For many of us the idea of being gay is intrinsically tied into the act of anal sex. You may be surprised to learn that this is a fairly recent correlation. In fact, even the modern notion of identifying yourself as ‘gay’ is relatively new.
While anal sex between men in many cultures is fairly common, these men often do not define themselves as gay at all. Think of the Greeks (modern and ancient), initiation rituals in certain cultures, and even men in the military and prisons. The link is at best tenuous – but it still holds much power.
Watch a gay porn flick and you’ll see how cultural conventions define the way we look at so many ‘normal’ things in life. Each heated scenario will generally begin with kissing, followed by oral and manual sex and then lead into the climax of the whole thing – anal penetration. This is repeated almost without exception in any depiction of gay sex, and probably in many bedrooms. This leads to the disturbing question of whether our sex lives are scripted and pre-determined like some endlessly repeated scene in a bad porn film.
Of course penetration is also generally seen as the cornerstone of straight sex – at least in the mind of the average heterosexual male (women may well have different ideas). The implication is that sex is not a complete act without penetration. Think about how you define the loss of virginity and it’s probably tied to being penetrated.
There are gays that vehemently oppose anal sex, and what they call the “butt-phuck-tyranny”. They see anal sex as demeaning, disrespectful and dangerous – “the door for death, disease and discrimination”. They claim that we are merely aping straight behaviour in a sad attempt to normalise our conduct, resulting in a culture of ‘tops’ and ‘bottoms’ that parody male and female roles.
At the very least they oppose the notion that anal penetration is a superior or a primary form of sex – more so than any other. These guys propose a redefinition of gay sexuality – often punting the act of ‘frottage’ or ‘cock on cock rubbing’ as preferable to ‘getting anal’. The rise of AIDS among gay men, most commonly contracted via anal sex, has given this camp further ammunition.
One such proponent is Bill Weintraub, whose 2000 essay Cockrub Warriors Rule! questioned the status that has been given to anal sex in gay culture. He writes:
“Whereas previously sex had been a smorgasbord, with oral sex, JO, frottage, and anal sex seen as essentially equal, a new and rigorous definition of good gay sex appeared in the mid-70s, in which the first three were considered foreplay, and only the last regarded as the culminating, and therefore essential, gay sexual act.”
Sometimes calling themselves “goys”, or the “frot” or “cock2cock” movement, this school of thought argues that it is anal sex between gay men that has made us perceived as ‘perverted’ by the rest of society. It is this unnatural act that reflects our self-loathing and has created a barrier between men (straight and gay) in expressing physical intimacy between one another. It is anal sex that has made gays “dirty”, not our love for other men. The movement, according to Weintraub, aims to prove the “truth that two men can have a physically and emotionally loving relationship without any surrender or sacrifice of either’s masculinity”.
“The anus might not be the ‘great evil’ that some might see it as, but it’s also not the holy grail of sex…”
The most common indictment against anal sex is that it is ‘unnatural’. The anus is meant for things going out, not going in, it is said. But our notions of what is natural are generally meaningless in the greater scheme of things and subject to culture and circumstance. It might not be strictly speaking normal for a human being to fly, but that doesn’t stop us from getting on a plane and jetting to another city or continent. The same argument applies to almost any number of the many, many things we do in daily life that are rarely or never seen in nature.
Perhaps the anti-anal movement is really a search for a lost innocence. When we were young and experimented with one another, the darker and more complicated aspects of sexuality and relationships seldom played a part in the furtive proceedings. (Let’s make no bones about it – anal sex can be dirty and smelly.) The movement also ties in with a growing cry for the de-sexualisation of gay existence – where being gay has been seen as a life of desperate and endless anonymous fucking.
It reflects a remarkable and increasingly visible movement among gays to include more romance, closeness and love in their lives. The “anti-butt fuck warriors” promote a gay sexuality that is about intimacy and sensuality between men, rather than the dominance of crude and brutal anal penetration.
Like many extreme approaches, the anti-anal brigade has one valuable effect – it helps us to question what we take for granted and what we define as normal. Like most things in life, the truth usually lies in a reasonable balance between two extreme views.
Ultimately, many men get great pleasure from anal stimulation and – if precautions are taken – this usually leads to no harm. There are gay men who find the whole thing uncomfortable and unappealing. That doesn’t make them any less gay in any sensible definition of the term – or any less sexually fulfilled or mature.
While the idea of anal sex being less natural than oral sex or masturbation is ultimately absurd, it may well be time to stop having sex performed to a script written by someone else. We should look at anal sex as simply another way of getting-off or of sharing intimacy – and not as the great and conclusive goal of it all.
The anus might not be the ‘great evil’ that some might see it as, but it’s also not the holy grail of sex. Perhaps we should each feel comfortable to define sex in whatever way works for us and our partners – porno film directors and sexual fascists be damned!