More and more couples appear to be going into the darkness.
Image: Koji Yamamoto
In 2009, a very worried man wrote to sex columnist Dan Savage. "[I] let a girlfriend 'experiment' on my ass," explained "DREW" (Doing Rear Entry Weekly). "What started out as a kink with her finger has turned into a full-blown fetish with her dildo (non-penis-shaped). I wondered if this might be a sign, so I tried masturbating to some gay porn. Not for me. I still don't have any desire to be with a man sexually, Dan, but I LOVE having my ass pounded. Does that tip the scales toward homo?"
Savage, who apparently gets this question often, assured DREW, "If a man and a woman are doing it—whatever it is—it's a heterosexual sex act."
Even among the open-minded and libertine audience for sex columns, heterosexual men being on the receptive end of butt play has been, until very recently, a taboo—a sign of latent homosexuality. "I remember writing about anal stimulation among straight men—and specifically the act of pegging—for a blog about ten years ago," recalls Timaree Schmit, a sex educator and host of the podcast Sex With Timaree. "It received more comments than any other piece the site had ever hosted." Many commenters "insist[ed] that any man who wants or enjoys having his ass touched was gay."
What a difference a decade makes. Straight male anal penetration and prostate stimulation are having a moment. The "p spot" is a topic, discussed in terms neutral of sexual orientation, for such trend-oriented outlets as Shape, AlterNet, Psychology Today and GQ. Male characters have been "pegged" (a term coined by Savage's readership eight years before DREW's freak-out over it) by women in media as divergent as Netflix's historical drama "Marco Polo," R-rated slapstick superhero blockbuster Deadpool, and Comedy Central's "Broad City." Online sex retailers are adding prostate stimulator and male sex toy sections, and sales have increased.
"From 2015 to 2016 we've seen our sales under this category grow nearly 13 percent," says Katy Zvolerin, director of public relations for the online and brick-and-mortar sex-toy chain Adam & Eve. "Projections for 2017 will have us eclipse this mark as more prostate toys and anal kits hit the market." Zvolerin describes the market as "advanced," adding, "We carry everything from a small non-intimidating jelly plug to the advanced multi-faceted gear that incorporates a cock ring and anal plug into one toy."
"The best way to see if a sexual attitude is changing is to see what products are being bought" says Charlie Glickman, a San Francisco-based sex and relationship educator and co-author of The Ultimate Guide to Prostate Pleasure. It's a measure free of posturing.
Straight men are allowed to shove things up their butts, with less stigma and sexual identity hysteria than in decades past, according to academics.
"There has been a seismic shift," says Eric Anderson, an American researcher who studies sport, gender and sexualities at the University of Winchester in the UK In one of his studies, he says he found a third of British undergrads interviewed had allowed a girlfriend to stick a vibrator or other object up their rectums. "In a nutshell, homophobia is a central agent of all kinds of stigma," he says, "and millennials don't experience enough homophobia to keep up these stigmas."
The association between anal play and homosexuality had been based more on the perceived behavior of gay men than any correct knowledge about the biology of the butt. For people of all genders and orientations, the anus is densely threaded with nerves, many of which are connected to the genitals. The prostate gland, reachable through three or four inches of probing, is also an erogenous zone for men. Massaging it can intensify sexual pleasure and orgasm. That wiring is the same, for straight, gay, and bisexual guys.
"An organ does not have a sexual orientation," says Susan Stiritz, a gender and sexuality professor at Washington University and co-author of the 2012 paper Teaching Men's Anal Pleasure. She compares the prostate to the oft-misunderstood clitoris, which before the 20th century, "was thought to be a lesbian organ," Stiritz says, "not useful in heterosexual sex."
Also, gay men's supposed ferocity towards the butt is overstated. A 2011 study found that only a third surveyed had done anal in their last sexual encounter.
Still, the squashing of homophobia over generations has made it acceptable for straight men to explore activities once dubbed "gay." "In a homophobic society, a straight man can't ever prove he's straight," Anderson says. "One fuck-up and he's labeled 'a fag.' In the '80s, that rule was incredibly strong." Men barely ever hugged and only talked about their sex lives with one another in the crudest, most macho terms, he says.
Anderson and other researchers have found that straight millennial Britons admitted to a variety of "homosocial" activities. Nearly nine out of ten had engaged in a same-sex kiss and about the same percent had cuddled with another male. "Millennials just don't give a fuck," Anderson says, bluntly. "They will have threesomes. They will jack off with another guy in the room. They'll come out of the bathroom and say, 'Oh, I just wanked one out.'…This was unheard of when I grew up."
If straight men no longer avoid "gay" behaviors, for fear of being labeled "gay," why not explore one's nerve-rich nether region?
Another social force leading men straight up their keisters is feminism. Younger men are "more likely to be cool with guys doing things that are traditionally the providence of women, whether it be careers, fashion or, in this case, receptive anal play," says Schmit. This means that being penetrated, once seen as exclusively a woman's role in sex, can be fulfilled by a man, without stigma. Just like "gay" behaviors are no longer avoided for fear of being seen as "gay", so it is with "feminine" behaviors.
Then, of course, there is porn, a formative sexual influence of anyone who grew up with a DSL connection. "You used to have to buy a DVD or a video if you wanted to see porn," Glickman says. "You would only buy what you know you wanted. Now, you can anything. Sometimes, people click on things because they're curious. It's like The Food Network: You never knew you wanted to cook that until you saw someone cook it."
Learning about anal through porn has its pitfalls. Although some sites, like PornHub and xHamster, are adding educational content, most pegging videos don't include a scene preparing the butt with warm water, fingers, and lube. "That's all done off-camera," Glickman says. "They edit out the real-life things you need to do." Insisting on another Food Network analogy, Glickman says, "It's like on cooking shows; you never see any of the prep work. Half a cup of sliced bell peppers is just there on the counter."
Glickman recommends that couples interested in any kind of ass play talk about it outside a hot and heavy coital encounter. Plan ahead. And as well-made and attractive as some of the high-end prostate massages and dildo harnesses are, start small—literally.
"First explore with your fingers," Glickman says. "Your first purchase should be some lube and plastic gloves."