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Sex: Smoke and Mirrors – what lies beneath our desires, addictions and compulsions

In conversation with Robert Weiss

RobWeiss_Web200x300Robert Weiss LCSW, CSAT-S is Senior Vice President of Clinical Development with Elements Behavioral Health. He is author of Cruise Control: Understanding Sex Addiction in Gay Men and Sex Addiction 101: A Basic Guide to Healing from Sex, Porn, and Love Addiction. An author and subject expert on the relationship between digital technology and human sexuality, Mr. Weiss has served as a media specialist for CNN, The Oprah Winfrey Network, the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and the Today Show, among many others.

Ade Adeniji (Co-Founder of The Quest) sat down with Rob during his recent visit to London to talk about Addiction, Drugs, Intersection of Race and Sexuality, Gay Culture and much much more.

Ade Adeniji: Having read your book [Cruise Control: Understanding Sex Addiction in Gay Men], one of the things that struck me is that I meet a number of gay men who have many of the signs of sex addiction that you identify in your book, and yet, they don’t use the word ‘addict’. Do you come across that in your work?

Rob Weiss: I think it’s very individual, but there’s also a lot of denial. If you look at the back of “Cruise Control”, there’s a little section about why I wrote the book. What it says is that I was at an HIV conference in the 90s and I was sitting backstage with a bunch of therapists, who were gay men. They were complaining about how they could not talk about the problems within the gay community – such as domestic violence, drug and alcohol problems, and sexual acting out – because there’s this thought that when you have an oppressed minority, and if you’re among that minority, that you don’t want to say what your own issues are.

It’s like being in an unhealthy family where no one talks about the problem. Because if, as gay men, we say we have sexual problems, then the larger culture says, “See, we knew that. We knew those people were all sick, and all sick about sex,” so it just doesn’t get talked about. This was during the height of the HIV crisis.

I grew up in a family where no one ever talked about anything. There’s this part of me – that works sometimes, and doesn’t at other times – and that is, no one’s going to tell me I can’t talk about it! I don’t mean in an angry way, I mean, if there’s a problem, let’s bring it up, let’s deal with it. Let’s talk about it. That’s just who I am.

There’s very much a part of me that says that the fear of prejudice is not a reason to ignore a problem. I wrote “Cruise Control” because I knew that there was a problem. I had the problem and I saw other men – the George Michaels’ of the world – wandering around and I thought, “We have to be able to talk about this.”

Cover.Cruise Control_2nd.inddThe only leader in the field was Pat Carnes. Pat is an older, white, straight, mid-westerner. I used to wander around with Pat in the 90s and he would talk about HIV to gay communities and no one wanted to hear him, because no one wanted to hear some straight guy talking about sex addiction. I thought, “What if a gay guy talked about it?”

I don’t meet much resistance any longer about this issue in the gay community. In fact, in America, in general, we don’t meet much resistance. When Pat Carnes was beating the bushes in the 80s and early 90s, he was getting questions from the media and people like, “What is this sex addiction thing?” I get more questions now, 15 years later, like, “Oh, sex addiction, that must be really hard for people. What is it about? Where does it come from?” There’s been a cultural shift.

Ade: Sometimes we get a few guys who come on our workshop who say, “Yes, I go on dating/hook-up apps, its no big deal, I don’t have a problem, it’s what gay men do. It’s fine.

Rob: Right, that makes me very angry. I am reminded of George Michael. I heard him during his second arrest in England, come out and say, “You and the press, you’re all standing around this bush at three in the morning and you just don’t understand, that’s what gay men do.” I thought, “That’s not what all gay men do.” Yes, I have crawled around in the bushes, but I think that was much more a result of cultural oppression and homophobia. Why do we have gay ghettos? Because there’s no place else we’re accepted. Now they’re starting to disappear.

One of the questions that I think about a lot is “if the degree of oppression that gay men have lived under is decreasing, marriage, acceptance, children, do we just assimilate?” Do we just become part of the larger culture, or do we still have something that keeps us separate? Do we still need community centres and bars that are just for us? A lot of those things are disappearing in America because young people, they go out and hang out [in mixed spaces].

I want to go back to your question. It’s not my job to determine what is healthy sexual behaviour for anyone. If a person hooks up three days a week, good for him. I hope he is having a good time, please be safe. If that person tells me that what he really wants to do is have a relationship, or what he really wants to do is raise a family, if he is telling me that he has a life goal that would likely conflict with his behaviour, but he is either unwilling or unable to give up that behaviour, then there’s a problem.

Most of us, if we want to lose weight, we have to diet. I can’t sit around and say, “I can’t understand why I’m so fat”, while I’m eating ice cream. If I want to have a relationship, it’s probably not going to happen by having sex with strangers three days a week. Gay men will say, “Oh, you’re saying we have to be like straight people, we have to get married and be monogamous.” Do whatever you like. It’s only that small percentage of us who have the problem; who can’t be sexual like other people can, because when we do, it kicks up the nerve chemistry and we end up in places and situations that aren’t good for us.

That’s not true for all gay men. I’m not saying all gay men are sex addicts. There are more of us than there are in the straight community, percentage-wise. There’s also more drug addiction, more alcoholism, more domestic violence in our community. Why wouldn’t there be more sexual acting out?

I don’t think it’s very hard to stop sexually acting out. You just could stop. The hard part is integrating healthy sexuality – allowing intimacy, is allowing vulnerability. I had a couple that I was working with and they really wanted to be closer. One guy was doing a lot of sexual behaviour that the other partner didn’t know about. They had to sit down together and this is the conversation they had – He said, “I want to be closer to you and so I’m going to tell you what I’ve been doing. Because every time I come home, or I’m around you, I think about what I’ve been doing and I feel distant from you. It makes me feel bad about myself. In order to get closer to you I’m going to tell you what I’ve been doing. Then we need to decide what to do about it.”

That is intimacy. I don’t know that gay men have any greater skillset at intimacy building than straight men do.

imageAde: A big part of the work of The Quest is around authentic self-expression. “What is true for you authentically, and what is getting in the way of that?” We find that we always have to take participants back the past to look at how the past is influencing the present.

Rob: How did you learn who you are?

Ade: Exactly. We sometimes get guys who say, “the past is not relevant anymore”. I fell into this category too, in my 20s, early 30s, I was out, I had a great job, I was dating and I thought, “I’m not going to look at my past. Everything is fine.” What I found was that I was attracted to the same type of guy – emotionally unavailable. At one point, I had to pause and go, “Oh, this kind of guy I’m attracting is not really working for me, so I need to find out why.”

What would you say to people who say to you – “Why do we need to look at the past?”

Rob: I would say that we learn about relationships from the relationships that we’ve had. How would you learn how to have a different relationship, or choose a different kind of person, if you only know what you’ve already done? If you can’t look at your history and see how you’ve made those choices, and how you learned to make those choices, how could you begin to shift into different choices?

I recently was in Philadelphia where I was speaking at one of the Gay and Lesbian Centres, and I found something that really surprised me. It wasn’t a sex addiction talk, it was just a talk about intimate relationships among gay men – a lot of men, between 25 and 40, are really longing for intimacy in a relationship, but they have no idea how to achieve it. I had men in that audience who said things like, “Look, I know how to use Grindr. I can have all the sex I want“. “I guess in my head I somehow think that’s going to turn into a relationship, but it never really does”. “Where am I going to go, and how do I find what I want?” To me, and for therapists working in the gay community, I think there’s a real opportunity to help gay men learn intimacy.

As gay men, we’re not having Male/Female relationships. Men tend to be competitive, they tend to one up each other, they tend to want to be right. One of the reasons Male/Female relationships can work well is a woman will defer. That’s very hard for two men. We don’t necessarily listen to each other. A woman in a heterosexual relationship will interpret, she’ll show more empathy, she’ll show more emotion. She’s kind of leading the way for her male partner into a more connected relationship. Men don’t necessarily have that. I believe it is true that, inherently, two men together have a challenge that a man and a woman together don’t have. While men with men seem to have difficulty building connection, rather than competing, women with women tend to build too much.

Ade: One of the things that you said in your presentation earlier today really stayed with me, and that was the importance of the family system, in terms of doing recovery work. Sometimes what we find is that many of the guys who come on our workshops go back to their lives after doing this really intensive work, and they don’t have a ready support network to help them. And sadly at some point they go back to the way things were.

200px-Grindr_iPhone_home_screenRob: Right. “I don’t really want to be on Grindr, but if that’s all I can find, then that’s what I’ll do

Ade: Yes. And that’s a big challenge for some of the work that we do. People get those breakthroughs and for the first week it’s fantastic. They feel connected, the intimacy’s great, and then the weekend comes along and they’re not doing anything, and then they act out because they are longing for connection. And some of the guys are only just learning how to connect authentically.

Rob: Or don’t even know that that’s what they’re missing.

This was a win for me – 30 years going to meetings and 23 years of therapy. Last summer I had some very good friends come visit. They’re very healthy people. My husband and I were with them and we just had this wonderful family time playing cards and hanging out and just having a really great time. I travel a lot and Monday morning came and I had to leave and they were still there. Every step I took toward the terminal I started feeling sicker and sicker and sicker. Sometimes, because of my trauma history, I don’t know whether I’m physically ill or emotionally. It was just about the time my hand hit the terminal door that I realized why I was feeling so badly. It was because I had to leave something that felt so close and warm and connected to me.

That was a real win for me because what it used to be is I would start going to the airport and I’m thinking, “Oh, I wonder who I can hook up with when I go into Chicago, New York, whatever.” I can skip “I miss my family, I like the structure, I miss my friends, I miss my dog, I don’t want to go on the road”. I didn’t allow the feeling of loneliness or sadness or missing, which I think a lot of us who have trauma don’t do. We just move through the intensity.

By the way, sex addicts have two major triggers. One is travel and the other is unstructured time alone. I think we’re actually people who are quite vulnerable. We think we’re very strong. We think we can handle working triple time and sleeping around. The reality is, I think we’re quite vulnerable. Mostly because we don’t know what we’re feeling half the time.

Ade: You’ve talked about childhood trauma and how the tracks of that trauma have been set come adulthood. I find that really scary and it reminded me of a quote by Eugene O’Neill, who said, “There is no present or future, only the past replaying over and over again”. When I first started my own personal growth work, I used to think, “Well, I’ll get to a stage where I can go, ‘Oh, I’m all sorted. It’s all done.’ What I’m starting to learn is that it’s really about the awareness and the resilience, as Brené Brown would say. A number of guys who come to us still hope that, “perhaps this book, this workshop etc” would finally bring about that permanent change.

Rob: That’s very cultural. People say, “Oh, they went to a recovery centre, so now they must be cured.” There is no cure. There’s only adaptation. Sometimes people say, “Well, I’m going to work through my trauma.” You’re not going to work through your trauma. You’ll be aware of it. You’ll be less reactive to it, but it’s still there. Like a scar.

I don’t think it will ever go away, but how I interpret it and how I look at it … If I’m going to the airport and I’m starting to think, “I can’t wait to get out of town so I can find somebody to sleep with,” I don’t say to myself, “Great, the minute I check into that hotel, I’m going to Grindr,” I say to myself, “I wonder what’s going on that I’m feeling this way, because I know it’s not about being horny.”

It’s thinking backward; I have to sort of rework it. Like “what’s going on with me that I’m feeling this way?” Because it’s so automatic, under stress, just go to the sex.

Ade: One of the things you talked about today was around cultures around the world. You said that the issues are pretty much the same. I’m wondering about that from an ethnicity perspective. What I find, as a black gay man, is that I have my race stuff, that’s going on. I also have my sexuality stuff.

Rob: Double prejudice.

Ade: Yes. What insights on this issue are coming from the work that you’re doing – if anything?

Rob: I think that’s a complex question. First of all, I live in America, so race has a whole different set of values than it does here, and holds a different set of challenges. I think, and I’m not sure if this is what you’re asking, but I think awareness of addiction, and a willingness to seek help is a class issue, more than a race issue, in part.

I see people who have money, are educated and they want to grow and they want to learn. If you’re worried about paying the bills and keeping a roof over your head, you’re not really paying a lot of attention to other issues. You’re certainly not willing to spend money to get help for it.

Ade: Sort of like Maslow’s hierarchy?

Rob: Yes, there’s that, and then there’s the other pieces, which is the cultural shame. In the black community it’s a lot about the church and what a man is supposed to be. In the Asian community it’s about the shame you would bring on your family.

We don’t see very many people of colour in meetings, period. More Latinos actually. I live in California, so that would make sense. The African American community stays away. Even in meetings. It’s interesting, I was talking to an African American therapist that I work with and she said, “Well, there’s not a lot of leadership.” There’s not a lot of men saying, “Look, stand up, go get some help.” It just doesn’t happen that way.

I don’t see nearly many as people of colour coming to treatment, period. It’s not just sex addiction, drugs, alcohol, any of it. Do I think there’s any less of it there? No, there’s probably more because oppressed cultures end up acting out. Where they go for help or the willingness to admit it is limited.

Ade: We find the same over here actually. We get more Asian men come on our workshops and very few black African, black Caribbean men. We’ve just launched a project to do some work focusing specifically on this group, it will give us the opportunity to proactively reach out to this group and evaluate the impact of our work.

Rob: It’s interesting you asked me about this subject. I was saying earlier that I was in Philadelphia and that these men wanting to build relationships, but all they knew Grindr. Both of them were African American men. Part of that is being in Philadelphia, which is a very black city. I said to them, “Well, you’re sitting here in a Gay and Lesbian Centre where I’m teaching, don’t you think there are people in this building, or groups, or things you could do to meet people?” One of them said, “Look, I’m black. If I come to this neighbourhood after dark, people are going to be looking. I have to watch out what I’m doing. It’s very easy for a white person to walk into this Gay and Lesbian Centre, not so easy for me to walk in.”

I don’t know whether that’s his homophobia or his issues, but I think that the choices are narrower. It’s hard enough to live with one kind of prejudice, let alone multiple prejudices. I see a lot of African American men really struggle with homosexuality. It’s harder to be not just black, but black and gay. Double pressures.

Ade: On the surface, especially in the western world, things look pretty okay for gay people. We can now get married, we can adopt, we have celebrities who are out and proud. We often hear people say, “What’s still the problem, get over it! Things are now okay.”

Rob: I don’t hear that, but here [in the UK], you’re a little further along. We only have state-by-state marriage. It isn’t the whole country. My response to that is we’re 150 years after the Civil War in the United States and look at the degree of racial prejudice that we’re dealing with.

Interracial marriage was banned in America till the 60s. Obama’s parents could never have been married. Here we are, 50 years later that oppression is still there. A lot of the resistance to his presidency and the choices he is making absolutely have to do with race.

You could say, “Well, people of colour have been free for 150 years, why is it a problem anymore,” and white people do say that. “What’s the problem? You can shop, you can … “The problem is I can’t walk down certain streets without a police officer pulling me over”. All of that. It’s just endemic.

I don’t think that just because you remove the most obvious parts of oppression doesn’t mean that it isn’t still going on in people’s living rooms. On the other hand, I’m amazed at how far we’ve come. I never thought I’d hear a footballer or a basketball player getting penalized for using words like “fag” or “homo” because that was just such a cultural norm.

I understood the ‘N’ word, they weren’t supposed to do that, but it was always okay to go after ‘us’. Now it’s not okay to go after us, which is kind of nice. That doesn’t mean cultural acceptance. I also live in a very, very large country. If I’m in New York, I’m a very different person than if I live in Kansas City. There are places in the United States, when I go to teach nice, well-dressed, well-educated therapists. I have to say things like, “For those of you who feel comfortable with the idea of evolution,” because I know there are a bunch of Christians in that room who will not accept what I’m saying unless I give them the option out.

There’s a lot of religious and cultural prejudice that’s going to take many, many, many decades to go away.

Ade: You talk a lot about technology in your work. I live partly in Amsterdam. What we’ve noticed is a lot of the gay bars are now closing down because gay men are going onto Grindr and the other hook-up apps to meet guys.

Rob: Partially that may be why, yeah.

Ade: What do you think it might be otherwise?

Rob: I think it’s cultural acceptance among younger people. I think they’re just going out with their friends. If they want to hook up, they pick up Grindr. They don’t necessarily go to a gay bar to meet a guy to pick up. They’ll go out with their straight friends to hang out and dance and whatever they do, then they’ll go to Grindr when they want to have sex.

Ade: Even the older people are not going out to the bars.

Rob: Right, but they’re also not going to the bathhouses, the sex clubs, the parks, the bushes. That whole culture is sort of going away because of the Internet. That doesn’t mean the pathology is going away, it just means they’re underground.

They’re not going to gay specific environments. What you see in America is some of the gay ghettos are slowly disappearing. The Castro is becoming more and more heterosexual. Greenwich Village is more and more hetero. I can hold my husband’s hand in most places around town, so I don’t need to live in West Hollywood. I can live wherever I want.

My friends are going to be my friends, even though I’m with a man. I can be friends with whoever. A lot of the places, and this is what I was saying about assimilation, when we don’t need the bars anymore because we can hook up with a machine, and we don’t need the communities to be safe because we’re pretty much safe in the larger culture, at least in the urban world, then what differentiates us?

All the energy, when I think about the last 30 years, going through AIDS and still the tremendous amount of prejudice and all the prejudice of childhood, if I lived in a world where there was no prejudice toward my homosexuality, where would all that energy go that we spent all those years fighting the oppression? What happens to all that energy? Does it just go into our work? Or do we just go back to hedonism, like the 1970s?

I thought AIDS would teach gay men a lesson about the rampant indiscriminate sexual behaviour. I thought, surely death would do it. Having run a sex addiction agency at the height of the AIDS crisis, men weren’t coming in. I see more men coming in now than I ever did before.

The reason they’re coming in is the same reason the straight men are coming in. Which is the fear of death or destruction does not keep me from acting out, but the fear of losing an intimate partner does. Every intervention notices this. Now we have gay men building longer, more intimate, relationships and some partners are like, “No, I’m not okay with you stopping off three days a week to have sex with other people.” Now they’re coming into treatment because they want to be with their partner. The fear of death or illness didn’t drive them into treatment, but the fear of losing a partner did.

Ade: Crystal Meth is a big thing over here on the gay scene. It’s huge and tied in with that, bare-backing sex parties. It feels like it’s almost just appeared out of nowhere. Although what I’m hearing from people is it’s always been there. Is it pretty much the same in the States, in terms of the explosion of Crystal Meth in the gay community?

Rob: Well, it’s been going on quite a while in the States. I would say since the millennium probably. Since we moved out of ecstasy and all of that stuff. Meth is the drug for gay men in America.

Ade: Why is it the drug?

Rob: Because of Viagra. That’s my belief. Because amphetamines are a softy for men. “I can’t do a lot of coke and get an erection. I can’t do a lot of meth and get an erection”. Back in the 60s amphetamines were very popular. What did people do when they took them? They went dancing or they cleaned their house, or they worked on that paper all night long.

Now we can have erections for long periods of time and we can do speed. You can literally be up for days at a time. That’s what’s driving part of this. Because it does make you feel intensely sexual – It makes you feel intensely anything.

Anyway, that’s part of what I’m seeing. The problem is unhooking the two – how do you know if a meth addict, who’s been acting out wildly all over the place, is also a sex addict?

On some level I don’t think it matters. Because when you get someone sober on meth who’s been having a lot of hypersexual behaviour, you have to create a plan for their sexual behaviour sober. If not, they’re going to go back to the same places where they had the intense mind blowing sex when they were using, and where the drugs were.

If you’re going to be sober from meth and you’ve done a lot of sexual acting out at the same time, you’re also going to have to deal with your sexuality in a different way, so you don’t end up back on the drugs.

The other piece of that is about fusion in the brain. We only have one pleasure centre and it’s driven by dopamine release. The most dopamine you can release as a human being, without drugs, is orgasm. The drug that produces the most amount of dopamine release is, next to cocaine, by about a hundredfold, is meth.

When you put meth and sex together and you do it constantly, they really become paired in the brain, those two pleasures. I had one guy in group not that long ago in residential treatment, and he said, “My parents were here yesterday. We had a very difficult family session.” This guy is 22. He said, “I wanted to use. I wanted to get meth. I wanted to get high. I wanted to masturbate.” It was all one sentence, the sex and the drugs. There was no differentiation in his tone. It was all clearly one thing.

With meth addicts, I think there are two things that you have to do. One, you have to talk about their sexual history. When you’re very high on drugs for two or three days, you may do a whole bunch of things that you would not ordinarily do, or might not feel good about. I think there’s sexual shame for some people who do a lot of meth. Because they ended up doing things that they feel bad about. You therefore have to talk about that, because shame will drive relapse.

The other thing you have to talk about is what kind of sexual behaviour you have when you’re sober. Because that will also drive relapse.

Ade: We started doing this work with The Quest about 3.5 years ago looking at shame. When we went out speaking to practitioners, we found that they didn’t really talk about shame in their work. They would talk about addiction, but not shame. To us it was very obvious that shame was actually part of the story. Was it ever the same for you in the States?

Rob: Ever since I’ve been in the field, we’ve always talked about it. Not to the degree that Brené talks about it, but we’ve always tried to help people differentiate ‘shame’ from ‘guilt’. Because guilt is a healthy emotion that informs you to change your behaviour, that you’re not living by your values.

Shame is a sense of being worthless. Actually, in a way, I think – and Brené would not say this – but shame is really a form of narcissistic negative self-obsession. “I’m so bad and so unlovable, it doesn’t matter what you think”.

It’s like if we had a narcissist – if I were a narcissist, which I have my moments – and this was your office, and I said, “Oh, I like the colour of your walls.” I’m the client and you said, “It is a lovely shade of brown, isn’t it?” I would probably, as a narcissist, say, “Oh no, it’s not brown, it’s more cocoa.” Because narcissists have to have it just the way they’re thinking about it. If I find myself completely unlovable and not deserving of love, it doesn’t matter what you do, I’m not going to let you in. Because I’m so caught up in my own self-hatred.

51eCX2sPfnL._SL500_Ade: A couple of years ago we published a book titled ‘Love Me As I Am’. It features a group of gay men who write a letter to their 16 year old self. If you were to go back and talk to your own 16 year old self, what would you tell him?

Rob: It’s a difficult question to answer, because I believe in the promises. I believe that all of my experiences now benefit me in a way that I can help others. I have much deeper empathy because of what I went through. I could say to you, “Well, I’d say to my 16 year old self, ‘you don’t need to run around restrooms and parks. You’re worthy of love“, but had I not done all that stuff, I wouldn’t be able to know what I know now.

I think I’d probably just say, “It’s all going to be okay.” I don’t believe in the idea of changing the past, because I think everything that the past has brought has allowed me to be who I am today. The good and the bad – I wouldn’t mind changing my parents a little bit!

Ade: It’s interesting that you say that because a number of the guys who write in the book say something along those lines as well.

Rob: There was something I wanted to say to before we stop. I was married in my 20s. I moved in with a woman when I was 17, went to college and lived together for five years; were married for two. That was part of my homophobia and my seeking acceptance. I also loved her, and still do.

All throughout our marriage I was sexually acting out and I was going to adult bookstores. I was going to wherever I was going; bath houses. She knew that. It was a different time. It was the 80s, early 80s. Pre AIDS, so it was very much still 70s left over, a lot of it. My wife was doing what she was doing, and I was doing what I was doing, and it was all fine.

When things started to get really bad, and the relationship was starting to unravel, I said to myself, “Well, I understand. It’s just that I’m really gay and I need to come out. Once I come out all of this crazy sexual behaviour will stop.” That’s what I thought. I actually did a geographic – I moved to California and I started a new life.

What happened instead is I was acting out more than ever. Because now I had no one to come home to. I was lonelier and I had no accountability. Then I realized, “Oh my god, this isn’t about coming out, this is something else.” That’s another reason why I wrote the book, because I didn’t want people to think that hyper sexuality was a norm, simply because you were homosexual.

The culture also reinforces that. Part of the reason we see more straight people in treatment is because they don’t have the same cultural norms around sexuality. You marry someone and then you’re rabidly sexual, they’re going to be really pissed. It’s only recently that a gay partner would care.

Ade: I was at a book club about a year ago. There was a gay man in the group who said, “I’ve been acting out for ages when it comes to sex and I’ve decided to become celibate, so that I can get to know myself a little bit more.” There was a guy in the group who looked at him and said, “Are you still gay?” He replied saying, “Yeah, of course I’m still gay.” And the other guy said “But why would you want to stop having sex?

Rob: How do you define yourself as a gay man if you’re not being sexual?” That’s very interesting that you say that because I’ll have men who are married with two kids who are closeted. They’ll say, “I’m acting out with all these guys and I’m so afraid that I’m gay.” I’ll say to them, “That’s not gay. That’s having sex with men. Gay is who your friends are, who you know, how you live your life, how you reveal yourself. Gay is all of your femininity, your masculinity, your integration, creativity. It’s embracing all of that and living it. That’s gay.” It’s nothing to do with who I have sex with. I could never have sex again; I’d still be gay.

I think there’s a reassessment of sexuality going on across cultures. Heterosexuals are reassessing, younger ones. Is fidelity really required for marriage and commitment? I think gays are also reassessing, is all this rampant sexuality required for me to call myself gay?

Part of what I would imagine is difficult to differentiate is we mature later. Really, we don’t really formally start dating and building a relationship until we’re in our 20s. We’re acting out sexually like teenagers a lot longer. “Do I really have a problem or am I just enjoying what I’m enjoying?

What I’m afraid of is what I heard those men say in Philadelphia. Which is, “You know, I don’t know how to build a relationship and I don’t know how to find a relationship. I don’t really like Grindr, but it’s good enough.” What that says to me is ‘if you do that enough, then you will be living that world. Then that will be your world’. It’s going to be harder and harder to get out of. They don’t see that. The anonymous sex is so appealing because it’s immediate relief from loneliness, from emptiness, from disconnection, but it doesn’t last. It’s like eating potato chips when you’re hungry.

I think a lot of men don’t understand that. They don’t realize that they’re sort of jumping from feeding station to feeding station to feeding station, but they’re never really nurturing.

Ade: Thank you so much, for such an insightful conversation.

Rob Weiss

The Quest © 2014

To find out more about Rob Weiss and his work, visit

You can find out more about The Quest and our work with gay men here on our website, or drop us an email at, if you have any queries.

We spoke with Brené Brown last year about her research on shame and how it relates to the journey of gay men. You can read that interview here.

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