Ask Adam: Why Do I Need Validation Through Sex?
I spend a lot of time on hook up sites. I mean, a lot of time.
I’ve realized that I love getting the cute guys to say “yes”, but that usually the sex itself leaves me feeling empty afterwards.
It feels so good to be wanted by these guys. It’s difficult for me to imagine giving this up, even though I am tired of the let down when we’re done. Any thoughts?
Empty in Evanston
Dear Empty in Evanston,
Everyone loves validation.
Gay men often suffer from a scarcity in the validation department. When you don’t get enough of something as a kid you can be hungry for it for a very long time.
What Didn’t Happen
Here’s what probably didn’t happen to you:
When you were in first grade and wanted to hold hands with the tall boy in your classroom, no one told you it was “cute.”
When you had a crush on your third grade reading teacher, your parents didn’t smile and tell you someday you’ll grow up and marry someone just like him.
In sixth grade you didn’t spend hours on the phone with your best friend, talking about the hunky boys in your class.
In eighth grade you didn’t play spin the bottle with a bunch of males in your parents’ rec room basement.
In tenth grade you didn’t cry in your mother’s arms when the dark haired kid from Spanish class swiftly dumped you.
As you got ready for the prom no one said that all the boys at the dance would be eyeing you in that great tuxedo.
The bottom line is that this core, built-in part of you – your sexual attraction – was not validated by the people who loved you.
Unlike most straight kids, no one told you that your elementary school attraction to boys was adorable or found your teenaged crushes charming.
In fact, for many of us, the silent message we received from the people we loved was that our attractions were weird, nasty, and to be hidden at all times.
Sometimes – not always – this unmet need for validation can be the driver behind behaviors that feel somewhat compulsive. Knowing that the hot guy thinks we are sexy certainly fulfills that hunger for admiration – for a few minutes.
What To Do About It
I am imagining that you may already know the answer to the question of how you can soften your need for validation.
Healing comes from building the muscle of self-validation. Frequently this is an atrophied muscle that takes some time and patience to build.
The process begins when you start to see how unfriendly you are to yourself. Where do you put relentless pressure on you? Where don’t you give yourself a break? When do you expect perfection from you?
Change happens when you start to notice and recognize the voice of your inner mean guy. From there you’ll have an opportunity to build a new habit of responding to him with greater self-compassion. For more about how to do that you can read my blog post entitled The Secrets of the Inner Critic.
What Else to Do About It
Developing trusting relationships with lovers and friends is another way we can support our healing from a lack of validation. This works best when our closest relationships are rich with generous validation.
Many men are uncomfortable giving compliments to their partners or friends. It can feel embarrassing and “fake.” Underneath those feelings often reside an odd truth: it feels vulnerable giving a man we love a compliment. It can feel like a loss of power. We’ve been trained to compete with men, not to support them.
Yes, the world is full of fake compliments designed to manipulate others. However, we all can sense when a compliment we give or receive is real. By speaking the compliment when it authentically arises within us, we help to build supportive and healing relationships.
When hook ups regularly get in the way of our other life goals such as developing lasting friendships, satisfying hobbies, enough time for sleep, or effectiveness at work, then sometimes we might be dealing with sexual compulsion. A great place to learn more about it is through 12-step programs such as Sex Addicts Anonymous.
Thanks for asking about this important topic, which I think has special significance for many gay men.
Adam D. Blum, MFT is a licensed psychotherapist specializing in relationship and self-esteem issues for gay men. Adam offers services in his San Francisco office or by Skype and phone worldwide. Visit his website to subscribe to his e-newsletter and his free guide on building gay relationships. Follow him on Facebook and read his blog. Send your questions for possible publication to firstname.lastname@example.org. (Questions may be edited.)