything happened that could happen, I was so much upset so that I had not even thought about condoms but he had them. It made me think that he was not one who puts himself at risk easily. In short, after 15 days I went to live at his house. In practice it was a dream, a guy, “that guy” all for me. I had a terrible fear that he could betray me, that he could get tired of me but it did not seem so.
He was a little older than me (31) and already had an enviable position in the company, he could have everything he wanted but he wanted to stay with me. In short, everything is fine for a couple of months, then I begin to understand that something is wrong. He doesn’t want to have sex with me anymore. I feel desperate, I beg him but he doesn’t want to hear me, he tells me he has met a girl but he doesn’t want to talk about her. He with a girl? It seems to me absurd. One afternoon he tells me that he has to go to the company and he goes out but he doesn’t go to the company. Where he went I didn’t know and I don’t even know it now but he started telling me lies and keeping me out of his life.
We had sex every night, at least at the beginning, because I didn’t know anything at first, then I asked him how things were and he got very angry, he told me that it was not anyone’s servant, and that if I was tired of him, I had to go. I didn’t want to leave, it seemed to me that my dream had fallen apart and I didn’t even understand why. I stayed at his house almost as a challenge. He did not get the courage to let me out but he started behaving just like I was not there.
He started to came home with his friends who stayed until late at night and such things were unbearable for me then I reached the point of no return and solemnly sent him to hell and left his home. After three weeks I ended up in hospital for a bad accident and he didn’t even bother to visit me. Anything! And he was very well aware that I was at the hospital. Here this is a sort of summary of the story. It is definitely better to be alone than with one like that! But I only understood it at the end.”
A search for a balance without models of couple life
Too often as a model of a relationship between gay guys is adopted a model in which sexuality represents the maximum, as well as the remote cause of the relationship on both sides, i.e. it is assumed that two gay guys are brought together to satisfy a primary emotional-sexual need, and that once the affective conditions that guarantee the seriousness are realized, couple’s desire of the guys is perfectly fulfilled.
This model, even if attractive, in many cases is not really applicable because the motivations that push two guys to be together can also be significantly different from a mutual sexual interest, that is, they can appear under the appearance of a sexual drive and be in substance general affective needs.
The affective-sexual education of gay guys pushes them to emphasize the strictly sexual dimension as a fundamental if not exclusive cause of their relationship, in other words, the emphasis is essentially on the sexual dimension and not on the emotional one. The consequence of all this is a progressive sexualization of affectivity. Below is a passage from a mail of a 23-year-old guy (I’ll later call him Laurence) that clarifies the concept:
“I loved him, that is, I was fine with him, I was happy when he was there, when he was not there I felt strongly his absence, I waited for his cell phone calls or msn, I liked him so much when he came to me and we talked a lot, and he took off her shoes and stretched out on my bed, he felt free and I with him, I know that if I needed him he would do anything for me, he’s a nice guy but he’s not my type, some sexual thoughts about him I did too, after all why not, but not only he has never been a fixation for me but let’s say that on him I had few fantasies of that kind while It happened more on some other guys, perhaps those impossible that I could never have, but intrigued me more. I loved him but I didn’t really feel sexually attracted to him.”
The situation described here (the relationship between the two guys), from the point of view of the author of the email, has a primary matrix of affective and not typically sexual character. it is, in other words, the typical situation that predisposes to a strong gay friendship. The point of view of the other guy is so summarized by the author of the mail:
“For him it is different, it has always been different from the beginning, he has had just the typical way of doing the sweetheart, for me he has so many attentions, he respects me a lot, is attentive to my mood, he cuddles me a lot, hugs me, kisses me, is in physical contact with me, but I see that he brakes, I understand it, he brakes because even if he would keep going beyond, he does it only when he thinks it’s me to want it (maybe it’s not like that), for the rest he doesn’t even try, he tells me he dreams me, that I’m his guy, that when we cannot see each other he masturbates thinking of me, that he bring my photo always with him, I feel that he is in love.
With him I’m also good to have sex but it’s a different thing, I feel good as for a form of tenderness, he brakes and I instead let him decide and I try to follow him as I can, as it’s possible for me, but I feel the dissymmetry and I’m sorry because maybe he could deserve someone better than me.
We have been together for more than two years now but we cannot live together, I don’t even know if it would be better. I love him, I would never betray him, I would feel bad, I did all the controls for the hiv and it’s all right but it’s not just that why I would not betray him, but it’s that a guy like him doesn’t really deserves it. In recent months I have seen many guys who physically like me more than him but I think that with them it would not be better than with him, that in the end they attract me from the sexual point of view and that’s all, while with him it’s different. Of course, I don’t’ feel at all an overwhelming love, it’s another thing, an important thing, very important for me, but it’s another thing.”
The function of sexuality in these relationships is a guarantee function, in the sense that guarantees the exclusivity of the emotional relationship precisely because it is connected to a relationship also sexual. On this exclusivity are grafted on one side the expectations of an almost matrimonial relationship and on the other some attempts, anyway not too much strong, to safeguard one’s own autonomy.
“Then there is a further problem, he works and I don’t, I think he is starting to make plans on buying a small apartment. He didn’t tell me it explicitly, but from a few little particulars I understood that he was looking for deals in the magazines of real estate agencies. When we pass near a real estate agency he stops to take a look and before he didn’t. I think he doesn’t talk about it because he’s afraid I may consider it as a trap and it’s a bit like that, but not because I don’t want to be with him but because I’d like to be on equal footing, I’d also like an apartment in rent paid at 50%, but living in a house, with the expenses paid only by him, would make me uncomfortable. I must be free to leave if by chance I’m not well with him otherwise I would feel forced, not to say that I could never tell my parents that I’m going to live with him.
Honestly, I think that it could also work just because a cohabitation is not made of sex but also and especially of many other things, I wouldn’t give up easily, as I didn’t give up in these two years and maybe I could go on for so many years, we should stay together because we are really well, and now I’m fine with him, and certainly not because I don’t have a place where I can live.”
In these situations, sexuality ends up slowly acquiring a recessive dimension, the need for not turning it into a routine pushes to thin out opportunities and transforms sexual drive into a form of mutual sexual tenderness that can be more easily shared. These relationships have an apparent fragility but tend to consolidate over time and become substantially resistant, even in front of situations that at first might have put them in crisis.
“About three months ago I met, through my ex, a guy who is very nice and I really like him, let’s call him Paul. I don’t deny that he put me in crisis and not a little.
I think Paul fell in love with me even though I didn’t show him any enthusiasm. The first few times I didn’t talk about it to my boyfriend, I was very ashamed, then I told him everything and there I understood the value of my boyfriend, we talked a lot and in a serious way, even if it was obvious that he felt bad he didn’t in the least let his presence became heavy for me and almost tried to put me at ease telling me that I had to feel free because he will love me anyway.
Frankly I understood very well that he wasn’t at ease and that for him to stay away from me would have been a very heavy sacrifice and there I understood to what extent he loves me. In the meantime Paul has really tried everything to have me, I had the temptation but it would have been just like giving a stab to my boyfriend and so I put aside Paul’s speeches. Frankly I had no regrets even at the time, then I came back to my boyfriend and I told him I loved him. We made love and it was a very nice thing. Making love with a guy who really loves you is an indescribable thing, it’s not even a matter of sex, you think mostly of him, you make him understand that you love him, you make him understand through sex that you love him and you feel that he is happy and exactly for this you feel happy too.”
A relationship like the one described in the email mentioned above doesn’t start from an eminently sexual thrust but gradually comes to the conquest of a different affective sexuality, which has the appearance of uncertainty and the solidity of things of which the real extent is understood by direct experience. In essence, it is a matter of slowly constructing the sense of a relationship.
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