Dear Pigeon Guts: Are Gay Men Promiscuous? Why So Much Unsafe Sex?

This week! Slutty gay men and touchy roommate situations. Plus, is it okay if you don’t find fem men attractive?

A Note From the Author: Lots of advice columns claim to have “the answers” about life, but this one really does! How can I be so sure? Because these aren’t merely my opinions: they’re the actual wisdom of the universe, which I discern, like the mystics of old, by peering into a heaping pile of pigeon guts. But not to worry: these pigeon guts are gay, gay, gay.

Need gay-related advice about life? Contact me here (and be sure and include your city and state and/or country!)

Dear Pigeon Guts: The other night I was with my best two girl friends and they grilled me on the topic of gay men being promiscuous. One of them worked on test program for some anti-AIDS medicine targeting promiscuous men, so of course she thinks gay men are promiscuous. My other friend surprised me by saying she always argued against the idea that gay men were promiscuous by pointing to me as an example, because I’m totally LTR-oriented. Except that last November I decided to give the whole gay scene a run for its money (and I won). She said if I’m promiscuous, every gay person is. The first friend said that anyone who had more than five sexual partners is considered promiscuous. I guess what I’m trying to ask is, are gay men promiscuous? What is considered promiscuous anyway? – Carlos, Lima, Peru

The Pigeon Guts Speak: First, your second friend is annoying. Slap her for me.

I’m about to speak in generalizations, so let me say up front: there are plenty of gay and bi men who cannot be considered promiscuous in any way.

No, seriously.

Do gay and bi men, on average, have more sex partners than straight people? Well, sorta, in general they do. But it’s not because they’re gay. It’s because they’re men.

For reasons that no one can completely explain – biological? cultural? some combination? – men in general have more sex partners than women. Not surprisingly, lesbian couples are more likely to be monogamous than straight couples, and straight couples are more likely to be monogamous than gay and bi men.

So gay and bi men are simply more slutty, right?

Not so fast. What would the sex lives of straight men be like if they could somehow have sex with other men and still be straight – if there wasn’t the presence of a female to put on the brakes? Or if more women were willing to have casual sex?

My theory (and plenty of sociologists agree with me) is that their sex lives would be, well, exactly like those of gay and bi men. After all, in Seattle (where I live) there are admittedly two gay male sex clubs, but there are some twenty-two straight male strip clubs, and the local news weeklies all pay their bills with page after page of ads for heterosexual escorts.

Which, since it’s mostly straight men who seem to be the most judgmental of GLBT folks, is kind of ironic, isn’t it?

There is the rare gay or bi man who has had over 100 sex partners – and post-AIDS, that really is rare (a 1989 study of 1450 gay men for example, found that one-tenth of one percent of us had had more than 100 lifetime partners – although that was before Grindr, so who knows if that’s still true?).

Yes, short of porn stars and professional athletes, there are probably still more uber-sluts among gay and bi men than heterosexual women and straight men. But I say that’s a question of access and opportunity, not fundamental temperament.

What is “promiscuous” exactly? It’s anyone who has had more sexual partners than I’ve had, which is a semi-slutty nine.

Dear Pigeon Guts: I’m 21 and I’m going to grad school in 3 weeks. A friend of mine was going to move out there with me and we had already found the perfect apartment and put down the deposit, but she got a job offer in Dallas and won’t be able to move with me. I’ve been searching for a roommate, and school offers a roommate placement program. I put my name up, and I had three people contact me. Everything was working great, but as soon as I mentioned that I’m gay, all three backed out. The problem is that the school is religiously-affiliated and I think that the majority of the people who are going there will react the same way. I have to find a roommate — I can’t afford the apartment by myself. Another person called me and asked about the place yesterday. He seems great and he really likes the apartment. Should I lie to him to get a roommate, or be myself and hope for the best? – Jeffy, Tennessee

 The Pigeon Guts Speak: There are two sets of feelings here: yours and your potential roommate. Because your potential roommate’s feelings might be motivated by anti-gay bigotry, I’m sure some people would say they don’t matter.

But they do. We’re talking about an intimate living situation here, and if respect means anything at all, it means letting people decide who they want to live with. Worst case scenario: you lie, he moves in and finds out, and wants to move out again. You’ve massively inconvenienced him, which is a sh**y thing to do, no matter what his motivations. The fact that you’re choosing to attend a religiously-affiliated school doesn’t help your case: to some degree, you’re choosing to participate in that world-view.

All that said, I don’t think you’re under any obligation to disclose you’re gay. Why? Something I call the “college exception.”

You’re young, you’re single, you’re under great economic strain. A year ago, you weren’t even out. He’s young too and might very well be sheltered and unformed.

Part of the collegiate experience is embracing the random diversity of the experience: that’s literally part of the process of becoming educated.

In short, by choosing to go to college, especially to grad school, your potential roommate is choosing to take the chance that he might end up with a gay roommate (or a fundamentalist Christian one, like I did), even if he didn’t quite realize it when he was applying.

Also, moving in and out of apartments in college is a hassle, but it’s not that big of a hassle.

You’re clearly a decent, thoughtful guy, and you deserve credit for telling those first three guys (although, sadly, something tells me that those disclosures may yet come back to haunt you).

But the pigeon guts say you’re off the hook here.

P.S. “Jeffy”? Really? What’s the story there?

[Jeffy Responds: “Jeffy is a nickname I got freshman year of college. My mom used it as a pet name for me when I was little. The first day I moved into the dorm she called back as she was getting in the car, "We’ll miss you, Jeffy!" in front of all the guys. The Ringer had just come out and they thought it was hilarious. It stuck like glue. And by the way, it’s rather cheeky of you calling me out for it, ‘cause I don’t think someone who goes by ‘Pigeon Guts’ has any right to criticize.” Jeffy also decided not to tell his roommate he’s gay.]

Dear Pigeon Guts: I’m a 22 year old, and I’ve always tried to think, "Love is love, despite where your partner falls on the ’masculinity scale’." But now I’ve met a guy who is everything I want, or thought I want, except he’s more feminine. I’m sorry for sounding like a jerk, trust me, I feel even worse for saying it, let alone thinking it, but I’m simply not attracted to him despite my best efforts otherwise. My question is, is it a valid reason to not continue seeing someone because of their masculinity/femininity?And do you have any advice for people who are newly dating and don’t really have a clue what they’re looking for? — M, Ohio

The Pigeon Guts Speak: M, you’re reminding me that I have the world’s best, most thoughtful readers. It sounds to me like you’ve done some real self-examination, and that’s a good thing.

But ultimately, the heart wants what it wants, and while that’s not a happy thing, it’s also not a bad thing.

I believe to the core of my being that the prejudice against effeminate men is irrational and unfair.

But I also believe to the core of my being that you can’t “force” love – that the infinite number of variables that go into “love” and “attraction” are far too complicated for us to begin to understand. Your brain should always have “veto” power, but it’s ultimately the heart that makes the call.

Which is also my advice for people who are dating: when it’s right, you’ll know it. And if it’s not right for both of you, then it’s also not right for either of you.

Not to add to your guilt, but you might be interested in the following letter.

Dear Pigeon Guts: I consider myself very flamboyant, but I often feel like I’m subjugated. Guys look at me and say, “Oh, Connor.” I feel like I get flack for being effeminate or for having a weird voice, because I don’t live up to this weird “masculine” image. I don’t get why a lot men to feel why it’s necessary to be attracted only masculine men. I guess I can’t change what other men feel, but I wonder why so many men have this idea that there’s only one way to be a man. – Connor, via phone

 The Pigeon Guts Speak: Oh, Connor, that so sucks, and it’s really not fair.

Why are so many men drawn to a particular type of man? A lifetime of cultural conditioning, for one thing – a cultural condition that is, at its heart, profoundly homophobic.

But this is a prejudice like any other, and something we should all be fighting against. (I wrote about it here.)

Still, the good news is that the definitions of “manhood” are changing – maybe not fast enough, but at least they’re moving in the right direction.

Connor, you didn’t ask for advice, but here’s some anyway: just like I find a humble, thoughtful jock a thousand times more attractive than a cocky, arrogant one, I also find a confident, authentic effeminate guy to be a thousand times more attractive than a bitchy, negative one.

I absolutely don’t want to blame the victim, and God knows effeminate men have lots of reason to be bitter. But please don’t ever give in to bitchiness, as effeminate men occasionally do. While “bitchy” works great for self-protection, it doesn’t just close the heart to those who might hurt you: it also closes the heart to those who might love you.

Dear Pigeon Guts: I recently started using gay dating sites and their chat rooms, within which I noticed an extremely disturbing trend: the most active and prolific rooms tended to be for "barebacking." The amount of people in any other channel typically pales in comparison to how many are in the multiple chat rooms dedicated to this one thing: performing the most dangerous unsafe sexual act a gay man could possibly do. It honestly frightens the hell out of me that just a handful of people might practice it, but to see hundreds of people for just the chat channel, for example, looking for it on a daily basis is just beyond baffles me. Why do people do this? They cannot all be stupid enough to not know how dangerous it is. I know it’s none of my business how they chose to have sex; it just deals a huge blow to my faith in the gay community. A Concerned University Student, College Park, Maryland

 The Pigeon Guts Speak: Um, speaking of promiscuity.

First, let me say this: I think a lot of what goes on in chat rooms is fantasy. Let me also repeat what I said in the first question: this is not the exclusive domain of gay and bi men. One-half of all pregnancies are unplanned, which means there’s a hell of a lot of unprotected heterosexual sex going on too.

That said, while I think most gay and bi men are still safe, there is undoubtedly plenty of barebacking going on.

There are two kinds of craziness here.

Some of these folks think, “Yeah, I’ll probably become infected. No big deal.” They think HIV/AIDS is far more manageable than it is (and don’t realize that having HIV/AIDS will screw up many more things than they think, like travel, employment, health insurance, and their overall health and looks).

Still, at least this first group is being at least a little self-aware. The second group thinks, “Sure, I can bareback with casual or multiple partners, and maybe it’s a little risky, like not wearing a seatbelt in the car, but I’ll probably be okay. It won’t happen to me.”

This is just off-the-charts nonsense.

We know that anywhere between one-half and one percent of all gay and bi men sero-convent (become HIV-positive) every year. That’s pretty amazing in itself, but if you take out all the men who only practice safer sex, or who are celibate, or who don’t practice anal sex or are in HIV-negative monogamous relationships – if you look at only the gay and bi men who bareback with casual or multiple partners – then the infection rates are going to be much, much higher.

Five percent a year? Ten percent? One study of gay men who regularly use meth had an infection rate of 25% a year – which was higher than prostitutes in sub-Sahara Africa.

For some reason, we’ve all decided not to talk about this.

Years ago, some people used to argue a "fear-based" model of HIV-education didn’t work – that it was condescending, and that we should just tell people "the facts" and let them make their own decisions without any value judgments, and without trying to create any community expectation that safer sex is the right or the responsible thing to do. To do that was being a "condom Nazi," or "sex-negative" (WTF?).

Well, we’ve tried it their way these last few years – that’s basically the stand we as a community have taken in much of our porn and our online communities – and infection rates are higher than ever. So while the "fear-based" model wasn’t perfect, it worked a lot better than what we’re doing now.

And besides, it’s impossible to talk about "the facts" – the real facts – of HIV without there being some fear involved, because the truth is pretty damn scary.

Is it possible to “serosort” – to rigorously quiz and test your multiple bareback partners and still end up negative? One study suggested it provided a small degree of risk-reduction, and it’s probably easier for an exclusive “top” than a “bottom." But people lie or don’t know the truth about their status more than you’d think. Plus, there’s the inconvenient fact that people are most infectious right after becoming infected but before testing positive.

And part of "the facts" is a truth about human nature, which is that we’re just not very rational. More than we know, we take our cues from the people around us, from social expectations, and we constantly reassess our own behavior to minimize mental stress and make ourselves look better to ourselves.

So once you take one risk, you think, “Well, nothing happened. The world didn’t end.” And you look around and see everyone else taking the same risks and they all seem to be okay too (although porn producers are notorious for not saying, “By the way, all these models are HIV-positive, and two become infected on this very set!”). So many people keep pushing limits.

Plus, barebacking is a sex act – and we men are at our least rational, our most rationalizing, when we’re in the middle of sex.

In a healthier community, we’d point this out to each other, acting like the reality-checks that all good friends should be. We’d pull each other aside and say, “Dude, you’re really going to regret this. Knock it off!” We’d reinforce each other’s better natures in our media.

Ultimately, some people are going to do what they’re going to do, but don’t tell me this wouldn’t make a difference.

But a “perfect storm” of factors is preventing this from happening as much as it should: the anonymity of the internet, the greed and callousness on the part of porn producers and even websites like (hey, why not a “meth” chatroom too?), and the understandable reluctance we all feel to judge the private sexual choices of others, having been too often judged ourselves.

As a result, too many of us are acting like the world is the way we want it to be, not the way it really is.

There are now bareback porn sites featuring teenagers (often obviously disadvantaged, in foreign countries). Why we’re all not as outraged by this as we were by the Matthew Shepard murders, I honestly do not know, but it’s made our collective karma almost surreally bad.

I started this week’s column with a question about whether gay and bi men are promiscuous. I already told you I don’t think we’re any more promiscuous than straight men are (or would like to be).

But can I make a confession?

I used to think we gay and bi men were, on the whole, a little better than the "typical" straight person – that we’d all learned a little something about how to treat other people when we or our friends had been beat up on the playground as kids, and that we’d learned a little something about morality having to sit through all those ignorant, hate-filled lectures in the churches of our childhoods.

With this whole barebacking thing, I don’t know if I believe that anymore. I think I now think, on the whole, we gay and bi men can be just as selfish and short-sighted as everyone else.

And that makes these particular Pigeon Guts pretty damn sad.

Need gay-related advice about life? Contact me here (and be sure and include your city and state and/or country!)