Sometimes it is hard to feel a connection to people who are different than us. We all struggle with this. Change is hard and familiarity is easy.
I’m having an experience like this today. My beloved next door neighbor, a 92-year-old woman who has been a friend since the day my family moved in here, died last year. I miss her terribly. Her house is being sold. I am aware of hoping that I feel comfortable with the new people who move in.
I think it’s normal to feel a connection to people who remind us of ourselves, and to feel some distance from people who are different. Therapists are people too, and we experience this as much as other people do. I don’t think it helps to shame others or ourselves for this fear. But part of the solution to various forms of xenophobia is to become curious about the lives of people who are dissimilar to us.
The got me thinking about different types of sexual relationships. The belief that gay men’s sexual activity is very different from straight men’s sex may contribute to people’s hostility and homophobia. Stereotypically, people believe that gay men are mostly focused on having anal sex. Anti-gay jokes are filled with this imagery, as are various forms of insults men throw at each other. Porn can contribute to this stereotype as well.
But a 2011 study of 25,000 gay and bisexual men published in the Journal of Sexual Medicine found that nearly 65% of gay and bisexual men did not have intercourse as part of their recent sexual interlude. In fact, activities familiar to straight couples — such as passionate kissing (75%) and being held romantically (62.8%) — were more common.
This makes sense to me because my work puts such an emphasis on the importance of whole body touch.
As part of the training to be a sex therapist, we are required to take an SAR — a sexual attitude reassessment. I took mine decades ago. Part of an SAR is watching educational movies showing people engaging in sexual activities that are unusual or different from our own preferences. A wide range of movies were shown.
(Times change, of course, and alternative sexual activities are much more in the mainstream now. I’m sure the movies we were shown then were very vanilla compared to the current SARs.)
What I recall the most vividly from that training was the movie we watched of two men making love. It was extremely romantic, filled with passionate kissing and touching. Back then, I was surprised. It felt every bit as familiar to me as any straight rom-com movie would have.
All in all, it’s a good idea to fight our prejudices and feelings of hatred. Hatred actually hurts us. Extreme, rageful emotions affect the nervous system, the immune system, and the endocrine system, unleashing the release of stress hormones in the brain.
Over time, this leads to inflammation in the body, with very bad health consequences.
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