Sex and Coping

Sex not only feels good but it is also good for our health!  It can give us more energy, is good exercise, can make us feel great about our bodies, and some studies show that sex actually reduces the risk of a heart attack!  Emotionally, sex can boost our moods, relax us, and reduce stress.  Sex can also be one way that we explore who we are.  Having positive sexual experiences can shake off some of the shame or insecurity we may feel about the things that turn us on. Whether we are having sex with a partner, a friend, ourselves, a fuck buddy, or a stranger we just met, sex can also make us feel closer and more connected to people.


While sex can do great things for us, it can also be hard to figure out sometimes.  We may go through periods of time when we aren’t confident, feel vulnerable, and might find that we are having sex we don’t feel good about. When we are struggling with our feelings, going through hard times, dealing with stress, anxiety, or depression our relationship to sex and the guys we are having sex with can be confusing. Sex might also be a distraction or escape from the things that are bothering us. Also, some of us have had bad experiences with sex, including sexual assault, which might make it harder for us to have positive sexual experiences. We may find that when we are going through a hard time we are doing things we wouldn’t do normally and may regret some of the decisions we make.  We may also find that we have difficulty “performing” or lose interest in sex altogether – these are normal experiences that we shouldn’t feel badly about.  But sometimes, reaching out for help isn’t a bad idea. 

How do we make sure that even when we are going through rough spots in our lives we are making decisions about sex that we feel good about?

Understanding our own thoughts, attitudes, and beliefs about sex. 

We all have things that turn us on.  We all have things that we are curious about or interested in. Sometimes we might feel shame about the things we fantasize about and wonder if it is normal to want them.  As gay men, we may have been told from a young age that sex between two (or more!) men was “dirty” or “unnatural” – this is inappropriate messaging that is forced upon us and it isn’t true.  Sometimes it can take awhile to make up our own minds about what sex means to us.  Understanding the role that sex plays in our lives and the values we have about sex can help us be clear with ourselves and others about what we are looking for in our sexual encounters and relationships.

Being aware of our sexual patterns

Sometimes there is a relationship between the way we feel and the sex we have.  For example, for some of us - if we are stressed, sometimes it’s nice to blow steam and get off with an anonymous hook-up.  Or, we may find that we want to have slower sex that helps us relax and feel close to another guy.  When we feel overwhelmed we may avoid dealing with problems by surfing the internet and looking at porn or trying to find hook ups.  We may also notice that there are times that it is harder for us to use condoms or talk about HIV or STIs with the guys we are with.  We may find that we only do some sexual acts when we are drunk or high. This will be different for each of us. Being aware of our own sexual patterns can help us be mindful of times when we may need to pay more attention to our sexual health and have strategies in place to ensure that we are making choices that we are comfortable with.

Being aware of our feelings about our bodies.

Our awareness, feelings, and thoughts about our own bodies can influence how we feel in sexual situations. Sometimes we might feel that we need to change something about our bodies in order to feel attractive, desired, or wanted.  It can be helpful to look into these feelings.  Improving our own body image can be a hard thing to do and can take time. Working through our own thoughts about our bodies and learning to appreciate them can have a positive impact on our sex lives as well as other parts of our lives – why not focus on what we love about our bodies, or ask a sex partner one part they love about us?

Being comfortable talking about sex.

Feeling comfortable talking about sex and having good communication skills can go a long way.  Good communication means that we are able to be open and clear about our own feelings and needs while at the same time being able to hear what another person is saying and feeling.  Sex can be hard to talk about at times.  Sometimes we can feel embarrassed, ashamed, or worried about being judged or made fun of by another person.  Growing up as gay guys, we didn’t necessarily have the opportunity to talk honestly about the sex we were interested and in many cases had to treat our desires like a dirty secret.  Learning to talk about sex, what we like to do, what gets us off, what turns us on, as well as what we don’t like can take work and practice.  Communicating about sex also involves being able to find out what other people like, need, and how they prefer to have sex.  Feeling comfortable talking about sex can help us negotiate the sex we want as well as negotiate condom use and other sexual health strategies.   

Being comfortable talking about HIV.

It isn’t just those of us who are HIV positive that need to be able to talk about HIV.  Being able to talk openly about HIV with another guy is essential when it comes to talking about sexual health strategies and the type of sex we want to have. It isn’t helpful if we make assumptions about another guys HIV status. Regardless of our HIV status it helps if we are aware of HIV, HIV stigma, and the current environment that HIV positive guys have to disclose their status in.  For HIV positive guys, disclosing HIV status can be stressful.  Many guys have had to deal with rejection, ignorance, fear, and sometimes violence.  It helps if HIV negative guys are also prepared for HIV disclosure and have thought about how they would respond if somebody discloses their status in a way that shows respect and understanding. 

It also helps to recognize that if we are having casual sex we are having sex with guys who have HIV, whether they know it or not.  The decision HIV negative guys have to make is how to treat other gay men in your community, guys with HIV.  The more open and respectful and understanding we are of each other, as gay men, the easier it will be for us as a community to stop the transmission of HIV.  HIV stigma, silence and secrecy and shame about HIV just helps to spread HIV. 

Check out more in our section on “HIV Stigma” (internal link)

Having a sexual health strategy.

Staying on top of sexual health information, understanding how HIV and STIs can be picked up and passed on, and getting tested on a regular basis can build our confidence about the sex we have.   Knowing the type of sex we want to have and being aware of the ways we can reduce the possibility of picking up or passing HIV or STIs can help us in the heat of the moment.  Taking the time to learn about these strategies can help us make decisions we are comfortable with.  Sometimes maintaining our sexual health takes practice and work.  Planning ahead and feeling prepared to talk about the sex we want to have can go a long way in building our confidence in sexual situations.

Sexual Health Links:

The Sex You Want

This website goes beyond sexual health basics and tackles more advanced questions gay and bi guys have sex, pleasure, and risks.

Know The Risk

This is a guide to the risks involved with a variety of practices and situations where guys have made a choice not to use condoms.

Get On It!

This site has information about issues related to HIV and syphilis testing.  Check the site out for information to help make an informed decision about when to get tested.


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