Since last Valentines Day Ive been trying to convince my girlfriend, Meg, that we should make each other I hate you cards for February 14 and fine-dine at McDonalds, gorging on greasy French fries and bulging burgers under those foul fluorescent lights to protest such a stupid holiday. She hasnt agreed to it yet, but since then Ive been wondering, Isnt Valentines Day a holiday purposely designed to make single people feel like crap? Actually, isnt solophobia even more pervasive and insistent than homophobia these days? Its not just the increasing push of the urge to mergeand register china patterns at Macysbut the drive toward making sure that youre always getting some one way or another.
Theres this sense that everyone wants to [be having sex], especially among gay men, so if you dont, you feel weird, says Rafael Rodriguez*, a 34-year-old Dominican New Yorker. The truth is, there are times when I havent wanted it and have felt the pressure to go out and look for it because everyone else is having sex. So its just a lot of pressure. Sometimes, of course, the pressure can come from the inside. Chris Nutter, a Chelsea boy in his mid 30s (and author of The Way Out, a forthcoming spiritual guidebook for gay men), recalls using sex to mask negative feelings he had about himself throughout his party-and-play 20s. I felt like Nobody wants to have sex with me and Im too feminine and Im not good enough and Im not attractive, and Id covered it up with fucking bagillions of guys, he says. Even those whose belts dont have quite so many notches, like Joshua Simon*, a 25-year-old New York City magazine editor, agree that theres a good deal of pressure from gay peers to have random hookups and one-night stands.
Sexual liberation has long been a tenet in the High Church of Gay, but lately it seems that its newest commandment is Thou shalt be coupled, whether for a one-night stand or a 10-year relationship. The overriding message: If you arent getting anywhether its a find-him-on-the-Internet hookup, a steady boyfriend, or, in Massachusetts at least, a spouseyoure a sexual and social failure. This message can take its toll. If youre not getting laid, you end up with more than just a case of blue balls; its a genuine assault on self-esteem.
If I havent had sex for a long time or gotten naked with somebody, I guess I begin to think, Oh, theres something wrong with me; nobody wants to hook up with me, says Simon. Rodriguez echoes that sentiment, adding, You start questioning your physical appeal. Others question their masculinity: Doron Bar*, a 31-year-old recovering sex addict, explains that sexual droughts in his life have made him feel empty and unmasculine. A length of time without sex is kind of like [being] the hunter that doesnt go hunting. Its all about proving your masculinity and your poweryou kill an animal to prove to yourself that youre powerful and in control.
While self-actualization through sexual liberation is certainly not new, ever since HIV was identified 22 years ago, there has been an increasing pressureoften generated by gay men themselvesto settle down into partnered relationships of varying degrees of monogamy. That push has only been intensified by the increasing momentum of the same-sex marriage campaign. Support among gay people for the civil-rights and equality arguments for same-sex marriage are strong, but there remains an ongoing debate about just what marriage will mean for same-sex sexuality. Whichever side of this issue social commentators come down on, all would seem to agree that gay individuals need to be identified as part of a twosome, whether as a married couple or as part of a series of casual couplings.
On the one hand, youve got the pro-promiscuity proponents like David Halperin, author of Saint Foucault, and noted queer journalist Richard Goldstein. Halperin contends that heterosexual culture in the West has produced a culture of erotic impoverishment, in which sex is supposed to be rare, and then has turned that rarity into a virtue. Gay male culture has the sense to challenge that destructive notion. Similarly, Goldstein doesnt think that a queer sexual ethic that values a lot of sex and risk-taking is about self-loathing and destruction. He argues that promiscuity and high-risk sexual practices like barebacking with tina are about the thrill of danger. Though he doesnt approve of barebacking, he doesnt think it is the result of any pathology but instead is a fact of gay male sexuality, which often finds that danger can be erotic.
*Not his real name.
To read more about solophobia, pick up a copy of the February 2006 issue of Out.