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Afghanistan’s Male Soldiers Are Having Sex With Other Guys. But Don’t Call Them Homos

America’s gay soldiers have a unique struggle on their hands: Whether to hide or be open about their sexuality, and invite the risks and rewards that come along with that decision. But Afghanistan’s “gay” soldiers have a different battle: Despite regularly having sex with other men and shunning women, many of these male soldiers refuse to identify as gay. Which can get in the way of, say, preventing STDs.

You need only watch the CNN clip below, where three gay American troops speak of the need to repeal Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, to understand the difficulties of being gay in the U.S. armed forces. For these Afghan soldiers, however, having sex regularly with other men is no big deal. Just don’t call them gay.

An unclassified study from a military research unit in southern Afghanistan details how homosexual behavior is unusually common among men in the large ethnic group known as Pashtuns — though they seem to be in complete denial about it.

That’s what a new unclassified study of Pashtun men reveals. These men “admire other men physically, have sexual relationships with boys and shun women both socially and sexually — yet they completely reject the label of ‘homosexual.’ The research was conducted as part of a longstanding effort to better understand Afghan culture and improve Western interaction with the local people. The research unit, which was attached to a Marine battalion in southern Afghanistan, acknowledged that the behavior of some Afghan men has left Western forces ‘frequently confused.’ The report details the bizarre interactions a U.S. Army medic and her colleagues had with Afghan men in the southern province of Kandahar. In one instance, a group of local male interpreters had contracted gonorrhea anally but refused to believe they could have contracted it sexually — ‘because they were not homosexuals.’ Apparently, according to the report, Pashtun men interpret the Islamic prohibition on homosexuality to mean they cannot ‘love’ another man — but that doesn’t mean they can’t use men for ‘sexual gratification.’ … The U.S. army medic also told members of the research unit that she and her colleagues had to explain to a local man how to get his wife pregnant. The report said: ‘When it was explained to him what was necessary, he reacted with disgust and asked, ‘How could one feel desire to be with a woman, who God has made unclean, when one could be with a man, who is clean? Surely this must be wrong.’”

To many, that’s not logic, but fiction. But to conclude as much would be to ignore Afghan culture and tradition, and the gross lack of education about sex. Two men who have sex with each other, as any Big Love viewer knows, don’t necessarily call themselves “gay.” (See: Downlow phenomenon.) But what they are doing is, of course, a gay act.

But we’re not going to pass judgment: We know how good it feels to get your rocks off with someone of the same sex, and if you need to get through the day without calling yourself a fag, so be it.