Articles by Loren Olson, MD

Haven’t We Talked About Sexual Orientation Labels Enough?

Psychology Today, December 2, 2021

Perhaps you’re one of those people who say, “Enough, already, with the labels!” I tend to agree.

A couple of years ago my pre-teen grandson asked, “What’s the Q in LGBTQ, Grandpa?” It provoked me to think about the infinite list of labels we use to describe gender, sexual orientation, and romance. Everyone seems to be fighting for their own space.

Gay Fathers Who Come Out in Mid-Life

Psychology Today, October 18, 2021

I often hear from men who make statements like this: “Hopelessness and despair persist in my head like a sinking ship taking on water.”

My 40-year-old correspondent, “Jay,” went on:

“After many years in a straight marriage, I realized that I am attracted to other men. It’s taken a toll on my marriage, my work, and my mental health. I feel desperate with dwindling options and overwhelming darkness. The best years of my life are gone.”

Am I Too Old To Love Again?

The Good Men Project, December 3, 2020

Years ago, we had friends with a young son. He always called me, "Loren and Doug." He didn't see know me as anything except as a part of a couple.

My husband and I have been together now for thirty-three years, so perhaps I don't see myself as anything but "Loren and Doug," too. I don't believe in that overly romantic ideal that two lives become one. But if and when I'm alone again, who will complete my sentences for me? Who will spoil my jokes by telling the punch line when it takes me too long to get there?

Cowboy Up: Gay Men in Rural America

The Good Men Project, November 26, 2020

Several old men wearing seed corn ballcaps sat around in the feed store in St. Charles, Iowa, drinking Folger's coffee out of Styrofoam cups. Although Doug and I never heard this conversation, I imagine it went something like this:

Have ya' seen what those two sissy boys that bought the old Palmer place are doin'?

Isn't that the darndest thing you ever saw! (Good Baptists didn't say "damn.')

Give the Gift of Forgiveness

Medium, November 24, 2020

I don't think there's a lonelier place on Christmas Eve than a moderately-priced, residential hotel like the one I spent a few nights in a few years ago.

I knew that I could not withstand a Christmas at home with my husband, Doug. So, a few days before Christmas, I decided to check into a hotel. As bad as it would be to live alone in a cheap hotel over the holidays, I knew that I would feel shunned if I stayed at home.

Are You Afraid to Love for Fear of Loss?

Medium, November 20, 2020

I never expected to live as long as I have.

When a person reaches midlife, he or she begins to think, more days lie behind me than days left in front of me. I began to have those thoughts as a child.

My mind always defaulted to loss.

3 Steps To Achieve Lasting Self-Esteem

The Good Men Project, November 19, 2020

You don't need someone's permission to live your own life; you must seize it.

Throughout my long career in psychiatry, I have had many patients say to me, "I just want to be happy." It's as if I were going to dispense some magic potion that suddenly would make them feel good about themselves.

Why Do Married Men Watch Porn?

The Good Men Project, November 12, 2020

If I told you that I only watch porn for research in sociology, you'd likely call bullshit. And you'd be right. My husband and I have been together for thirty-three years. We have what sex advice columnist Dan Savage calls a "monogamish" relationship.

Passionate sex in a new relationship has a shelf life of about one year for all couples. Our story is no different. The things that drew us together still hold us together. Neither of us has any desire to change that.

3 Steps to Forgiveness

Medium, November 9, 2020

I should be an expert on betrayal. I've been both the betrayed and the betrayer.

We have no control over how others hurt us. The ones we love - parents, lovers, and children - inflict the worst suffering.

A betrayal of trust by someone you love inflicts excruciating pain on us. It disrupts our inner world, and it bleeds into our outer world as well. It's difficult to concentrate on anything other than our pain.

What Do You Call a Man Who Has Sex with Men?

Medium, November 5, 2020

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) calls men who have sex with men, "Men who have Sex with Men" (MSM).

If you ask some MSM, "Are you gay?" they will respond, "Absolutely not." If you ask them, "Have you ever had sex with a man?" the response is apt to be "Well, maybe."

Without Intimacy Your Partner Will Look Elsewhere

Medium, October 30, 2020

"Michael" was desperate when he wrote me this:

I've been married for over thirty years, and I have two sons and a daughter. A couple of years ago, I had an affair with a man. Will my wife ever get over it?

My wife and I have hardly had sex in the last ten years, and when we have, she always says something like, 'Ok. But let's hurry up and get it over with.' It makes me feel like she thinks I'm raping her. I've always wanted more sex than she does.

I Did Drag Once and That Was Enough

Medium, October 30, 2020

After coming out in 1986, my first gay friends were a group of men I met in a support group for gay fathers. In those days, being a "gay father" almost always meant you'd had children with a woman to whom you'd been married.

I had joined the support group to help with the transition from straight to gay. My closest friends from the group and I were all in our early forties and beginner-gays.

The Fear of Sacrificing Everything to Come Out

Medium, October 26, 2020

A few years ago, I gave a talk about men who come out gay later in life to a group of about sixty mostly grey-haired gay men at an LGBTQ community center.

A man I'll call "David" sat near the back of the room. David appeared to be in his mid-fifties. Nothing about him gave any inkling that he was a gay man. He was large and powerful, a very masculine man with the calloused hands of a tradesman.

Is It Cheating if it’s with Another Dude?

Medium, October 23, 2020

Sometimes we don't want to want what we want.

I used to tell myself All I want is a blow job. To achieve that goal, I was going to have to look for it. First, I had a lot of questions: Who does what to whom? How is that negotiated? Where do I go to find it? What would be expected of me in return? What if I like it too much?

Is Fitting In Enough for You?

Medium, October 16, 2020

When I was nine-years-old, I called my widowed mother at her work and sobbed, "I can't get the lawnmower started again."

She responded, "Of course you can. You're a man, aren't you?" How does one answer that question? Men fix machines; I can't fix mine; I must not be a man. I felt as if she'd ripped off one testicle.

Being a Man Doesn’t Demand Being Toxic

Medium, October 9, 2020

When I was about nine-years-old, I tearfully called my widowed mother at her work to say, "I can't get the lawnmower started."

She responded, "Of course you can. You're a man, aren't you?" How does one answer that question? Men fix machines; I couldn't fix mine; I must not be a man.

What You Should Know About Getting Old

Medium, October 2, 2020

I once spoke to a group of older men in Houston about aging. When I finished, "Don" stood up, raised his hands in the air, and said, "I'm 82, and this is the best time in my life."

I thought, What does he know that I need to figure out?

I then realized that what Don had said about aging was far more important than anything I had said about it.

After Divorce, Rethink the Definition of “Family”

Medium, September 29, 2020

My ex-wife, Lynn, and I would have been married now for fifty-two years. But I've been with my husband now for thirty-three years; we married as soon as the law allowed.

I love my husband, and I love Lynn.

Although we're no longer married, I often refer to Lynn as my wife.

I May Be Gay but Don’t Call Me Homosexual

An Injustice Mag, Sep 19, 2020

Recently someone asked me, “If ‘homo’ means same, and ‘hetero’ means other, why is it wrong to use the word ‘homosexual?’”

It’s a fair question.

“Homosexual” and “homosexuality” have long been associated with pathology, mental illness, and criminality. They imply that being gay is sick, diseased, or wrong.

It May Surprise You But Old People Have Sex

Medium, August 22, 2020

When I was 32-years-old, my mother re-married after nearly thirty years as a widow. The night they were married, I suddenly sat straight up in bed and said to my wife, "Oh my god! Do you think they're doing it?"

Most adolescents have a similar reaction when they think that about their parents having sex. Without a father, that thought - like many others - didn't enter my brain until I was much older.

Gay Husband, Straight Wife: Can It Work?

Medium, August 17, 2020

Often enough people have asked me with some skepticism, "How could you not know you were gay?" I used to wonder that myself. Then there's the followup question, "Weren't you hiding behind your wife?"

I guess you could say I was in a "mixed-orientation relationship" (MOR) for eighteen years. But neither my wife nor I knew that we were. When my wife and I divorced, we were homo-naive. I don't remember others talking about MORs until much more recently.

Are You Keeping Secrets in Your Therapy?

Invisible Illness, August 9, 2020

We all want to present ourselves favorably, but in therapy, we have different rules about that than we do in social discourse.

After reading Timothy O'Neill's excellent story, When You Lie To Conceal The Full Extent Of Your Illness", I thought it might be useful to write about what transpires on the other end of that couch.

Are You Fat Or Just Gay Fat?

Medium, August 1, 2020

I have man boobs.

I was always self-conscious about the size of my breasts. As a teenager, at the swimming pool, I either stood in shoulder-deep water or lay face down on my towel. When that wasn't possible, I always had a t-shirt handy. There, on my chest, visible to everyone, was physical evidence that I wasn't quite a man.

What to Do With a Husband Who Cross-Dresses

The Good Men Project, July 30, 2020

The fantasy of submissiveness and dominance makes people whose sexual behavior runs toward the vanilla uncomfortable. For men, the fantasy combines the roles of a dominant woman or man who holds power over the "naughty boy."

Mutual consent governs the role-play, although the fantasy itself incorporates an element of non-consent.

What HIV Teaches Us About COVID-19

The Good Men Project, July 23, 2020

I came out as gay in 1986, the peak of the HIV epidemic. Sometimes this COVID-19 pandemic feels a lot like that.

After leaving my wife and two daughters, I accepted a job as Medical Director of Psychiatry at one of the largest healthcare systems in Iowa. As far as I knew then, only my wife knew about my recently accepted sexual orientation.

Why Is Doing Everything Right So Wrong?

The Good Men Project, July 9, 2020

When I was young, I followed all the rules, and yet, I never felt good about myself.

Other mothers would say to my mother, I wish my boy would be more like Loren. That never felt good. I wanted to be naughty, the one who flaunted the rules but had adults dismiss it as Boys will be boys.

But I couldn't risk the disapproval of people I loved.

I Knew I Would Have an Affair: But Not With Another Man

Psychology Today, July 8, 2020

I’m going to have an affair.

I cannot live like this, feeling this alone in my marriage. Up to that point, this thought was one I hadn’t allowed myself to think. After eighteen years of marriage, I had never been unfaithful to my wife, and I had never thought of ending the marriage.

But I couldn't risk the disapproval of people I loved.

I Knew I Would Have an Affair: We Began to Meet Regularly

Psychology Today, July 8, 2020

I could return to my monogamish, heterosexual-like life.

We began to meet again regularly, at precisely the scheduled times.

My wife and I were building a new home in Ames — likely another fruitless attempt to rescue our marriage. As so many other couples chose to do to save their marriages, another child was not an option. I’d had a vasectomy. I was excited to show an architect the house I’d designed. If we went after the carpenters left, I now had “a place.”

What the Hell Is a ‘Demisexual’ and Do We Need It?

The Good Men Project, June 25, 2020

"Why am I Afraid to Have Sex? On the rare occasions when I've had sex, I can't think of one that was a positive experience."

That's how a letter to me from a gay man in his mid-sixties began. [The message has been edited for clarity.]

He went on to say,

"I want to have an enduring, romantic, and monogamous relationship with another man, but how realistic is that at my age and with my sexual history?"

Are We Ever too Old to Come Out?

The Good Men Project, June 4, 2020

"When I was struggling to decide between whether or not to come out, I was hurting. Then my wife and little boy were killed in a car accident. I know what I should have felt, but what I felt was a relief."

This friend loved his wife and son, but guilt and shame consumed him for betraying them. His pain bothered him to the point he couldn't bear it, and he had thoughts of suicide. He also knew that despite his many promises, he couldn't restrain his desire for sex with other men.

Monogamy in Gay Couples

The Good Men Project, May 14, 2020

Dr. Olson,

I don't know how to ask this, not even sure if I should, but I will. Given that there is a difference in sex drives between younger and older men, and you are significantly older than your partner, did that ever create conflict for you and/or him, and if so, how did you resolve it?

You may ask me anything-my life's pretty much an open book-but I also suspect that you are more interested in your own sex life than mine, and I'm guessing you are concerned about differences in sexual desires between you and either a much older or younger partner.

I’m Coming Out as Old

The Good Men Project, April 23, 2020

On my 77th birthday, I'm coming out again: I'm coming out as old. That means I'm officially a part of the "old old," among "the most vulnerable" during this COVID-19 pandemic. I'm now a part of an age group that our society may prefer to be invisible and may feel worthy of being discarded.

But as Oliver Sacks wrote at 80-years-old, "I often feel that life is about to begin, only to realize it is almost over." He also wrote, "I begin to feel, not a shrinking but an enlargement of mental life and perspective. One has had a long experience of life, not only one's own life, but others', too."

The Curse of an Attraction to Older Gay Men

Psychology Today, April 23, 2020

When I met my husband, he was 29-years old. I was forty-four.

I said to him, “There’s fifteen years difference in our ages. Do you think this can work?”

He responded, “I’ve always liked older men.”

We rarely discussed it again.

Do You Need a Hug? I Do: Anxiety in the COVID-19 Pandemic

Psychology Today, March 26, 2020

We’re all anxious now.

COVID-19 occupies the lips and ears of everyone. A threat we understand causes us to feel afraid and results in planning an appropriate response, but anxiety comes from the unknown, from the uncertainty of how to make ourselves safe. Separation from loved ones, the loss of freedoms we have taken for granted, uncertainty about risks, and boredom all can cause dramatic consequences.

I'm Coming Out as Old

Psychology Today, March 24, 2020

On my 77th birthday, I’m coming out again: I’m coming out as old. That means I’m officially a part of the “old old,” among “the most vulnerable” during this COVID-19 pandemic. I’m now a part of an age group that our society may prefer to be invisible and may feel worthy of being discarded.

But as Oliver Sacks wrote at 80-years-old, “I often feel that life is about to begin, only to realize it is almost over.” He also wrote, “I begin to feel, not a shrinking but an enlargement of mental life and perspective.

Age Differences in Gay Couples

Psychology Today, March 23, 2020

Some men prefer older men; sometimes much older. Many inquiries I have received over and over again through the years begin something like this: “I've always liked older men, but many gay friends close to my age are critical of me and suspicious of my motives. They don’t get it, but I don’t understand it myself, so how can I explain it to them?” One young man said to me, “If I see a handsome gay man my age, he might just as well have a vagina. I feel nothing.” Another said, “I don’t get aroused if I see some hot young man, but if he’s with his grandpa, I get excited.”

Sex Education via Pornhub

Psychology Today, March 11, 2020

On the 45-minute drive to hockey practice in a city in the Northwest, my grandson said to my daughter, “Mom, I don’t think I’m through puberty yet; I haven’t had a wet dream.” The comment is charming because of its combination of sophistication and innocence.

He had had sex education as part of his health curriculum throughout his elementary and middle school education, and he had learned that topics like periods, masturbation, and wet dreams can be discussed without shame.

I Love My Husband, and I Love My Wife

Psychology Today, March 30, 2019

I love my husband, and I love my wife. Although we’re no longer married, I still refer to her as my wife, because she’s the only one I’ve ever had, and I doubt that I’ll ever be looking for another one. I also love my husband, whom I have been with now for 33 years. When I hear the term ex-wife, I see the word wife with a big red slash through it, but both my wife and my husband are important parts of my life and history.

3 Essential Steps to Lasting Self-Esteem

Psychology Today, February 15, 2019

Have you ever put someone in charge of your life by trying to live your life to please them? Whose life are you living? You don’t need someone’s permission to live your own life; you must seize it.

Throughout my long career in psychiatry, I have had many patients say to me, “I just want you to make me happy,” as if I were going to dispense some magic potion that would suddenly make them feel good about themselves. They look a bit shocked when I respond, “How much work are you willing to put into it?” I often add, “I’ll work hard to help you feel better, but I’m not going to work harder than you do.”

Digging Deeper with Straight Spouses Part II

Psychology Today, July 27 2018

As I was working on this essay, I got an email from my ex-wife, whom I divorced 32 years ago, asking me to have lunch. “Nothing serious. Just haven’t caught up in a while.” I quickly accepted the invitation. My experience is unimaginable to some straight spouses, and for us, it didn’t come easily or quickly.

I knew when I married her that I wanted be the best dad any kid could have.

Digging Deeper with Straight Spouses

Psychology Today, July 26, 2018

Since my essay, “My Husband Is Having an Affair...With a Man,” was published, I have received many, many comments. Although some of the comments were supportive, many of them were challenging, such as this one: Sadly, most married, closeted gay men are manipulative, narcissistic con artists who only think about themselves with only occasional feelings of guilt and remorse. Their decision to leave or stay in their marriages is never out of consideration for the wife. [The comments – mostly from women -- have been edited slightly]. Her comment made me angry and defensive.

Loneliness Is a Killer. Why Don't We Talk About It?

Psychology Today, December 8, 2017

“Loneliness is a killer,” a friend recently wrote to me. We’ve all felt it, but we don't like to admit it.

I don’t think there’s a lonelier place on Christmas Eve than a moderately-priced, residential hotel like the one I spent the night in a few years ago. The only other person I saw there was the desk clerk, who looked as if he’d volunteered to work because he too had no one with whom he could spend the holiday.

I Didn't Want to Betray My Wife Again

Psychology Today, June 3, 2017

I had broken my vows to my wife, and I left her when I realized that if I made those vows again I would only betray her again. I knew my sexual attraction to men was too powerful to be contained.

If parents arranged marriages in America, our families would have put Lynn and me together. We both grew up in small towns in Nebraska where everyone looked alike and thought alike.

Mature Gay and Bisexual Men and Suicide

Psychology Today, June 3, 2017

Gay and bisexual men seek mental health care more frequently than heterosexual men but are more likely to have attempted and succeeded at suicide.

Suicide in the United States has surged to its highest level in nearly 30 years. Although this rise was particularly steep for women, it increased substantially for all middle-aged Americans, a group whose suicide rate had been stable or falling since the 1950s.

Age as a Factor in Sexual Orientation and Attraction

Psychology Today, September 13, 2016

When asked about sexual orientation, a person typically will respond with the gender of their preferred sexual partner. Is it a same-sex partner, an opposite-sex one, or both? In a paper published August 22, 2016, in the Archives of Sexual Behavior, Michael Seto writes that the age of one’s sexual partner may be as stable an element of sexual orientation as gender.

The Opportunities of Aging

Psychology Today, September 9, 2016

I hated everything about turning sixty, and I certainly had never expected to find that with aging come opportunities.

My skin sagged, wrinkled, and began to resemble bread mold. I’d gained weight, and after falling asleep while driving, I was diagnosed with sleep apnea. I needed a knee and a shoulder replacement, and when I finished urinating and put my junk away, the last few drops of urine always ran down my pant leg. I had visions of smelling like a bad nursing home.

Door Knob Revelations

Psychology Today, October 8, 2011

As therapists, we've all learned that our patients reveal their most painful conflicts during the last thirty seconds of a session, just when they are ready to leave the office. Often they already have their hand on the door knob. Recently I experienced this rather dramatically as I terminated with a woman I had seen for about 25 years.

Gaps in LGBT Research and Health Care

Psychology Today, August 2, 2011

As a group with minority status, LGBT people are subjected to prejudice and discrimination in health care. In the mid-1980s, I had just left my wife and daughters to begin the process of coming out. I had taken a new position as medical director of psychiatry at a large health care system in Iowa. My new position included an invitation to sit as the psychiatric representative on a committee of an HMO.

The Messy Realities of Bisexuality

Psychology Today, July 5, 2011

When I searched Twitter for "bisexuality" I found this: "Bisexuality is the ability to reach down someone's pants and be satisfied with whatever you find." I once defined it (less colorfully) on MagneticFire as, "bisexuality is being sexually attracted equally to both men and women."

Betrayal and Emotional Infidelity

Psychology Today, July 5, 2011

When one partner has been betrayed, they usually ask their spouse the wrong question: "Did you have sex with that person?" Emotional infidelity is far more damaging to a relationship than sexual infidelity. Open gay relationships can work, providing there are rules and the rules are followed. Lies are the ultimate betrayal in a relationship.

My Husband Is Having an Affair...With a Man

Psychology Today, March 5, 2011

Sexual infidelity is often considered the ultimate betrayal. It disrupts ongoing, meaningful relationships. When a heterosexual couple experiences infidelity and the offense is committed with someone of the same sex, it turns worlds upside down.

Too Old to Come Out?

Psychology Today, February 11, 2011

"Why come out at forty? You're too old for sex," so said a young twenty-something. This thinking is wrong on three counts:
1. Forty is the infancy of old age
2. Men and women have sex well into late life
3. Being gay is about far more than just having sex.

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