Back Door: Open or Closed?

Simon Hardy describes “Phallic Sexuality” as “the dominant way of doing and thinking about sexuality in modern Western Culture”; this form of sexuality “centers the penis and its penetrative role in coital intercourse”. It is also “patriarchal because the act of intercourse is understood in terms of an anatomical dichotomy in which the penis is seen as active and the vagina is seen as passive”; therefore, the male partner is superior to the female partner who is inferior (107). Recently anal sex has been included in this phallic sex model when the anus has become the substitute for the passive vagina. Although the male is seen as superior, in such cases of male-to-male anal sex, some men came can take on the inferior role. Hardy’s article looks at how anal sex can be encountered in a variety of guises: as a method of contraception, as a health risk, as a heterosexual substitute, as a perversion, as a routine variation of sexual repertoire, as a special/ultimate intimacy, as a fashionable theme of cultural representation, as an obligatory pornographic number, and as an act of phallic domination (107). I will dissect the method of contraception, the health risks, the heterosexual substitute, the routine variation, and as a fashionable theme.

The method of contraception focuses on how females cannot get pregnant form anal sex. It states that anal sex is practiced as a practical method of contraception by heterosexual couples where anal sex is a direct substitute for “regular” vaginal intercourse. While, this might help the pregnancy rate, it sure does not help the STD/HIV percentages. Maybe not in America as much, but this has been cited by public health agencies in Africa that this is a possible contributing factor to the rapid spread of HIV infections. This could be because since they know they cannot get pregnant from anal sex, they chose not to protect themselves with condoms, therefore exposing them for chance of disease (107).

This leads into how anal intercourse is heavily associated with a number of health issues. In addition it is above all the potential for the sexual transition of HIV infection. This can be seen in the down low community. The Centers of Disease Control released in 2001 estimated that 30 percent of black men where infected with HIV. Of these men, majority of them had had anal intercourse with other men (Hoy 380). This is the practice of “barebacking”: where young gay men have unprotected anal intercourse leaving them for a high chance of being infected (107).

This is a picture of gay porn star Rod Daily who is infected with HIV from having unprotected sex with men.

In is stated that a lot of the men who do gay porn are not really “gay”, but instead they are “gay-for-pay.” This means that they just get into gay porn because of the money they get in return. Do you buy this statement? Why or why not?

Next, is a heterosexual substitute; this focuses mainly on male inmates in prison where male-to-male penetration can substitute vaginal penetration, not for the purpose of not trying to get pregnant like purposes of contraception, but because of the absence of women (108). John Gagnon and William Simon’s classic study of the sexual conduct of the prisoners showed that this “homosexual” acts where between “straight” men. They where not doing so to release their sexual tension but instead to affirm their masculine identity. In prison the performance of sex act is the key of demonstrating a powerful, commanding masculinity. Their masculinity depends more on the roles they take on during sex rather than their actual sexual partner; masculinity is affirmed by anally penetrating (108).

In the movie Lockdown, the character Dre experiences this as soon as he gets to prison. Just shortly after meeting her cellmate, Graffiti, Dre is raped as takes on the passive role in the male-to-male intercourse while Graffiti affirms his masculinity by being the one who does the anal penetration. Below is the scene from the movie:

We can now look at anal sex as a routine variation of the sexual repertoire. In long-term relationships, anal sex brings the erotic force of norm violation to bear as a routine variation, so basically it’s the next step to improve you relationship sexually. Gagnon and Simon’s research on heterosexual couples show that as relationships become more established, anal intercourse was one of the number of variations that is gradually integrated (109). This usually starts by the male partner’s use of his fingers followed by increasingly attempts to penetrate. The National Survey of Sexual Attitudes and Lifestyles found that the proportion of men that have experienced anal sex in the past year has risen from 7 percent in 1990 to 12.3 percent in 2000 (109). The proportion of women had increased from 6.5 percent to 11.3 percent over the same about of time.

With support form the figures above, you can see that anal sex has become a fashionable theme of cultural representation. More and more teenagers are not adding anal sex to their daily sex talks. They say that anal sex is the only kind of sex that people are interested in now (109). It is definitely safe to say that anal sex has come from out the closet and hit the cultural mainstream hard. A lot of this has to do with everyone’s obsession with the ass in general. The ass has surly become a symbol for a new cult of voluptuous sensuality (109).

In conclusion, by dissecting anal sex as a method of contraception, a health risks, a heterosexual substitute, a routine variation, and as a fashionable theme we can attempt to imagine anal sex through various lens. On one had the gay practice of reciprocal anal penetration has been seen as de-centering the phallus has been the heart of normative sexuality; while on the other hand, in the heterosexual mainstream erotic imagination anal sex remains as an act generally understood in terms of a symbolic power relation (111).

7 thoughts on “Back Door: Open or Closed?

  1. I’m glad that someone decided to blog about this topic because I found it to be somewhat surprising yet evidently realistic. Personally, I was unaware that anal sex has gained such overwhelming popularity. When the article states, “anal sex is the only kind of sex that people are interested in now,” I asked myself whether or not this held true in my own experiences. Among my friends and peers, the subject of anal sex is not as popular as the article makes it out to be. But, I can concur that our generation has been sexualized to abide by heteronormative behaviors. And as in the article and as you explained, anal sex is sometimes seen as a perversion of this heteronormativity.
    Based on the article and your analysis of the subject, it is clear that there are many meanings that society has attached to anal sex. It’s curious to me that there are so many layers of information and contradicting opinions in regards to this topic. I think that all of this discussion shows how much of our society revolves around sex and the sexualization of certain acts.

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  2. I am also glad we hit on this topic in class. Some of these constructions I knew about (prison rape for example), but some I honestly had never encountered before. I knew anal sex was often thought of as a alternative form of heterosexual intimacy, usually for partners who consider themselves particularly adventurous, but I had never heard of anal sex being thought of as the “ultimate” intimacy, like getting-laid-2.0 or something. I always thought it was viewed as a cheaper version of the “real” thing.

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  3. @charlesawoodlief brings up an important question–one that we addressed, too, when we discussed Kerwin Kaye’s article “Sexual Intercourse” (NSS 113-18)–what counts as the “real” thing when we talk about sex? When we use that shorthand (“real”), what ideologies are we naturalizing or normalizing, even without realizing that we’re doing so? Great piece, @mwebbie22

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  4. In response to @charlesawoodlief‘s comment about what counts as “real” sex, I too grew up as a young teenager thinking that anal sex was something that was unclean and not something that a ‘good girl’ would do. It was never even discussed at the time in the context of the gay community. In more recent years, it has become a more common occurrence and more frequently discussed within my social circles. While many girls admit to having anal sex, I most frequently hear it as an action between a couple- almost like a gift presented to a guy by a girlfriend or regular “hook up”. I think to a large degree it is seen as something that is meant to pleasure a man and less so for the enjoyment of the woman. After speaking about it in class, I understand that a man and a woman may enjoy anal sex just as two men might enjoy it, but the social stigma behind it still is unclear to me.

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    • All great points. You mentioned that when you were younger anal sex was seen as “something that was unclean and not something that a ‘good girl’ would do.” Your example alone demonstrates two of the social stigmas associated with anal sex and other forms of intimacies that violate social norms: 1) they disrupt some system of morality (“unclean behavior”) and 2) they are indicative of social deviancy (not being a “good girl”) and, thus, people who engage in deviant acts must be bad. As we read, discourses of morality and deviancy often find their way into discussions on non-normative intimacies. Does this clarify?

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  5. I really appreciate the insight you provide in your entry, as I am now able to see the topic of anal sex in a new, different light. Before reading, I had the idea that anal sex was practiced for a couple of reasons: a method of contraception, male homosexual sex, and a loophole good girls discovered so they can remain good girls. This being said, I agree with Emily’s statement that anal sex isn’t really as popular as it is made out to be- at least within my group of friends. Whenever sex is brought up in conversation, anal sex is sometimes poorly joked about, but never really taken seriously as a common sexual practice. It is interesting to note how our society has been sexualized to stick to what is perceived as normal. My question to you is: do you think, according to the points the article makes, that soon enough anal sex will be considered just as heteronormative as vaginal intercourse?

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  6. I agree with most of these comments, that I never really knew that anal sex was a “normal” act until we began discussing this in class. I heard jokes about it pertaining to prison life such as: “Don’t drop the soap.” But I always viewed it as something that you would do with your partner after years of having vaginal sex and needed something “new and different.” I agree with 160ANON’s comment about seeing it as a gift to a male partner but doesn’t this then allude to male dominance or the female trying to please her male partner rather than it being the other way around?

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