Alcoholics Anonymous and Honesty about Same-Sex Desires

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.

I regularly hear from men who have been married for many, many years and are curious or questioning their sexuality. You sound like a very sexual person and sexual desire often interferes with good judgment, particularly when it’s complicated by the use of drugs and alcohol. Many men who have same-sex desires also use alcohol and drugs to hide their guilt and shame. Men and women use lies and justifications to excuse their sexual indiscretions the same way they use them to hide their substance abuse.

Many men turn to same-sex sexual satisfaction because it is easily available and may not pose the same risks to a marriage that an opposite relationship might have. These relationships are often anonymous with no strings attached. The labels “gay” and “bi” often are not useful; I tend to just talk about “men who have sex with men.”

I guess the first question I have is, Are you committed to remaining married? My next question is, Does your wife have any knowledge of your same-sex partners? And finally, Are you practicing safe sex, are you being tested regularly for HIV and other STDs, and are you familiar with the medication, PrEP, which can be taken to prevent HIV infection?

Honesty is a big part of recovery, for sure. I’m assuming you have not been honest with either your wife or your AA community, correct? I think you are accurate in assuming that this deception and the associated guilt and shame have some possibility of contributing to relapses in your recovery. On the other hand, the consequences of being honest with everyone could be very destructive to some of your relationships, and that carries some relapse risks as well. These kinds of situations are predicaments that have no “right” solution; you are left with two options that both seem unacceptable. But other options are available as well.

You mentioned this has “ruined my sex life.” If you haven’t done so, I’d suggest you sign up for my tip sheet on men’s sexuality. Many aspects of our lives change as we get older, including sexual desire, erections, ejaculation, and sexual satisfaction. This tip sheet outlines some of those changes. Part of the difficulty is simply that you are older now and your abilities to function sexually change, although sex can remain quite satisfying once you understand the natural changes.

Secret, anonymous sex, especially when some risk is involved, heightens sexual desire. When cruising Craigslist or other sites for a new casual sexual partner, the anticipation compensates for some of the naturally diminished sexual excitement that one has with a regular partner or partners.

The first recommendation I have for you would be to share your secret with your AA sponsor. If you don’t feel safe sharing this with him or her, perhaps you can find another person in the program with whom you could unburden yourself. You are not alone in this. Many areas have gay AA groups, and even though you may not think of yourself as gay, another person about your age who is gay/bi would most likely be receptive to helping you through this.

Remember, coming out as gay or bi or even questioning is not an event that occurs on one day but a process of decision-making over time. People come out to varying degrees in different situations depending upon the circumstances of their lives.

I would also invite you to read my book, Finally Out, where I discuss some of these concerns in more detail than I can here. It isn’t just for gay men but any man who experiences same-sex desires.

Loren Olson