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In the last two months, I have looked at a couple of gay porn Web sites. The pictures I have looked at have aroused me at times, even while filling me with a sense of repulsion and disgust. It's almost as if the taboo of looking at these sort of images, and the anxiety that I feel when doing so, creates a strong arousal. I find that I have powerful orgasms which, of course, make me feel ashamed afterwards for hours, or even days. My girlfriend is profoundly understanding and loving in all of this and is not nearly as disturbed about this as I am. Nevertheless, it bothers me that I find gay pornography arousing at times and even seek it out. My sexuality has long been a source of fear, shame, and insecurity in my life. Just the fact that I can acknowledge having a homoerotic streak is a huge step for me. I'd appreciate hearing your thoughts on how I can come to accept the various facets of my sexuality and not be ashamed or afraid of it.

Your story is much more common than you think. Your feelings of disgust over gay porn is a result not only of your own admitted homophobia from your youth, but also society's. Since you're just now coming to terms with it, and thinking about it and questioning it, my guess is it'll slowly become less an issue for you as you chill out a bit. Just don't be so hard on yourself. Try to go with the flow a bit more and not fight every urge you feel. It would also almost certainly help you to talk with a counselor experienced in helping people who feel sexually confused, as well as people who have made peace with their own sexuality. You're not alone with your feelings, so talk to other people with similar experiences — that will be a huge step for you.

I have always masturbated to thoughts and pictures of male nudity, but I am not homosexual. I just don't get off well when I think of females. My girlfriend can get me off very easily — but when I masturbate it's much quicker and easier for me to imagine a male rather than a female, even though I do not like guys in that way. I have masturbated with guys, and I have masturbated guys before, and I didn't like it at all. How do I get to where I am more comfortable masturbating while thinking of females? Is it common to think of guys sometimes?

Yes, it is common — more than just about everyone realizes, or will admit. However, most straight males — at least adults — can be sexually aroused by images or thoughts of females. If you get turned on by looking at your girlfriend or a picture of a sexy woman, you probably have no reason to be alarmed. You may develop the ability to successfully fantasize about women as you get older — or maybe your fantasy life will just be different from most straight guys'. However, if you find you aren't physically attracted to images of women but you are to images of men, you don't necessarily need to be concerned, but you should consider the possibility that you're at least bisexual. Admitting this to yourself can be very difficult in our society, but it's all about being true to oneself and being comfortable with who we are. If you're sexually confused and it bothers you, you should seek out help from the many resources devoted to this. The bottom line is not to stress about labeling yourself one way or another, but to learn to live with — and enjoy — the attractions you have. And by the way, you can't force those to change either way.

You've said "the jury is still out" on whether it's okay for young people to have access to pornography. JackinWorld seems to say masturbating while fantasizing about someone is normal and healthy, as long as you realize the difference between fantasy and reality. I agree with that. But how is getting and looking at pornography different from just visualizing it in your mind?

I guess part of the problem concerns what constitutes pornography. It's a very broad term. If we're talking about fairly tame erotic material like Playboy Wet 'N Wild videos, one would be hard pressed to say such images are harmful even to younger teens (even if they do depict partners the average kid would never be able to get). But if you haven't noticed, a lot of pornography out there is very hardcore and unrealistic. Closeups of jackhammer-action intercourse, fake-breasted women with too much makeup wearing nothing but high heels, and aggressive men with oversize genitalia may be popular, but they're pretty far removed from the reality of two people making love. You have to wonder what effect such hardcore material has on a person who hasn't fully developed his concepts of what it means to be a man and how to treat his partners. Furthermore, a person's fantasies are his own creations; stuff coming from a VCR or computer is not, so it can definitely influence the viewer. So, I'm not saying hardcore pornography is definitely harmful to young people, but I think it should be handled with care.

I am in a platonic relationship with a very attractive girl whom I've had a crush on long before we became friends. But I am worried that if I continue to fantasize about her while masturbating I will not be able to be happy without having sex with her. I could stop fantasizing about her, but I worry about sexual repression — and besides, I find fantasizing about her the easiest. (They're all consenting-sex fantasies, by the way.)

Can I actually draw the line between fantasy and reality? Will my subconscious listen? She knows I want to have sex with her, if that matters.

It is very possible to harmlessly fantasize about someone you know, and yes, in most cases a person understands the difference between his own fantasy life and reality. However, there is a definite problem with getting fixated on another person if you fantasize about her all the time and objectify her (i.e., turn her into a sex object in your mind). It can definitely strain your friendship if your interest in her is becoming shallower and more sexual. Even if there is a chance you'll get together someday, it's just not very healthy to fixate on one person you know and fantasize about her too much physically. If you're going to do that (and it's not really a great idea in general), fantasize about a celebrity or a non-existent person. That way it won't hurt you or the other person down the road.

JackinWorld recommends variety in your fantasy life. If your fantasies get too focused and too specific, your energies can get misdirected. (I'm sure you don't want to turn into a stalker.) Don't let your thoughts get too "heavy" when you masturbate; keep it fun — that's what masturbation is supposed to be.

I like to masturbate while wearing women's clothes. I enjoy the feeling of dressing up like a woman and pretending to be one. I have no real interest in men, but I would love to be with a female while doing this. Does anyone else do this?

Your sexual interest in cross-dressing is probably much more common than you think. We've received lots of letters about masturbating with panties, bras, etc., as well as masturbating while wearing these items. It's harmless, although I caution you about getting too dependent on inanimate objects. Using them as toys to enhance the experience is one thing, but a full-blown fetish — where they're a requirement and you cannot experience pleasure without them — is another. This is true of pretty much any sexual toy, and a dependence on objects often gets in the way of healthy sexual relationships, requiring therapy. But as long as this kind of activity is the spice of your sex life and not the main dish, you should be fine.

Sometimes when I masturbate I imagine young naked children. I don't know why, but they just pop into my mind. I feel extremely guilty sometimes after masturbating while thinking about a nude 6-year-old or something. I'm kind of a hypocrite — when I'm not masturbating I'm truly against kiddie porn, but when I masturbate I get those images in my mind. Is there anything I can do to deal with this? Or should I just let these images go through my head and shut up about them?

As I've said before, fantasies, no matter how bizarre, are fine as long as they're just that — fantasies. Problems occur only when the fantasies start to creep out of your fantasy life and into your real life. I respect the fact that you say you're "against kiddie porn"; to me, that indicates you have good, sturdy boundaries between right and wrong, and between fantasy life and real life. But the more strange or socially unacceptable your fantasies, the more vigilant you have to be about keeping those boundaries intact and making sure they remain as such: fantasies.

Still, for many people persistent, socially unacceptable fantasies cause them to be unhappy with themselves. If this describes you, consider seeking out professional counseling. After all, nobody should be unhappy about his or herself because of what they think about when they're giving themselves pleasure.

I've noticed your site hasn't addressed the topic of sexual fetishes. Personally, I have a fetish for socks of all kinds and colors. They get me so aroused that if I don't masturbate on a regular basis throughout the day, I walk around the whole day with an erection. Is this a normal fetish? I have never found it interesting to fantasize about people when I do my deed — only socks.

I'm not sure if any fetish is "normal" (or "abnormal," for that matter). They're certainly common, and are simply variations on human sexuality. However, the importance a person places on his or her fetish is important. In your case, I'm concerned that you fantasize only about these inanimate objects and don't seem to find other people sexually interesting. As you can imagine, this could make it difficult for you to have a normal sexual relationship with another person (especially if they aren't wearing socks!). To find an object sexy and to use it as a toy during masturbation is one thing — but when it becomes a necessity, that isn't healthy and would indicate a need for professional counseling if you want to have healthy sexual relationships throughout your life.

I don't know why, but every time I masturbate I can't stop thinking about guys. I am seriously not gay — I have already lost my virginity to a girl two years ago, and I enjoyed it a lot. But I always think of guys' penises when I masturbate. What does this mean?
- age 17, Canada

This is very common. Masturbation, unlike intercourse with a female, is a very male-oriented activity: you have your penis in your hand, you're getting intense pleasure from it, you're touching yourself in other places, and you're getting ready to ejaculate. For some, the concept of girls just doesn't fit into the picture at this moment.

Even if you did have a bisexual streak, this too is very common. Rather than getting freaked about it, just consider yourself normal. There's no reason to get upset over something that's shared by most guys — including, probably, most of your friends and family.

Whenever I masturbate, I can't help but to think about other guys and their penises. I sometimes imagine playing truth or dare and having to masturbate somebody else. My friends and I have "shoot the wad" contests, and I find it pleasurable to have some other guy give me a hand job. Does it mean I am gay or bi?
- age 14, New York

Not at all. You're curious about penises because they're so fascinating and provide so much pleasure. You won't really be able to decide which sex you prefer until you're older. Until then, relax — very many guys your age feel the same way. And if they didn't, why would they be having all of these contests in the first place?

I've read a lot of stuff here that says many guys like to masturbate together and play with each other's penises, but only if they don't think what they're doing is being 'gay'. But isn't that what being gay or bi means — getting turned on by other guys and their penises? When I masturbate, I always think about other guys, and I like it very much. I think I am gay, but ... so what if I am? What happens if I decide I like just being with guys and I don't want to be with girls? Does that mean I'm 'gay', or is there something else involved with that? And If I am gay, what's so wrong about that?
- age 15, New Jersey

Those are some big questions, and important ones, too. I am getting a lot of questions from guys asking if they're gay because they like to think of other guys masturbating. I will try to answer you.

First, we have to separate homosexuality into "acts" and "preferences." Technically, masturbating another guy is a homosexual act by definition, because there's sexual contact and you're both the same sex. (If you're just masturbating with another guy, maybe while you're both looking at the Swimsuit Issue, it's less so.) There's really no way around that, although it almost certainly will have no significant effects on your later sex life. And if you're thinking about a guy while masturbating, that's just a fantasy and doesn't really make you gay, any more than fantasizing about cheating on a girlfriend makes you an adulterer.

At your age, it may be too early for you to attach the "straight" or "gay" label to yourself, because the words relate more to sexual preferences. If, after a few years, you've had sex with both men and women and you decide you prefer sex with men, then you're gay. If you like both more or less equally, you're bisexual. And if you've done it with only one sex but have no real interest in the other one — or if you simply have no sexual interest in one of the sexes — you can pretty much determine your sexual preference based on that.

As for your last question, what's so wrong about being gay ... well, you've got me there. For whatever reasons — historical, psychological, or whatever — there's a strongly negative association with the word "gay" for many people. But there's no real reason for that. Our sexual activities are our own choices, and what we do with our bodies and with consenting others should, ideally, be nobody's business. You're lucky — your generation is breaking down these age-old feelings significantly, and if you do grow up to be gay, you'll have an easier life than countless others who came before you.

Is it wrong to think about a relative when you masturbate?
- age 15, Iowa

It isn't wrong to think of anything in particular. That's fantasy. As long as you understand the difference between fantasy and reality — in other words, as long as you don't try to act out fantasies that shouldn't be acted upon — you should feel free to take your fantasy life as far as it pleases you.

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