How are gay male relationships different than heterosexual relationships or lesbian relationships?
Fundamentally, the difference is that in gay male relationship both partners are governed by the hormone testosterone.
Ken Wilber, the famous philosopher, calls testosterone the “fuck and kill hormone”.
That doesn’t exactly conjure up romantic nights in front of the fireplace where we let down our guard and express our innermost secrets.
All this testosterone can sometimes be at odds with creating emotional intimacy. Often men have to learn how to connect because estrogen, the connection hormone, is not flowing through our blood in large quantities.
That’s what couples counselors do—we teach connection.
What Gets Us Into Trouble
Men do have a reputation for sometimes being “douchey” when seeking sex. (For those who don’t know, “douchey” is the adjective form of the noun “douche bag.”)
Sometimes, in the hunt for sex, testosterone takes over and the other part of being male—the more tender part—gets submerged for a while. And in the big cities this sometimes creates a gay male subculture where we forget that even with a hook up, tender feelings are involved.
Here’s what it might look like in my office. Two nice guys come in and both are surprised to find that their partner feels hurt when the other guy hooks up. They have been living with the illusion that “it’s just sex” and “what possible difference does it make where I put my penis?”
This experience would not happen in a room where one member of the couple has ample estrogen running through her body.
The Attachment Perspective
While men may have hefty doses of the aggressive testosterone hormone in their blood, they also need to attach to others just like everyone else. Science shows us that attachment is another “built in” human need. Babies of any gender will die if they are not emotionally attached to a caregiver. We need attachment for survival.
In male relationships these two opposing forces—testosterone and attachment—can cause pain if no one is paying attention to them.
So What Should We Do?
The good news is that when we start paying attention to what is really going on, problems get solved. In fact, that’s the whole basis of LGBTQ couples counseling.
We can learn that feelings are always involved whenever humans are present, even when we think we are just interacting with a meaningless body part. We can remember that everything we do impacts our partner, even when they aren’t in the room with us. We can learn to value the pleasures of raw, disconnected sex and the pleasures of deep sexual intimacy.
We can learn that honesty and transparency have great meaning when we are trying to feel close to someone.
And, most importantly, we can learn that there is a way to talk about anything with our partner—even our needs for sex—that feels connecting and intimate.