| The concept, and certainly the reality of intimacy, can create real problems for many men.
If a man has learned to survive in a state of emotional isolation – as many men have – then the request or sometimes the demand for emotional intimacy can be daunting. He may not know how to be intimate or even know where to begin, or he may believe that he is incapable of intimacy. Intimacy is not only not allowed, but is actively discouraged in the conditioning of men.
Despite this conditioning however, most men still hope for, desire, or at least think about the possibility of being intimate and of really connecting with someone. Most men, whether straight, gay or bisexual, unfortunately settle for sex.
Men’s confusion between intimacy and sex arises in part because they have not been allowed to be open and honest about their feelings, and they have also not been encouraged or taught to differentiate between their emotional needs and their sexual needs. The difference between intimacy and sex becomes blurred.
Men have, however, been encouraged, almost coerced at times to use their sexuality (that is heterosexuality) to prove their masculinity. Men have sex. By having sex they are at least being "physically" intimate with someone, therefore being "close" to someone. They touch, hold, talk and connect. What could be "closer" than actually penetrating someone else’s body? They must be intimate, but confuse sex and physical intimacy with emotional intimacy, thinking they are the same. For many men sex equals intimacy, and sex becomes the only way of attaining a sense of intimacy.
The ability to be close to other men therefore becomes impossible, or at least problematic for most men. If they think that intimacy is achieved through sex, then heterosexual men cannot be close or intimate with another man. If the act of sex is removed from this equation then even simple emotional closeness, or physical touching brings their concept of heterosexuality and masculinity into question. If a man feels "close" to another man then does that mean he’s physically attracted to him? If he finds another man physically attractive then does that mean he may be gay or bisexual?
Men’s masculine conditioning creates a great deal of fear, tension and confusion around their concepts of intimacy and sexuality. If they cannot distinguish the difference between their needs for emotional, physical and sexual intimacy, then their chances of being intimate with anyone are greatly reduced.
The other factor most strongly adding to the confusion on men’s ability to feel close or emotionally intimate with other men is homophobia - the fear and hatred of gay (and bisexual) men. Homophobia is an irrational fear, and men must ask themselves why they indiscriminately take on board the fear and hatred of a group of men they do not know, and with the only reason being that they are not heterosexual. Gay and bisexual men must somehow be seen as a threat to the power of heterosexual men. (See my next article - Homophobia Rules).
One threat that gay and bisexual men may present is their perceived ability to be intimate, and their ability to distinguish the difference between intimacy and sex. Perhaps heterosexual men would like to experience the difference between sex and intimacy, and between physical and emotional needs, and act on those differences. Gay and bisexual men are often seen to be better at being able to distinguish their sexual needs from their need for physical or emotional intimacy. Although labelled promiscuous (a label also used for women but never for heterosexual men), many gay and bisexual men are able to separate sex from intimacy and have clear, uncomplicated sexual experiences with other men.
Even though many gay men live in exclusively monogamous relationships, many other gay and bisexual couples maintain a primary relationship with their partner while agreeing that one or both of the people in the relationship are able to have sex with other people. The primary relationship usually provides emotional, physical and often sexual intimacy, while the sexual experiences outside the relationship are usually just that - sexual experiences.
Many gay and bisexual men seem to be more capable of establishing emotional intimacy with each other, with women, and even with heterosexual men if allowed. Many heterosexual men, in working to overcome homophobia, state that friendships with gay or bisexual men are often deeper and more significant - ie emotionally intimate. This is not to say that all gay or bisexual men are better at achieving intimacy or distinguishing between intimacy and sex.
Gay and bisexual men undergo the same social conditioning of masculinity as heterosexual men. Many gay and bisexual men could also be labelled as being homophobic or as having difficulties in establishing intimacy with others. The difference for many gay and bisexual men however, is that although they experience the same sense of isolation that heterosexual men experience, they also experience a greater degree of isolation because of their sexuality.
For many gay and bisexual men, the rejection of the masculine stereotype and the impact of homophobia provide a motivation to overcome their isolation. They actively seek out and work to create intimacy - emotional, physical and sexual - in their lives. Many gay and bisexual men work to overcome the fear, vulnerability and loneliness in their lives. Some of them succeed!