We Can’t Talk About You-Know-What without Talking about Psychology

Dr. Justin Lehmiller

Sex & Pscyhology July 16, 2019

“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 hooking up is this physical act where the overriding goal is simply to satisfy some drive. From this point of view, hook ups aren’t all that different from what drives us to eat, drink, or sleep.

Hooking up is more than just a physical act—it’s also a deeply psychological one. 

However, this isn’t the right way to think about intimacy. Hooking up is more than just a physical act—it’s also a deeply psychological one. 

Psychology is what motivates us to seek out liaisons like this in the first place. As a social psychologist who studies intimacy for a living, this is something I’ve seen in my own research: more often than not, hooking up is a way that gay men seek to meet their emotional needs.

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Of course, when men are surveyed about their motives for hooking up, physical reasons appear to top the list: it feels good, I wanted to experience physical pleasure, I wanted release, I wanted to come. However, it would be a mistake to assume that physical reasons like these are the only reasons gay men do what they do - or that they’re completely separate from psychological motivations. 

I say this because when we look at the way gay men fantasize, 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 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 hook ups.

You may be surprised to hear this, but I found that 96% of gay men said they at least sometimes have 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 competent or good in the bedroom.

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 hook ups. Those who did have emotionless bedroom fantasies tended to be people who were uncomfortable with intimacy in general. This suggests that even fantasies about emotionless encounters 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, intimacy 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 you-know-what 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, adults in other communities and intimacy. And to the extent that you understand how intimacy and psychology go together, you can potentially use that information to have healthier and hotter hook ups.

About the author

Dr. Justin Lehmiller has a Ph.D. in Social Psychology from Purdue University and is a Research Fellow at The Kinsey Institute. He’s an avid author, blogger and prolific researcher on topics such as the psychology of relationships and intimacy, having published more than 50 academic works to date in each of the leading journals on intimacy.

The views expressed in this article intend to highlight alternative studies and induce conversation. They are the views of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of Future Method, and are for informational purposes only, even if and to the extent that this article features the advice of physicians and medical practitioners. This article is not, nor is it intended to be, a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment, and should never be relied upon for specific medical advice.

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