“Ask for what you want” is advice that’s easy to give but often strangely difficult to practice. What gets in the way of identifying our desires and sharing them with others? Growing up gay, we probably learned early on to view our deepest desires as shameful, socially unacceptable, or at the very least subject to other people’s negative judgments. No wonder we’re a little gun-shy when it comes to letting others know what we want, especially in the realm of love and erotic play.
As a gay sex therapist, I spend a lot of my working hours listening to people talk about the nitty-gritty details of their sex lives. I meet a lot of smart, soulful, intelligent men frustrated at their inability to find love and connection.
Many gay men live with the nagging feeling that they missed that day in school when everybody else learned to identify their desires, to inhabit them, and to express them to others. Mostly, as gay kids, we were shamed for our erotic desires. We absorbed the message that our hunger for touch and affection, wanting to see and hold other guys’ bodies (or, let’s be honest, their penises) were bad or wrong and we should keep them hidden away. Sometimes we learned that lesson overtly by being punished, harassed, or bullied for showing our desires. But sometimes we picked them up indirectly from the absence of positive expressions of same-sex desire. Either way, we developed a hyperawareness as a defense mechanism. Any hint of desire can feel like a threat to survival: am I going to be okay, or am I going to be rejected, or beat up?