Ask the Doc
Dr. Olson welcomes your questions and comments about your sexual identity, coming out, sexual functioning, relationships, and how to face aging with optimism. Feel free to write him about any of these or related topics at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Dr. Olson will always respect your privacy. Although he may use the content of your message in a blog post, he will never disclose your identity, age, or specific location in his responses. Any information that might reveal your identity will be altered in such a way that it protects your identity. All questions have been edited and abbreviated for publication.
His responses are not to be considered medical advice.
Hi, Dr. Olson,
I am a middle-aged divorced man, and since my divorce I have been struggling with my sexual identity. Perhaps I have always been in denial or confusion with my sexuality. Growing up I had female friends but felt intimidated by them sexually. My first sexual experience was with a childhood friend, but I felt sick, ashamed, and guilty. This increased my need to always have a girlfriend to suppress this shame. Following my divorce, I felt incredibly lonely and started flirting with guys online. For the first time, I felt attractive. Who am I?
Your story is very familiar to me and not much different from my own. Some find it hard to believe that a man could reach middle age before questioning his sexual identity, but in my research, I have even interviewed a man in his nineties who, having lost his wife of over fifty years, began to explore his same-sex attractions. Seeking an answer to the question of who I am led me to write Finally Out: Letting Go of Living Straight. Continue reading
I’ve been openly gay for decades but have failed to create a fulfilling personal life for myself. As I age, the opportunities to continue trying have faded away. A life of interacting with shallow acquaintances, attending inane social gatherings, having casual/anonymous sex, and tending my garden quietly doesn’t appeal to me. Why should I continue to exist if I can see no purpose and take no pleasure in it? I’ve thought about joining a religious community. I’ve failed to realize my potential as a gay man and cannot face the hard work of learning how to live without kindness, affection, trust, and intimacy. Is suicide a reasonable choice for me?
One of the most critical issues for each of us, as we approach our later years, is for us to have a sense of meaning, a feeling that our lives have mattered. Many older people think they have failed in one of life’s critical dimensions if they have not found a life partner or do not have a family. For others, though, a sense of meaning can be obtained through belonging to a community that they can commit their time and money to and feel that they are adding value to. Continue reading
I recently received an email from the child of a parent who came out when this child was fourteen years old. In preparation for writing an essay about the experience, the child asked me a series of questions. My answer follows each question below.
- What was the aha moment that you had when you finally decided to come out to your family? To yourself?
I’m very conflicted now. I am in my midsixties and have been married since I was in my early twenties. I’ve struggled with depression, alcoholism, and drugs most of my life. The first twenty-five years of my marriage were a complete nightmare for my wife—infidelity, alcohol and drugs, and all the lies and false promises I made. For several years, I have been clean and sober with the help of AA.
My wife and I haven’t had a sexual relationship in several years. I have always had a high sex drive, and one day while surfing Craigslist I decided to try having sex with a man. I did, and I liked it. Honesty is a big part of AA and for staying sober. I am hiding this, and now all I feel is shame and guilt and it has ruined my sex life. Any advice?
Thanks for contacting me. First, congratulations on your sobriety. I know how difficult that struggle is. Substance use disorders are chronic conditions, much like diabetes, that can never be cured but must be managed on a day-to-day basis. Continue reading
I grew up in the 1950’s – 60’s. FINALLY OUT resonated with me because I grew up in the insularity of a rural environment. I was ignorant of homosexuality also. I am now in my sixties and I feel lonely and in despair. After 30 years of marriage, I came out to my wife. I have struggled to find a good therapist who can understand what I’ve been going through.
Most of the gay literature focuses on the coming out process for young gay men and women. Are there any that describe the trials of coming out as an older man?
I am concerned about your “lonely despair.” Even at your age, it is possible to successfully get through this process of coming out. In my research, the oldest man I came across was in his nineties when he came out, and he was living with his gay lover when I met him. The most important thing for you to do today, however, isn’t to be seeking a lover, but finding friends, gay or straight, who accept you as you now have revealed yourself to your wife, but also, more importantly, to yourself. Continue reading
I don’t know if I’m gay, straight or bisexual. How can I decide? Kinsey saw sexuality as a continuum, with homosexuality on one end and other-sex attractions on the other; bisexuality fell somewhere in the middle. But where? How much bisexual attraction and/or behavior does it take to make a person bisexual? How do I know what I am?
You’ve asked a complicated question, and one that frankly has gotten me into some trouble in the past. I was attacked (with some justification, I might add) by some members of the bisexual community who considered my comments in an essay on Psychology Today to be very “biphobic.” Never the less, I’ll stick my toe in that water again. Continue reading
I’m a fifty-year-old man with two sons, ages 23 and 25. I have struggled with my sexual desires for men for as long as I can remember, and as I get older, it seems harder and harder to resist this, but I have had only very limited experience with men. How did you decide you are gay and what made you decide to leave your family and come out?
Leaving my wife and two young daughters was one of the most difficult things I have ever done. I struggled with the decision for many years. The question of leaving my family and coming out or staying married and trying to repress my desires seemed to have no good answer. Continue reading
Having children has always been very important to me, and I have been blessed to have a son and two daughters. I worry how coming out might impact my relationship with them. How did your coming out affect your relationship with your kids? If you had come out as a younger man, would you have still wanted to be a father?
Being a father was one of my highest priorities. I lost my father when I was three years old and I had promised myself to be the best father I could possibly be. A large part of what delayed my coming out was a fear that I was abandoning my relationship with my children and breaking a vow I’d made to my wife. Continue reading
I am a self-identified gay man who recently stumbled across your book, Finally Out, and it raised some points that I want to ask you about. It seems to me that sexual desire may be learned rather than instinctual. Aren’t instincts and intelligence mutually exclusive? If homosexuality is a biologic instinct, in other words, hard-wired, wouldn’t it just die out?
The debate about whether being gay is nature versus nurture is one that has gone on for a long time and undoubtedly will continue for a long time. I usually say that 99% of our brain functions at a primitive or primal level and 1% at a rational level. Of course, these numbers are chosen arbitrarily to make a point. Continue reading
I’m very new to all of this. In fact, I’ve never been with a man sexually, although I’ve thought about it for a long time. I find myself vacillating between excitement and nervousness over the anticipation. I made eye contact with someone at the gym today but wasn’t sure what to do next. I’m considering a weekend at a clothing optional resort, hoping to explore the gay community a bit more. I’m looking for one that isn’t too seedy but one where I can have some good conversations with other like-minded men.
Of course, you’re nervous as well as excited. All very normal. Cruising goes on everywhere. Eyes meet, when a glance is held for a bit longer than the look between heterosexual men. It’s the initial communication of some interest. Once you’re aware of it, you become a participant without even intending to. It’s a learned response, and once learned, it never goes away. All it means is that you’ve developed some comfort in looking at another man. Heterosexual men are usually uncomfortable with it and will look away quickly. Continue reading