Since I became single, my mother has often asked me if I’m a slut. In the beginning, I’d respond with a blunt “no,” but more recently, I haven’t had an answer for her. “Define ‘slut,’ ” I’ll say. “If ‘slut’ means going from one guy’s place to the next in the same weekend, and then not having sex for three weeks, then sure, I guess I am.” I’m not trying to offend my mom, who’s in fact quite understanding; I’m just trying to deconstruct a word and idea that have caused so many different people to feel “less-than.” My initial reaction to her question says it all: In my life, I’ve been conditioned to associate sex with shame, so it’s natural to get defensive when being accused of having too much of it.
There’s a flip side to this. Since leaving my ex of seven years, I’ve met countless gay men who shy away from discussions about sex, apparently for one reason: They don’t think they’re having enough of it. “I wanna chime in,” they’ll say, often privately, “but I don’t have much to contribute.” Their inverse shame is a micro version of society’s macro standard: While the greater population has promoted sex-shaming for years, the gay community has imposed its own expectations, making any man or woman who isn’t regularly bringing home trade feel like they’re doing something wrong.
I’ve never used Grindr, Scruff, Tinder, or any other dating or hookup app. (I made a Grindr account once, but after two no-shows, I deleted it.) Sharing this information with other gay men has been met with an almost equal mix of the two types of sex-shaming instilled in gay Americans. Some will say, “That’s admirable” or “Good for you,” while others will throw me an inordinate amount of shade, as if not having a yellow mask on my phone’s home screen somehow makes me deficient. Both parties, in my opinion, have it twisted. One of my colleagues once wrote that if you want to “order in” via Grindr, that’s perfectly fine, and I agree. Likewise, if you’re gay and haven’t had the urge to have sex in months, there’s no reason to feel like a pariah.
I have one friend who’s a porn star, one who claims he’s slept with more than 500 people, one who’s been celibate for more than a year, and another who recently had sex for the first time in as long as he can remember. All of these men have their insecurities, but as long as they’re protecting themselves, communicating with their partners, and upholding their own standards of self-worth, I don’t think any of those insecurities should surround how they are (or aren’t) getting off. Regardless of what may happen in Trump’s America, right now—today—most of us queers are fortunate enough to find all kinds of fulfillment.
None of this is to say I don’t identify with the needs and pressures of sexual validation. (The number of semi-clad selfies on my Instagram would cause anyone to call “bullshit” on that.) I want to be desired, and I want to know that I am. But I don’t want to surrender to anyone’s expectations but mine. There are nights when I’ll go out dancing with friends, and hunting for someone who’ll keep me busy in bed for hours isn’t on the agenda. There are other nights when sex is most definitely my goal, or when I’ll text someone who I know is a sure thing and wrap my plans around him. If he’s not available, I might text someone else. It’s up to me. Does that make me a slut? Rest easy, Mom—it doesn’t.
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