How sides are turning the sexual position binary on its head


Sides is a new term for gay and bisexual men who don’t particularly enjoy anal sex

For as long as gay dating apps have been around, they have come with labels that are meant to describe what guys are looking for, and what they have to offer.

These little descriptors have caused their fair share of controversy in the past, but when Grindr recently introduced “side” to their list of preferred sexual positions, a significant part of the gay community rejoiced.

Before this change, users of the Grindr app could only choose between “top”, “bottom” or “verse” (short for versatile).

There is a long history of categorising men into either partners that enjoy being on the receiving end of anal penetration, partners that prefer to be on the giving end, and those that swing either way.

While anal sex is very much associated with homosexual male intimacy, there are a great many gay men that don’t particularly enjoy anal sex at all, and rather prefer less invasive sex acts like mutual masturbation, oral sex and frottage (or dry humping), among others.

This part of the gay community refer to themselves as “sides” — and now the world’s biggest dating app has also given them their rightful place.

On the bright side

The term “side” was coined by Dr Joe Kort, a sex and relationship expert, in 2013. Kort, who also identifies as a side, was disappointed at the binary opposition with relation to gay male intimacy, and the lack of inclusion of men who have never had anal sex, or have and don’t enjoy it.

In an article for HuffPost, Kort elaborates about the shame many sides experience, considering that some gay men might make judgments about another gay man’s lack of interest in penetrative sex. To some people — and this idea is, of course, very patriarchal — sex is not sex if someone is not being penetrated.

Taking into account that some gay men might not be able to have anal sex due to physical or psychological issues, the ostracism of those gay men that do identify as sides is even more perplexing.

“If a man has undergone prostate surgery that caused nerve damage to the penis or suffers from hemorrhoids or other issues that make anal penetration impossible, uncomfortable or unappealing, then that physiological or medical reason takes most of the shame out of being a side. These men may be genuine tops or bottoms but become sides out of necessity,” writes Kort.

The full spread — not just an hors d’oeuvre

Not making room for sides in the gay community is a heteronormative construct, says Kort, as the idea of penetrative sex being the only valid sex act disregards the fact that all sex acts are sex.

For sides, anything goes, but butt stuff. This preference leaves plenty of room for a rich, fulfilling, and far more nuanced and creative sexual life.

Sides may explore many sexual avenues, including massage, dry humping, fellatio, handjobs, and one of the most well documented gay positions from ancient times: intercrural sex. This sex act, also called coitus interfemoris, sees one partner placing his penis between the other’s thighs, and creating friction by thrusting.

As is also the case with lesbian sex, gay sex is too often defined by the narrow binary opposition between the dominant partner (the one who is doing the penetrating) and the submissive partner (the one who is being penetrated). Considering the comprehensive array of sexual acts and positions partners can try, making penetration the be-all and end-all of sex seem just a little… uninspired.

As the sides gain prominence in the world of gay dating and hook-up culture, it might be time for the rest of us to also take a page from their book — and switch up our own sexual routines while we’re at it.

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