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social sciences

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Straight Men Who Have Sex with Men (SMSM)  
page: 1  2  3  

In understanding SMSM, a significant distinction is that between sexual preference and sexual identity. Sexual preferences are about various desires, positions, and fantasies one might have, whereas sexual identity is about how one self-identifies in terms of straight, gay, or bisexual.

A straight man's sexual behavior with men may reflect a need for quick sexual release or a desire to experiment or an addiction or a complex reaction to past sexual abuse. This behavior sometimes expresses problems and conflicts with their sexual feelings and desires, but it is not an expression of a gay identity.

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Is SMSM Behavior Pathological?

While some SMSM behavior has pathological roots that need to be understood, straight men having sex with other men need not be pathological or even motivated by pathological reasons. Gay, bisexual, and heterosexual men are drawn to certain sexual behaviors, fantasies, and desires that they usually experience with little psychological trouble.

Moreover, as Kinsey and his associates documented in the 1940s and 1950s, men and women are capable of a much wider range of sexual behavior and fantasies than is usually recognized. Homosexually-identified men and women frequently have heterosexual fantasies and heterosexually-identified men and women frequently have homosexual fantasies.

Whatever drives a man to have sex with another man, as long as he is aware of the consequences of his behavior, has his and his partner's informed consent, harms no one else, and is mindful of his partner's integrity, sexual pleasure is its own justification. Moreover, it may even facilitate self-understanding and broaden one's perspective.

However, leading a life on the "down low" can be risky in a number of ways. The secrecy and shame involved may lead to such psychological fallout as depression and low self-esteem, plus many other dysfunctional behaviors such as chemical dependency, sexual addiction, suicide attempts, affairs, and unprotected sex that may result in STDs, including HIV infection.

A good rule of thumb is that if SMSM behavior prevents the development of deep personal relationships or otherwise adversely affects an individual's self-esteem or sense of himself, or causes emotional distress to loved ones, therapy may be helpful. SMSM who do end up in therapy often learn that it is not their sexual behavior that is the problem but how they feel about it.

Some learn that their sexual behavior expresses non-sexual issues or aspects of themselves that need to be addressed or emotional wounds that need to be healed.

A Word about Reparative Therapy

Reparative therapy, which attempts to change an individual's sexual orientation from homosexual to heterosexual, has been widely and rightly discredited. It instills self-hatred in gay men and lesbians.

While practitioners of reparative therapy frequently boast of their success in changing homosexuals into heterosexuals, these claims have not been scientifically verified. While it may be possible to help someone stop acting on same-sex attractions, that is not the same thing as changing an individual's orientation.

It may well be that those who claim that they are "ex-gays" who have been changed from homosexual to heterosexual are simply heterosexuals who were acting out homosexual behavior: that is, they are straight men who had sex with other men.

Joe Kort

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social sciences >> Overview:  Bisexuality

Although until recently rejected by most sexologists as a distinct sexual identity, bisexuality is gradually becoming recognized and studied as such.

social sciences >> Overview:  Computers, the Internet, and New Media

Since the advent of the Internet, lesbians, gay men, and sexual and gender nonconformists of all kinds have been able to use a variety of computer-mediated communications to meet and network both on- and offline.

social sciences >> Overview:  Counseling

In recent years there has been a push for glbtq-sensitive counselor training and glbtq-affirmative counseling, which, although occurring slowly and encountering resistance, marks a significant move in a positive direction.

social sciences >> Overview:  Family Therapy

Glbtq family therapy is a relatively new field that merges gay-affirmative therapy with family systems theory; its goal is to help glbtq people create and maintain healthy families.

social sciences >> Overview:  Homosexuality

The term "homosexuality," coined in 1869, with "heterosexuality" as its opposite, has led to a binary concept that oversimplifies the complexity of human sexual behavior.

social sciences >> Overview:  Mixed-Orientation Marriages

Mixed-orientation marriages--those in which one partner is straight and the other is gay or lesbian--often end in divorce, but such an ending is not inevitable.

social sciences >> Overview:  Psychotherapy

Psychotherapy, the clinical process of treating mental and emotional health problems, has recently been energized by a movement to depathologize homosexuality and to enhance the dignity and self-respect of glbtq clients.

social sciences >> Overview:  Reparative Therapy

Reparative therapy is a dangerously misguided attempt, supported by homophobic religious organizations, to change a person's sexual orientation from homosexual to heterosexual.

social sciences >> Overview:  Sexual Addiction

A compulsive behavior that completely dominates the addict's life, sexual addiction is an intimacy disorder that frequently causes severe stress on the addict and his or her friends and family.

social sciences >> Overview:  Sexual Orientation

Sexual orientation indicates erotic attraction, whether toward people of the same gender (homosexual), the opposite gender (heterosexual), or both (bisexual).

social sciences >> Overview:  Situational Homosexuality

Situational homosexuality is same-sex sexual activity that occurs not as part of a gay life style, but because the participants happen to find themselves in a single-sex environment for a prolonged period.

social sciences >> Boykin, Keith

Activist and author Keith Boykin has committed his life to advancing the rights of the African-American and glbtq communities and to enhancing communication between them.

social sciences >> Kinsey, Alfred C.

The most important sex researcher of the twentieth century, Alfred C. Kinsey contributed groundbreaking studies of male and female sexual behavior in America.


Bader, Michael. Arousal: The Secret Logic of Sexual Fantasies. New York: St. Martin's Press, 2002. 

Ball, Aimee Lee. "When Gay Men Happen to Straight Women." O, The Oprah Magazine (December 2004).

Boykin, Keith. Beyond the Down Low: Sex, Lies, and Denial in Black America. New York: Carroll & Graf, 2005.

Carnes, Patrick. Don't Call it Love: Recovery from Sexual Addiction. New York: Bantam, 1991.

Corely, Deborah M., and Joe Kort. "The Sex Addicted Mixed Orientation Marriage: Examining Attachment Styles, Internalized Homophobia and Viability of Marriage after Disclosure." Sexual Addiction and Compulsivity 13.2-3 (2006): 167-93.

Gross, Jane. "When the Computer Opens the Closet." New York Times (August 22, 2004): 9.6.

King, J. L. On the Down Low: A Journey into the Lives of "Straight" Black Men Who Sleep with Men. New York: Broadway Books, 2004.

Kinsey, Alfred C., et al. Sexual Behavior in the Human Female. Philadelphia: W.B. Saunders, 1953.

_____. Sexual Behavior in the Human Male. Philadelphia: W.B. Saunders, 1948.

Kort, Joe. "Gay Guise: What To Do When Your Client Has Sex with Men, But Is Straight." Psychotherapy Networker (July-August 2007): 65-71.

_____.  "The Men in the Mirror: Understanding Gay Men and Their Porn." In the Family (Summer 2002).

_____. "The New Mixed Marriage: Working with a Couple when One Partner is Gay." Psychotherapy Networker (September-October 2005): 83-89.

_____. "Straight Guise: Is My Partner Gay?" Mending a Shattered Heart: A Guide for Partners of Sex Addicts. Stephanie Carnes, ed. Carefree, Ariz.: Gentle Path Press, 2008.

_____. Straightguise website:

 _____. 10 Smart Things Gay Men Can Do To Find Real Love. Los Angeles: Alyson, 2003. 

Morin, Jack. The Erotic Mind: Unlocking the Inner Sources of Sexual Passion and Fulfillment. New York: HarperPerennial, 1996. 

Perel, Esther. Mating in Captivity: Reconciling the Erotic and the Domestic. New York: HarperCollins, 2006.

Pierce Buxton, Amity. "Counseling Heterosexual Spouses of Bisexual Men and Women and Bisexual Heterosexual Couples: Affirmative Approaches." Affirmative Psychotherapy with Bisexual Women and Bisexual Men. Ronald Fox, ed. New York: Harrington Press, New York, 2006. 106-136.

_____. The Other Side of the Closet: The Coming-Out Crisis for Straight Spouses. New York: John Wiley and Sons, 1994.

Preble, John M., and A. Nicholas Groth. Male Victims of Same-Sex Abuse: Addressing Their Sexual Response. Baltimore: Sidran Press, 2002.


    Citation Information
    Author: Kort, Joe  
    Entry Title: Straight Men Who Have Sex with Men (SMSM)  
    General Editor: Claude J. Summers  
    Publication Name: glbtq: An Encyclopedia of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual,
Transgender, and Queer Culture
    Publication Date: 2008  
    Date Last Updated April 24, 2008  
    Web Address  
    Publisher glbtq, Inc.
1130 West Adams
Chicago, IL   60607
    Today's Date  
    Encyclopedia Copyright: © 2002-2006, glbtq, Inc.  
    Entry Copyright © 2008 glbtq, Inc.  


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