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Straight Men Who Have Sex with Men (SMSM)  
 
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Men Who Have Sex with Men (MSM) is a term derived from the growing body of literature showing that not all men who have sex with men are gay. Adopted by sex researchers and AIDS organizations to classify men who have sexual relations with other men but whose sexual identity is neither gay nor bisexual, the acronym recognizes a reality that complicates our tendency to divide the world into heterosexuals and homosexuals, with a small number of bisexuals, who are sometimes thought of as simply gay men or lesbians who have not come to terms with their homosexuality. That is, the reality of sexual activity is more complicated than the traditional binary (or even trinary) system of nomenclature can accommodate.

This article focuses on straight men who have sexual relations with men (SMSM). They are not gay nor are they bisexual, though their behavior might be seen as bisexual or homosexual.

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The SMSM phenomenon has become so widely recognized that even Oprah addressed the issue when she interviewed J. L. King who originally exposed this lifestyle in the Black community with his breakout bestseller, On the Down Low: A Journey into the Lives of "Straight" Black Men Who Sleep With Men. Keith Boykin's Beyond the Down Low: Sex, Lies, and Denial in Black America also confronts SMSM among African Americans. However, the "down low" syndrome is by no means confined to the African-American community. SMSM exist in all races, ethnicities, religions, and socio-economic classes.

The number of straight men who have sex with men is difficult to gauge with precision, but it is believed to be surprisingly large. According to the Centers for Disease Control, more than 3,000,000 American women are sexual partners of men who secretly have sex with other men, though this figure also includes bisexual men and closeted gay men.

The SMSM phenomenon is not new, though it has only recently received much media attention. In earlier generations, these men may have been described as "trade"--heterosexual men who participated in same-sex sexual encounters of a restricted kind, often taking the active role in anal intercourse and the passive role in fellatio.

They may have been sex workers or men who engaged in sexual relations with other men only because female partners were not available (as in the case of prisoners or men who live in all-male environments). They may have engaged in sexual activity with other men as runaway teenagers living on the streets for survival or as young men out on a lark.

These men may have cruised for same-sex encounters in public parks or restrooms, but they were unlikely to become part of a gay community except on its fringes.

More recently, the growth of the Internet has facilitated the acting out of sexual fantasies of all kinds, including those of SMSM. The Internet has made it easier and safer for heterosexually-identified men to meet other men for quick, anonymous sex. Hence, there may be a growth in the number of men who experiment with same-sex desire without altering their sexual identities.

Moreover, some gay men fetishize the idea of having sex with straight men. Again, the Internet and other anonymous venues help connect these gay men with straight men willing to have sex with other men. The attraction of some gay men for straight men may explain in part the continuing phenomenon of cruising public rest rooms and parks even as the stigma against homosexuality has lessened. One is more likely to find available straight men in such relatively anonymous venues than in gay bars and clubs.

Why Would Straight Men Have Sex with Other Men?

There are a number of reasons why straight men might have sex with other men. These reasons range from situational homosexuality to sexual addiction. In general, SMSM behavior is about physical release and sexual behaviors, not about attraction or desire for another man. The attraction is toward the act or the body (or body parts) of the male not the other man himself.

Straight men who have sex with other men often have high sex drives and are easily aroused sexually. They may seek out connections with men for a quick and easy sexual release in which they are not required to engage emotionally or to risk their identity as a heterosexual man.

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