By Stephanie Fairyington

Since last Valentine's Day I've been trying to convince my girlfriend, Meg, that we should make each other 'I hate you' cards for February 14 and fine-dine at McDonald's, gorging on greasy French fries and bulging burgers under those foul fluorescent lights to protest such a stupid holiday. She hasn't agreed to it yet, but since then I've been wondering, Isn't Valentine's Day a holiday purposely designed to make single people feel like crap? Actually, isn't solophobia even more pervasive and insistent than homophobia these days? It's not just the increasing push of the urge to merge'and register china patterns at Macy's'but the drive toward making sure that you're always 'getting some' one way or another.

'There's this sense that everyone wants to [be having sex], especially among gay men, so if you don't, you feel weird,' says Rafael Rodriguez*, a 34-year-old Dominican New Yorker. 'The truth is, there are times when I haven't wanted it and have felt the pressure to go out and look for it because everyone else is having sex. So it's 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 I'm too feminine and I'm not good enough and I'm not attractive, and I'd covered it up with fucking bagillions of guys,' he says. Even those whose belts don't have quite so many notches, like Joshua Simon*, a 25-year-old New York City magazine editor, agree that there's 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 aren't getting any'whether it's a find-him-on-the-Internet hookup, a steady boyfriend, or, in Massachusetts at least, a spouse'you're a sexual and social failure. This message can take its toll. If you're not getting laid, you end up with more than just a case of blue balls; it's a genuine assault on self-esteem.

'If I haven't had sex for a long time or gotten naked with somebody, I guess I begin to think, Oh, there's 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 doesn't go hunting. It's all about proving your masculinity and your power'you kill an animal to prove to yourself that you're 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 pressure'often generated by gay men themselves'to 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, you've 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 doesn't 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 doesn't approve of barebacking, he doesn't 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.