A while back I had the honor of being the first person someone spoke to about their recent first same-sex sexual encounter. I was humbled by this. I often get pulled aside for quiet questions or covertly emailed after new friends have read my blog but a conversation like this is so different. Ordinarily I’m making lube recommendations, pointing folks towards someone else’s awesome website or saying “just put a pillow under your hips in that position” but in this conversation someone was looking to me because they needed a safe, non-judgmental space to openly talk through their experience and I felt a tremendous sense of responsibility.
The person in question was a man who had concerns about what allowing himself to be penetrated meant in terms of his masculinity. I chose all of my words extremely carefully. We had a good talk (as good as one can electronically- hello 2013!) and I repeatedly said “activity does not dictate orientation”. I also directed him to a piece I just love, Charlie Glickman’s The World Will Be A Better Place When More Men Take It Up The Ass. All in all, I think it was a successful interaction.
I thought about it a lot afterwards. When it comes to sex, a lot of folks really get stuck on the ideas that what you do in the bedroom dictates who you are as a person and that activity and orientation are one in the same. Hell, some people seem to think that activities have orientations and can change what they identify as without warning or consent, even if they don’t want to change. Like sexuality is an M. Night Shaymalan film and any given sexual act is the big twist that reveals the thing they never saw coming. The thing that they may not want to face. Hey, Bruce Willis didn’t want to be dead, but what are you going to do? Those are the breaks. I see gay people…
Why are we so into the “Surprise! You’re gay!” idea? Why don’t we see how irrational it is?
Let’s take a moment to look at it. Using our friend Billy- the heterosexual Irish man- let’s look at how that narrative plays out when one operates under the assumption that sex acts have definite orientations and responds accordingly.
Billy “knows” anal sex is “gay” and he is straight —> Billy goes out one night and engages in anal sex —-> Billy wakes up the next morning in the grips of an identity crisis “OMG! Am I gay?! I still like girls, maybe I’m bi? WHAT DOES THIS MEAN?!!”
Now let’s take a moment and, just for fun, have Billy – the heterosexual Irish man- follow that same logic but instead of sex acts we’ll use food products. In this case tacos, because I love them.
Billy knows tacos are Mexican and he is Irish —–> Billy goes out one night and eats a ton of tacos —–> Billy wakes up the next morning in the grips of an identity crisis “OMG! Am I Mexican?! I still like other food, maybe I’m Tex-Mex? WHAT DOES THIS MEAN?!!”
Right, see, we don’t do that. Ever. It’s absurd.
This “what you do determines what you are” idea is particularly pernicious when it comes to men and anal penetration. Seriously, folks are brutal about this. I was told an awful story by a friend who was, during sex, offered penetration by his female partner. He accepted it only to have her ask the next morning “So, were you ever going to tell me that you’re gay?” This story made my blood boil but it also made me sad. Sure, the woman is this story is clearly terrible (apparently this is a “test” she administers to all boyfriends- this was the first time anyone took her up on it ) but she is nowhere near alone in her belief that “man who experiences pleasure from anal penetration” = “homosexual man” regardless of any and all evidence to the contrary.
Recently I read a piece on Jezebel entitled If You Want a More Thoughtful Boyfriend, Try Pegging Him and I did something that I never advise doing- I read the comments (one day I’ll learn). There was a bunch of “I’m sorry but, a man who likes that is obviously gay” type of stuff that I usually assume is grounded in the notion that act of being penetrated is feminizing by nature. But this comment in particular stood out to me: “If (sic) are a man and you try receiving anal sex, and you decide you like it, you are not straight. The naturally intended way to receive penetration in a sex act is from a penis. When a man desires to receive a penis in his rectum, he is a homosexual.” This one grabbed me for two reasons. First up, the weirder reason: The “gay men have magical rectums that feel things that everyone else’s don’t” * idea is weirdly pervasive and is, I think, largely responsible for the fear of accidentally finding out that you never knew you were a gay man. If you subscribe to the “magic gay rectum” theory anal penetration becomes the ultimate litmus test: if you enjoy it you have a magical gay ass and clearly are a homosexual (even if nothing else in your life indicates this) and if you don’t you are, as you previously believed, straight.
Here’s the what folks, you’ve all got prostates and when you treat those prostates correctly you, regardless of orientation, WILL experience intense pleasure. FACT. Just ask Charlie Glickman, he wrote the book on this stuff- literally. He and Aislinn Emirzian are the forces behind The Ultimate Guide to Prostate Pleasure: Erotic Exploration for Men and Their Partners.- a must read. Folks, the prostate is kind of a big deal! And having an orgasm through anal penetration doesn’t mean that you’ve, unbeknownst to you, been in possession of a homosexual butt the whole time… it means you’ve stimulated your prostate, which is awesome.
Funnily, I have yet to run into anyone who thinks women’s rectums do anything special but most folks seem okay with (or enthusiastic about) women engaging in anal sex. Which takes us to the second reason that comment caught my eye: it so clearly illustrates how tightly folks cling to the notion that “real” sex features a penis entering a vagina and thus everything must be based on that model ergo being penetrated = feminine and penetrating = masculine. Working from the penis/vagina intercourse is sex model leads us to assign gender roles to all sexual acts and interactions. By un-gendering sex acts and just letting them be what they are at their core- stimulation- we strip away the labels and are free to just do what feels good. I love this quote from the Charlie Glickman article I mentioned earlier: “And let’s not forget that the more we can let go of the focus on penis/vagina intercourse as the definition of “sex,” and the more we can expand our definitions of pleasure and how to experience it, the more room we can make for gender & sexual diversity, for more kinds of pleasure & love, and for sexual justice and equality.” Oh my! I don’t know about you but expanding my “definitions of pleasure” to make room “for more kinds of pleasure & love” sounds kind of amazing to me.
Now, no one should ever engage in any sexual activity they are not 100% comfortable with and nothing is going to be right for every single person. I’m definitely not saying every man should run out and get anally penetrated. What I am saying is that men should (indeed, we all should) feel free to explore all the paths to pleasure we can find without fear of judgement, shame or identity crisis. Okay, some of those things happen sometimes regardless, they just do, but let’s not build them into activities before we even get to them. Sex acts don’t have genders, they don’t have orientations, they don’t have hidden meanings. Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar, an orgasm is just an orgasm and a taco is just a taco.
*Imagine if this were true! I picture a world where gay men are more enthusiastic about bowel movements than those creepy Charmin bears.