Anxiety, that is, the feeling that something dangerous and uncontrollable but at the same time indefinable is looming, presents itself in the most varied ways in the life of all people, in practice no one can say he is immune from it at 100%. Often the perception of anxiety is marked by feelings of emptiness, irritability, widespread impatience, by the feeling of the useless passing of time as a progressive loss of possibilities. Anxiety is often accompanied by somatization at cardiac level, or by insomnia or inconclusive agitation. Anxiety often compromises the normal activities of life or makes them more stressing and difficult to deal with, takes you away from an objective and rational assessment of things and emphasizes the difficulties and risks, up to almost completely block the activities of a person and force him to seek support at the psychotherapeutic and pharmacological level.
In the following I will stop to speak only of reactive anxiety, that is of those anxious syndromes in which a triggering and often determining factor can be identified at the environmental level, leaving aside the primary anxiety for which it doesn’t seem easy to identify determinant or triggering causes at an environmental level. To clarify, here you have some examples of reactive anxiety:
1) A student, inserted in a school class, shows frequent signs of anxiety: insomnia, episodic tachycardia, unmotivated fear, easy irritability, difficulty in concentration, environmental maladjustment. That same student, after changing class, no longer shows the same anxious syndrome, appears calm and well inserted into the new class.
2) A married man who has difficult relationships with his wife’s family shows signs of anxiety, when he moves to another city, away from his wife’s family, he no longer shows signs of anxiety.
3) An elderly man who finds problems at work has tachycardia, feels overwhelmed by work and expects to be in trouble at any moment for some reason that he cannot even identify clearly. That man, after retiring, regains his serenity and no longer has anxious manifestations.
Anxiety and homophobia
As we can see, the causes of reactive anxiety are not related only or essentially to the subject who experiences it but basically to his difficult interaction with the environment in particular situations called precisely anxiogenous. It is quite evident that homosexuality must also be included among anxiogenous situations, but not homosexuality itself but homosexuality in a homophobic environment. I would like to emphasize that I don’t mean here as homophobia the activities of more or less violent repression of homosexuality but precisely the phobia of homosexuality, that is the tendency to exclude it and to marginalize it. Homophobia is a subtle reality that often hides itself even under the appearance of tolerance and respect.
The root of homophobia consists in perceiving the homosexual as different and as something else from yourself, well beyond the sexual orientation, as if the sexual orientation constituted a barrier between human groups. Homophobia can’t be assessed in the abstract, can’t it be rationally surpassed and homophobic people often don’t even perceive their homophobic attitudes. Naturally, the perception of environmental homophobia by those who suffer it and live it daily as a limitation of one’s own freedom is very different.
Homosexuals are very sensitive to the homophobic implications of the behavior of their family members, their friends and the social environment in which they live. For a gay guy, it is a question of having the attention always focused on ”reactively” determining one’s behavior in such a way as to reduce the risk that environmental homophobia will unleash against him.
Anxiogenous situations for a gay
Some particular situations may be particularly anxiogenous for gays:
1) Being submitted to the questions of parents and relatives like ”Do you have a girlfriend?”
2) Discovering that at school you are became object of the attention of a serious girl, who is lived as a danger in relation to the group.
3) Finding yourself in very narrow and very gossipy work environments where you cannot stay by yourself and maintain your privacy.
4) Also finding themselves temporarily in situations of close cohabitation with other people with whom one inevitably comes to talk about emotional relationships and sexuality.
I would add to these situations a fifth and a sixth situation that for gays can be really strongly anxiogenous:
5) Falling in love with a guy whose sexual orientation is unknown and enter an endless path of indecisions, fears and postponements.
6) Having to hide your sexual orientation, a situation that can occur on many levels, from the anxiety of coming out with a trusted friend to the embarrassment of lying to your wife if you are a married gay man.
So far we have only talked about anxiety in general terms, but for gays, anxiety often manifests itself in dimensions closely related to sexuality.
Internalized homophobia and gay discomfort
The internalization of environmental homophobia leads gays to non-acceptance of self and often leads them unconsciously to attempt the path of hetero sexuality. These are real self-impositions that are embodied in so-called ”sexual experiments”: I try to stay with a girl, if I can, it means that I am straight. It is actually a neurotic mechanism in which anxiety dominates. The sexual experiment is deeply desired but not as a form of sexuality but as a test that can confirm a presumed heterosexual identity. I will never get tired of pointing out the absolute absurdity of the advice that even some psychologists give to their patients when they see them not too convinced of their heterosexual sexuality, pushing them to ”try gay sex”.
It makes no sense to ”try” gay sex to evaluate one’s own reactions, it makes no sense to go with a girl to verify one’s being straight. Sexual orientation is not related to behavior but to sexual desires. There are gays who get married, their married life is 100% heterosexual but their sexual fantasies are not straight and their masturbation is gay. To understand one’s orientation, therefore, it makes no sense to ”try a particular sexual behavior” gay or straight, which, among other things, can be risky for health, but you have to put aside ”gradually” your conditioning to conquer, first of all, a true freedom in terms of sexual fantasies and masturbation.
Among other things, anxiety deriving from sexual orientation issues conceived as a problem, very often, causes consequences, even heavy ones, in matters that have nothing to do with sexuality and in particular in studies. When the mind concentrates on the research at all costs of an answer to a problem connected to sexuality, it ends up neglecting and minimizing other fundamental aspects of social and relational life. In some cases the abandonment of the study, as a consequence of an anxious way of experiencing sexuality, provokes further insecurities and anxious sensations that slowly extend even far beyond sexuality.
In these situations it does not make any sense to look for certain and definitive answers to the bitter end by following a neurotic push, but we must remember that certain and definitive answers don’t even exist for a lot of questions and that anxiety can be overcome only by realizing it. definitely putting aside the idea of being framed in this or that category, but I add one thing, resuming studies, if the studies have been neglected or put aside, it does not just mean avoid to create further problems for the future in terms of work and of economic prospects but also move away from the idea of having a problem that must be resolved soon and definitively.
In practice, the return to normal study or work is the most significant symptom of overcoming anxiety and the most useful therapy in that sense. I would add that the anxiety that is often perceived as arising from uncertainties of sexual orientation actually has other origins because gay sexual orientation in itself, in a serene environment, does not give rise to anxious reactions.
We must start by realizing that the problem we don’t bring it inside us, we don’t create it, but it is a reaction to a difficult environmental situation. An external problem mustn’t become an internal one and the negative mythology of homosexuality spread in a homophobic climate mustn’t be internalized.
The feeling of loneliness must be considered a momentary consequence of a difficult environmental situation because it really is so and these situations can radically change. What has just been said is useful as an indication for the overcoming of anxiety by those who experience firsthand that anxiety, but we must bear in mind that the main way to overcome anxiety is emotional socialization, that is, having around a network of true emotional relationships that convey feelings of security and stability.
Interacting with an anxious subject
But how can people who are next to a person who is strongly anxious contribute to relieving the burden of anxious syndrome? Often when one realizes that one has anxious friends, there are scruples about talking to them in a clear way about everything because they might feel uncomfortable and it is easy to assume in face of an anxious friends reticent or blatantly false attitudes ”for goodness”.
As in all relationships between people, the most wrong thing is playing a part, taking on a role ”for the sake of another person”. One thing to avoid with regard to very anxious people it is the attempt to convince them by reasoning and examples that anxiety must and can be overcome.
With regard to anxiety, it is very helpful to feel involved in a true emotional climate, while every form of abstract reasoning is even counterproductive.
It often happens that issues that are not in themselves problems at all are instead experienced anxiously as problems. In these situations the comparison and dialogue with people who have a similar experience is essential to realize how others react to situations similar to those that we live and to play down. Feeling as the only person in the world who has to face an urgent and difficult problem is stressful and anxiogenous, while realizing that the alleged problem is actually a problem only to the extent that it is considered so and that many other people have been facing or they are facing now very similar situations is much more reassuring and above all much more true.
Gay sexuality and anxiety
We come now specifically to the relationship between gay sexuality and anxiety, limiting the field to the sexual dimension in the strict sense. It happens to me several times in the chat to talk with guys anxious for issues related to gay sexuality. The causes of these anxiety states can be various, by way of example only, I quote the most recurrent:
1) Anxiety resulting from moments of uncertainty about sexual orientation
2) Anxiety from presumed inadequacy
3) Anxiety from problematisation of sexuality
These is three conceptually different realities that can however present a lot of connections.
Before proceeding in detail it should be remembered that anxiety is identified as a perceived situation of danger, uncertainty or inability to manage a situation. Anxiety sometimes presents psychosomatic manifestations, sometimes very evident such as tachycardia, tremor and high blood pressure, sometimes less evident, such as insomnia, sleep disorders, nightmares. Anxiety can also have typically sexual manifestations such as impotence, premature ejaculation and various disorders of masturbation. However, rather than dealing with the sexual manifestations of anxiety, we will talk about anxiety-related situations in the field of sexuality through the examination of some typical situations.
Anxiety arising from moments of uncertainty about sexual orientation
I have spoken several times about the discovery of one’s homosexuality by a guy who was previously considered hetero (also by himself) and about how much this discovery generates anxiety derived mainly from a wrong representation of being gay.
Here I intend to consider a different situation. A guy who thinks he’s gay, who has exclusively gay erotic fantasies, who masturbates exclusively thinking about guys, finds himself experimenting a sexual contact with a girl. Against his hypothesis, according to which, for a gay, in similar situations, any form of involvement should be impossible, that guy experiences a physiological reaction that he doesn’t know how to interpret: when he was with the girl not only he wasn’t uncomfortable but had an erection and considered it quite exciting. That guy, while continuing in almost all the cases to masturbate thinking about the guys, sometimes masturbate also recalling the sexual contact with the girl. As long as these behaviors are not the object of reflection they are rewarding, but when the guy becomes fully aware of them and of their possible meaning, a state of anxiety comes up that disturbs the previous structure and creates uncertainty and insecurity.
Generally, when heterosexual contact is the first sexual contact of a gay guy, it significantly affects the balance of masturbatory sexuality achieved earlier, but in this case the new hetero experience has not supplanted the gay sexuality of the guy. That guy continues to masturbate thinking about the guys in almost all cases and will almost certainly end up returning to sexual fantasies exclusively gay in more or less long times.
Anxiety derives from an incorrect perception of the whole experience as a change in one’s sexual orientation, this mistaken perception is dramatized and produces a sense of insecurity. We must realize that these things happen and that, in the vast majority of cases, they have only temporally circumscribed influences and, even if in a very unlikely situation the story was a spy of the emergence of a heterosexual identity or a form of bisexuality, it would not be a problem anyway because nobody must be necessarily gay, but people must be free to be gay if and only if they really are.
As deserves the utmost respect the guy who after having considered himself hetero for years recognizes himself gay, so deserves the utmost respect the guy who after having considered himself gay for years, discovers his own heterosexuality. This is a very rare event, however, because social pressure pushes gay guys very much to believe themselves hetero but certainly it doesn’t push the straight guys to believe that they are gay.
Only in a couple of cases (events, I repeat, very rare) I happened to talk to guys who thought they were gay because they had sex with guys but they had very deep affective relationships with a girls. I noticed how for these guys, the acceptance of their heterosexuality, after considering themselves gay for years, was much more difficult than the acceptance of homosexuality for a guy who had believed to be hetero for years.
Essentially for those guys, who had made a considerable effort to accept themselves as gay, the gay prospects collapse and it is a question of rebuilding everything from the beginning in a straight key. The phenomenon is similar to the traumatic one that presents itself for the bisexuals in the periods when their sexual orientation changes.
Anxiety from presumed inadequacy
The anxiety coming from presumed inadequacy can arise in reference to concrete situations and above all in the immediacy of them, and also at general and preventive level. These are rather different situations. The anxiety that manifests itself in the immediacy of encounters that can also involve sexual contact intervenes when a serious, already structured emotional relationship can also lead to sexual involvement. Often this type of anxiety is linked to the fact that sexuality is seen as something further and different from the emotional contact to which one is accustomed, a kind of second stage that can compromise the former.
Anxiety manifests itself in a very significant way on the occasion of the first gay sexual contact and consists in the fear connected to the inexperience (”I don’t know how to behave”), to the fear of making mistakes and to upsetting the partner to the point of losing his affection due to inexperience in managing sexual intercourse. Classic, in these cases, are the expressions like this: ”I don’t know how I will react but I wouldn’t want to disappoint him, he is so sweet but I feel so clumsy”.
In fact, the anxiety coming from presumed inadequacy is a component constantly present in the first sexual intercourses and especially in the first. Rather than real anxiety, it is inability to foresee the reactions of one’s partner in a sexually involving situation when there aren’t at all previous experiences.
In general, the anxiety of the first gay sexual contact is practically nonexistent when the sexual contact arrives unexpectedly while it tends to be more strong if the expectation connected to that contact is deeply felt and the wait before it becomes concrete becomes long.
The worst way to deal with anxiety coming from inadequacy in a concrete situation is to resort to external behavioral patterns. A couple must be able to find their own harmony in its autonomy. The anxiety coming from presumed inadequacy, which manifests itself at a general level without reference to actual and concrete situations, is, in general, the result of a weak self-esteem and sometimes the manifestation of moments of depression, very often not originated by issues related to sexuality, like seeing themselves ugly or having previously found only refusals as affective responses, on this substratum of weak self-esteem can insert specific fears, often unfounded or amplified precisely by the anxious component, such as the erective weakness, the perception of the small penis and the premature ejaculation. In such situations, a gay guy tends to avoid any dialogue with other guys, he is uncomfortable when he hears that other guys talk about sex and tends to socialize very little.
Friendship and sexual confidence
I would like to underline that the word friendship, especially among heterosexual guys, besides the generic contents of pleasantness, respect and mutual attention, has another very important component which is sexual confidence. When two straight guys become friends in the serious sense of the term, it is not at all strange, but it is quite obvious that they compare their sexual experiences. This fact greatly decreases the anxious tension concentrated on specifically sexual content and contributes to giving sexuality a less mythical dimension, in other words, one can speak about his own sexuality among peers without fear of censorship, in a free climate, in which the mutual attention is the rule.
A straight guy who tells another straight guy that he masturbates while thinking about a girlfriend doesn’t do it for a stupid exhibitionism but because talking to another straight guy of these things melts the anxiety and helps to find a comparison on issues in which the direct comparison is rarely achievable.
Among gay guys, even if there is always in the background the idea that any friendship between two gay guys can turn into a loving friendship, the mechanism is exactly the same and for this reason not having gay friends with whom to compare sexual experiences and the limitating the dialogue with other gay guys only to non-specifically sexual content, deprives a gay guy of a fundamental mechanism for the reduction of anxiety related to sexuality. I cite just one example.
A straight boy, educated a century ago with a strongly repressive education, generally felt strong anxieties and strong feelings of guilt about masturbation. Today, in a free environment, where a guy can talk quietly about these things with friends and can understand how his friends live it, the anxiety-producing charge connected to masturbation has clearly decreased. Of course, for a gay guy, the thing is more complicated but the mechanism of anxiety reduction is basically the same.
Anxiety and problematisation of sexuality
For some guys sexuality is not a spontaneous activity, the rational dimension, particularly strong, often compresses or represses sexuality. This is the typical case of young people who want to understand everything about sexuality, who, rather than experiencing it immediately, try to analyze it, to vivisect it to understand it rationally through a strictly linked and logical explanation in terms of of causes and effects.
It often happens to me that some guys ask me in relation to a specific fact that they observed in their sexuality: ”But what does it mean?” As if it were possible to give a serious answer to all the questions of this kind. These guys generally stay away from sexuality, because sexuality is not rationally controllable, and they want to program affective life, they are extremely selective in the search for partners but based on abstract categories. It is difficult for them to understand that sexuality means abandoning themselves to a level of deep emotional life linked to fundamental physiological needs and that reasoning too much on sexuality means losing the essential.
How to overcome the anxieties connected to sexuality
A preliminary observation: everyone, more or less, live or have lived anxieties related to sexuality. If a guy didn’t feel anxieties related to sexuality there would be serious reasons for concern. Anxiety, to a certain extent, very variable, accompanies sex life in an ordinary way. Problems arise when this anxiety is paralyzing, when it leads to isolation and to sexophobia. To overcome anxiety you have to:
1) Realize to live in an anxiety-provoking situation
2) Try to see things in a more serene perspective and evaluate the so-called problems for what they are in reality and then resize them
3) Always keep the dialogue and the comparison open with people who live in similar situations
4) Get used to considering sexuality as an ordinary theme of serious conversation and to talk about it effectively in a free way with people who have similar experiences.
If I had to summarize in a single word the basic elements to overcome the anxieties connected to sexuality, I would use the word socialization: having friends, talking and discussing is the basis for being able to resize problems and to restore sexuality to the quality it deserves as an ordinary component of everyone’s life.
If you like, you can join the discussion on this post on Gay Project Forum: http://gayprojectforum.altervista.org/T-gays-and-anxiety