What’s the difference between “gay” men and men who have sex with men (MSM)?
Men who have Sex with Men or MSM is a term created by the Centers for Diseases Control particularly in response to HIV prevention, as I recall. The reason is that many MSM identify as heterosexual. They wanted to reach men who had sex with men but who did not identify as gay or bisexual.
In a large study of working-class men in NYC, nearly 10% of married men had had sex with another man in the preceding year, and nearly 10% of men who identified as heterosexual were having sex exclusively with men.
If roughly 4% of the population of men is gay, that means there are more “heterosexual” men having sex with men than there are gay men having sex with men. (A bit of hyperbole to make a point!)
But for many men who enjoy sex with men, the word gay is toxic. It may be for religious or sociocultural issues, but it carries a lot of baggage. We hear them say, “I don’t want to be a part of “the scene” or “the gay world.” It’s as if they believe there is only one gay world instead of a multidimensional, diverse community of making up many different worlds.
On the evening news that features Gay Pride Parades, who do they show?Twinks in Speedos, Drag Queens, Mothers of Perpetual Indulgence, and Dykes on Bikes. That is much of straight society’s idea of “the scene” of which they don’t wish to be a part.
They’ve never seen gay nerds, gay couples with kids, highly successful gay men, gay farmers, and on and on. Because those mini-worlds never meet, nothing confronts that stereotype. So, they continue to separate themselves by saying, “Oh, God, was I drunk!” or “It’s not sex; it’s just about a little pleasure.” They carefully avoid crossing that boundary into emotional intimacy.
Many are very lonely and unhappy, always censoring their thoughts and behavior, always longing for something they don’t have, but very fearful of giving up what they do have. I know. I lived through that for nearly forty years.
Perhaps we should drop all the labels related to sexuality, and just say we are all men who have and enjoy sex with men (women with women).