We know there’s porn and we know there are gay people. But is there “gay porn?” Or is it simply porn featuring people of the same gender having sex together?
If it’s “gay porn,” then we would be surprised to find straight people looking at it. If it’s porn featuring same-gender sex, however, then we’d be surprised if there weren’t straight people watching it.
It’s the latter, of course. Adults find all sorts of fantasies and images sexy—and they don’t necessarily have anything to do with their real-life desires. That is, enjoying scenes of two men having oral sex doesn’t make a man gay. Similarly, enjoying looking at fictional scenes of sexual coercion (or fantasizing being raped) doesn’t mean a person wants that in real life.
To put it another way, what arouses us is only a small part of our sexual orientation. If you want to know if someone’s gay, straight, or bi, ask them who they have sex with (and who they want to have sex with in real life), not what videos they like to watch.
The question came up in a professional conversation the other day, when an inexperienced therapist asked why some straight men were attracted to websites featuring pre-operative transsexuals (typically advertised as “tranny” or “she-male”)—that is, images of people with women’s breasts and a penis.
Why wouldn’t they? Talk about having your cake and eating it too! Most straight men enjoy women’s breasts, and most straight men are fascinated with penises. This porn allows the viewer to enjoy both at the same time. And the arithmetical possibilities—whether the performer is onscreen with one other person or several—are increased geometrically. Fellatio, anyone? Domination-submission-domination-submission anyone?
That’s why I discourage my straight patients from using the expression “gay fantasy,” and discourage my gay patients from saying “straight fantasy” (unless they’re fantasies ABOUT being gay or straight, which is a different matter). These expressions actually cloud things, because they suggest that the enjoyment of cross-orientation fantasies needs explanation. An investigation can be valuable, of course, especially if people have trouble thinking about or acknowledging their interests or curiosity. Sometimes the content of a favorite fantasy is a metaphor or an indirect expression of interest. A same-gender fantasy may excite a straight person because of, say, power dynamics. A mixed-gender fantasy may excite a gay person because of, say, a sense of belonging.
It turns out that sexuality is more complicated than gay-or-straight. In 1948 Alfred Kinsey presented data showing that “the world is not simply divided “into sheep and goats,” and presented his 7-point Kinsey Scale of sexual orientation. These days, expressions like GLBTQQI remind us that a person’s sexual orientation is a movie, not a photograph—behavior can change over time. Curiosity and experimentation can take us in unexpected (even, sometimes, boring!) directions. In that sense, we’re all “queer,” and potentially or actually “questioning.”
Ultimately, it’s more important to enjoy our fantasies than to understand or decode them. Most of us enjoy mainstream entertainment—such as violent video games, syrupy romance novels, detailed historical documentaries, or utopian science fiction films—without wondering what our preferences for these things “mean.” We all know perfectly gentle people who enjoy the brutal weekly mayhem on CSI or Bones or whatever the latest adrenalin-pumper is. We may criticize their taste, but we don’t need to fear their violent impulses.
Unless, of course, we try to change the channel.