Janet Jackson experienced no
wardrobe malfunctions when she
accepted an award from the HRC.
JUNE 24, 2005
S6X on the first or second date?
FOR MANY GAY MEN - AND LESBIANS —THE QUESTION IS:WHAT 2ND DATE?
By MIKE FLEMING
CCORDING TO MEN AND
women in a wide range of occupations and age groups, there's
decidedly more nuance to gay sex
lives than television — or anti-
gay pundits — would have us
believe. And old stereotypes of
gay men who are just out for sex and lesbians
who only mate for life simply no longer apply.
In a still-evolving era of gay activism, gay men
and lesbians have more freedom than ever to
define their own sexual mores, but the interpretations of that freedom are as widely varied as the
people who make the decisions.
"The way traditional sources of values like
church and religion often devalue gay relationships and gay sexuality makes them of little use,"
says John Ballew, a counselor. "Instead, we tend
to explore for ourselves and go with what works."
Isaac, a 30-year-old New Yorker, says traditional
notions about the connections between sex, dating
and morality are limiting. "Do gays ever wait to
have sex? My sexual decisions have virtually nothing to do with my moral value system in terms of
religion," he says. "I think straight people do
themselves a disservice by attaching old-school notions of
romantic love to sex.... If a long-lasting relationship
develops out of the fling, so be it. If not, well, there's plenty more men to choose from."
But Ballew warns that sexual freedom comes with added
responsibility and a lack of boundaries may lead to unnecessary heartache. When people View sex as "a race to the
finish line," the fun of flirting, getting to know someone
and cultivating passion are often ignored, he says.
Greg Sterchi, a gay psychotherapist, agrees. "Many-
people assume that, if you can ensure that there is a
sexual connection, you can manage-other connections
more easily," Sterchi says. "However, if these other connections are not built or do not naturally develop and
the sexual interest fades, it's much like building your
house on the sand."
First-date sex can set up misplaced expectations or
blow the chance at a longer relationship, according to
Ballew. It's risky because "it can lead to separating people into two camps: those you date, and those you have
sex with," he says, adding that the dichotomy can lead
to relationships that are committed but sexless or sexual encounters that hold less emotional satisfaction.
"If you're really interested in dating someone rather
than just hooking up, there are often many important
things to find out about someone beyond exploring sex
with them," Ballew advises. "For most men, once they've
(Illustration by Joey
put a guy in the category of "trick,' he's going to have a
hell of a time moving from there to the 'boyfriend' box."
People cite influences on their sexual behavior from
race and age to level of comfort with being gay, level of
intoxication during a date, the number and type of relationship experiences and health status. Sterchi cites a
fear of rejection as primal.
Some people are so invested in not being perceived
as promiscuous, that they "play hard to get" in order to
retain the other person's interest and bolster a fragile
sense of self-acceptance. Others use their insecurities
to make premature sexual commitments in an attempt
to keep a person's interest, he says.
Rather than falling into black-and-white categories,
no one interviewed says they follow a strictly "cautious" or overtly "cavalier" pattern of sexual conduct.
For Foland, sex is not about values in the traditional
moral sense, but she does "respect others' boundaries"
and does not "date people in relationships."
Although waiting to have sex is "of course the ideal
romantic scenario," says Hal Garstein, a 42-year-old
New Yorker, "I can't think of a single relationship
where this has happened."
Chris, 37, in Houston, says sex and dating are not necessarily intertwined. "If [a guy] is attractive, but not what
I'm looking for to date, then I'll have sex with him if it
comes to that," Chris says. "It takes me an hour or so with
someone to tell if we are dating material, but like I
said, you can always sleep together."
AT FIRST GLANCE, IT MAY APPEAR THAT A
popular stereotype is true: approaches to sex are
based on gender. But Bootsie. a lesbian in Houston,
admits she "rarely waits" to have sex. "Emotional
attachment is nice," she says. "When you find that
person, step on the gas. Otherwise^ if there is a
sexual attraction and they are a nice gal, I am
ready to roll."
Sterchi says just as many lesbians rush the
process as gay men because being gay still isn't fully
accepted in society, and they seek a connection
Much more than gender, age appears to be one of
the biggest determining factors for people who wait
to have sex. Several women say that they leaned
more toward sex for its own sake when they were
younger, and just as many men say they become
choosier as the years go by
"I think as I get older, the wisdom kicks in,"
says Chris from Houston. "I would say I am more
selective, have more self worth. and'I am not
jumping from bed to bed like in the past."
Garstein reached "a point where I felt that I could
make my own decisions about who I had sex with and
when, as opposed to-trying to validate myself through others."
But Isaac became "more open" about sex with age.
"I'm no longer one to beat myself up if too much happens
too early in the game," he says. "I also don't take it as personally when a potential partner turns out to be a loser."
Life experiences also affect decisions about sex. Bootsie
in Houston was diagnosed with Stage Four cancer four
years ago. and now she gives more consideration to how
potential partners might react to that knowledge, she says.
Similarly, men with HIV face special challenges,
according to mental health professionals. "I never used
to give sex a second thought," says David, 37, in
Atlanta. "Now that I have HIV, I only have sex after
really getting to know someone and feel comfortable
talking to him about it. I admit, I sometimes completely
avoid dating just so the subject doesn't come up."
People also differ on how far they let intimacy progress,
differentiatmg between various sex acts based on the level of
each relationship. "I don't like to go 'all the way' — to the
point of penetration — until a few dates in," says Isaac from
New York. "I'm not saying it's wrong to do that on the first
date, but personally it feels too intimate too fast."
Sexual freedom with no rules ultimately leaves gay
people with the right to choose a sex life that makes
them feel comfortable, and men as well as women say
it's an important extension of their personalities.
TO WONG FU': Houston's Jill Jordan plays in her own BIROS OF A FEATHER: A new book chronicles the true
real-life version of the classic drag queen movie. Page 17 story of two gay penguins in New York City. Page 19