For the last year, I’ve hooked up with multiple men in a quest to become the kind of sexual gay man I often feel pressured to be. I’ve gone on casual dates and had sexual flings hoping that they’d boost my self-esteem or make me feel empowered and desirable. I thought that I could learn to feel comfortable with myself and my appearance if I found enough men to say I was attractive. I thought if I stopped being scared all of the time, if I overcame my sexual anxiety, apathy, and confusion, and acted like my gay peers that I could finally feel like a normal gay man.

In college, I didn’t engage in “hook ups.” If you asked me why I didn’t, I would have told you that it was because I was too Christian to do that. Part of me enjoyed this idea of being chaste, of having some sort of moral superiority to my friends who engaged in hook up culture. But the truth was, I was far too self-conscious and insecure to hook up with guys. I thought I was too unattractive and sexually inexperienced to be desirable, and so I protected my self-esteem by refusing to ever put myself in a hookup situation.

But as I got older and more confident, I started to feel like I was robbing myself of some gay rite of passage by not engaging in hookups. And after a long-term relationship and a series of bad dates, I saw hooking up as the perfect way to be physically close to someone without having to deal with any emotional baggage or commitment. So I decided to step outside of my comfort zone and slut it up a bit.
My first few hook ups were awkward and uncomfortable, as to be expected. Instead of enjoying myself, I spent every second preoccupied with this fear that I wasn’t living up to every expectation my hook up had of me. Without having any previously established relationship to fall back on, I became hyper aware of how little my identity mattered in these interactions. My sense of humor or “endearing awkwardness” didn’t matter—all that mattered was whether or not I could meet any sexual needs in the moment—which I usually couldn’t.

So when I didn’t hear back from a hookup, I just assumed it was part of a greater learning curve. I told myself I engaged in more hook ups and got better that guys would want to see me again. But with each passing hook up, I found myself regressing. Instead of becoming more comfortable, I became more preoccupied with anxious thoughts and insecurities:

Was I doing a good job?

Did he like my naked body?

Was he comparing me to past partners?

Would he ghost me after this?

The answer to the last question was usually “yes”, which I tried not to take personally. These guys didn’t owe me anything; they never promised to care about me personally or hang out with me again. But I couldn’t help but take it personally. My low self-esteem and abandonment issues made me feel like I had been doing something wrong. They made me feel like I was failing at being a gay man, and that I wasn’t good enough. I threw myself into more hookups hoping that I’d find someone to invalidate these fears and insecurities, but these feelings only made me worse at hooking up in general, which made guys even less interested in sticking around.

Things only got worse after I was sexually assaulted. I grew even more self-conscious and uncomfortable in my own body, and instead of taking some time to recover from that trauma, I threw myself back in the hookup culture. I prayed that I could find someone who would fix what the last guy had broken. I didn’t want my assault to be the last sexual experience I had, so I sought out someone new to put that behind me. I went into a sexual experience with a false sense of optimism, thinking it would magically fix all of my problems, without recognizing how badly I needed to heal before engaging in any other encounters. It was then I realized that I wasn’t hooking up with guys because I enjoyed it or because I was looking for sexual gratification. I was doing it because I had incredibly low self-esteem and desperately wanted to be liked and validated.

I’ve learned a lot in this past year. I’ve learned that I’m probably not the best candidate for hook ups. I’ve learned that I crave affection and validation from men and that I seek love and affection from other people because I don’t know how to show myself either of those things. I’ve learned that I am too inexperienced and self-conscious to engage in a sexual experience that lacks intimacy and trust. I’ve learned I need to figure out how to be comfortable with myself before I can let myself be comfortable with others. Most importantly though, I’ve learned that I am not being a prude or wasting my youth by refraining from hooking up.

Because at the end of the day, who you are is way more important than who you are with.

“Don’t rely on someone else for your happiness and self-worth. Only you can be responsible for that. If you can’t love and respect yourself – no one else will be able to make that happen. Accept who you are – completely; the good and the bad – and make changes as YOU see fit – not because you think someone else wants you to be different.” – Stacey Charter