My name is Alexander Cheves. My nickname is Beastly. I write about sex. I wrote a book.
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I’m writing to suggest a topic that you might not have addressed head-on. I’m in a 20-year relationship with an EXTREMELY attractive man–gets hit on all the time, sometimes by famous model types, could “get” most anyone he wanted, looks 10 years younger than he is, and so on. He’s also successful, charming, etc…I’m not a total slouch but I have my normal human flaws and am considered “above average” or “nice-looking” by many. There is a clear difference in the level of attractiveness that probably 99/100+ people would agree with. Here’s my issue: especially as our relationship becomes more open, this power differential becomes starker, and it causes a great deal of anguish, jealousy, and even envy. On the plus side, he’s always maintained that he finds me attractive and has demonstrated that though not as much as I’d like. Also, I’ve seen the guys he goes for and, interestingly, it’s not necessarily the “super good looking” types. Anyhow, I’m hoping you might be interested in writing a post about how clear attractiveness asymmetry affects same-sex male relationships, particularly in an “open” situation.
If I had an easy solution to the comparison games of gay men, I’d make way more money than I do now. I have been in relationships like yours and know how they can feel. On the one hand, dating a hot guy is a confidence-booster, because he obviously finds you attractive. On the other hand, it’s intimidating and baffling, and you wonder how you measure up, especially when you are weighed against him in a crowd of horny gay men.
In my life, feelings of inadequacy and competitiveness have steadily lessened with age. Growing a little older and discovering that I no longer have a college student body has been as jarring for me as it surely is for everyone, but to my pleasant surprise, the comparison games have cooled. My body and my looks, though far from what I consider ideal, are set and not likely to change at this point. This is now, unquestionably, my body. I was given some nice looks. I can tweak those looks with steroids and surgery, but I am not going to drastically change into one of the great beauties I admire and envy. But everyone has aged with me, even the beautiful ones, and most of us seem to have grown a bit more humble. Age is a great equaliser. The ones who haven’t grown up and are still playing popularity contests look increasingly childish. There are gay men who came out late, have the emotional maturity of teens, and are still trying to be “A-gays” and too hot for everyone, but who cares about them? They’ll have some heartbreak and life crises and then they’ll catch up to the rest of us. Or they won’t. Whatever.
My former partner, Brent, and I shared an attraction to beefcake beauties, but beefcake beauties usually chose him. That was hard, but it got less hard as I grew up over the course of our relationship. I can’t fully explain why. Some element of the chase, and the imagined hierarchies of beauty, waned. I grew more confident, not because I looked better than before, but because I simply settled into greater comfort with a world in which many men are not attracted to me, while many others are. Some of the men who are attracted to me are ridiculously hot. For every man who’s not interested, someone out there is, and I increasingly care less about the ones whose bells I don’t ring. I’ve talked to others who’ve left their twenties and feel similarly. We just have less fucks to give.
I’m not old enough yet to say from experience that gay men develop a natural magnanimity to one another as we age, but it would make sense: time spares no one. I have spoken to gay men of all ages about sex, and the highest reported degree of satisfaction in sex seems to come for gay men in their fifties and sixties, which suggests that every decade comes with fewer and fewer fucks to give. And that’s great.
Your partner is a great beauty, so instead of comparison games, try to see his life from his perspective. He got lucky in looks and is using them while he can. Celebrate with him. Looks fade. We all know time is cruel. Let him enjoy where he is, and let yourself do the same. You cannot change the cards you were dealt, but if you’re above-average, you’re lucky.
Surely you know by now that your imagined hierarchy of beauty (you being “above-average” and he being “exceptional”) is a fiction, something you have been conditioned into believing. We have all been conditioned to accept certain fictions of beauty, and not very effectively, as we all still disagree over what is beautiful. Surely you know these estimations of beauty are your head talking, not the vox populi. We can be aware of our delusions and still be troubled by them, but it helps to see so-called “standards” of beauty for what they are: an amalgamation of history and commerce, rolled into one big, lucrative delusion.
From history, we see how steroid culture among gay men was a direct result of AIDS wasting syndrome (steroids were prescribed to prevent wasting, and after the meds got better, wasting went away but the muscle look stayed in vogue). From commerce, we can see how we’ve been strategically sold what is beautiful by dozens of profitable industries for generations. Gay men are no exception to this. We are a lucrative market. Our looks go in and out of style and have been influenced by porn, television, and music, and the cycle goes round and round. It means nothing. It means that each of us has to contend with an arbitrary set of imagisms that exist during our time, and that largely exist only in our minds but, like all intersubjective myths, are reinforced by the delusions of others, and which will likely all change in a few years. It is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury.
Beauty affects our lives, no question. But we can work on how much we let beauty affect our lives. I get much encouragement from punk, goth, grunge, and other alternative movements and any subculture that rebels against imagisms, that raises a middle finger and says “fuck you” to beauty. I love people who live in defiance of all that. I am glad they exist, because they remind me that everything is a fiction. Nothing matters. I choose to participate in toxic gym culture because it’s fun, but I know exactly what it is, and on my best days I can laugh at its stupidity while dragging my ball and chain to the gym.
There is nothing I can say to make you stop comparing yourself to him or being envious of the sex partners he gets. If these feelings are bad enough to end the relationship, maybe it needs ending. Relationships have ended for less. But take heart: time evens the playing field. The energy you’re wasting on weighing your looks against him is not being spent simply enjoying your life. You are a phenomenon that will never come again. Enjoy it.
This is my favourite part of ageing: I increasingly delight in being myself and would rather, now, be me than anyone else. I hope you can say the same. Meditate on the concept of impermanence, the idea that time is change and all things are constantly changing. You are, every minute, on a thread that could be cut suddenly. Every minute you are different, a little older, a little changed. Enjoy this state of constant flux. Every minute is a once-in-a-lifetime event.
I think many people fear jealousy when considering a non-monogamous relationship. The trick with non-monogamy (and polyamory, and any healthy relationship) is to let everyone own their feelings. Thoughts and feelings are the sole domain of those who think and feel them. No one can make you feel anything and no one is responsible for making you feel differently. This means your insecurities and self-perceptions are valid, but they are only yours (thoughts and emotions exist, after all, only in your mind, your body). These feelings are not his to fix and actually have nothing to do with him. His feelings — his desires for you and for others — are also valid, and they have nothing to do with you. His feelings are not yours to understand, explain, or fix. Yours are not his to understand, explain, or fix.
This might seem obvious, but the implications of viewing thoughts and feelings this way are profound when you get down to it. Accepting that emotions and thoughts are the sole domain of whoever thinks and feels them means it’s no one’s prerogative to manage your insecurities — it’s yours, only yours — and that your perceptions of other people’s desirability and attractiveness versus your own exist solely in your head. You’re allowed to feel what you feel and think what you think, but you’re not allowed to project your perceptions onto others. You’re not allowed to assume that “99/100+ people would agree with” your own private estimation of your attractiveness versus your partner’s — you can’t crawl in their minds to see how they view you. These estimations are just your mind talking.
We tell ourselves that beauty standards are unanimous and objective when, of course, they are not. Yes, there are some consistencies across cultures: thanks to evolution, signs of health have often been preferred because they signal a higher likelihood of gene survivability. But it’s been a long time since mate selection was a life-or-death decision for Homo sapiens, and we’ve had lots of time since then to evolve. We now live in an updated world where all body types and abilities are desired, where so-called “standards” of beauty are as numerous and diverse as there are global cultures (and subcultures). You will not even find universal beauty standards among gay men in the same city in America; we all want different things now. This scale of beauty on which your partner allegedly sits higher than you is a private, personal belief, something that does not extend into the objective world. You can believe in it — people believe in all sorts of things — but you’re not allowed to assume everyone else does. Try to see these thoughts as they are: a subjective value judgment, not an objective truth.
Hope you are doing well (if those thick thighs are a reflection of how well you are doing – you are doing well indeed).
As I said in an earlier message, you’re one of the only sensible voices in kink I know.
What do you think about online Dom/sub relations? I’m currently getting into one. I’m married but he isn’t into to kink, so I have an agreed outlet online where there is a lot of fantasy but no touching.
I guess my question is, do you think that’s healthy? It gives me an outlet for my dominant tendencies. But at the same time it makes me a bit uncomfortable to let this (my predilection for domination) out.
I know you are not dear Abby 😁, but if you could give me advice, I would thank you. If you can’t- that’s cool.
I am kinda like Dear Abby. Reading your question, I’m not fully sure why you are uncomfortable letting your dominant side out. Is it because you’re letting it out on the internet? I don’t know what you’re doing online, so I’m not sure I can adequately make any security suggestions besides using pictures that hide your face and using a username that isn’t your real name. Or is it because you have discomfort with the idea of kink, discomfort with your dominant side itself?
I don’t know where the hesitation is coming from, but you at least seem aware that sexual self-expression is necessary and healthy in a relationship and you are pursuing it within the parameters of permissibility set by you and your partner. I think you should do it, whatever it is you are doing online. I hope this feeds your dominant side enough. If it doesn’t, and you grow hungry for the real thing (online chats are not, in my opinion, an adequate replacement for in-person interaction) you need to talk to your partner about setting permissions in which that would be possible. There is no time like the present to explore your kinks in real life, and if your relationship staunchly prohibits that, I would say your relationship needs fixing or ending, not your kinks.
Hi. I’ve been considering getting into leather. This isn’t because I find it particularly attractive compared to other outfits — other guys can be just as sexy. But because I’ve noticed on cruises that the leather parties seem more cruisy with guys having sex and going up to their cabins. The trouble is — I know it is strongly associated with BDSM and I have absolutely no interest in that at all. Do you think that once in a guys cabin he is likely to assume I’m into it and bring out the equipment he uses. Am I putting myself in danger of being trapped in someone’s cabin for the night? Is there a way I can signal clearly on a crowded and noisy dance floor before going off that I’m not into it or will I be considered a time-waster? Hope you can help.
There are many assumptions being made here. You’re assuming a) that wearing leather is an automatic signal that you want to have sex, which it isn’t, and that b) all men into leather are also into kink and BDSM, which is not always the case (some guys are just into leather, period), and c) that someone into kink and BDSM won’t respect your boundaries or communicate expectations, but will simply tie you up and start flogging.
You want to “get into leather” because you observe that leather parties seem more cruisy and fun. They probably are. But you are far more likely to run into that scenario of someone not respecting your wishes and disregarding your boundaries in a non-leather crowd. Anyone can be kinky, regardless of what they are wearing, but leather folks tend to be communicative, safe(r), well-informed, consent-focused, respectful kink practitioners. Someone being part of the leather world means they are connected to a community of playmates, people who talk to each other, which means it’s harder to be a dangerous playmate in this scene without others hearing about it.
You can go home with a guy from a basic circuit party, someone wearing a basic tank top and some neon circuit shorts, who decides to pull out the chains and cuffs when you get back to his place and doesn’t listen when you tell him no. In any sex situation, you have to communicate what you want, and if someone disrespects your boundaries, then it doesn’t matter what they are wearing: they are dangerous and you should leave ASAP. You will not get “trapped” into sex you don’t want by a safe, sane, respectful, consent-focused kinky person — we are not rapists. If someone is a healthy, consent-respecting kinky person, they’ll tell you “no worries” and open the door to let you out — or, more likely, they’ll say kink is not necessary for good sex and will ask what you would rather do instead.
Wearing leather changes nothing about this dialogue or this scenario. Leather is not a visual code for sex. It is certainly not automatic consent to certain kinds of sex. People wear leather because they are into leather. Leather tends to overlap with various kinks and fetishes, but no self-respecting leatherman or leatherwoman assumes someone else is automatically into their kinks simply because that someone is also wearing leather. As I wrote above, many leather folk are only into leather. Wearing leather is their sole fetish, and they have no real interest in BDSM.
But that’s not you either, because you’re not into wearing leather as a fetish, you’re simply wanting to play tourist. You’re treating leather as a costume to get laid. So no, I do not suggest wearing leather for this reason alone. Leather is more than a look to get laid in. Leather is a culture and community. It’s more than a cruisy party. Since you are averse to aspects of our culture and sex that we celebrate and respect, you don’t get to wear the look. While people into leather are not expressly required to be into kink, they are expected to be nonjudgemental around the majority of people in the leather community who are kinky, and your question makes you sound like you can’t do that. You sound a bit judgmental and averse to kinky sex, so you can’t throw on a harness and be one of us.
There’s always a degree of danger being in someone’s private chambers, regardless if they’re into BDSM. Kinky people are not more dangerous than others — if anything, we are the opposite. But anytime you go home with a stranger, you’re putting yourself in a situation where you might have to evaluate risk, face discomfort, and communicate boundaries. Be open and direct about what you do and don’t want with all sex partners, regardless of what they’re wearing or what kind of crowd you meet them in. And if anyone disrespects your boundaries, in leather or otherwise, they are not safe and you should leave immediately.
The scariest situations in my sex life, when people did not respect my boundaries, did not happen with leather folk: they happened with novices and pretenders, people who thought they knew what they were doing but didn’t, who didn’t know how to ask for my consent. These were not informed, knowledgeable, risk-aware playmates; they just threw on harnesses for leather parties but truly knew nothing about safe, sane, consensual sex. Those are the ones I watch out for.
I love what you say about beauty – nothing to do with me, but you just write well, have opinions which are thoughtful and nuanced, and I like reading what you write.