In this post I want to make a few remarks about men who engage in risky sex. These won’t be evidence based remarks, more a speculative discussion based on my experience of working with men who engage in risky sex.
I guess the place to start is to give an indication of what I mean by ‘risky sex’. I mean any kind of outdoor sex which contravenes laws of public decency. At a relatively mundane level, there is the thrill of joining the mile high club, or sex on the beach. Where men can really get into difficulties, though, is in cruising for sex in dogging sites (for straight men) and public toilets (gay and bisexual men). For some men, there is something about risk that enhances their sexual experience... and keeps them coming back for more. Why is that?
I suppose along with risk comes an adrenalin rush. For those men who cruise public places regularly, this adrenalin rush shouldn’t be underestimated. For one thing, I suspect it is addictive in its own right. Furthermore, it will be instrumental in bringing about a shift in mood. This is important if guys are engaging in risky sex in order to break down the pain of ordinary living. The risk, and the adrenalin, can make you feel ‘more alive’.
It should be remembered that for most people who cruise public places for sex, the majority of the time spent is in the cruising, and not in the sex itself. Men can ‘chase’ sexual experiences, turning down some offers on route, always looking for the next ‘ideal experience’. So when it comes, the excitement can be overwhelming. What appears to be going on here is what in psychology we call a variable ratio reinforcement schedule. What this means is that it’s a bit like gambling. If every time you gambled you won, it wouldn’t be very exciting. Gambling becomes exciting because you win infrequently. It’s the same with cruising for sex. Most of the time you draw a blank, so when it does occur, it reinforces the behaviour tenfold.
There is also the link with early sexual experiences. For most men, discovering the pleasures of our dick was a fraught process, shrouded in clandestine fumbles under the sheets, and with always the fear of being caught by the parents. Outdoor sex is directly analogous, just the parents are replaced by the local thugs or the police. This may also be coupled with the declining sensitivity of men’s dicks as they get older. As men, we are at our most virile in our late teens / early twenties. As time passes we find it harder to get turned on. Risky sex can remind us of when we first discovered our bodies.
I have also noticed with some men, cruising for sex fills an existential void. It fills time. The alternative, living a lifestyle full of friends and fun activities, is beyond them. What the cruising does is fill time and prevents them from facing the deeper issues of social anxiety. Of course the more time they spend cruising, the less able they become to engage in more productive activity, and it becomes a kind of viscous cycle.
I have also met some men who, paradoxically, use cruising for sex as a way of coping with anxiety. For most of us, cruising outdoor places would make us anxious. It does for these men too, but what they are able to do is attribute their general background anxiety to the cruising and make the plausible (but false) attribution “I’m anxious because I cruise” rather than the implausible to them (but accurate) attribution “I suffer from chronic anxiety which I manage by cruising for risky sex”.
Before leaving this topic, there is an evolutionary perspective that can be brought to bear here. Studies of other primates show that even though where a ‘harem’ system is in operation, with one alpha male dominating the troop, there is still a tendency for the subordinated females and males to engage in ‘risky fucking’ (and that’s a technical term!) when they feel the alpha male is distracted. So perhaps evolution casts a long shadow across our sexual behaviour, leaving a residual desire for risky sex. Indeed it has been shown that women are more likely to engage in risky sex on the day they ovulate, and are therefore most fertile. But that’s a topic for another post ... and probably a different blog.
Dr Phil Tyson is a Men's Psychotherapist based in Manchester in the UK. He offers:
- Group therapy weekends for men in London and Manchester
- Beginners meditation weekend retreats for men in London and Manchester
- Counselling for men in Manchester
- Psychotherapy for men in Manchester
- Cognitive behavioural therapy for men in Manchester
- Telephone and online counselling for men wherever you live
- Mediation for conflict resolution at work in London
- Mediation for conflict resolution at work in Manchester and the North West
- Supervision and consulative support for therapists in Manchester