"Helpin' a Buddy Out": Perceptions of Identity and Behavior Among Rural Straight Men That Have Sex With Each Other

Tony Silva, Southern Illinois University Carbondale


I conducted semi-structured interviews with ten rural, white, straight-identified men who have sex with men to understand how they perceive their sexual identity and sexual behavior. All ten tell other people that they identify as straight, and eight actually identify as straight. Five experienced major changes to their attractions, indicating that, contrary to popular assumptions, men as well as women can experience sexual fluidity. There are six main reasons participants identify as straight: (1) rejection of a gay “lifestyle;” (2) participation in conventional family formation; (3) internalization of heteronormative messages during childhood; (4) religious struggles; (5) attractions to women; and/or (6) infrequency of male sexual contact. They experience sex with men in a variety of ways, many of which reinforce their straight identity: (1) relieving an “urge;” (2) masculine, emotions-free, heterosexual bonding; (3) acting on cravings for men in the absence of male attractions; (4) a means to act on attractions to men; and/or (5) a way to satisfy sexual “needs,” regardless of the partner’s gender. The results indicate that heterosexuality is performed rather than naturally enacted, and that it is a matrix of not only attractions and behaviors, but also interpretations and cultural frames.