“Get it in, get off, and go.”
This is the hookup script a lot of gay men follow. It’s based on the idea that sex is this physical act where the overriding goal is simply to satisfy some drive. From this point of view, sex isn’t all that different from what drives us to eat, drink, or sleep.
However, this isn’t the right way to think about sex. Sex is more than just a physical act—it’s also a deeply psychological one.
Psychology is what motivates us to seek out sex in the first place. As a social psychologist who studies sex for a living, this is something I’ve seen in my own research: more often than not, sex is a way that gay men seek to meet their emotional needs.
Of course, when men are surveyed about their motives for having sex, physical reasons appear to top the list: it feels good, I wanted to experience physical pleasure, I wanted release, I wanted an orgasm. However, it would be a mistake to assume that physical reasons like these are the only reasons men have sex, or that they’re completely separate from psychological motivations.
I say this because when we look at the way gay men fantasize about sex, we see that emotional fulfillment is a core theme. Consider this: I surveyed more than 4,000 American adults—including hundreds of LGBTQ+ persons—about their sexual fantasies for my book Tell Me What You Want.
Among other things, I asked people how often they fantasize about meeting various emotional needs, as well as how often they fantasize about emotionless sex.
You may be surprised to hear this, but I found that 96% of gay men said they at least sometimes have sex fantasies about meeting an emotional need. What type of needs are we talking about? Most commonly:
91% fantasized about feeling wanted or desired.
84% fantasized about feeling sexually competent or good at sex.
82% fantasized about emotionally connecting with someone else.
80% fantasized about feeling loved or appreciated.
76% fantasized about feeling reassured.
70% fantasized about receiving approval.
Also, the vast majority of gay men—two-thirds—said they rarely or never fantasize about totally emotionless sex. Those who did have emotionless sex fantasies tended to be people who were uncomfortable with intimacy in general. This suggests that even fantasies about emotionless sex are actually still designed to meet a deeper psychological need: coping with a fear of intimacy.
What all of this tells us is that, far from being a purely physical act, sex for gay men—just as it is for persons of other genders and orientations—is very much driven by psychology.
And that’s why I’m here. What I hope I’ve shown you in this article is that we can’t talk about sex without also talking about psychology.
My goal in writing for Future Method is to help you understand more about why psychology is an essential component of any conversation about gay men and sex. And to the extent that you understand how sex and psychology go together, you can potentially use that information to have healthier and hotter sex.