Columns / Discourse / May 13, 2015

Peg… it will come back to you

In this week’s installment of Sex Psych, we’re maintaining focus on non-normative behavior while shifting the conversation from risky sex to queer(ed) erotic styles. Today’s column will center around heterosexual anal receptivity, that gender-reversed act known colloquially as pegging. In most cases, pegging occurs when a woman uses a strap-on dildo to anally penetrate a man, thereby upending the dominant paradigm of anal intercourse in which the female is passive recipient.

Though anal sex has been the subject of quite a bit of scholarship, the focus has largely been on male-on-female anal, itself hardly free from controversy. Not surprisingly, the taboo increases exponentially once the conversation shifts to female-on-male anal: from Freud’s anal stage, to U.S. anti-sodomy laws, to rampant homophobia and prescriptive gender roles, the notion that receptive anal sex is for women and women only has become paramount in Western culture.

…and yet, it is this very taboo, this very reversal of gender norms, that makes the act so erotically charged. It is here that pegging falls under the jurisdiction of erotic styles: once penetration enters the picture, a dynamic of top/bottom is established, wherein the role one plays in the bedroom is thought to correspond to the role one plays outside of it. The top/bottom paradigm comes directly out of mid-20th century gay culture, where prototypically speaking the top is the masculine, dominant and aggressive partner and the bottom is the feminine, submissive and passive partner.

Of course, such an understanding of sexuality and sex positions is unavoidably reductive, but the historical significance of the top/bottom dynamic nonetheless makes it worth a mention. Besides, our culture continues to draw unsubstantiated connections between sex roles and gender roles, a practice which legitimizes hegemonic masculinity and exacerbates the pressures and restrictions therein. To switch these roles up, then, is to blur accepted binaries of male/female, masculine/feminine and straight/queer; the transgression inherent in such a process can be fundamentally erotic.

In addition, the act of being penetrated is pleasurable independent of playing up passivity: pegging stimulates the prostate, or the so-called “male G-spot”. Prostate stimulation may surpass even penile stimulation in terms of pleasure, as gay men (those who frequently engage in anal sex) have considerably more partners in their lifetime than straight men. Granted, researchers generally attribute this disparity to female selectivity, but the point still stands.

Nevertheless, despite the obvious benefits of pegging, only about 7 percent of men ages 14-94 have actually indulged, according to a 2010 report. Of course, the numbers flatline because of the taboo, so the practice may actually be far more common. And if it isn’t, this reporter believes it should be: the hegemonic masculinity reinforced by the taboo of heterosexual anal receptivity leads to a patriarchal culture that’s nearly as damaging for men as it is for women.

The demand to be macho rather than “feminine” engenders a variety of destructive behaviors in young males, including, but not limited to, steroid use, excessive alcohol consumption and refusal to seek medical care for injuries or illness. Furthermore, restrictive masculinity both causes emotional problems and discourages their treatment: in the U.S. alone, men are five times more likely to die by suicide than by accident.

Finally, it’s worth noting that the very basis for the taboo, namely, that anal sex will turn a man gay (equated, in our culture, with the feminine) is both unsupported and laughably misguided: research shows that anal is four times more common among women than it is among gay men, which debunks the myth that passive penetration is an inherently gay behavior.

So, if we’ve already exploded the taboo of heterosexual anal receptivity, why not explode the masculinity of society’s macho heroes as a send off: the next time you listen to your hyper-masculine dadrock playlist, think about how Steely Dan takes its name from the dildo used in a female-on-male penetration scene in the novel Naked Lunch. And while you’re at it, why not give pegging a try as well. After all, this is your big debut, it’s like a dream come true.

Joy Westerman

Tags:  anal sex feminine gender norms hyper-masculinity pegging penetration sex positions taboo

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