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Love and Sex

Is Testosterone Sabotaging Gay Relationships?

Is Testosterone a Hindrance to Successful Gay Relationships

The male sex drive doesn't have to ruin a good thing, our love and sex columnist writes. 

Dear Adam,

We all know that gay guys are different when it comes to sex. For men, hookups are no big deal. But it seems like that's all my boyfriend and I fight about. Now he wants us to go to couples counseling. How can I help him chill?


Being a Guy in Galveston

Dear Guy in Galveston,

You are right. Gay male relationships are different than heterosexual relationships or lesbian relationships. Fundamentally, the difference is that in male relationship both partners are governed by the hormone testosterone. Ken Wilbur, the famous philosopher, calls testosterone the "fuck and kill hormone." That doesn't exactly conjure up romantic nights in front of the fireplace where we let down our guard and express our innermost secrets.

All this testosterone can sometimes be at odds with creating emotional intimacy. Often men have to learn how to connect because estrogen, the connection hormone, is not flowing through our blood in large quantities. That's what couples counselors do -- we teach connection.

What Gets Us Into Trouble

Men do have a reputation for sometimes being "douchey" when seeking sex. Sometimes, in the hunt for sex, testosterone takes over and the other part of being male -- the more tender part -- gets submerged for a while. And in the big cities, this sometimes creates a gay/bi male subculture where we forget that even with a hookup, tender feelings are involved.

Here's what it might look like in my office. Two nice guys come in and both are surprised to find that their partner feels hurt when the other guy hooks up. They have been living with the illusion that "it's just sex" and "what possible difference does it make where I put my penis?"

This experience would not happen in a room where one member of the couple has ample estrogen running through her body.

The Attachment Perspective

While men may have hefty doses of the aggressive testosterone hormone in their blood, they also need to attach to others just like everyone else. Science shows us that attachment is another built-in human need. Babies of any gender will die if they are not emotionally attached to a caregiver. We need attachment for survival.

In male relationships these two opposing forces -- testosterone and attachment -- can cause pain if no one is paying attention to them.

So What Should We Do?

The good news is that when we start paying attention to what is really going on, problems get solved. In fact, that's the whole basis of couples counseling.

We can learn that feelings are always involved whenever humans are present, even when we think we are just interacting with a meaningless body part. We can remember that everything we do affects our partner, even when they aren't in the room with us. We can learn to value the pleasures of raw, disconnected sex and the pleasures of deep sexual intimacy. We can learn that honesty and transparency have great meaning when we are trying to feel close to someone.

And, most importantly, we can learn that there is a way to talk about anything with our partner -- even our needs for sex -- that feels connecting and intimate.

Adam_blumx100ADAM D. BLUM, MFT, is a licensed psychotherapist and the founder of the Gay Therapy Center, which specializes in relationship and self-esteem issues for LGBTQ people. The center offers services in its San Francisco, New York, and Los Angeles offices, or by Skype and phone worldwide. Visit its website to subscribe to its e-newsletter and free e-class on building a better relationship with yourself. Follow the center on Facebook and read its blog. Email Adam your questions for possible publication. (Questions may be edited.)

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