3 min

Attraction mapped, not shallow

Thin swimmer's build less attractive to bear-lover

Dear Dr Ren,

I’m a gay man who has always been attracted to men with hefty builds. All of my boyfriends have been bears.

About a year ago one of my good friends and I added sex to our relationship, strictly on a no-strings-attached basis, but it has developed into something much deeper than either of us expected. “Dan” is tall and thin with a swimmer’s build.

At first I was curious about sex with a body so different from any I’d enjoyed before, but I am finding that, over time, I’m liking it less and less. He’s a considerate lover and we’re matched well sexually, but I’m starting to need more and more warm-up to get excited.

I really like Dan and I’m also really liking where our connection is going, but what do I do to keep myself attracted to his body? It’s starting to get in the way.

Of course I haven’t talked with him about this, and I’m feeling . . .

Confused and Shallow

Dear Confused and Shallow,

You may well be confused, but I assure you that you are not being shallow.

Your preference for sturdy bodies does not signal a personality deficit but reflects what we call your love map. These are developed during our formative years as we learn to associate both positive and negative reactions to important people in our lives. The process is largely unconscious and the resulting love map fairly stable.

Here’s how it works:

If we have a teacher, for instance, who has a positive impact on us, we incorporate some recognizable feature of that person into our love map, perhaps particularly bushy eyebrows or a melodic voice. When we meet someone else with a similar feature, we are drawn to them. This happens in reverse with people with whom we have unpleasant interactions.

The result is a unique and complex weaving of physical and emotional factors that we seek in those we want (or don’t want) to spend time with. Somewhere during puberty and adolescence, while we are meeting many available suitors, we categorize our reactions as positive or negative and marry those connections with our newly awakened erotic attractions.

Not only is this a universal phenomenon, it is as personal as fingerprints, and some end up with quite extensive erotic attractions, while others find their “acceptable” partners remarkably similar.

In your case, Confused, you have sought and found men who fit well with your erotic love map, so you never had to analyze your attraction to them. Now that you have developed a rewarding sexual and emotional alliance with someone outside your erotic comfort zone, you are experiencing a disconnection. Once your initial excitement over a new sexual partner subsides, you become more uncomfortably aware of that lack of appeal.

What to do?

The good news is that our love maps are in a continual state of growth. As you experience ongoing good times and great sex with Dan, new information will be added to your love map. Over time, Dan’s slim body will become incorporated into your definition of what is erotically satisfying.

That said, if you find his body so much of a turnoff that it affects your enjoyment of sex with him, that realization, too, will be integrated into your love map. The struggle of overcoming your resistance may override the positive reactions that sex with him generates.

It may also be important to give yourself time to judge what is actually at play here. Since your relationship with Dan began as a friendship and only later became sexual, it may not be his physique that is boring you as much as it is that you just do not feel erotic toward this man on a sustainable level. If you find that you are pushing the river to be sexual with him, explore the root of those feelings. They may have nothing to do with his build!

It helps to accept that this is a learning process for you. Feeling guilty will only sour your positive experiences. Give yourself permission to get hard over bears even while you are building a relationship with a new-to-you body type. Add your good sexual episodes with Dan to your fantasies. Recall your hot times together while masturbating solo. Add to your love map “bank” intentionally.

Remember, too, that bodies change over a lifespan. Illness and accidents can alter our partners’ appearances as does the aging process. We all need to be a little forgiving of this evolution. The bonding that happens as you build a strong relationship will help to rewrite your love map.

If your agreement with Dan is not one of sexual exclusivity, you can continue to exercise your attraction for bears. You may well find that the closer you grow to Dan and his swimmer’s body, the more you find other thin men attractive, too, and eventually they may become equally attractive to you. That’s the way this love-mapping process evolves.

Regardless, you’ve done nothing wrong. The answers to your questions about ongoing attraction will become clear with time. Relax and enjoy the process.