Did you ever experiment?
June 2, 2007 11:57 PM   Subscribe

Is it common for men to 'experiment' as boys?

I (male) had my first gay experience when I was around 12 years old. It was with a friend (also male and around the same age) and went on for two or three years. It was relatively innocent, involving nothing more than mutual masturbation. I never associated what we did with the idea of ‘gay’. In fact, I had absolutely no concept of hetero- vs. homosexuality at that age. That friendship eventually waned and only a couple of years later I began experimenting again with another buddy of mine, this time pretty much going ‘all the way’. In both cases, it was my friend that made the first 'move'. Now, as an adult, I primarily identify as gay, and I feel strongly that having those experiences during my formative years helped shape my sexual identity.

Probably as a result of my own experiences, I have long assumed that it was common for boys to experiment sexually with each other. Since I had fooled around with friends throughout my early adolescence and since I had never been the one to initiate things, I guess I just assumed everyone else had found themselves in similar circumstances when they were young. Still, as an adult, whenever I've brought this up with my straight (and generally gay-friendly) buddies, they without exception deny ever having had similar experiences.

So, to better place my own sexual development in context, I'd like to know how common it is for young boys to experiment with each other. Particularly those who grow up to identify as straight.
posted by pantheON to Human Relations (47 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite

I think it's very uncommon.
posted by delmoi at 12:09 AM on June 3, 2007

I think it is fairly common. I have no data to back this up though.
posted by LarryC at 12:15 AM on June 3, 2007

I guess this conversation rarely, if at all, comes up in my group of friends, but I would have to say that this is not normal 'kids being kids' type of interaction. I would be surprised to hear anybody say that they did this as a child without having some curiosity or impulse towards the same sex. I would find it harder to believe that anybody who did experience these interactions as a child, grew up to be 100% straight. I imagine that if you have these interactions as a child, you are naturally attracted to this type of relationship. Just my thoughts.
posted by dnthomps at 12:19 AM on June 3, 2007

I can't comment on the commonality, but the now-100%-heterosexual-homophobe will NEVER speak about this. So the seeming commonality among the gay-friendly buddies is probably more of a fact that they are more open about these sorts of things.
posted by philomathoholic at 12:34 AM on June 3, 2007

I never did anything even remotely like that.

I would have guessed that something like that, particularly once you made it to puberty, would be very uncommon, but that might just be because it's natural to assume that everybody else had roughly your same experiences.
posted by willnot at 12:39 AM on June 3, 2007

An older (straight male) friend of mine once told me how he fooled about with the guy next door when he was 13. He's been married for about 25 years, and has 3 children.

I'm always amazed at how some of my friends attitudes alter when they get drunk. It's amazing what they tell you. Stuff they'd never admit to in the light of day when they're stone cold sober.
posted by Solomon at 12:54 AM on June 3, 2007

Best answer: According to Bagley & Tremblay (1998, Journal of Homosexuality, 36(2), pp. 1-18), 5.5% of males 15 to 19 reported having participated in homosexual activity. And 14% of males had experienced voluntary, same-gender sexual contact between the ages of 12 to 27.

see here for the full study.
posted by housea at 1:01 AM on June 3, 2007 [2 favorites]

oops. sorry to double post, but i forgot to copy in my thoughts...self-reporting is remarkably unreliable, especially with something this sensitive.

from my (extremely biased and unscientific) sample of my group male friends (primarily white and upper middle class with a roughly even split between brits and americans and between straight and gay), experimentation is pretty common: i'd say around 20% for my straight friends and maybe 35 or 40% among my gay friends.

are we exceptionally frank about these things? yeah. probably. are there too many boarding school kids in this sample? definitely. but i thought it was worth throwing it out there.
posted by housea at 1:10 AM on June 3, 2007

It depends on circumstance too. Here in the UK, a common report from those educated at boarding schools is that they experiment as children. This is because sleeping in dorm rooms full of other same-sex children, and showering/washing with them too, provides the opportunity pretty much throughout the year.
posted by humblepigeon at 1:10 AM on June 3, 2007

In fact, I had absolutely no concept of hetero- vs. homosexuality at that age.

This may be why you were more prone to it. In my Liverpool working class neighbourhood can remember knowing what it meant to be gay from the age of about ten (though we called them 'homs' in those days) and knowing that it was a bad thing to be. To the extent that somebody a couple of streets away had had painted on the side of their house 'David Jones is a hom'.

I think you're much less likely to experiment if you think there's a chance you'll get outed as a sexual deviant in front of your whole neighbourhood.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 2:06 AM on June 3, 2007

In grade school health classes (sex-ed) and various books on the subject, I've always been told it's completely normal to experiment with mutual masturbation as a kid. However, any time I've talked about this with friends before we've all come to the consensus that that statement is complete bullshit. I don't think there's anything wrong with it, but the answer is probably "no, most kids don't do that."

Except high school girls at sleepovers. I hope.
posted by borkingchikapa at 3:38 AM on June 3, 2007

According to a whole bunch of online erotica that I've stumbled across, it ain't uncommon. ;) This thread is making it start to sound like all those stories are written by women. Dang.

My unschooled, heterofemale opinion: you may have had no concept of hetero- vs. homosexuality due to your area/upbringing, and were just doing what came naturally. So, these experiences didn't *shape* your sexual identity, they simply *were* your sexual identity.

And no, my sleepovers weren't like that.
posted by iguanapolitico at 3:49 AM on June 3, 2007

Man, what the hell! I'm gay and I never experimented with my friends like that. This so isn't fair.

That said, it sounds like you're trying to prove something by polling for anecdotes. Which is fine, for party conversation fodder, but don't take any conclusions you form too seriously, ok? Anecdotes are not evidence. As Pete points out, something as simple as regional variation could have an enormous impact on this.
posted by kavasa at 6:15 AM on June 3, 2007 [1 favorite]

I (male) experimented with both boys and girls at a fairly young age (8-11). I had my first crush on a boy..second on a girl. I don't identify as gay...or straight or bi for that matter. My sexuality has always been a very very fluid thing. I don't know if it's a result of the experimentation or not, though.
posted by Cat Pie Hurts at 6:40 AM on June 3, 2007

I shared similar experiences in childhood, pantheON, and identify as quite strongly hetero.

I think the catch here, for collecting reliable data, is that the bulk of hetero men won't usually want to tell you about their homo childhood activity / experimentation.
posted by Meatbomb at 7:39 AM on June 3, 2007

It's VERY common. I actually asked a psychologist for you. Also see the Kinsey Scale.
posted by fvox13 at 7:42 AM on June 3, 2007

It depends on circumstance too. Here in the UK, a common report from those educated at boarding schools is that they experiment as children.

I'm from the UK and went to (large, all-male) boarding schools from 7 through to 18. There were only stories about a very few guys experimenting with each other (i.e. likely statistically fewer than the number who now self-identify as gay.)

Like the original questioner, I've asked old friends whether there was more gay experimenting going on, because I was curious that the reality I experienced was nothing like their reputation. These friends had found the same thing as me -- they really didn't believe that experimenting was that common, and tended to bring up the same two or three names.

And remember, kids, the plural of anecdoate isn't data.
posted by rjt at 8:07 AM on June 3, 2007 [1 favorite]

More anecdotal evidence: I'm gay and never experimented as a kid. However, of my four closest straight male friends, ALL of them fooled around with guys between the ages of 13-18.

I'd always thought it was very common, and I never did it just because I'm shy.
posted by fugitivefromchaingang at 8:11 AM on June 3, 2007

Best answer: We discussed this in a recent thread. In studies from the 70's it was discovered that a large majority of all men experimented in some form at at least one point in their life. Studies since then have showed a decline, although I don't know enough about those to say for sure whether I trust them.

It is, suffice to say, VERY common. The difficulty in researching this effectively is that many men will deny it even in a clinical setting. And they sure as hell will deny it when put on the spot by a friend. The stigma and shame most guys feel as a result of sexual confusion, or from realizing later in life that something they did in the past would make them vulnerable to ridicule, keeps them from telling anyone. Or in some cases, from even remembering.

There is no way to get your friends to admit whether they had this kind of experience. Maybe they really didn't. Suffice to say though, that it is still pretty common and it's just something that men don't talk about.
posted by hermitosis at 8:11 AM on June 3, 2007

This sort of thing seems pretty common in Hanif Kureishi's postcolonial London.

Also, a few female friends have told me about boyfriends who experimented with other men in their high school or college years. When their boyfriends became ex's, one went on to become another man's man. The other two continued to date women.
posted by necessitas at 8:12 AM on June 3, 2007

Ooops, that was suppose to be postcolonial London
posted by necessitas at 8:13 AM on June 3, 2007

And no, I actually didn't experiment when I was young, I was way too paranoid and had already accepted that the only way to survive until adulthood was to keep my sexuality entirely secret. Suffice to say that within a few months of turning eighteen, however, I made up for lost time.

Most guys I know though, gay or straight, have acknowledged some form of experimentation at a young age.
posted by hermitosis at 8:17 AM on June 3, 2007

Best answer: I'm from the UK and went to (large, all-male) boarding schools from 7 through to 18. There were only stories about a very few guys experimenting with each other

Bearing in mind how repressed people are about sexuality, I'm sure that those who did experiment didn't go out and have t-shirts made exclaiming the fact.

I also want to point out that people might not be aware that they actually experimented. A quick fiddle around after lights-out might be seen by some as something innocent and forgettable. Indeed, it probably is, but this questioner wants to know how common it was!

You're right that anecdotes don't make for data, but I stand-by what I said. Put a gang of teenage boys/girls in the same room, night-on-night for years, and add in a bit of curiosity, and something will happen.
posted by humblepigeon at 8:20 AM on June 3, 2007

It's extremely common. I identify as gay, but definitely in the 12-15 age range I messed around with a lot of boys who now identify (honestly, I think, in almost all cases) as straight. And as pointed out above, many studies bear this out.
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 8:22 AM on June 3, 2007

I am male, straight and I went to a boarding school (American, Co-Ed) and I may just have been out of the loop but I never even heard about anything like this. I think that a lot of people here are basing their assumptions on skewed samples, but speaking for myself and my friends I can say that no one I know has ever done anything like this.
posted by BobbyDigital at 8:49 AM on June 3, 2007

I vote for uncommon. Nothing like this ever happened to me.
posted by Ironmouth at 8:58 AM on June 3, 2007

I think this phenomenon- namely, same-sex childhood encounters between boys where one or both parties grows up to identify as straight- is and will always be under-reported, for all the reasons mentioned above. I'd say about a third of my relatively small collection of ex-boyfriends mentioned having a tale like this in their past. Degree of anguish, shame, and disturbance about it in the present depended on their current degree of self-acceptance and confidence about their sexuality. It seems to be less common among pre-adolescent girls- I had one episode of playing house with a girl cousin when I was 5 or 6, but while it had sexual overtones neither of us knew enough about sex for it to involve explicit physical contact.
posted by foxy_hedgehog at 9:00 AM on June 3, 2007

I vote for uncommon. Nothing like this ever happened to me.

Um, that's sort of fallacial conclusion to draw, isn't it?
posted by hermitosis at 9:16 AM on June 3, 2007

Fallacious, even!
posted by hermitosis at 9:19 AM on June 3, 2007

Doctors and nurses? Everyone played doctors and nurses, right?
posted by popcassady at 9:19 AM on June 3, 2007

Well, I guess my gf and I cancel each other out. I did, she didn't!
posted by CwgrlUp at 9:28 AM on June 3, 2007

Best answer: There's also something to be said about the wide gulf between light gay physical interactions and more straightforward gay acts. Like maybe boys wrestling being just a tad more than a fun game or gay thoughts (maybe having a little crush on a friend without even realizing that's what it was) vs. something like mutual masturbation.

I'd say that the first type of action is probably far more common than most people would think. If a gay act only lasts a moment or two, most people will end up forgetting about it or dismissing it entirely later on in life.

As for non-oblique gay acts, not everyone is sexually adventurous enough to try that kind of thing. For mutual masturbation, I don't think you just start doing it; you need to work your way up to it. Perhaps by the subject matter, perhaps just over a long period of mutual trust and feelings for each other.

Speaking for myself, my two best friends both moved away during that age and I didn't really make new friends for several years after that. I never had a truly close enough friend where that kind of thing had any possibility of occurring. And even then I doubt it'd happen because I'm shy and I'd probably steer the conversation away from any topic where anything more would happen.

Lastly, I think from the tone of your post you are of the opinion that doing that kind of thing may have helped you identify primarily as gay. I think the other way to look at it is, you've almost always been primarily gay and you gave very subtle signs that you may not have been completely aware of. So while you may not have initiated the acts, you probably behaved in a way that helped let those acts occur.
posted by Green With You at 9:52 AM on June 3, 2007

I think straight men tend to keep this kind of thing very quiet. I had a partner who didn't tell me about pubescent his same-sex experimentation until we'd been together a very long time.

I too think it's more common that you'd imagine.

That said, I'm a woman and I don't recall fooling around with my girlfriends. I wish!
posted by loiseau at 10:31 AM on June 3, 2007

Best answer: I'm gay. In the 1980s as a teenager, I was the "experiment" for a couple of friends who now live heterosexual lives. It was great, certainly for me. At least one friend says it was great for him too. (For that matter, I had "experiments" with girls, too. Glad I did.)

I have a theory that as gay people get more accepted in US society the notion of "gay" vs "straight" as a specific identity is becoming a bigger deal to adolescents. So in the past where it could just be some horny boys experimenting together with no real consequence, now it's wrapped up more in complicated questions of identity and social position. Kind of a shame, really.
posted by Nelson at 10:33 AM on June 3, 2007

I suspect (based on absolutely zero evidence or experience, being a straight female) that a boy would almost have to be wired to be gay or bi to initiate such an encounter, but that a straight boy may well be drawn on by curiosity and horniness to go along with the experiment.
posted by happyturtle at 10:36 AM on June 3, 2007

Nelso, I really agree with you here. Gays and gay issues are highly visible in the media and in entertainment, way more so than even ten or fifteen years ago. Teens and even pre-teens now have a really strong sense of what "gay" or "bi" means, definitely way more than those a generation ago did. When I was 13, if something like this had happened between me and a friend, it would have been undefinable and mysterious. Now, they have to mentally weigh any experimentation against the sexual identity they are trying to construct or project, whereas before young people were able mess around with far murkier concepts of sex or sexual identity.

I don't think it takes more than curiosity or horniness no matter what a boy's "wiring" is. The trick with guys who are going through puberty is that erections just happen, apropos to nothing. So two guys hanging out, doing not much, suddenly one of them has an erection. And depending on whether this is seen as silly or embarassing or a total non-issue, it's really not that great a leap to anything that might follow. Attraction has less to do with it than friction.
posted by hermitosis at 10:57 AM on June 3, 2007

Best answer: follow-up from someone who would prefer to be anonymous:

This is really taboo for the vast majority of straight men. I experimented when we were about 11 years old. I’m not in touch with any of these guys now but I do know that one of them came out as being gay to me when we were 16. I have always felt secure in my sexuality (I’m hetero, in fact I’m pretty much a guy’s-guy if you know what I mean i.e. one of those hetero guys that no one would expect would ever have ‘experimented’) but when it came to this it was like I had a dark secret. It made me feel grubby and dirty for years, like I was less of a man. Please don’t take this for homophobia, it’s just that the actual acts felt dirty to me in a way in which a sexual act with a woman doesn’t and has always felt natural (from talking to gay friends who’ve had encounters with women some have told me that they’ve felt the same way, so that’s where I’m coming from). As a straight guy I felt years of shame about this. I always knew that I was straight but I felt this crushing sense of shame about this for years. It really did affect my life and my interactions with people. I would keep women at a distance. Anyway, I never told anyone about this until I met the woman who is now my wife. Within two or three days of meeting her I told her about this, like it was some huge confession with tears running down my face. She could see how deeply it had affected me, but she suspected that it was so much more common than I thought. It was a huge relief to tell someone about this, and suddenly some near 20 years of shame pretty much evaporated. My feeling about this was made even better when I got drunk with a (straight) friend and started waxing lyrical about how great this new girl was and how I could tell her anything, and I just blurted it out. His reaction was ‘No big deal, my first sexual encounter was with a boy when I was about 11. Who gives a shit!’
posted by jessamyn at 11:13 AM on June 3, 2007

I experimented with boys and with girls. Turns out I like the boys better at this point, but that's always adjustable.

Most men experimented. Many don't think what they did was "gay" - two guys jerking off in the same room to a straight porno (not touching, not looking, etc) is not "gay" - even if you snuck a peek, right?
And most men wouldn't admit it even if they DID do this stuff.

So I think it's very common.
posted by disclaimer at 12:27 PM on June 3, 2007

This dude did it, and he was a Victorian Englishman and a later inveterate user of female prostitutes. If his story is to be taken as accurate, that is; something I tend to do, because it’s told in a matter-of-fact tone, and it doesn’t exactly exalt the protagonist.
posted by Aidan Kehoe at 1:21 PM on June 3, 2007

(hermitosis, you were right the first time — you just misspelled it.)
posted by rob511 at 4:50 PM on June 3, 2007

Never had any experimentation or homosexual experience growing up, and never heard of such amongst my friends except for one time. In that case, a very close friend of mine admitted to me of him and another friend comparing their penises. Not sure if that counts, tho'. By the way, straight and 27 years old, to place response by generation.
posted by Atreides at 4:53 PM on June 3, 2007

I read long ago (don't remember from where) that male adolescent homosexual activity isn't exactly common, but of those who do it, the majority of them are straight when they get older. There's the whole "soggy biscuit" story hovering around frat houses (though that I think may be an urban legend and is at a considerably older age than we're talking about). Think of armies in ancient times, the Greeks and Romans, who IIRC considered themselves straight, with wives back home, but they spent so much time in the army with other men that homosexuality (or bisexuality) was a matter of course. I guess it's cultural as well.
posted by zardoz at 7:47 PM on June 3, 2007

Never having heard of such a thing is no evidence at all, not in this day and age. Whatever experiences I may or may not have had (ahem …) would never have been talked about outside of the parties involved. I mean never. Ever.

I think Green With You's comment is dead on: boys do a lot of stuff with each other that, over time, are going to become understood as not really about "that," whether or not they really were, in the moment.
posted by wemayfreeze at 8:41 PM on June 3, 2007

A certain British author, much beloved of many MeFites, had just such an encounter. I know, because I slept with the guy that did him :-)

Many guys fool around and are still straight. I know because I fooled around (well, to be fair, I wasn't foolin', but they were) with a shocking number of my fellow adolescents and young adults. I initiated things, and grew quite skilled at that process, before learning how to find those who were interested for-real. (funny enough, the one guy in those times who was interested in more than "fooling around", scared the hell out of me!).

I tend to agree with those suggesting that the modern awareness of sexual identity issues has probably changed how this happens. I can't imagine it being otherwise.
posted by Goofyy at 6:10 AM on June 4, 2007

I used to listen to Loveline quite often, and this question seemed to pop up a lot. It does seem to be somewhat common, but that my be my biased opinion since I had participated in it a few times when I was younger.

Dr. Drew used to refer to it as "child-on-child abuse", which was usually the result of one child being sexually abused and branching it out to other friends or neighbors. The friends or neighbors tended to act out in turn, which is something I saw when I was a kid.

(FYI, I do identify as straight, as do all of the guys I was with when I was younger.)
posted by aranyx at 7:22 AM on June 4, 2007

Dr. Drew used to refer to it as "child-on-child abuse"

What a horribly twisted way to characterize this behaviour.
posted by Nelson at 8:33 AM on June 4, 2007

When I was about 9, an 11 year friend initiated some casual "experimentation" with me and another 9 year old boy. This occurred on several occasions. The initiator and I both enjoyed the encounters, the other boy not as much. A few years later, the initiator became virulently homophobic. Now he is 30 and claims to be straight. The other boy involved is now straight and married. I identify as gay.

BTW, I don't think that these encounters made me gay, since I had been rather androgynous ever since I was a toddler.
posted by mahamandarava at 10:21 PM on June 5, 2007

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