Dudes and Dildos

Why don’t straight men like anal sex? Maria Pawlowska’s answers might surprise you.

Here’s a superficially odd question: what do dildos, social constructs of gender, and homophobia have in common? Well actually, the last two are the major reason for which the aforementioned sex toy doesn’t get much love from heterosexual males (for use on themselves, that is).

Male anal sex—particularly heterosexual—is a bit of a taboo topic. Most of us liberals have sort of gotten our heads around the idea of what gay man supposedly do in bed (although really we should assume it’s just about as varied as what heterosexuals do, right?) but the idea of anal penetration of a heterosexual man by his female partner is still considered anything from unnatural to outright disgusting and wrong. Now, I’m fully aware that anal sex is not everybody’s proverbial cup of tea, but there are good physiological reasons for men to potentially enjoy anal sex—the “theoretical basis” is at least as strong as for anal sex performed on females which is decidedly less taboo. The prostate gland is highly sensitive and it is possible for men to achieve orgasm solely through its stimulation. And what’s an easy way to access the prostate gland…? Yup, you probably guessed—through receptive anal intercourse.

So why is it that most (heterosexual) men give up on the possibility of mind-blowing orgasms without much consideration and just decide anal penetration is a definite “no-go?” (According to the Centers for Disease Control’s National Survey of Family Growth less than 40% of men engage in heterosexual anal sex.) Obviously, for some men this is just personal preference—they can’t see themselves liking it and fair enough. But for many this attitude may be the result of deeply ingrained gender stereotypes and socially-induced homophobia (yes, even in those really liberal guys who—on a conscious level—have absolutely nothing against homosexuals and loudly advocate for gay marriage). There’s a difference between being intellectually completely accepting of other people’s sexual choices and being open to exploring things, which our culture teaches us are wrong when naked—i.e. just about as vulnerable as it gets.

And although things are definitely looking up, whatever else anyone says, our culture is still homophobic to a considerable degree. Not caring about other people’s sexuality is on its way to becoming the new normal, but we still have a long way to go, that’s for sure. And until we get there male homosexuality will get the brunt of the homophobia. The social “invisibility” of female homosexuality has to a certain degree resulted in less stigmatization. (It’s also because lesbianism is treated less seriously and more often dismissed as “just a phase.”) What’s more, “butch” lesbians “masculinize” their appearances—they may seem “odd” but as Madonna sang back in 2001:

Girls can wear jeans

And cut their hair short

Wear shirts and boots

‘Cause it’s OK to be a boy

But for a boy to look like a girl is degrading

‘Cause you think that being a girl is degrading

Consequently, lesbians bring up fewer negative connotations and pop-culture tends to over-sexualize them, but gay men are typically portrayed as anything from unappealingly “effeminate” to obscene and perverted. And, invariably, anal sex is thought to be one of the major sexual activities that men who have sex with men engage in. Because of the different ensemble of sexual organs in women, male anal penetration has become nearly synonymous with gay sex.

According to heteronormative societal standards, there are a number of issues with men being gay, many of which can be boiled down to the fact that they are seen as giving up (at least partially) their well-deserved male privileges and becoming more “like women.” Behaviors judged as “female” may involve anything from tight-fitting clothes through to personal grooming and “girly interests” in fashion as well as… sexual submissiveness. Particularly this last bit is a serious issue for some. Being the “passive” partner in a sexual relationship is traditionally reserved for women. And women, traditionally, have it generally worse off (yay for the Equal Pay Act—too bad women on average still earn only 70 cents to the man’s dollar). Now, why would anyone want to give up their sexual privileges—become passive and like gay men/women—and actually be the penetrated partner when men are endowed with the wonder of the penis and therefore should be the active partner? The superiority of the “active” vs. “passive” partner goes back to ancient Greece when older and powerful men took lovers whom they had sex with but were never penetrated by— there was a clear connection between sexual activity and societal status. Overall, the message men get is basically this: society doesn’t think that being gay is such a great thing -> gay men have anal sex -> enjoying anal penetration can make you (seem) gay -> that’s a bad thing.

And so we’re back to the dildo—believe it or not, but according to research in this area most heterosexual men exclude the possibility of using dildos precisely because they don’t want to act “gay” and be “passive.” It’s got nothing to do with what they like or dislike in bed (mostly because they don’t know if they do if they haven’t tried it). It’s more illogical and subconscious than a superficial sexual preference. Heterosexual men’s deep-seated aversion to this form of sex-play is mostly the result of what society has taught us about sex and gender roles and not what our bodies might enjoy. Whether you like it or not, most of the time there really is way more than just you and your partner(s) in the bedroom.

photo by stagshop and fabrisalvetti / flickr

About Maria Pawlowska

Maria Pawlowska is a healthcare analyst with a passion for reproductive health. She spends her free time trying to stop herself from compulsively buying new books about women, sexuality, gender and sometimes the odd primate study. Maria currently lives in London with her husband and you can reach her at m.pawlowska [@] gatesscholar.org. You can follow her on Twitter @MariaPawlowska.


  1. My boyfriend and I love anal sex, giving and receiving both. We use a nice vegan anal lube and wear gloves. We haven’t worked our way up to penile/strap-on dildo penetration though that is our goal. When we do we will use condoms however. One thing that I like about it is that it allows both of us to experience the act of penetrating/being penetrated so the experience is something we can both relate to a more similar way. I love oral and vaginal (I’m a woman) as well and I don’t think I’d want to have to pick one over the others. (Besides, with oral you have all those tasty flavored lubes…what’s not to like about a pink-lemonade flavored penis?) I was a little squeamish before I first tried anal, but my boyfriend and I did as much research on it as we could in order to make it as safe and comfortable as possible. When we did try it I found it an experience like nothing else and I can’t imagine that I’d ever want to live without it.

  2. Hi, just wanted to say, I enjoyed this post. It was practical.
    Keep on posting!

  3. The Blurpo says:

    ok my take. I have tryed anal both active and passive (no Im not gay, and no im not homophobic either), and sadly it wasent for me. But the majority of guys I spoke to is quite open for the experience. Contrary to a large number of women, who are not intersted or disliked it.

    About culture, well yes I do agree in femmephobia and homophobia. But I dont think its always the case and I dont think they hould be used as universal concepts to describe the unvillignes of some people to go anal or adding some tradtional or common modern feminine habits.

  4. I’ve always said that every man should try it. Perhaps more women would like to give it to their partners than they admit

  5. I am 42 years old married man who never liked guys but only girls and women. Still, I practiced anal masturbation in some periods of my life. I started 15 yo and in following years, when I was without girlfriend I was returning to that old habit but not without enormous guilt. I thought I was gay but and was ready to accept it if only I didn’t realize I don’t like other guys – I was not able to fall in love with them, I didn’t like their bodies and simply, the idea of having sex with them was disgusting. For me, they were just dudes. Contrary to that, I was falling in love with girls, loved them very much, their faces, eyes, bodies… Why did I love anal masturbation then? Simply because it was pleasant activity for me and good help for normal masturbation. I gave myself a chance to become a gay when I was young and it never happened. I simply continue to having sex with girls and now my wife sometimes gives me some anal pleasure with dildo. I can live without it though but still I can enjoy it. I am very much sure that man receiving anal sex from woman is not gay! Gay likes other guys, their bodies, look, talk etc.

  6. Hi Maria

    I have enjoyed every single bit of this blog thank you!



  1. […] This, by Maria Pawlowska? Is possibly not safe for work, but it’s a great look at masculinity and […]

Speak Your Mind