A story from the US about couples who stay together...

A story from the USA... This is an article from Salon from April 2015 about married gay men. www.salon.com/2015/04/19/we_do_have_a_very_good_sex_life_gay_men_with_straight_wives_are_coming_out_as_happily_married

This article isn't particularly common to our experience in Australia, but it may be helpful for some women, so we're posting it here. Over the 16 years of providing this unique service which is funded by the NSW Ministry of Health, we'd say it's important to look at your health as women (and men) both sexually and emotionally. You are welcome to contact us for information and support.

MONDAY, APR 20, 2015 06:30 AM +1000

“We do have a very good sex life”: Gay men with straight wives are coming out — as happily married


"Mixed-orientation marriages" have always existed, but now they're in the middle of the marriage equality battle


On the surface, the question seems simple enough: “Are you sexually attracted to your wife?” That’s what I asked 34-year-old Joshua Weed during a phone call. He breathed in deep. “That’s a really difficult question,” he said. “It’s hard to say that with clarity.” Weed is sexually attracted to men, but he’s married to a woman. “I love her very much and we do have a very good sex life,” he said. “I think she’s beautiful.” But he adds: “I’m gay.”

Weed’s wife, Laurel, is well aware of his sexual orientation. They grew up together in Utah and she was the very first friend he told about his sexual attraction to other boys. For a while, he considered the possibility of a relationship with another man, but he ultimately decided to pursue relationships with women, despite his lack of sexual attraction to them. Weed is a practicing Mormon and the Church’s current stance on the topic of homosexuality can be summed up like so: “The attraction itself is not a sin, but acting on it is.” While Weed says he does not pass judgment on gay relationships in general, when it came to his own life, he says, “I didn’t feel it was right.” So, he married his best friend.

There’s a term for this kind of relationship: It’s a “mixed-orientation marriage.” Sometimes, the men in these scenarios are referred to as “same-sex attracted men married to women.”

It’s a demographic that recently came to public attention with an amicus brief filed in opposition of marriage equality by a group that described itself as “same-sex attracted men and their wives.” The petitioners argued that “man-woman marriage laws” are not discriminatory, because, look at them! They managed to marry straight, despite their same-sex attraction. The petitioners added that same-sex marriage would necessarily insult their own marital arrangements, because it would send “a harmful message that it is impossible, unnatural, and dangerous for the same-sex attracted to marry members of the opposite sex,” says the brief.

Note that we’re not talking about so-called ex-gays. In fact, the term “same-sex attracted,” or SSA, has taken off as the notion of “ex-gays” has fallen out of favor.

There are some key differences between the two groups: “Ex-gays” believe that they have successfully “cured” themselves of homosexuality. Self-identified SSA men in heterosexual marriages generally accept the reality of their same-sex attractions but have chosen to get hitched to a woman. “Ex-gays” have a rightful reputation for being bigoted, whereas SSAs are not necessarily opposed to homosexuality. I’ll give you a moment to digest all of that, because it gets much more complicated from here. As Warren Throckmorton, a psychology professor who has studied this group, told me, “They’re not all the same,” he said. “It is hard to keep it straight.” Ehem.

When Throckmorton surveyed SSA men in relationships with women, he found that the largest sub-group were bisexual. “These were the men who viewed themselves as attracted to women in general and men in general, to varying degrees,” he said. “There was a general attraction to people.”

The next largest group was what he calls “pretty exclusively gay.” He explains, “They didn’t really feel much present attraction to their wives, they didn’t feel a whole lot of attraction to their wife when they married, but they felt they needed to marry, they felt they would grow into attraction to their wives.” Of all the sub-groups, this category of men were most driven by religious pressure.

The third-largest group consisted of same-sex attracted men who experienced sexual attraction to a single woman. “One guy described it to me as, ‘She literally is the only girl for me,’” says Throckmorton. “He didn’t think it would ever happen, he had resigned himself to being gay. He prayed and prayed and prayed and nothing happened — and then he met this girl and they got to be friends, they got to be really good friends.” Even more than friends: “Eventually something changed and he found himself being attracted to her,” he says. “They have a whole complete sex life. He fantasizes about her sexually. But he still fantasizes about men too.” He doesn’t fantasize about other women, because his wife is the only woman in the world to whom he is sexually attracted.

All of which is to say: Taken together, SSAs are an incredibly broad group. If a partner in a heterosexual relationship rates as anything other than 0 on the 7-point Kinsey scale, you arguably have yourself a mixed-orientation marriage. (Note that Kinsey’s “Sexual Behavior in the Human Male” found that only 10 percent of men were “more or less exclusively homosexual.”) So, what marriage is not at least to some small degree mixed-orientation? But where things get really interesting are relationships like Weed’s in which one partner is predominantly attracted to the same sex and yet is married to a member of the opposite sex.

Religion is often a strong motivator for these couples. Throckmorton, an evangelical Christian, developed a framework for counseling people whose sexuality is in conflict with their religious beliefs. Although he once supported conversion therapy, about a decade ago he came out against it and does not believe that gay people can be made straight. His therapeutic framework emphasizes that both sexuality and moral beliefs are “important aspects of personality,” and that “the therapist should not attempt to persuade clients about how to value these dimensions but can assist clients to determine their own valuations.” This can mean that a client decides to embrace a gay identity over their religious identity. It can also mean that they choose their religious identity over their sexual desires. Or they might adapt their religious beliefs to allow for the expression of their sexuality. In 2009, the American Psychological Association came out in support of this approach, noting that it can be beneficial for some clients.

I mentioned earlier that SSAs are not necessarily anti-gay. But there are plenty of SSA men who believe that homosexual behaviors are a religious sin — and, as the recent amicus brief shows, some are willing to go so far as to politicize their identity in order to fight equal rights for gays. So it’s no surprise that religious institutions are increasingly embracing the SSA concept. The Mormon church has begun promoting the idea that it’s possible for same-sex attracted men and women to either enter into heterosexual marriage, despite their attractions, or live a fulfilling life of celibacy. There was even a recent TLC documentary, “My Husband’s Not Gay,” about Mormon households in Utah composed of same-sex attracted men married to women. A recent Catholic documentary called “The Third Way” promotes the same choice.

But religion isn’t the only motivator here. “Some men I’ve talked to over the years, and some women too, just prefer a more traditional life,” says Throckmorton. “They just felt it would be more of what they’d always hoped for when they were growing up. They thought it would be easier to get along in society in general, even with the tolerance that exists now.” So they choose a life partner of the opposite sex, while acknowledging that it wholly contradicts their sexual orientation.

This does not sit well with a sex-positive liberal like myself who dreams of sexual freedom and fulfillment for everyone. But Throckmorton urges open-mindedness. “If we’re really going to be tolerant and non-judgmental, that’s what they want to do,” he says. “In some ways, a very religious, exclusively gay man married to an asexual woman, they can have a very nice friendship, a very wonderful relationship in many ways, and it wouldn’t be a family therapist’s dream, but it would be fine for them.” Indeed, it seems fine for Weed: He emphasizes the joy he gets from his friendship with his wife and the three daughters that they’ve had together. Weed, who has never had sex with a man, insists that his sex life with his wife is fulfilling: “Sexuality, I contend, is a lot about intimacy and vulnerability and connection between two human souls and not just about that carnal heat,” he explains.

That said, they do miss that carnal heat. “We both acknowledge that while our sex life and romantic life and emotional life is really, really good, we both at the same time acknowledge it’s missing a component, and sometimes that’s really sad,” he said. “Sometimes we grieve that and wish it could be a different way.”

HIV is still a serious issue for women

HIV AIDSOverall the reduction in death and illness from HIV is one of the great successes of this decade. However, for women in particular, HIV is still a significant problem with women tending to not recognise their risk factors, receive late diagnoses, commencing treatment later and as a result facing greater risk to their health. If you're unsure of your risk factors for HIV and other sexually transmitted infections, give us a call (1800 787 887) or call Family Planning Talkline 1300 658 886 Monday to Friday, 8:30am-5pm. But, here's the (mostly good) news: http://www.smh.com.au/national/health/its-no-longer-an-epidemic-but-aids-and-hiv-still-kill-in-australia-20160711-gq30mw.html?eid=email:nnn-13omn655-ret_newsl-membereng:nnn-04%2F11%2F2013-news_pm-dom-news-nnn-smh-u&campaign_code=13INO009&et_bid=29033735&promote_channel=edmail&mbnr=MjIxMzk3OQ

When a gay man marries a straight woman ... more in our 'sharing stories' series

This article is the next part of our 'sharing stories' series. It's on gay married men and originally appeared in the UK from Vice magazine, December 2014. http://www.vice.com/read/mixed-orientation-marriages-724

If you're dealing with your male partner being sexually attracted to men, or a man, you are welcome to contact us for a support, information and counselling.


When a Gay Man Marries a Straight Woman

December 29, 2014

by Gareth Platt

This post originally appeared on VICE UK

After 20 years of marriage, Mark couldn't take it anymore. He still loved and cared for his wife, but had started to feel a strong attraction towards a close male friend. These feelings started to saturate his thoughts, and gradually an urge to escape the rut he'd found himself in as he entered his mid-40s brought everything to the fore.

After one drunken night out, the two friends had sex. This soon became a regular occurrence; Mark now recalls that he was "a bit blasé" about the whole thing, believing he'd never get caught. His nonchalance was misplaced—one day, Mark's wife caught the pair kissing in the kitchen.

While Mark's affair was a surprise, that it was with a man was not. Mark's wife had found a stash of gay porn shortly after they married in their early 20s, and he'd formally come out to her (although not to the rest of the world) at the age of 28. Despite his sexuality, Mark told his wife that he'd never sleep with another man, promising to stay faithful to her for as long as they were married.

But after catching him, his wife didn't walk away. In fact, today—after 30 years of marriage—they're still together.

A gay and a straight person trying to maintain a marriage seems like quite an ordeal to put yourself through. Yet for millions of people in mixed-orientation marriages, it's a basic fact of life.

When psychologists and counsellors talk about mixed-orientation marriages, or MOMs, they are describing unions in which one partner is openly gay, the other straight. And such marriages are far more common than you might think. There's currently no single set of figures available for MOMs in the UK but, according to stats released by the Straight Spouse Network, an organization set up to help the female partners of gay Mormon men in Utah, there are 2 million mixed-orientation marriages in America alone.

Although it's far more common for a gay partner to come out after the couple marry than before, this is by no means universal, according to Douglas Chay, a Maryland-based therapist who runs his own practice, Pride Counseling, and describes himself as an MOM specialist.

Douglas says that "in some cases, before the actual marriage people agree to have what they think of as a non-traditional marriage. They set rules on whether the homosexual partner can have sex with other people. They may have deals where they can both have sex with other people. But often it's simply the homosexual partner who wants that."


The proliferation of support groups on the internet suggests a relatively sizable chunk of Britain's homosexual community are in mixed-sex unions. Mark himself is a long-standing member of Gay Married Men, a group that meets in Manchester and has around 50 members who range in age from their 20s to their 50s. The vast majority of members are already "out" to their wives.

"Those who have carried on [their marriage] are on a similar agreement to me," says Mark. "As long as they don't flaunt what they're doing, they can keep themselves satisfied and maintain their friendship with their wife, albeit by maintaining celibacy."

According to Mark, Gay Married Men doesn't offer counseling; it exists to provide regular group meetings where "people share experiences of how they have managed to come out, coming to terms with their sexuality, maybe the breakup of their relationship or the struggle they have had to carry it on." However, it's not all serious emotional support; members also occasionally swap tips on where to go cruising in the local neighborhood—which suggests the vow of celibacy might mean different things to different people.

Similar support is available across the UK; just type "mixed-orientation marriage" into Google and you'll find a support group in pretty much every major British city (though not all offer advice on cruising). Intriguingly, the vast majority of the groups are aimed at men, suggesting the homosexual partner in an MOM is invariably male.

One of the oldest MOM support bodies, Courage, was founded back in 1988 by Jeremy Marks, who was himself about to embark on an MOM at the time. Jeremy, a committed Christian, says he knew he was gay from puberty but couldn't pursue his true feelings because "people thought it was beneath contempt. It was very demoralizing—you had society telling you [that you] were a monster."

After years of living a single, celibate life, in the late 80s Jeremy began a platonic relationship with a longtime female friend who shared his devotion to Christianity. "She was fully aware that I was gay, but she didn't know what that meant because I wasn't involved in homosexual relationships, and perhaps we were slightly afraid of loneliness and wanted to make our families happy," he recalls.

"We 'dated' for about 18 months before marrying. We were really getting to know each other as friends, but we never slept together. Even after getting married it was never a sexual relationship."

Although the couple decided to separate in their 50s, Jeremy is now dedicated to helping other people make their MOMs work. He's left Courage and now runs his own counseling service. He says he's in regular contact with between 20 to 30 MOM couples today, hailing from all over the world.

"Many of them have kids. It's a terribly difficult dilemma for the men—and of course it's very difficult [for the women]," says Jeremy. "Some men are closer to the middle of the Kinsey scale [the formula that uses a continuum to grade a person's sexuality] and get some enjoyment out of sex. However, there's always that tension for them, that they'd like to be with people of the same sex as well."

Yet, for all the obvious sexual barriers that can afflict an MOM, many gay men end up with children, which can make things even more complicated down the line.

One such man is Steve Williams, who runs Gaydadsupport.net, an organization set up to facilitate online conversations and meet-ups between homosexual fathers. Steve says he knew he was gay at the age of five and that his initial sexual experiences were all with men, but he's still ended up with four kids.

In his early 20s, Steve met a woman by chance after falling asleep on a bus, and found he enjoyed her company. Living in Basildon, life was far easier at the time if you were heterosexual; Steve recalls that his first heterosexual relationship "wasn't love at first sight, it was convenience."

The couple soon got engaged, and as they were planning their nuptials Steve's fiancée announced she was expecting. "I was lucky she got pregnant quickly," Steve recalls, "so she didn't want sex that often. Sex wasn't difficult, it just wasn't overly pleasurable. But when we had sex, she just tended to get pregnant.

"I actually never intended telling my wife that I was gay—I genuinely believed I could live that lie for the rest of my life. But soon after I married, a guy I'd had a relationship with reappeared, and it appeared my wife knew him. So I basically had to tell her. Even then, like a lot of wives, she assumed I was bi, not gay, and I didn't feel the need to correct her.

"We continued to have sex sporadically, and this kept producing kids. Yet, as time went on we started living in separate beds, then separate rooms, and reverted to a friendship rather than marriage. She allowed me to have dates and she had dates as well, on the pretext that we knew we were going to get divorced at some point. We just wanted to wait until we found someone worth getting a divorce for.

"Eventually I met a guy and got very close to him. One day, my wife asked me to choose between her and him. I chose the guy."


Steve, Mark and Jeremy have all negotiated the MOM journey by very different routes. However, the support they have provided to other people allows them to take a panoramic view of the MOM landscape.

So, is there a "typical" demographic for MOMs? All three are adamant that it's impossible to pin this down.

Marks insists that "there's no dominant occupational group, although the majority are skilled or professional—well-educated. It does seem to be people who've had a career and knuckled down and done what was expected of them."

Steve, meanwhile, says, "I would love to say there's a clear stereotype, but there isn't. I've had everyone from doctors, airline pilots... all sorts. If anything, there's probably a lack of manual professions. You don't get many factory workers; I can only assume it's the environment where they work."

The three men also agree that the vast majority of MOMs will, eventually, end in divorce. However, this is by no means a universal rule; some couples do manage to go the distance, despite the overwhelming odds.

When asked how a couple can manage this, Mark suggests that "to some extent they want to stick with it through fear of the unknown, the fear of loneliness. And also they value what they have, someone who's a very good friend. It seems a mutual thing in most cases. The wife has been given the opportunity to separate and it's not been taken.

"In my own case, first and foremost we are best, best friends—always have been—and we felt we had a lot together. I wish I could answer why my wife has stayed with me; I suppose there would be the fear of explaining it to family if she left. I don't imagine it would go down too well."

In a sense, the accounts provided by Steve, Mark, and Jeremy paint a negative picture. The world they describe is hemmed in by fear, embarrassment, and a desire to please everyone but oneself. Perhaps in time, people will look back on MOMs with pity, just as the children of the Enlightenment scorned the God-botherers of the Middle Ages.

Yet, we should also acknowledge the sacrifices these people have made, the struggles they have endured to make their marriages work. A straight marriage was never their dream, but they've followed it to the end of the rainbow.

A woman's story - I married a gay man

Sara Hirst spoke about her marriage to rugby league player Keegan Hirst, the captain of the UK's Batley Bulldogs club, after he revealed he was gay Photo: SUNDAY MIRROR

More in our 'sharing stories' series for women partners of same sex attracted men. In this article a UK woman writes about her husband being gay in the UK's The Telegraph, September 2015        

Like Mrs Keegan Hirst, I married a gay man

When Keegan Hirst became the first rugby league player to come out as gay, I was thrilled for him. But my heart also went out to his wife.

By Anonymous, 7 September 2015

When Keegan Hirst became the first active professional rugby league player to come out as gay, I was thrilled for him. As the likes of Emma Watson and Stephen Fry applauded the 27 year-old’s courage, I waved my metaphorical rainbow flag from the sidelines. But my heart also went out to his wife.

For she is now part of a group of which I am myself a member – a straight woman who, unwittingly, married a gay man.

There are a lot of us out there, but this surprisingly large community is as closeted as any 19th-century MP. As our spouses are praised for coming out, supported by a well-organised community – Hirst got a roar of approval last month when he was brought on stage by Sir Ian McKellen at Manchester’s Mardi Gras – we often find ourselves feeling more isolated than ever.

Just as the life we thought we had evaporates, we have to face some painful questions, not least: “Surely you must have known?”

My first inkling that something was amiss came 15 years ago, and it was nothing short of a bombshell

In 1992, I met my husband at work. We were both single, in our late 20s, and had had several previous relationships. It didn’t occur to me to question his sexuality when one day he asked me out.

We went for a meal, and ended the night with a pretty good snog on my doorstep. It wasn’t long before we were an item. We told our colleagues, met each other’s friends, went on holiday together – once with some gay friends of mine, who didn’t suspect a thing either.

We dated for four years before getting married, in a church surrounded by all our families. I sold my London flat and gave up my job to set up a home with him in the country.

At no stage did any alarm bells ring. My husband is fantastically untidy, can’t cook and doesn’t like musicals. But that doesn’t make him straight.

He was in the Territorial Army, so it wasn’t unusual for him to spend weekends away. He’d been doing this his whole adult life, and I’d never be sure how late he’d be home on a Sunday.

Being the trusting soul that I was, I believed him when he said that training had overrun again, the traffic on the way back was terrible, and he must have been in a mobile blackspot on the motorway when I rang for the umpteenth time. It was not until I started looking that I found out why.

My first inkling that something was amiss came 15 years ago, and it was nothing short of a bombshell. Tidying the house one day, I found a postcard he had been using as a bookmark. It had been sent to him by another man, one he had clearly been seeing for some time. Its content was graphic and entirely unambiguous.

I burst into tears, the first of many howlings at the moon. When he came home from work, I confronted him, more in sorrow than in anger (I’m not the kind to take pinking shears to his wardrobe). We sat at the kitchen table and talked and cried. I realised there’s a difference in finding out about an infidelity, and that your partner is gay.

As Sara Hirst, Keegan’s wife, recalled at the weekend: “I was shocked, but… it was almost like ‘Oh, you’re just gay…’ It was surreal, but I was kind of fine. I was never angry because he was gay. I’ve got gay friends. It was thinking ‘Was it all a lie? Why have you strung me along? Was our marriage all a sham?’”

As we sat there, I thought he would now finally come out to me. The biggest shock was that he didn’t: in fact, he denied he was gay at all.

We went to counselling, together and separately, and he persuaded both me and the counsellor that he was, infact, bisexual. He was adamant that he wasn’t “100 per cent gay”. It’s very hard to grasp that someone is not who you thought they were – but I wanted to believe him. I was, and still am, in love with him, so I gave him another chance. If he was bisexual, couldn’t we just resume our marriage?

We tried starting a family. I was 37 at this point and we’d been talking about having a child for a while. I knew my clock was ticking, and if I split up with him, by the time I found someone else, it would have been too late. If I’d been 25, I probably would have ditched him. He would have been a brilliant father, too.

Fundamentally, our relationship was good: we had converted a barn in the country, we loved our dogs, we had a great set of friends. We both loved gardening, travel, art and architecture. We were having a great time. This was the life I wanted. I was committed as much to the lifestyle he offered as much as the man himself.

I weep for my precious memories of our sex life, when I can only suppose he was pretending to enjoy himself.

After we went to counselling, I chose to stay with him. A lot of wives wouldn’t have – but I’d never wanted a marriage in which I was constantly on his case. That was 15 years ago. I still don’t know how many guys there have been, how many times he visited a club or sauna on his way back from a TA weekend. I thought about hiring a detective, but there was no need.

I’ve found ticket stubs for gay venues in his trouser pockets as I’ve put them into the wash, membership cards to gay saunas in his wallet, gay magazines in his briefcase, gay hook-up sites on his browser. I’ve also made a conscious decision to stop looking for “evidence”.

Did I never suspect? Not once – though when I found out, it was as if I’d put on glasses and everything came into focus. I had queried whether the relationship was right, but not his sexuality.

What hurts the most is that, since the day he took our wedding vows, he has never committed to being monogamous. Perhaps foolishly, I’ve never looked elsewhere myself. I’m terminally monogamous, and didn’t want to go down that route; I wouldn’t like the person I would have become.

In my darkest moments, I think I am simply a front, and I weep for my precious memories of our sex life, when I can only suppose he was pretending to enjoy himself. At other times, I think he cares for me very deeply and our sex life was, if not all he wanted, at least a part of it.

We haven’t had sex for a long time, not for a decade, but we don’t have separate rooms. We’re still quite touchy-feely. Is this really any different from any more conventional marriage? Over time, most couples’ sex lives decrease and turn into companionship. Would mine not have followed the same trajectory had I married a straight man?

I can sympathise with his decision not to come out – we live in a rural bit of Britain and I testify to overhearing some shockingly homophobic comments – but his decision to remain closeted has made my life harder.

Now in our fifties, we will soon be going through a divorce without being open about the real reason: his family and many of our friends will be bemused and uncomprehending; why on earth am I tearing apart my apparently very nice life with an absolutely lovely man, and at my advanced age? Those of my family and friends who do know are equally bemused; why, if I’ve known for 15 years, bother to divorce him now?

Well, to be honest, I’m just tired of it all. Being married to a gay man has been a gilded cage. Since I found out, I have been waiting for the sword to fall – though I didn’t realise what a weight it was until I made my mind up to leave. I have had to steel myself mentally for the day my husband tells me he has found the courage to come out, or for the knock at the door from a long-standing boyfriend.

I have speculated whether it will be a mid-life crisis or the death of his parents that will finally push him out of the closet. I have asked myself every single day, should I stay or should I go? But I don’t really want a divorce – I just want to unmarry him.

If my husband ever chooses to come out, I know I won’t be surrounded by a wave of affirmation and support as I face up to life on my own. I won’t be a hero – though I am as much a victim of society’s bigotry as my husband.

For our estranged partners, it is the end of a painful journey. For us, it is just the beginning.

-- ends -

For information and support, contact us. A useful contact for men could be GAMMA, the NSW Gay and Married Men's Association.

Our series on sharing experiences continues...

A distant road in the Palouse vanishes off in the distance on a fair, sunny day in Eastern Washington State.Our series which shares people’s experiences continues, this time with an article from a man who came out to his wife.

Infidelity and Forgiveness: The Complexities of Coming Out in a Straight Relationship. By Loren A. Olson, MD, DLFAPA. This is a book from 2014 by a US psychiatrist about married men coming out. The text is by the author on this link: www.socialworktoday.com/archive/exc_051611.shtml

All relationships have rules, but sometimes those rules get broken. When we are in a relationship, we expect that our partner will keep our interests in mind even if he or she is tempted to disregard the rules. When the rules are violated, the wrongdoer may be called on to account for his or her behavior. Sexual infidelity is the epitome of “rule breaking” and can disrupt or end meaningful relationships.

I know something about breaking rules because I was married with two children when I unexpectedly fell in love with a man. Things suddenly shifted inside my head, and I went from thinking I was straight to knowing I was gay; nothing else could explain what I felt.

By most measures, my marriage was good. My wife and I were best friends and had an acceptable sex life. Shortly before I came out to my wife, she had no idea about my conflict concerning my sexual orientation.

Research on gay men has frequently focused on fidelity and the capacity to sustain long-term relationships. Yet almost nothing has been written about men who have sex with men (MSM). These men believe they are too straight to be gay, but others see them as too gay to be straight. Many of them are married.

In Sexual Fluidity: Understanding Women’s Love and Desire, Lisa Diamond, PhD, wrote that the gender of women’s sexual desire may be fluid, but researchers generally agree that men’s homosexual attractions never change and may grow stronger over time.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 7% of men have sex with men, but gay men are estimated to comprise about 4% of the population. These figures suggest that about 3% of men have sex with men although they do not identify themselves as gay. A study published in 2006 in the Annals of Internal Medicine indicated that nearly 10% of men in New York City who were surveyed and were identified as straight had sex exclusively with men, and nearly 10% of married men had experienced sex with another man in the preceding year.

If we accept these percentages as valid, the number of MSM who call themselves straight may be greater than the number of men who identify themselves as gay. Except for the occasional exposure of some high-profile individuals, these men are virtually invisible.

Challenges of MSM Coming Out Although people seem to be coming out at younger and younger ages, for various reasons, many MSM do not see coming out as a possibility. Early LGBT literature described coming out as a linear process typically completed by the mid-20s. However, for MSM who have led a heterosexual life, coming out is complex. It is like a sailing ship that tacks from port to port in high seas and heavy winds. MSM don’t come out because they don’t see themselves as gay and don’t want to sacrifice the privileges of being heterosexual.

The decision to remain in the closet is impacted more by the fear of loss rather than the prospect of potential gain. MSM may refer to themselves as bisexual or “curious.” They engage in homosexual behavior, but they resist assuming a gay identity because they can’t identify with the stereotype. Some gay activists criticize MSM as not being actualized. It is essential for therapists to understand that “being gay” and “doing gay” are not the same, and a client may be a long way from accepting a gay identity.

In therapy with MSM, the first question that must be answered is, “How would you intend to live your life if the homosexual attractions never go away?” The next step is to challenge the expectation of potential losses and gains that may result from coming out.

However, in some societies, coming out is impossible. Many men with whom I have corresponded have said to me, “Please, take this torment away from me.” One young African man said, “I may as well kill myself now, because if anyone finds out about me, I will be killed.” One young Chinese student said that as the oldest son, his culture expected him to marry and care for his parents. He felt he could not abandon those obligations. He asked whether he should marry even though he could not function sexually with a woman.

The Frustration of Sexual Infidelity Sexual infidelity is not the ultimate betrayal; the lies used to cover the offense are far more damaging. The injured spouse feels a mixture of emotions: anger, hurt, righteous indignation, and a wish for revenge. Lying erodes the trust that must form the basis of a successful relationship.

Spouses often become suspicious of infidelity because something is disrupting the normal day-to-day functioning of their relationship. The offender may be angry, critical, or dissatisfied. He may act guilty, anxious, or disengaged. Attention, including sexual, may decrease or, in fact, increase.

Being faithful when in a relationship is difficult for many couples, straight or gay. Friends will usually tell the injured spouse, “Get rid of him. Once a cheater, always a cheater,” and there is some data to support that conclusion. About 60% of cheaters reoffend. Because homosexual attractions will never go away, the number for MSM may be even higher. When the spouse discovers a reoccurring betrayal, it sends her a message that the offender neither regretted the offense nor seriously intended to change.

“Kevin” is a man in his mid-50s, married with two children. His wife began to suspect he was interested in men and searched for clues of his deception. She found his online name and address for a gay chat room and began sending him e-mails as if she were a man interested in a “hook-up.” Not knowing the messages were actually from his wife, Kevin arranged to meet “him” for coffee.

When confronted, Kevin made the perfect apology to his wife. He expressed his guilt and admitted that what he had done was wrong. He gave no excuse or defense for having wronged her, telling his wife she had every right to feel hurt. Kevin’s wife begrudgingly put him “on probation.” He assumed a submissive posture in the relationship, leading to a complete reversal in the power dynamics within their relationship. He promised to stop seeing men—but he didn’t.

The betrayer may believe his confession has erased his guilt. He may argue his intentions were good and that he lied to his spouse to protect her. He may believe his behavior was unintended or due to extenuating circumstances; therefore, it must be excusable. In some cases, the straight spouse clings to her relationship with the MSM in a very dysfunctional way.

In Secret Historian, author Justin Spring wrote, “If one does not want to suppress his nature and yet is afraid of expressing it, what is he to do?” Working with couples in which one member is an MSM, the primary issue is whether they should remain married given the permanency of his struggle against homosexual attraction. When couples are committed to remaining married, the question becomes, “Are you willing to modify the rules of the relationship in some way to allow for some same-sex expression outside the marriage?” Any discussion of changing the rules must include an exploration of safe sex. If the couple is not open to modifying the rules, the questions become, “Can you truly forgive your spouse? What will be the consequences if it happens again?” If the couple chooses to remain together, it can take years to restore trust. The offender must truly regret and be sorry for the pain he has caused his wife. He must assure her that the offense was an aberration and not due to a deficiency in the relationship. He must accept responsibility for what has happened. But his efforts to suppress his homosexual attraction may cause him to experience sadness, depression, thoughts of suicide, drug and alcohol abuse, and other self-destructive behaviors.

All relationships have rules; rules are broken. For the straight spouse, two steps form the basis of forgiveness: First, there must be a release of the negative effects of her partner’s betrayal, and second, she must be able to experience some sense of empathy for the pain experienced by the MSM. The therapist must help the clients enhance the sense of empathy each member of the couple has for the other’s pain.

Whether they remain together or separate, as the straight spouse develops a sense of empathy for the MSM’s struggle, it can lead to more positive interpersonal behavior, reduce the wish to retaliate, and increase the motivation for reconciliation. For the straight spouse, healing the assault on her self-esteem will mean reassigning causation for the offense; she must stop blaming herself or her spouse. The offender also needs to be able to see himself through her eyes.

We expect that our partner will always take our interests into account, but the reality is that rules are sometimes broken. Without forgiveness, the betrayal will undermine meaningful relationships. Forgiveness cannot come without empathy. Without forgiveness, a couple may remain bound together through hatred—even if they separate and divorce. Author, ethicist, and theologian Louis B. Smedes said, “Forgiving what we cannot forget creates a new way to remember. We change the memory of our past into a hope for our future.”

— Loren A. Olson, MD, author of Finally Out: Letting Go of Living Straight, is a psychiatrist in private practice in Des Moines, IA, USA. He is a Distinguished Life Fellow of the American Psychiatric Association and a recipient of the Exemplary Psychiatrist Award from the National Alliance on Mental Illness. Olson came out when he was 40, after an 18-year marriage. He is now legally married to Doug Mortimer, his partner of 24 years.