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Anonymous Sex: Freedom or Isolation

February 8, 2013



For the passed five years, I've been conducting 'relationship
training' workshops primarily for the heterosexual. The
objective of these workshops is to teach principles and skills
for building, healthy intimate relationships. When, a year or so
ago, a lesbian colleague approached me about extending these
workshops to the gay population, I felt ready to venture into
what was for me uncharted territory.

During a gay men's workshop, in which eight men participated,
the issue of anonymous sex became a focal point. Several men
expressed concern about whether or not engaging in anonymous sex
is in keeping with their ultimate purpose  to develop intimate
relationships. Some described their experience of anonymous sex
as liberating, self-affirming, balancing and satisfying and who
felt that their lives had been enhanced by it. Others expressed
a 'love-hate' relationship with anonymous sex and were seeking
guidance specifically in this area.

There was a consensus in the group that anonymous sex only
furthered a sense of worthlessness and alienation that was there
to begin with. While anonymous sex works to the extent it
provides physical contact and orgasm(s), it is, in the end,
unsatisfying because the need for emotional contact and intimacy
doesn't get met. The sex is ready available, pleasurable, 'takes
the edge off,' etc, but they having nothing to show for it when
it's over. It doesn't get them what they ultimately want: a
relationship that combines sex and intimacy. They either don't
know that that is what they want, or that they don't know what
it is because they never had the experience. 

When exploring how they got involved with anonymous sex in the
first place, they traced their experience back to the many years
they had lived their lives in shame and secrecy about their
sexuality, as well to the 'normalization' and glorification of
anonymous sex within the gay community. Having sex with anyone
they choose, anywhere, as often as they wish was a way they
celebrated their sexuality and freedom. Since liberation was a
unifying principle of the Gay movement, exercising their freedom
in this way served to invoke pride and strengthen their
identity. It became apparent that many people who practice
anonymous sex tend to over-emphasize sexual freedom at the
expense of other values of equal or greater importance, i.e. the
quality of relationships and the ability to be intimate.

We talked about the danger of equating anonymous sex with
freedom because anonymous it has other implications. Freedom
lies more in our ability to experience our desires without
necessarily acting on them, assess the situation and act in
one's own best interests. It's our ability to choose to act that
makes us free. Freedom implies responsibility, making choices
and considering the consequences of our actions in terms of how
they effect oneself and one's relationships. When anonymous sex
becomes an integral part of ones lifestyle just because one is
' free' to make it so, the definition of freedom has become
distorted, as if it exists in a vacuum.

Those who practiced anonymous sex were acting on impulse and
because sex was so easy to get and felt great. No one asked
himself, 'Does it matter if I know or care about this person? Do
I feel better about myself afterwards? Do I feel more connected
to other people? Do I feel more worthless and isolated?' In
order to understand the role anonymous sex has in one's life,
these questions need to be discussed with sex partners, friends
and therapists, otherwise they won't get answered.

Anonymous sex may be more about need than about freedom. I once
heard a man say, 'Gay men have stronger libidos. We go down at
the drop of a zipper.' Whether gay men have greater sex drives
is not the issue. While he was making a valid point about how
basic our sexual needs are, we also have emotional needs that
are at least as powerful, if not more powerful. These men were
completely oblivious to and out of touch with how powerful their
unmet emotional needs are. At any rate, there is no doubting
that the level of pain is the highest, and the need to relieve
the pain the greatest when both, emotional and sexual needs are

As the men in the group opened up about their sexual
experiences, it became apparent that many of them have become
budding sex addicts, as sex served so many purposes. 
Joe:  'I look for sex when I feel like who'd want me. Then I get
into a sexual situation, I'm suddenly wanted.'

Tom: 'I use anonymous sex as a means to get validation, having a
connection. It's when my self esteem is low that I'm most apt to
act out sexually. Today is a good example. As I was driving up
the freeway, I was noticing the rest stops, checking how many
guys were pulling off to see if there could be any action. When
I'm isolating from my friends, going to the park is an answer.
It's the only way I can make a connection with another human
being 'when I'm feeling badly about myself. The only one I'll let
into my space is someone with whom I can have anonymous sex. At
one time, it was nothing for me to go off at lunch time a couple
of hours and have two or three orgasms with two or three
different guys. Then on my way home, stop and do it again.'

Bill: 'When I'm exhausted, it's a struggle not to get sex. All
the thinking in the world is not going to keep me from doing it.
I wish I could convince and stop myself. Once the idea pops into
my mind'

Jack  'I was motivated by excitement, deviance. I was totally
alienated from society. I was far too sensitive to engage in
anonymous sex on an on-going basis. It was too humiliating and
hurtful. I always felt worse afterwards. The lengths I had gone
to get sex that was not a meaningful relationship did nothing
but kill time. It was never as good as my fantasies.'

For many men and women who practice anonymous sex, it is a
vicious cycle. Their freedom is, at best, bittersweet because
they're still in pain, emotionally hungry and isolated.
Inevitably, their loneliness and hunger will seep back up to the
surface, which only increases the likelihood they will, once
again, use sex to fill the void. But, are they free? Can a
person who is starving 'choose' to eat? Does he concern himself
with what he is eating? As long as it relieves his pain,
anything that even remotely resembles food will suffice.

In order to achieve freedom and emotional fulfillment, we must
be able to distinguish between the two and pursue both.
Fulfillment is largely a function of the quality of our
relationships. There is simply no way around it. When intimacy
is needed, nothing else will do. The greatest challenge is to
learn to establish a relationship before having sex, and gain
the experience and skills that make intimacy possible.

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