Straight Guise: Straight Men Who Have Sex With Men (SMSM)

Many men who have sex with men (MSM) get referred to me by their straight therapists. Holding my books and other coming-out literature in their hands, they explain that their therapists have tried to help them come out. But since they say they are not gay, their therapist has sent them to me to assess their true orientation.

I have seen hundreds of heterosexual men come to my office with same-sex behaviors worried that they might be gay. However I have always been able to help these men distinguish between their organic, innate sexual and romantic orientation as well as their sexual preferences. I have always known that straight men can have sex with other men and not be gay. However that concept makes people very anxious. Some think the behavior itself defines a gay orientation. Others—particularly gays and lesbians—understandably worry that it will be used to show that people can go from gay to straight. The reality is that from the start these SMSM’s are not gay and now we have research to prove it.

A recent New York City survey found nearly one in 10 men say they're straight and have sex only with other men. The findings appear in the Sept. 19, 2006 issue of the Annals of Internal Medicine. They also found that 70% of these straight-identified men having sex with men are married. In fact according to the Center for Disease Control, more than 3 million women are, or have been wives or girlfriends of men who secretly have sex with other men. In fact, 10% of all married men in this survey report same-sex behavior during the past year.

Some of the findings include:

  • Straight-identified men who have sex with men report fewer sex partners than gay men.
  • Straight-identified men who have sex with men report fewer STDs in the past year than gay men.
  • Straight-identified men who have sex with men are less likely than gay men to report using a condom during their last sexual encounter.
  • Straight-identified men who have sex with men are more likely to be foreign born than gay men.

It is crucial to have this information as the survey shows that a man who says he is straight but is having sex with other men is more likely to be married than a straight man who has sex with women, according to the survey. Only 54% of the men who say they're straight and have sex with women are married, compared with the 70% marriage rate among the men who say they're straight but have sex with men. This is different than gay men who are heterosexually married in what I call the “New Mixed Marriage.”

The beginning stages of the coming out process can resemble many other psychological processes. Before coaching clients into the coming out, I assess with them what their sexual behavior means—as it does not necessarily indicate a need for coming out.

Just because you are sexual with the same gender, doesn’t necessarily reflect sexual/romantic orientation. There remains a difference between sexual identity, orientation, fantasies and behavior as discussed in the article “Are You What You Orgasm?"

Historically, many a therapist would tell clients who were struggling with homosexuality they weren’t really gay or lesbian, but that various factors made them this way. Gay Affirmative Therapy is clear that orientation is innate. Individuals who act out homosexually or fantasize about same-sex partners may not be gay to begin with.

The possibilities include homo- or bisexuality, sexual addiction, bi-curiosity, homo-eroticism, sexual abuse and more—you should be informed and understand each of these issues before helping a client through the coming-out process.

Men who were sexually abused as boys or teenagers may re-enact that trauma by engaging in homosexual behaviors—and at first glance, appear to be in early denial about their homosexuality. By contrast, some women, gay or straight, who have been sexually abused will repress their sexuality, while others re-enact their early abuse by being sexually promiscuous with men when, in fact, they are lesbians.

As a result, many clinicians reassure clients that once their abuse issues are resolved, their same-sex behaviors will evaporate. But this doesn’t always happen, particularly if the client is innately gay or lesbian.

This concept is important in understanding ex-gays who claim to have changed their sexual/romantic orientation. Success rates in returning people to their “innate heterosexuality” are low to null because these individuals are not heterosexual. Those who have succeeded in rooting out their gay impulses most likely were sexually abused by a same-gender perpetrator, which confused or clouded the individuals’ primary orientation which was heterosexuality. Or they may, in fact, have just been an SMSM.

Also, bisexuals may be able to repress their same-sex feelings—simply because they were not that strong to begin with.

Terms to Understand

  • MSM: Men who have sex with other men including gay, straight, bisexual, bi-curious, questioning and any male who has sexual activity with another male.
  • SMSM: Straight Men who have sex with men.
  • WSW: Women who have sex with other women including gay, straight, bisexual, bi-curious, questioning and any female who has sexual activity with another female.

For more information in terms of what I have found in my work with straight men who have sex with other men (SMSM) go to SMSM

©2009 by Joe Kort

Related: Issues, Books

Psychotherapist Joe Kort, MA, MSW, has been in practice since 1985. He specializes in Gay Affirmative Psychotherapy as well as IMAGO Relationship Therapy, which is a specific program involving communication exercises designed for couples to enhance their relationship and for singles to learn relationship skills. He also specializes in sexual addiction, childhood sexual, physical and emotional abuse, depression and anxiety. He offers workshops for couples and singles. He runs a gay men's group therapy and a men's sexuality group therapy for straight, bi and gay men who are struggling with specific sexual issues. His therapy services are for gays and lesbians as well as heterosexuals. His articles and columns have appeared in The Detroit Free Press, Between the Lines Newspaper for Gays and Lesbians, The Detroit News, The Oakland Press, The Royal Oak Mirror, and other publications. Besides providing therapy for individuals and couples, he conducts a number of groups and workshops for gay men. Now an adjunct professor teaching Gay and Lesbian Studies at Wayne State University's School of Social Work, he is doing more writing and workshops on a national level. He is the author of 10 Smart Things Gay Men can do to Improve Their Lives and 10 Smart Things Gay Men Can Do to Find Real Love. or E-Mail

* Gaydar (gay'.dahr, n.): (1) The ability that lets gays and lesbians identify one other. (2) This column--where non-gay readers can improve their gaydar, learning more about gay men's psychology and social lives. Also, (3) a regular feature where gay readers can discover the many questions and hassles their straight counterparts--and themselves--must face!

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