What Works for Me

Letting go of casual sex & holding onto the promise of the real thing

by John Francis Leonard

Photo by Alina Oswald

So often in life we strive to be something that we’re not. One of the great things about being a gay man is the sexual freedom that we have. It’s a hard-won freedom to express ourselves physically with the partners of our choice when, and as often, as we choose. There’s no shame in it. Sex, even between strangers, is an expression of our brotherhood and the bond we hold. But what about the guy for whom casual sex just doesn’t work?

For years I thought I was expected to have as many casual encounters as I could. What should have been a natural expression of my sexual identity never quite fit, however. I envied the guys who sought endless pleasure in conquest. I thought that to be liberated, to be a real man, a modern gay man, I had to follow suit. It went with the whole package, being successful, moneyed, and one of the elite. I’d like to blame it all on the expectations others had of me, but that wouldn’t paint the whole picture. Certainly, when you’re a good-looking gay man something is expected of you—everyone wants a piece.

That’s hardly the whole story however. Driving my liberated sex life was a deep insecurity, a need to be validated. I could never see myself clearly unless it was through the eyes of a man. I sought love but only found desire. Often I operated out of a need to not feel alone, even for an hour or two.

All this sexual license didn’t come naturally. I was a square peg trying to put myself in a round hole. To enable the ruse I turned to my old friends, alcohol and drugs. They were my constant companions. Freed from my inhibitions, I took on all comers. On what I told myself was a “good night” I’d pick up a guy in a bar, go home and have sex with him, and return to the scene of the crime to pick up another. When that didn’t work I turned to sex clubs and the baths. The more fucked-up I was, the more extreme the sex. In my daily life, my relationships were with older men with a high tax bracket. Sex was a commodity that I traded.

So often during that time I had sex, not because I desired the other person, but because I felt obligated to. If a man was so goodlooking or earned so much more money, how could I refuse? Sure I had relationships with several successful men but eventually just one guy wasn’t enough and I’d be back to my old tricks. I needed as much attention as I could get. There were times when I wanted to say no at a certain point but felt that I couldn’t. Or, I was simply too high or drunk to do so.

No one deserves HIV or AIDS. We should be able to express our sexuality any way we choose without the the possibility of death, even when one’s motivation was as screwed up as mine was. For me, having lived through many of AIDS’ worst years, wearing a condom was second nature. No matter how high I was, I insisted on it. At a certain point however, long before PrEP, the condoms fell by the wayside. I took incredible risks and paid a price. I don’t deserve to be positive, but it’s hardly a surprise that it came to fruition.

Now, it wasn’t all bad. I, at times, enjoyed myself. Once in a while we make a real connection, even with a casual partner. Something clicks and the sex is mind-blowing. I traveled a lot when I was younger and have many wonderful memories of great guys that I shared wonderful vacation-length romances with. The great love of my life, who I met in a bar and went home with in the early nineties, was a one-night-stand. We had an incredible sex life that only got better as we grew to know each other more deeply and became more intimate.

I took a long sabbatical from sex a few years back and it totally readjusted what I expected and needed from sex and relationships. One-night-stands just don’t work for me anymore. Believe me, I don’t give up easily and I’ve tried to no avail. I just can’t fake it anymore. I need love and intimacy to achieve any sort of satisfaction sexually. I’m going to hold out for the real thing again. I need to know someone to have sex with them. I need to know that they won’t hit the door seconds after orgasm. They need to be in my mind and my heart. Call it age, call it hard-won wisdom. I want love.

What I know now is that the great thing about being a sexually liberated gay man is that we have choices, we can write our own scripts. We can choose monogamy, we can choose an open relationship. We can express our sexuality with different men or just choose one. Hell, we can even get married now; that still blows my mind and fills me with hope. The important thing is choosing what works for you and not letting anyone, even yourself, put you in a box.

And in the interest of full disclosure, you can still find me on Scruff flirting and woofing. I’ll give that up when there’s a ring on this finger. But, no more one-night stands. No more casual encounters. I want something different for myself.

John Francis Leonard is an advocate and writer, as well as a voracious reader of literature, which helps to feed his love of the English language. He has been living with HIV for thirteen years and he is currently at work on his first novel, Fools Rush In. He has published fiction in the ImageOutWrite literary journal and he reviews for LambdaLiterary.org. Follow him on Twitter @JohnFrancisleo2.