As humans, we all have an innate need for social connection and companionship. However, for gay, bi and other men who have sex with men (MSM), this need can often go unfulfilled, leading to feelings of loneliness and isolation. The reasons for this are complex and multifaceted.

Even though society has come a long way in terms of accepting same-sex sexuality and relationships, there are still pockets of discrimination and stigmatisation. These attitudes can manifest themselves in various ways, such as hate crimes, bullying, and harassment, which can lead to feelings of loneliness and isolation. These negative attitudes can also create barriers when trying to establish relationships, whether they are romantic, platonic, or familial.

Another reason why gay, bisexual, and other MSM can feel lonely is due to the complexities within these communities. Most MSM have experienced rejection and discrimination at some point in their lives, but for some of us, this experience can cause us to fear meeting new people or forming new relationships. This fear of rejection is particularly potent on gay dating or hook-up apps and sites.

Gay culture has often had a bad reputation for being superficial and materialistic. Though this is a stereotype, there are some truths to this. There are broadly three types of gay or MSM that are seen to have currency when it comes to desirability and status.

  • Youth, fame or beauty: These guys often have more social value.
  • Bodliness: A muscled body has more social power and a big penis is objectified as masculine.
  • Materialism. The more money, the higher the social status.

Some men can be relentless in their pursuit of a man that lives up to one or more of these attributes. This is pretty evident in how some of us conduct ourselves online on apps like Grindr where our interactions can be rude, insensitive, or vicious to those that do not sufficiently meet our ideal “standards”.

While there is nothing inherently wrong with casual sex, the focus on physical pleasure rather than emotional connection can leave some gay and MSM feeling empty and unfulfilled. This can lead to a sense of disconnection from others, and a reluctance to seek out deeper connections for fear of being rejected or judged. This fear can lead to avoidance of social situations and isolation.

Past traumas can also contribute to feelings of loneliness and isolation among gay and MSM. Many of us may have experienced trauma, such as physical or emotional abuse, from family members, past relationships, or bad hook-up experiences. These experiences can leave a lasting impact and lead to feelings of mistrust and fear, making it challenging to form new relationships.

Negative self-talk or low self-esteem are other factors that can contribute to loneliness and isolation among gay and MSM. It is not uncommon for us to internalise negative societal attitudes and stigmatisation, which is called internalised homophobia. This can lead to feelings of self-doubt and low self-esteem. This negative self-talk can also manifest itself in a reluctance to form new relationships and the belief that we are not worthy of love or feeling that we are not desirable.

Loneliness and isolation can have a significant impact on health and mental well-being. When we are socially isolated, we may be less likely to engage in healthy behaviours like exercise, eating a healthy diet, and getting enough sleep. This can increase our risk of developing chronic health conditions. Social connection and support have been shown to play a vital role in maintaining a healthy immune system.

The Harvard Study of Adult Development is one of the longest and most comprehensive studies of adult life ever conducted. The study has been tracking the lives of 796 participants for over 80 years.

Findings from the study show that people who are more socially connected live longer and have better health outcomes than those who are less connected. It’s not just about the number of relationships, but the quality. The study found that people who had strong, supportive relationships with their spouses, family, and friends tended to be happier, healthier, and even live longer than those who didn’t.

Loneliness is associated with an increased risk for various health problems, including heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure, obesity diabetes, and depression. It has been linked to depression, anxiety, and suicidal ideation and can be as damaging to our health as smoking and obesity. Isolation and loneliness can also impact on sleep quality and may increase the risk of developing dementia and other cognitive impairments in later life.

Here are a few things you can consider for combating loneliness and isolation:

  • Build a support system. This can include friends, family, and supportive organisations or groups. Creating a support system can help alleviate feelings of loneliness and provide a sense of belonging.
  • Engaging in activities that promote social interaction can also help combat loneliness and isolation. This can include joining a social group like movie groups or dog walking, volunteering, or attending social events or gatherings.
  • Therapy or going for counselling can also be an effective way to address loneliness and isolation. This can be beneficial to work through past traumas, negative self-talk, and fear of rejection.
  • Practice self-care. People who isolate themselves often stop looking after their appearance and making an effort to look good or presentable. Taking care of yourself physically and emotionally can help you feel more confident and resilient. This can include getting regular exercise, eating a healthy diet, and engaging in activities that bring you joy.
  • Connect with others online. The internet can be a great tool for building connections with others, especially during times when it may be difficult to meet in person. Consider joining online forums or social media groups for LGBTQ+ individuals.
  • Reconnect with old friends you haven’t spoken to for ages or have neglected.

Remember, it’s okay to feel lonely sometimes. It’s a natural human emotion that we all experience at one point or another. However, if you find yourself consistently feeling isolated and disconnected from others, it’s important to take steps to address these feelings. By seeking out community, practising self-care, and connecting with others online or in person, you can build the support system you need to live a happy, healthier life.