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Relaxing the straight male anus: Decreasing homohysteria around anal eroticism

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Abstract

This study examines the practice and perception of receptive anal eroticism among 170 heterosexual undergraduate men in a US university. We analyze the social stigmas on men’s anal pleasure through the concept of homohysteria, which describes a cultural myth that the wrongdoing of gender casts homosexual suspicion onto heterosexual men. For men’s anal eroticism, this means that only gay, emasculated or gender deviant men are thought to enjoy anal pleasure. We suggest, however, that decreasing homohysteria has begun to erode this cultural ‘ban’ on anal stimulation for straight men. Our data finds self-identified straight university-aged men questioning cultural narratives that conflate anal receptivity with homosexuality and emasculation. We also show that 24 percent of our respondents have, at least once, received anal pleasure. These results suggest that cultural taboos around men’s anal pleasure may be shifting for younger men and the boundaries of straight identity expanding. We call for further research to clarify how anal erotic norms are shifting among men of different racial, geographic, socioeconomic, and age demographics, and to determine how these shifts may foster more pluralistic and inclusive views of gender and sexuality.
Relaxing the Straight-Male Anus:
Decreasing Homohysteria around Anal Eroticism
This study represents the first-ever examination of the practice and frequency of receptive
anal eroticism among 170 heterosexual undergraduate men in a U.S. university. We show
that 24% of our respondents have, at least once, received anal pleasure. Because we have
found no previous comprehensive studies on this practice, we cannot claim that young
men today are more likely to experience their own anal eroticism than men of generations
past. However, we also analyse the older literature on social stigma regarding
heterosexual men’s anal pleasuring, comparing it to this sample. Here, we highlight a
profound attitudinal change, decoupling the male anus from homosexuality. While
scientific and popular belief throughout the twentieth century cast anal pleasure as only
for gay, emasculated or gender deviant men, we show it partially normalized among
heterosexual undergraduate male culture today: Our data finds self-identified straight
university-aged men questioning cultural narratives that conflate anal receptivity with
homosexuality and emasculation. We analyse this data through the concept of
homohysteria, which describes a cultural myth that the wrongdoing of gender casts
homosexual suspicion onto heterosexual men. Further, we call for further research on the
practices of older men reflecting upon their undergraduate sexual practices so that we
may more fully understand how shifting anal erotic norms may be altering actual sexual
behaviour.
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Introduction
The male1 anus can be a highly pleasurable sex organ: With its dense network of sensory
nerves that are shared with the genitals and the muscles involved in orgasm (Agnew,
1985; Morin, 2010), few other male organs besides the penis are as biologically equipped
to promote orgasm intensity (Silverstein and Picano, 2003). This is especially true of the
prostate, which is sometimes termed “the male G-spot”. Culturally, however, only gay
and bisexual men are believed to receive anal pleasure. Here, though socially presumed
or acknowledged to enjoy anal stimulation, gay and bisexual men are frequently
denigrated as dirty, emasculated, or deviant for this reason (Hite, 1981; Morin, 2010;
Agnew, 1985). These stereotypes about the male prostate are characterized by two key
ideas: 1) that it is analogous to the G(raffenberg) spot in women; and 2) that a man who
enjoys receptive anal pleasure is socially perceived as gay.
Relatively few academic studies have examined how men view, practice, and
experience receptive anal pleasure (Hite, 1981; Morin, 2010; Branfman and Stiritz,
2012). Those studies that do investigate male anal eroticism have largely focused on
same-sex penile-anal intercourse, usually ignoring heterosexual men’s capacity for
receptive anal play, as well as all forms of anal stimulation without a penis (McBride and
Fortenberry, 2010). Most studies have examined men’s anal sex through a lens of disease,
and not one of pleasure or eroticism (Exner et al., 2008), frequently treating it solely as a
risky sexual behaviour related to the transmission of HIV.
Apart from some insightful non-academic work (see Glickman and Emirzian
(2013), only one peer reviewed study examines heterosexual men’s anal pleasuring
1 This paper reports specifically on survey respondents who defined their anatomical sex
as “male” and their gender identity as “man”.
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practices (Branfman and Stiritz, 2012). Yet that article is primarily theoretical and
historical, using feminist and queer theory to analyse the social stigmas around men’s
anal pleasure to argue that educators can employ the topic of male anal pleasure to help
students critically analyse the social construction of sex, gender and sexuality. In this
research, the same authors utilize the same 2011 data set to empirically examine how
frequently heterosexual respondents reported engaging in receptive anal stimulation, and
what cultural meanings they attached to this practice.
Finding increased social acceptance of anal sexual eroticism among heterosexual
men, we use Anderson’s (2009) notion of homohysteria—defined as the social fear that
heterosexual men maintain of being socially perceived as gay—to argue that decreasing
cultural antipathy toward homosexuality permits heterosexual men to engage in a variety
of sexual and non-sexual behaviours that once were considered taboo for heterosexual
men. Evidencing this we show that 24% of our heterosexual participants had engaged in
receptive anal play. Our results suggest young adult, heterosexual men are beginning to
accept and engage in the stimulation of the male anus and prostate for enjoyment, albeit
oftentimes in a restricted form. This acceptability poses critical questions about the
resiliency of homophobia to bifurcate men into exclusively gay and straight categories,
and opens up the possibility for men to think about their sexual identities in ways beyond
‘exclusively straight’.
Gender, Sexuality and Sexual Stigma
In the United States, anatomical sex, gender identity, and sexual orientation are all
commonly conflated. In their work on the “implicit inversion hypothesis” psychologists
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Deaux and Kite (1987) found that gay men are commonly assumed to have a feminine
gender identification and characteristics, while lesbian women are commonly assumed to
have a masculine identification and characteristics. This is despite widespread
recognition that sex, gender, and sexuality are distinct but interrelated, and that each
entails complex power relations (Schwartz and Rutter, 1998). In examining these tangled
associations, we do not intend to reproduce the problematic conflation of sex, gender, and
sexual orientation, but instead to accurately map how these constructs are experienced
and policed in men’s lives.
The taboo on men’s anal eroticism fits within the much broader phenomenon of
stigma that has historically been used to police multiple non-normative sexual behaviours
under a rubric of individual and social harm (Gray, Schein and Ward, 2014; Rubin,
1984). In this capacity, stigma related to heterosexual men’s anal pleasure is akin to older
taboos, including clitoral eroticism, which has also been culturally linked to female
homosexuality (Maines, 2001). Stiritz (2008), for example, has argued that for much of the
nineteenth and twentieth centuries, women avoided clitoral stimulation out of fear of
being thought lesbian.
We borrow Anderson’s notion of ‘homosexualisation’ (2008) to describe the
cultural belief that straight men who stimulate their own anus, or willingly allow another
(evebn a woman) to stimulate it, must really be gay. This stigma on receiving anal
pleasure is also reminiscent of other homosexualising sexual behaviours for men; chiefly
masturbation, which was believed to be a behaviour only homosexuals engaged in (and
was thus homosexualizing for “normal” men doing it) throughout much of the nineteenth
and twentieth centuries (Chauncey, 1994). Because of the stigma around homosexuality,
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and in accordance with the principle of dyadic completion (Gray, Schein and Ward,
2014), by which people ascribe harm to harmless acts out of moral repugnance,
masturbation was believed to have deep psychological and societal ramifications. At least
one medical authority of the day ascribed to it further social ills, writing:
Neither the plague, nor war, nor small-pox, nor similar diseases, have produced
results so disastrous to humanity as the pernicious habit of Onanism
[masturbation]; it is the destroying element of civilized societies (Dr. Adam
Clarke on masturbation, quoted in Kellogg, 1890: 233).
Masturbation and anal pleasuring have thus been culturally linked to men’s
homosexuality for a complex set of social reasons, including the demonisation of
homosexuality and non-procreative sex (Herek, 2007).
Homohysteria and the Fear of Anal Sex
Anderson (2009) describes homohysteria as a conceptual tool to understand the policing
of the production and stratification of men’s sexualities as culturally valued or subjugated
through gendered performances (see also McCormack and Anderson, 2014).
Homohysteric cultures are ones in which homophobia is deployed to regulate gendered
behaviours. This is to say that the social stigma on male homosexuality also limits the
sexual and gendered lives of heterosexual men (Pollack, 1999). Thus, one way of looking
at the difference between homophobia and homohysteria is that, whereas homophobia
refers to antipathy toward sexual minorities and the social problems they incur because of
this, homohysteria looks at the social paranoia and problems that heterosexuals incur
because of homophobia. Hence, rapidly diminishing homophobia (Keleher and Smith,
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2012) leads to improving cultural conditions for sexual minorities and it also diminishes
homohysteria, improving cultural conditions for heterosexuals. Thus, just as gay men
must avoid certain feminised behaviours if they desire to be thought socially
heterosexual, so must straight men.
The desire to be perceived as heterosexual and masculine is understandable in a
culture that distributes privilege unequally according to gender and sexuality.
Consequently, when heterosexual boys and men fear the stigma of homosexuality, they
normally conceal their same-sex sexual practices (Lancaster, 1988). According to this
model, the only way for a man to be considered heterosexual and masculine is to avoid
any same-sex sexual act and to avoid admitting same-sex sexual desire. Anderson (2009)
argues that this policing is more salient in a culture of homohysteria, and that it not only
regulates gendered behaviours but that it also regulates sexual, or pseudo-sexual
behaviours with other men.
Borrowing from the one-drop theory of race (Harris, 1964), in which a dominant
White culture once viewed anyone with even a portion of Black genetic ancestry as Black
(and in some cases, still does), Anderson (2008) calls the behavioural component of this
model the one-time rule of homosexuality. This term reflects the cultural tendency to
equate a man’s one-time same-sex sexual experience with a homosexual orientation in
masculine peer culture. However, the inverse of this rule does not apply evenly to gay
men. Schwartz and Rutter (1998: 12) therefore write:
We have to rethink how we have demonized the power of homosexuality so that
we assume it to be the greater truth of our sexual self—as if one drop of
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homosexuality tells the truth of self while one drop of heterosexuality in a
homosexual life means nothing.
Whereas the one-drop rule existed to reify white privilege by policing the categories of
pure whiteness, the one-time rule exists to maintain heterosexual hegemony. This rigid
social border serves to naturalize straight men as a real category that is innately superior
to penetrable queer men and women (Pronger, 1999).
Given the common conflation of sexual orientation with gender, this one-time rule
carries a double risk for men who reveal they have experience with same-sex sex: It
disqualifies them from achieving the requisites of heterosexuality and it diminishes their
masculine capital among peers. As many scholars have noted, this judgment often does
not hold true for women, who are frequently dismissed as just experimenting or going
through a phase, even after consistently having sex and/or relationships with other
women (Schwartz and Rutter, 1998).
Germane to this article, the homosexualisation of male receptive anal sex is a
component of the one-time rule. Demonising homosexuality has served to promote the
general rule that one’s socially perceived heterosexual identity is partially conditioned
not only upon sex with “appropriate” (opposite-sex) partners, but also upon “appropriate”
sex roles. In other words, men must penetrate women, not stimulate or penetrate their
own orifices, or allow their orifices to be stimulated or penetrated by others; even if those
others are women. While stimulating one’s own anus is not direct sexual contact with
another male, homohysteria constructs anal stimulation as a homosexual affair, even if
performed in absence of another male (Agnew, 1985; Hite, 1981; Morin, 2010).
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Decreasing Sexual Stigma
The myths and misattributions of the one-time rule of homosexuality were particularly
prevalent in the 1980s and 1990s, yet attitudes toward sex and sexuality are changing in
U.S. society (McCormack and Anderson, 2014). Recent decades have brought an erosion
of orthodox views and institutional control of sexual behaviours and relationships. This
shift is made evident in the growing percentage of people who engage in pre-marital
intercourse (Bogle, 2008), the social and legal permission for divorce, decreasing social
prohibition on oral sex (Vannier and O’Sullivan, 2012), group sex (Frank, 2013),
masturbation (Laqueur, 2002), BDSM (Weiss, 2011), pornography (McNair, 2002) and
prostitution (Vanwesenbeeck, 2013). There has been a corresponding loosening of the
one-time rule of homosexuality (Anderson, Adams and Rivers, 2012).
We argue that at least some of these trends are related to an increase in the social
acceptance of alternative categories of sexuality (Weeks, 2007), including homosexuality,
and a category of men describing themselves as mostly straight (Savin-Williams and
Vrangalova, 2013). McCormack and Anderson (2014) suggest that as homohysteria is on
the rapid decline in the United States, there is also a reconstruction of socially acceptable
and sexually acceptable behaviours that once homosexualized American men. For
example, Anderson, Adams and Rivers (2012) have shown that, while there is no
previously documented history of western men kissing each other on the lips, data from
145 interviews among British undergraduate men finds that 89% have done so. In
replicate research on 90 heterosexual undergraduate males in Australia, Drummond,
Filiault, Anderson and Jeffries (2014) find 29% have kissed other men. Survey data of
475 men from throughout 11 American universities, and 75 in-depth interviews of
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American undergraduate men, indicates that homosocial kissing occurs among
undergraduate, heterosexual men at the rate of 10% (Anderson, 2014). Furthermore, in
this special edition, Scoats, Joseph and Anderson show that threesomes comprised of two
men and one women do not necessarily homosexualise men in their eyes or others’, so
long as sexual activity between the two men occurs at request of the female and avoids
anal sex. However, Glickman and Emirzian (2013) suggest that young, straight-identified
men are increasingly willing to be anally penetrated by a sex toy under control of a
woman. Still, there is a lack of research that examines the changing role of anal sex in
young straight men’s sexual practices because, until now, there is virtually no data on it.
Method
Participants
Participants in this study were a self-selecting snowball sample of 228 undergraduate
men, representing many sexual and ethnic identities, but here we only report data from
the 170 respondents who self-identified as heterosexual. All participants attended the
same Midwestern University in the United States, which draws approximately 12,000
graduate and undergraduate students from all regions of the country. The university’s
population is predominantly white, and mostly affluent.
In regards to norms of gender, sexuality, and sexual practice, the site of this study
is particularly progressive for the region: The university at which it was conducted has
one of the oldest programs in Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies in the country, and
the general education requirements draw many students to these courses regardless of
their academic fields. Many of the campus fraternities have openly gay members, some
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of whom bring their male dates to formal fraternal events. Given this environment, the
results of this study likely reflect more progressive views on masculine norms in general
—including those around anal pleasure—than those held by the general population of the
United States.
Survey respondents were recruited by email to participate in an anonymous online
survey. We did not ask about identifying as mostly straight, instead offering choices of
straight, bisexual, gay, asexual, or other. The survey, approved by the university’s
Institutional Review Board, included 45 questions and took approximately thirty minutes
to complete. Survey questions concerned a wide array of experiences, beliefs, and
knowledge regarding male anal sexuality and the related taboo. Virtually every question
provided a text box for comments and invited respondents to write in additional thoughts.
In January 2011, the researchers initiated a snowballing process by emailing the
survey link to student acquaintances, then asking those acquaintances to forward the link
to their peers. Specific attempts were made to distribute the survey among differing age
groups and social cohorts, such as sports teams, singing groups, and fraternities.
However, since all responses were anonymous, it is not possible to determine how fully
the sample represents the university’s heterosexual male undergraduate population.
Before presenting questions, the survey required respondents to read an IRB-
approved summary of the study and indicate their informed consent. The survey’s
opening questions then screened participants for eligibility based on: age (18 to 23);
being anatomically male; and current undergraduate status. Concerning the heterosexual
respondents, the mean age was 20.15 years. The sample was over 80% white; with East
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Asian comprising the next largest ethnic demographic (9%), and a variety of ethnicities
comprising the final 11%.
Measures and Coding
The analysis of measured data for this article comes from Likert scale, open-ended
responses, and written commentary. Concerning Likert scale questions, respondents were
asked to rate their agreement with various statements. For example, those who had
experienced anal eroticism were asked to rate their agreement with eight statements
concerning shame about their anal experiences. Examples included: I’m ashamed of
exploring anal pleasure and I’m ashamed that I enjoy being anally penetrated. This
quantitative data were downloaded from Surveymonkey into SPSS to generate
descriptive statistics for analysis. In cases where respondents used seven-point Likert
scale responses to express agreement with a given statement, responses were simplified
into three categories: 1-3 (disagree), 4 (neutral), and 5-7 (agree). The first measures we
surveyed concern participant’s beliefs about the homosexualizing nature of male anal
stimulation. For example, we had students rate their agreement or disagreement with the
phrase “Straight men can't enjoy anal pleasure” and similar phrases.
Because this is an exploratory study, our statistics are purely descriptive. We
encourage others to replicate this study with larger samples so that they may find
statistically significant correlations and comparisons (for example, between the attitudes
of gay and straight men, or the attitudes of men in “masculine” social terrains like
football teams versus those on “feminine” terrains like cheerleading).
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Open-ended questions were also asked. For example, respondents were asked
why, in their opinion, male anal pleasure is not discussed more often, and why men might
avoid exploring or discussing anal pleasure. These open-ended responses were then
coded by two researchers, to find thematic codes of agreement. For example, “Men are
afraid of being seen as gay” and “Because it is associated with gay males…which makes
people avoid discussing it, for fear of being associated with its negative image” were
uniformly coded as “Men are afraid they’ll be perceived as gay.Respondents were also
asked if a sexual partner had ever spontaneously touched their anus without invitation
and how they reacted to this situation. The open-ended responses were then recoded (i.e.,
“It was awesome” and “I loved it” were uniformly coded as “It felt good.”)
The third category of data came through written commentary, where respondents
were provided with a text box in which to reply. Respondents were, for example, asked in
several ways if they personally wanted to explore anal pleasure. The researchers then
recoded the open-ended responses (i.e. “view it as a gay-oriented act” and “just think it
sounds too gay” were uniformly coded as “I associate it with homosexuality”). Using the
same system of researcher triangulation, other qualitative responses of, “I think society
would more strongly associate penetration with homosexuality” and “Anal penetration is
like having sex with a guy” were uniformly coded as “Being penetrated is seen as a
homosexual act”.
Homosexualisation of the Male Anus
Throughout the survey, straight men reported knowledge of anal pleasure. Most
respondents (n=162, 95%) had previously heard of men’s anatomical capacity for anal
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pleasure, and 72% (n=123) had considered this information reliable. One respondent
stated, “I thought it was common knowledge.” Indeed, only about 11% (n=20) of
respondents expressed surprise when presented with our passage explaining the anatomy
of anal pleasure and methods for safely stimulating the prostate.
Respondents most commonly reported that they first learned about male anal
pleasure from unofficial sources such as pornography (n=55, 36%) or a friend (n=73,
48%). By far the least common source was a family member (n=1). However, several
students (n=24, 16%) reported learning about male anal pleasure in high school sexual
education classes.
While many respondents reported knowing that the anus has pleasurable potential,
they were also aware that this pleasure carries stigmas of homosexuality and
emasculation. They expressed a range of conflicting views on how valid they believed
these stigmas to be. Of 116 respondents who proposed explanations for the stigma on
men’s anal stimulation, the majority (n=72, 62%) cited cultural connotations of
homosexuality; only 7% (n=8) cited hygiene concerns as the reason for stigmatizing or
avoiding men’s anal eroticism. Indicating the influence of homohysteria, 20% (n=24)
specifically cited that other straight men might fear being thought gay. As one respondent
stated, “this stigma stops many men from learning or practicing it as an option for
pleasure.” Another noted that because anal eroticism “carries a very homosexual
connotation for all men,” those who engage in it risk becoming “the subject of ridicule by
ourselves, our friends, and our communities.” A third wrote:
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“I wish it was talked about more. I'm a straight man, and I see no problems with
anal stimulation (for any type of sexual partners). I would venture to guess that
the stigma of anal stimulation is still linked with homophobia to some degree.”
However, our respondents problematize the exclusive association of anal
eroticism with male homosexuality. While 66% indicate that anal eroticism is culturally
associated with homosexuality, and 95%, (n=161) reported that they also associate anal
pleasure with gay men, many dismissed such cultural beliefs that partaking in anal sex
was possible for gay men only. For example, 80% (n=136) disagreed with the statement,
Any guy who enjoys being anally penetrated during sex is probably gay.
One respondent commented, “I take ‘associate’ to mean that I have an immediate,
stereotyping thought of this group of people when I hear about anal pleasure. I do believe
that all of the groups above (except for asexuals) engage in anal pleasure!” Likewise,
another student commented, “Though not all gay/bisexual men use anal stimulation as a
source of pleasure, the idea is associated with homosexuality.” As one respondent
elaborated, “Gays and straights all have a prostate, nah mean? That shit feels awesome,
pun intended”. The same respondent later added, “Everyone likes playing with that ass,
some people just won’t admit it.” Thus, as these comments reflect, our participants
commonly reported that anal eroticism is linked with homosexuality—yet their
quantitative and qualitative responses about personal attitudes and beliefs highlight a
disjuncture from this homohysteric belief.
Supporting the problematizing of viewing male anal eroticism as explicitly the
domain of same-sex attracted men, just 5% (n=8) of respondents agreed with the
statement, “Straight men can’t enjoy anal pleasure” and 24% (n=41) agreed with the
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statement, “Only gay men like to be anally stimulated or penetrated during sex.”
Meanwhile, 23% (n=39) agreed with the statement, “In men, I think anal pleasure is
homosexual pleasure.”
There was less contestation of anal eroticism when it referred specifically to anal
penetration. When a statement was given of: “Real men don’t like to be anally penetrated
during sex,” 19% (n=32) agreed with the statement. This highlights that while most
participants we surveyed contest anal penetration as domain to same-sex attracted men
only, 19% of respondents maintain personal belief that it indicates homosexuality or
emasculation.
Finally, despite this trend to reject the stereotypes about anal pleasure, most
participants reported that they did not consider anal play a common activity for straight
men. A sizeable minority (n=59, 35%) agreed with the statement, “Many straight men
like to be anally stimulated during sex.” However, less than half that number (n=24,
14%) agreed with the statement “Many straight men like to be anally penetrated during
sex,” suggesting a cultural “line” between anal stimulation and anal penetration. The rates
of actual anal eroticism were also lower than their beliefs about the practice might
indicate.
Personal Practices and Experiences
Our survey asked respondents about their own anal erotic practices in three categories:
Once in the past, At least once a month, and At least once a week. In each category, the
most commonly selected activity was Rub my own rectum, followed by Use a finger to
anally penetrate myself. A notable minority of men reported past anal activity of some
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kind (n=40, 24%). 16% (n=28) had used a finger to anally penetrate themselves at least
once in the past. However, only 5% (n=9) of straight respondents reported rubbing their
own anus at least once a month.
Of respondents who reported past anal experience, 10% (n=17) had their
experience with a sex partner. In explaining how this action was perceived the most
common responses were “It felt good” (n=15, 31%), followed by “I was surprised
(n=12, 25%) and “I went along with it” (n=10, 21%). One respondent wrote: “It was
incredible.” However, seven respondents stated that they would react very negatively if a
sex partner touched their anus. For example, one wrote, “I would freak out and tell them
to get the hell away from my anus. I would then ask them to leave. I don't want to be
sexually involved with someone who tries to touch my anus.”
Respondents who engaged in anal stimulation also reported a narrow repertoire of
anal erotic acts (i.e., auto-stimulation, auto-penetration, receiving analingus, etc.),
averaging less than two types of anal erotic acts. Nevertheless, some respondents had
explored an unexpected variety of anal behaviours. For example, one respondent noted
that he had once “Lost a bet and let a female partner anally penetrate me.”
Of 37 respondents who reported on the pleasure of anal stimulation, 68% (n=25)
reported finding it pleasurable, and 5% (n=2) found it “extremely pleasurable.” Only 2
found it “not at all pleasurable;” one of whom limited his statement:
I'm learning what I like in much the same way that females go through the process
of learning how they like their clitoris stimulated. I really like anal exterior
stimulation but penetration can be harder to make pleasurable. I still need to find
the prostate down there!
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And the other remarked, “It was neither extra pleasurable nor extra painful.”
Of thirty-seven men who discussed their feelings about exploring anal pleasure,
40% reported feeling ashamed of this exploration (n=15). However, a similar percentage
did not report feeling shame about their practices (48%, n=18). One participant said, “If
others knew I enjoy being anally penetrated, I’d feel embarrassed,” while another said, “I
talk about it with my friends all the time.” Meanwhile, another reported that “When I
started experimenting with anal pleasure, it definitely made me question my sexuality.”
The survey also explored why straight men do not participate in the stimulation of
their own anuses. When given a list of reasons to choose from, the most common reasons
for not wanting to explore anal eroticism were: “Just not interested” (N=25, 29%),
followed by “It sounds physically painful/uncomfortable” (n=15, 17%), and “I feel
uncomfortable with the idea of anal play” (n=12, 14%). Hence, very few respondents
cited the connotations of homosexuality (n=3, 3.5%) or emasculation (n=1) as personal
reasons to avoid anal eroticism.
So while our findings suggest the decoupling of homohysteria from anal
eroticism, some respondents continue to ascribe homosexualisation to men who pursue it.
One called anal sexual play “unnatural, disgusting, and emasculating,” and another
remarked, “I wouldn't want to rupture our asshole. I also just think it sounds too gay.”
Another said, “I'm not homophobic, but my ass has a one way policy.” Conversely, a
student commented, “I'd love to explore it more. Sometimes it's tough (tight ass :-/) but
I'm getting better. I use gloves I steal from SHS [Student Health Services], haha.”
The above quotes indicate that, for most men, homohysteria has not been
completely de-coupled from homosexuality. 79% (n=135) of heterosexual respondents
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agreed with the statement, “I'd be embarrassed to ask a female partner to anally
penetrate me (i.e. with a finger).” Qualitative comments included a variety of opinions on
this topic, too. One participant said, “Many females would be receptive to penetration
with a finger and not question the man's orientation.” Conversely, another wrote,
“cultural perceptions really blow if you want a finger in your butt. I'm serious.” Another
student wrote, “Definitely more trust involved in asking to be played with anally than
there is in asking to handcuff her or experiment with other kinks.” Another wrote, “I'm
not sure I would feel comfortable stepping over the taboo line and asking a female
partner to stimulate me in a way sometimes associated with homosexual men.”
Discussion
The sexual and gendered lives of young, heterosexual males are in rapid flux; millennial
men are rapidly casting off traditional sexual and gendered views (Anderson, 2014).
Research shows a loosening of gender-regulated behaviours for men of the generation we
study here (i.e., McCormack, 2012); and research also shows a loosening of sexual
restrictions on homosexuality, or sexual acts with other heterosexual men (Ward, 2015).
Anderson (2008) has previously shown that limited forms of same-sex sex is
permissible within the context of a threesome; and research on British (Anderson, Adams
and Rivers, 2012), Australian (Drummond et al., 2014) and American (Anderson, 2014)
men shows that certain, limited forms of same-sex kissing are no longer automatically
homosexualising. Anderson and McCormack (2014) also show heterosexual
undergraduate men cuddling in bed together is the norm among team-sport athletes.
These studies suggest that young heterosexual men take a more complicated view to
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men’s sexuality today, compared with men of recent decades (Anderson and Adams,
2010; McCormack, Anderson and Adams, 2014) in that many eschew binaristic thinking
of gay-and-straight and dismiss the one-time rule of homosexuality (Ward, 2015).
We contribute to this body of literature in two ways. First, to our knowledge, we
provide the first- ever data on the prevalence of heterosexual men’s anal receptivity to
fingers and toys. We question whether this has never been explored before because of
homohysteria—perhaps an assumption amongst even sex researchers that straight men
would not do such a thing (or would not admit it)—and we hope that other researchers
will investigate, retrospectively, older heterosexual males’ anal erotic behaviours in order
that an hypothesis for changing practices might be upheld or rejected. While we cannot
make a longitudinal claim to changing anal practices in this article, we nonetheless show
an equally if not more compelling cultural change, that of attitudinal change.
Whereas research from the last few decades showed that straight male’s anuses
being penetrated or even stimulated (i.e. if a female partner rims him) constructed the ass/
anus as a queered body part that caused the male dissonance (Agnew, 1985; Hite, 1981;
Morin, 2010), the majority of our respondents did not consider receptive anal play the
exclusive domain of gay men; nor did they see anal play as a sign of gayness or failed
manhood. We thus argue that declining cultural homophobia has decreased homohysteria,
which has begun to erode the cultural beliefs that link men’s anal eroticism to
homosexuality and emasculation—or at least, to render these beliefs ambiguous and open
to question. In this context of shifting sexual and gender norms, anal eroticism may come
to feature as “normal” in a recalibrated notion of heterosexuality and masculinity.
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Whereas Belkin (2001) has written about the multiple and contradictory meanings
of anal penetration for straight men, we find different narratives about penetrative
experiences. Belkin argued that the U.S. military is a site in which the capacity to endure
anal penetration sometimes carries associations with resilience, toughness, and
heteromasculinity—thus suggesting that anal receptivity by straight men isn’t always a
sign of liberation or a loosening of male gender norms—our data, however, reveal that
while anal pleasure is being recast by straight men as a “normal” activity it is not done so
out of denial of that eroticism, nor standards of accepting pain to prove masculinity.
Instead, we argue that the decrease in cultural homohysteria has permitted more
cultural discussion of a once-taboo sex practice. That, just as recent decades have eroded
as social stigma permitting pre-marital intercourse (Bogle, 2008), oral sex (Vannier and
O’Sullivan, 2012), group sex (Frank, 2013), masturbation (Laqueur, 2002), BDSM
(Weiss, 2011), pornography (McNair, 2002) prostitution (Vanwesenbeeck, 2013), and
same-sex kissing among straight men (Anderson, Adams and Rivers, 2012), we suggest
that there has also been a corresponding loosening of the one-time rule of homosexuality
in accord with decreasing homohysteria around anal eroticism—removing the anus as a
queer location in a straight male’s body.
Although previous research on the pleasuring of the heterosexual male anus
demonstrated that it was culturally viewed as emasculating, deviant, and homosexualising
(Morin, 2010), our multiple response-type survey of 170 heterosexual undergraduate men
at one university suggests that students hold diverse and ambivalent views on this subject.
While participants believe that Americans, in general, view anal eroticism as a marker of
homosexuality and emasculation—which can then be used to delineate the boundaries of
20
“acceptable” masculine gender and sexuality—the majority indicated that they personally
contest these assumptions. Thus, there may be a third-party effect in operation, by which
men perceive others as being more homohysteric than themselves; while the others think
the same.
This research highlights the personal and social complexity of uncoupling
homosexuality from anal eroticism in men. First, we found that a perception that others
might find anal stimulation in straight men homosexualizing, and we suggest that this
likely impacts both the percentage and quality of experience straight men will have with
anal sex. Perhaps this is why most respondents reported disinterest or ambivalence about
personally exploring anal pleasure, with only a few reporting enthusiastic interest.
Second, although only a few reported vehement rejection of their-own anal
stimulation, men were still embarrassed to ask a female partner to anally stimulate or
penetrate them, and only 10% said that women took initiative to stimulate their anus. It
thus appears that few women are talking about this with their male sexual partners, and
this suggests that a cultural decoupling of male anal eroticism from homosexuality is only
a work in progress, for both genders.
Our findings thus suggest an in-process cultural decoupling of male anal eroticism
from the connotation of homosexuality. In turn, we suggest that as cultural homohysteria
dissipates, the anus becomes more open for heterosexual male eroticism. This shift is
increasingly reflected in and produced by popular culture, too. The visibility and
representation of pegging (where a female uses a strap on dildo to penetrate a male) in
mainstream American television shows like The Sopranos and Broad City have
expanded. There has been an expansion of cultural interest in the straight male anus,
21
perhaps best evidenced by its discussion in the multiple works of sex columnist, Dan
Savage, and the popularity of the porn series Bend over Boyfriend, which has even been
featured on The Daily Show.
The flux and contestation that we observed among our respondents may act in a
circular process, too: if anal eroticism becomes viewed and experienced as “normal” for
heterosexual men, this change may in turn reduce stigma on gay and bisexual men.
Further, if anal eroticism, man-to-man kissing, and other gay-coded activities do indeed
become more widespread among men who identify as heterosexual, the very categories
of gay, straight and bisexual orientation may fall increasingly into question or become
more popularly perceived as irrelevant: The cultural context which has enabled ‘mostly
straights’ to be recognized as a legitimate sexual identity may be the same social milieu
that enables men to explore their own anal pleasure zones. In other words, heterosexual
men’s identities may be shifting to encompass behaviours, pleasures, and experiences
once exclusively considered “gay,” and hence blur the very boundaries of
heterosexuality. It is therefore possible that the G spot in men will lose its connotation as
the g(ay) spot; and as more heterosexual men come to profess the pleasures of an anally
enhanced orgasm, it may increasingly be viewed as simply akin to the female Grafenberg
spot.
Meanwhile, from a social justice standpoint, increased understanding of anal
pleasure may help reduce stigma projected onto gay, bisexual, and other queer men, too.
In openly discussing all men’s capacity for anal pleasure, receptivity, and penetrability,
young men might question accepted gender norms and the stigmas of emasculation,
deviance, and dirtiness that are so often used to degrade it. Of course, as Branfman and
22
Stiritz (2012) have written, exploring anal pleasure will not magically transform straight
men’s politics or their treatment of sexual and gender minorities. In fact, if anal pleasure
does indeed lose its cultural association with homosexuality and feminization, this
decoupling may simply free straight man to explore it without critically questioning their
beliefs about gender and sexuality. Nevertheless, we believe that the destigmatisation of
anal pleasure at least has the potential to open space for critical questions and dialogues
that would previously have been silenced.
23
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