On the down low: Men sleeping with men
March 15, 2009
Heather Little-White, Ph.D.
‘Men sleeping with men’ is an established homosexual activity. Sex between men has been recorded in almost every human society and at every stage in history, accepted in certain cultures and repressed and denied in others. However, the real dilemma is for female partners in a supposedly heterosexual relationship to discover that their partners are also having sex with men. These men who sleep with men and women are bisexual, a sexual orientation which many women cannot tolerate.
Sophiewas engaged and just a week before her wedding, She began packing to move to her new home. Sophie found pictures of her fiancé in a compromising position with a male friend of the couple. She found it hard to believe and when she confronted her fiancé, he broke down in tears and admitted that he enjoyed bisexual relationships for most of his adult life. The wedding was cancelled and Sophie has since lived a celibate life as she works through her pain in therapy.
Men who have sex with men find a certain kind of fascination with this lifestyle. Bernieadmits that he became involved in having sex with men because his business associates who were involved with powerful people got him in places and positions that he never thought would have been possible. He has plans of marrying one day to improve his social standing and the woman he dates now also share those plans, unknowing of his other sexual orientation, sex with men.
The secret world of men who lead a double sexual life is known as the Down Low in the United States. What is the Down Low? Men who have sexual relationships with other men while in a sexual relationship with women. They are said to be on the Down Low or DL for short. Often, these men do not consider themselves gay or bisexual and their female partners are unaware that they are having sex with other men.
Men on the ‘down low’ believe that women are for relationships and men are for sex only. They get the balance of having a woman for the benefits of a relationship with the caring and ‘mushy’ stuff, and the raunchy sex with men. Living the double life is very easy to do, according to one DL man. “As long as you are not suspected of having sex with another man, you are safe with your woman and society. If you dress effeminate, you place yourself at risk of being beaten because of the homophobic society in which we live,” he added.
The Down Low world includes a surprising array of men in academia and business to homosexual thugs, often unemployed. The Down Low has taken centre stage in discussions on the increase in HIV/AIDS, especially among black women. Data show that the main mode of transmission is through heterosexual sex, moving from the former popular mode of transmission – drug use.
The practice of straight men secretly having sex with other men is common among African American men, but it is seen across all ethnic groups. Experts have attributed the high rates of HIV to down-low practices where men have sex with other men then go home to their wives or girlfriends and infect them with HIV, never having told them that they have unprotected sex with other men.
How many HIV-positive black men consider themselves heterosexual? According to the Centers for Disease Control, it is difficult to quantify this population, but the tendency is for a good portion of men who have had sex with men to consider themselves heterosexual or straight. Black men do not like to be termed ‘gay’ or ‘bisexual’, as it makes them think of white guys wearing pink. They also feel that the terms rob them of their masculinity. In order for the AIDS prevention messages to be effective, health workers now use the term ‘men who have sex with men’ (MSM) to make men feel more accepting of the messages for safer sex and HIV testing.
Old boys’ clubs
Men continue to lead a double life in secrecy and it is a place where they find acceptance in a highly homophobic society. Historically, it has been found that men who sleep with men find fraternity with members of the ‘old boys clubs’, sporting bodies, fellow deacons, work colleagues and friends, many of whom are known to their female lover and accepted as a ‘good friend/colleague’.
Writing in the Invisible Life, author Lynn Harris posits that several cases of MSM were best men in the wedding of a male friend and wife. Several of the men in this ‘secret’ world, hang out together, drink, get drunk and end up at a secret apartment. “The next morning their underwear is on the floor and they just get up and put it back on as if nothing happened,” Harris adds. What is dangerous about men having sex with men is that no condom is used. Some men admit that getting the condom forces them to think about the DL behaviour and may hinder their performance and achieving orgasm.
Precautions for women
Women, who fall in love, should take more pains so as not to end up with men who sleep with other men. Therapist Brenda Wade writing in Essence magazine suggests the following:
Do some groundwork during dating before engaging in sex. Dating gives a woman time to determine if her date is sane, available and compatible with her.
What if your date reveals that he has had sex with men or has an attraction to female? You may feel that you have to move on, but the real issue is whether you can have a committed, monogamous relationship and to determine what is needed to take it to another level.
Explore the reasons your date started the ‘down low’ and it may be possible to help him overcome it and women can go on to establishing healthy relationships with HIV tests. Some say that the only thing difficult as not knowing is knowing.
The issue of bisexuality is often shunned because of shame and the fear of being ostracised by the public. However, with the increases in HIV transmission, the group of men who sleep with both men and women can no longer be ignored in the battle against HIV/AIDS.