By M.J. Ecker
Alot of young JackinWorld readers have concerns about homosexuality. Since our society unfortunately attaches a fairly strong negative association to homosexuality, many young guys "worry" that they might be homosexual, because they're interested in penises and perhaps in masturbating with a friend or relative. In fact, many of the readers who have admitted such an interest in their JackinWorld postings often follow up their statement with "but I'm definitely NOT gay," or something to that effect. This recently prompted one reader to write and ask, "Please post somewhere that it is okay to be gay. It is."
I personally agree with the statement that it's okay to be gay. But things aren't quite that simple. It's common for young people to see things in black and white; something is either "right" or "wrong," period. People are constantly writing me with a concern, perhaps that they masturbate many times a day or that their penis is small, and they ask me whether or not they're "normal." But things like "normal," "right," and "wrong" are very difficult to define. I can tell people that masturbation is harmless and that many boys do it several times a day, and I can tell people that most adult guys' erect penises are between 5" and 7" in length – but when someone writes and asks whether it's "normal" to masturbate six times a day, or whether their 4" penis is "normal" ... well, things can get a little slippery. There is no hard-and-fast line inside of which you're "normal" and outside of which you're "abnormal." Nobody could accurately find the right place for that line, nor should they. In subjective matters such as these, we must learn to accept the fact that what's "normal" to one person may not be "normal" to another.
What does this have to do with homosexuality? Well, I can assure you that there's nothing physically wrong with being homosexual. Most health-care practitioners today believe that at least some people, if not all, are born with their sexual orientation in place, and therefore are destined to be gay, straight, or somewhere in between. However, I don't feel comfortable telling people whether it's morally "right" or "wrong" to have sex with people of the same gender, because morality and values are deeply personal, individual concepts that each person has to figure out for him or herself during the course of their life. Even though I have no moral objections whatsoever toward homosexuality, I would not want to tell a very conservative person they are "wrong" for condemning homosexuality, any more than I would want them to say I was "wrong" for condoning it. Sexual preference should be, I believe, completely up to the individual practicing it. As soon as someone projects his or her own beliefs on the matter onto someone else, that person's privacy is violated, and rights are violated. I personally feel that an individual's sexual preference isn't anyone else's business (except the person's partner, of course). I also feel that if people would only adhere to this fairly simple concept, "gay" or "straight" wouldn't even be an issue, and many young souls wouldn't be tortured as a result.
Now, that still doesn't answer some critical questions for many of you. Even in a perfect world, you still might be curious to know where you stand in terms of sexual orientation. Well, if you're younger than about age 20, I'd say you're probably still too young to assign yourself a sexual orientation, if you ever feel the need to do such a thing. Why? Because experimentation with alternate ways of expressing sexuality are so common for young people. It's not a good idea to set the course for the rest of your life if you're still trying out all of the options.
Here's an example: A 15-year-old writes, "Just about every night, my brother and I take turns masturbating each other, and I really enjoy it and look forward to it. We've gone so far as to give each other oral sex. Am I gay?" Well, first of all, it would be foolish to say the activities you're engaging in are not homosexual by nature. Let's face it: No matter what your beliefs on homosexuality, two guys giving each other sexual pleasure is, by definition, a homosexual act. However, homosexual acts are not the same as a homosexual orientation. There are many situations in which otherwise-straight guys have sexual contact with each other because contact with the opposite sex is unavailable: in prison, on ships and submarines, and – yes – in youth. Teenage boys are just exploding with hormones, sexuality is fairly new territory for them, and often the only bodies around that are available to explore these new feelings with are other, equally curious and excited teen boys. That's why experimentation, such as mutual masturbation and sometimes more, happens so often. Are all of these boys "homosexual"? Of course not. As they get older, some of them get girlfriends and begin exploring their sexuality through the opposite sex. Others, meanwhile, continue having sexual contact with other males. And still others explore sexuality with both sexes. By the time they're in their 20s, it may be appropriate for them to think of where their sexual orientation lies – in other words, which gender they prefer to have sex with. But some people would rather avoid labels – they just consider themselves "sexual" and consider the person more important to attractiveness than that person's gender.
Still, there are cases where a person's sexual orientation is clear from a fairly early age. If the same 15-year-old wrote and said, "As long as I can remember, I've been interested only in other boys. I think about them when I daydream, when I sleep, and I fantasize about them exclusively when I masturbate. Girls have never interested me sexually at all." In this case, I'd say the reader will probably, indeed, grow up to be gay. Perhaps he's already thinking about telling his parents, because these feelings pervade his life and his thoughts throughout the day. I think that's far, far healthier than someone in the same boat who denies his feelings, tries for years to convince himself he is attracted to females, and perhaps ends up getting married and being unfaithful to his wife by having affairs with other men. That person is living a lie – and that is a very unhealthy situation indeed.
So, what do you do if you think you truly are gay but have serious moral objections to the idea of being homosexual? This is a matter of grave concern. Tragically, the suicide rate of gay teens is enormously high. But there is hope. Luckily, today there are many, many resources available for gay youth, especially in cities. There are also many such resources on the Web. You don't have to live your life in agony, denial, or worse. Talk to somebody and get help. Happiness and peace of mind can very definitely be in your future – you just have to be strong and brave and go out and search for it.
As for the rest of you who are merely experimenting or just having fun, relax. You won't get "locked into" gay behavior just because of a few encounters with people your age. At the same time, though, it's important not to get too focused on this side of sexuality if there's another side you'd like to explore as well. Feel free to check out the various options, and then determine what kinds of sexuality you'd like to continue exploring for the rest of your life. As long as you keep your options and your mind open, happiness with your sexuality won't be far behind.
A reader-written letter inspired by the above article