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Adrian Tiller, MFT

Intimacy for Gay Men

The Challenge of Intimacy  

It’s easy for gay men to find sex. Locating love and intimacy is a bit trickier.

Many people confuse sex with intimacy, and gay men are no exception. Sex is immediate and it feels good. It alleviates loneliness and social anxiety—temporarily. It’s also validating. It feels nice to be touched and desired—even for a few hours.

But sex creates a pseudo intimacy, and a weak foundation on which to build trust and emotional safety. At the first sign of conflict or discomfort, we put up walls to protect ourselves—or we bolt.

Specific skills are needed for on-going companionship and intimate connections. If we want a long-term relationship, slowing down the dating process and postponing sex may increase our chances of creating a solid on-going connection.

Intimacy takes time and there are no short cuts. Think about your best friends and how long it took to get to know them. It didn’t happen in a few days.

There are lots of reasons we don’t hold out for what we truly want. Maybe it’s due to lack of clarity; we don’t really know what we want. Perhaps it’s easier to go with the flow, to bend to the collective norm, to do what’s familiar.

It’s easy to make certain assumptions and not check them out. We assume we know what the other person is thinking: ‘He wants to have sex. He expects sex. If we don’t have sex, he’ll lose interest and I’ll never see him again. He can certainly get it somewhere else.’ If you’re confused or unclear, ask.

We want closeness—now. We’re impatient. We want to jump over that initial awkwardness of a new relationship. We feel uncomfortable and we want that feeling to go away. We want to be touched, but think that’s possible only through sex. Or maybe we’ve had too much to drink and our judgment is clouded.

We want to be liked, to fit in, to belong—just like we did in high school. We’ve all been hurt and we’re starved for affection, acceptance and human contact.

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For several years I taught a class for gay men in San Francisco. It was a 12-week series about relationship, dating and communication skills. After listening to men talk in counseling sessions for several years, problems repeated and patterns emerged. Many men said the same thing: they wanted an ongoing intimate connection but they settled for sex.

I think this statement probably also applies to many young adults who are not gay. Based on my experiences and what I learned in teaching this class, I offer a few suggestions here to increase the chances of making an intimate connection.

1 – Slow the process down Get together during the day. Don’t invite someone to your house on date number one. Try postponing sex until after three proper dates. Keep alcohol consumption to a minimum.

2 – Get clear about your needs What do you want? If you truly just want sex, than go for it, but if you’ve read this far, I don’t think that’s the case. Tell the truth to yourself about your emotional needs, what makes you happy and the kind of relationship you want. Don’t compromise. There’s a lot at stake.

3 – Learn to talk about problems Practice with friends. Those slights that hurt your feelings or upset you—the ones you keep inside, but you can’t forget because they’re unresolved. Talk about them. We have no place to learn this skill and most of us had poor models with our parents. But resolving conflicts and being able to tolerate the discomfort of talking about them—it’s essential if we want to be married or have long-term healthy friendships. Practice.

4 – Be nice to other people The golden rule is not a bad one to remember. Don’t say, "I’ll call you” if you don’t mean it. Learn how to say ‘no’ tactfully. Don’t treat other humans as if they’re disposable and interchangeable. We all have feelings and we’ve all been hurt. Treat others the way you’d like to be treated.

5 – Take risks Intimacy includes vulnerability. Risk telling the other person when you’re uncomfortable or even scared. We tend to be other-focused when we feel bad. We look outside for the answer or solution. We tend to blame and point the finger. Look within and take responsibility for your own issues and triggers.

Adults have two fears regarding intimacy: 1) being left or abandoned, and 2) being smothered or engulfed. An important distinction: I can feel abandoned even when I was not abandoned. There’s a difference. Risk talking about it.

Lastly, consider the traffic light image. In new friendships, a green light – means all system are go; there are no problems. Yellow – indicates caution; something doesn’t seem right and you need more information. (He keeps talking about an ex, for example.) And red – you realize there are some issues or dynamics you just can’t life with (smoking, say, or drug addiction). If there are any red flags, bow out gracefully.

Think of dating like a job search or buying a new car. There are steps and stages. Take your time. It’s a lot easier to get into a relationship than to get out. This saves on wear and tear for all of us. Enjoy. And good luck!

Adrian Tiller, MFT, San Francisco

 Practice Locations
San Francisco, CA 94123
Novato, CA 94945

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Articles by Adrian are below

Porn and Panic
The Problem with Porn
When Paic Attacks

Self-esteem & Selfish Parents
Improving Self-esteem
Coping with Self-Absorbed Parents

Intimacy for Gay Men
Intimacy for Gay Men

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Last Modified: 4/2/2020  

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