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.