What Gay Men Can Teach Us All About Consent
Listen: we’re all sick of the trope of the sassy gay guy who acts as a relationship adviser to his naive, hetero bestie, and queer people don’t have a monopoly on enlightened sexual behavior—let’s make that abundantly clear. But part of the reason this plot device fails to die is that, well, there’s kiiiinda some truth to the idea that straight people have a lot to learn from their queer counterparts.
Because they necessarily operate without the aid of heteronormative scripts—many of which lead to shitty and sometimes coercive sex—queer people have been left alone to develop their own sexual norms. “At a very basic level, there is a general assumption that cis-hetero men have a penis, cis-hetero women have a vagina, and penis goes in vagina—the end,” said Craig, a 41-year-old gay man and wellness coach from New York City who claims to have had over 2,000 sexual partners. “With homosexual relationships and everything in between, it’s more complex.”
Out of that queer complexity arises a range of healthy approaches to sex that straight guys in particular stand to learn from, especially when it comes to the ins and outs of negotiating consent.
Let’s talk about STIs
Sexually-transmitted infections (STIs) aren’t a fun topic, but queer men seem to be better at facing up to these sexual health realities than straight guys—a 2013 study published in Archives of Sexual Behavior found that the latter are much less likely to get tested than their gay and bisexual counterparts.
“Gay men talk about STIs right in their app profiles,” said Joe Kort, founder of The Center for Relationship and Sexual Health in Royal Oak, Michigan. “I think it would be helpful for straight men to do the same. Talk about being someone who gets checked on a regular basis and who finds importance in safety, and talk about safer sex practices on the first or second date.”
No one relishes chatting about their warts or crabs with a partner, but ultimately, this openness demonstrates trustworthiness and care. “With STIs, it's about responsibility and respect,” Craig said. “Disclosure and consent provide everyone with agency to make a design to partake or walk away.”
Ironing out the kinks
Though it’s become much more mainstream in recent years thanks to "50 Shades of Grey" and sex-positive media coverage, kink is another topic more likely to get monocles popping among The Straights than LGBTQ folk. “Kinky behavior is very hard to talk about outside of the gay male community,” Kort said, whereas generally speaking, “gay men talk about it like it’s nothing. [They discuss] their sexual likes and dislikes on dating apps before they even meet in person.”
Kort acknowledged that straight men might be a little more restricted than gay guys when it comes to discussing kink openly because of the risk they’ll appear sexually aggressive to female partners. To manage these impressions, he suggested saying “It’s not my intention to be aggressive. It's my intention to be clear and open so that we are both matched erotically.” (If that’s a little nebulous for you, try: “I just want to be honest about what turns me on,” or “we can go at your pace.”)
However you phrase it, it’s important to be open about your desires to avoid developing irreconcilable erotic differences—and to make sure your fantasies are explored safely. “Understanding interests and thresholds helps ensure everyone is enjoying their experience and not entering the zone of trauma or worse, criminality,” Kort added. “The earlier the better when having these conversations.”
Boundaries are vital—and constantly negotiated
Even though there are stereotypes about gay men having an anything-goes approach to sex, this couldn’t be further from the truth. “Gay men talk about what they won’t do, which is a very important conversation around sexuality,” Kort said. Saba Harouni Lurie, owner and founder of Take Root Therapy in Los Angeles, added that “in the queer community, folks can be more deliberate about...trying not to make assumptions about others.”
Gay guys are often better at understanding that consent needs to be explicit and ongoing, too. “There’s more of an understanding that people are always in process, and what feels affirming in one season may not feel good in the next,” Lurie continued. “This is related to the idea of consent being something that is perpetually negotiated, not something that is implied or just given one time.”
But perhaps the most salient lesson straight men could learn from queer culture is, simply, openness. “There is less stigma in queer culture around talking about sex in general,” Lurie said, saying straight people should also “develop an attitude of openness, and even celebration, around [their] own sexualities and sexual preferences.”
So straight men, take a cue from your gay brothers: Ditch the self-loathing about your kinks and STIs, chat openly about your turn-ons and turn-offs, and seize the sex life you deserve—assless chaps optional!