Help! I'm secretly attracted to women of the opposite sex!

It's driving me crazy: When I get close to a beautiful woman I start to feel these stirrings.

Published September 25, 2008 10:15AM (EDT)

Dear Reader,

Our four-day creative getaway at Marconi Conference Center went better than words can say. The next one will be scheduled soon. Stay tuned.

Now, a letter that would be tragic if it weren't so funny.

Dear Cary,

I am a 28-year-old man who is attracted to women, especially to those in my age group. I have been trying to come to terms with this attraction since my early teens. This issue had not bothered me significantly through my teens, but the problem has been worsening over the years. I have been in therapy twice a week (group and one-on-one) for several years now, but I still cannot come to terms with these feelings.

Over the years I've had several platonic friendships with women, and have been able to see beyond my physical and emotional desires for them. However, I lately find it increasingly difficult to interact rationally when I first meet a beautiful woman. Over the years, I have taken to indulging in masturbating to pornographic images a few times a week, but I find this behavior shameful and despicable. I often wonder why I am cursed with such feelings, and have grown to hate myself. Could you recommend a solution to this problem?

Attracted to Women

Dear Attracted to Women,

First, my friend: You are not alone. Living in secret, exchanging furtive glances of desire, it is easy to feel that you are alone. But many men have felt as you do and eventually found that they could live happily, sometimes even in the open, with a woman.

The second thing you must understand is that this attraction, however strange it may feel to you, this is not your fault. You were likely born this way. As you look back over your childhood, you may see something you overlooked at the time, a harbinger of things to come: a basketball, perhaps. Many men like you will recall happy afternoons on the front driveway dribbling a basketball and putting it through the hoop; later they will see, aha! That was a sign! I was turning hetero! Others will tell you privately that from their earliest days in school they were drawn to the wood shop, where they fantasized about women, risking loss of limb as they turned bedposts on a wood lathe or inserted dowels into carefully drilled holes for a fit so tight it squeaked when twisted. These kinds of things, clichéd as they may sound, do often precede the kind of heterosexual difference you are so bravely trying to accept and cope with.

Take heed: There is room for you in this world, however it may seem otherwise.

Believe me: It's likely you were born this way. There is nothing wrong with you.

Throughout the ages many men like you -- presidents, athletes, generals, even a few musical theater actors -- have felt these same stirrings of attraction to the opposite sex and have dealt with them in various ways. Some repress them. Others corral them into narrow and strictly controlled practices known as "dating" and "marriage." Those who succumb to marriage, "knocking up" innocent women, sometimes find they are unable to control their urges even in the usually sexless realm of marriage. Outwardly happy and well adjusted, they live secretly knowing that they really should be watching opera, traveling to Provence and studying -- not just dabbling in! -- the ancient and venerable arts of perfumery.

No matter what you decide to do, you have to get over your self-hatred. There is nothing wrong with you. You were probably born this way. It's not your fault.

But where, you may ask, do you find others -- men like yourself who are also attracted to women and find no shame in it, as well as those women themselves who see not some shameful obsession in your desirous gaze but instead are inwardly thrilled at the prospect of a man's attentions and might, with proper coaxing, submit to your desires?

You could look in bars.

Naturally you would feel great shame about this. But it can be overcome. Look around you. Make a daily practice of it. Study your surroundings. See that couple in the supermarket, barely speaking to each other or looking at each other, furtively picking among the broccoli and asparagus, going about their lives? Likely that very couple is actually in heterosexual relationship, though they carefully disguise it with their apparent disdain for one another.

You might not believe it but such people can be found in most any medium-sized town, in bars and hotels, lounging about freely in restaurants. It takes some careful observing but after a while you will notice here and there groups of men quietly eyeing women and women quietly eyeing men. In such society you may find at long last release from your shame and isolation.

But what would you say to a woman if she did show interest? And what would you do, Lord help you, if things reached that stage where you felt compelled to ask, with a shiver of disgust, "I'm going to put this in there?"

Yes, it may seem at first rather disgusting, if not anatomically impossible. But do not let your initial feelings of disgust fool you. You will find that the actual act is not all that awful or unsanitary. You may even, after a time, begin to enjoy it. Remember: You may be different, but you were born different. It's not your fault. Enjoy it. And always wear a condom -- even while bathing.

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