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Is pegging gay?

On a hot-button issue

Q: Please help me with a dumb argument I’ve had with my older brother. He’s got stupid old school ideas about gender and sexuality, even though he’s not expressly homophobic or anything. Somehow pegging came up, and even though it’s not something I’ve tried, I can imagine the appeal. There are a lot of nerves back there. But he’s insistent that if a woman did anything to his butthole, even a tongue or a finger: that would be gay. He even said being “dominated by a woman” is on the spectrum of being gay, which is absurd. Like I said, it was a very dumb argument and there were a lot of Seinfeldian “not that there’s anything wrong with that” comments about being gay. I don’t even know where to start with debating such a ridiculous idea and I figured you could explain why he’s an idiot. 

WOW. There is a lot to unpack there… not the least of which is that saying “not that there’s anything wrong with that” doesn’t negate homophobia any more than it does by saying “with all due respect” before calling someone a puerile dipshit.

First, let me agree that yes, that is a stupid fucking argument, but it also touches on some of the most enduring philosophical discussions around sexuality. Somewhere there are a bunch of undergrads arguing about Foucault, sex and power right now, and the only real difference between them and you two is that they use the term “discourse” a bunch.

Instead of rehashing what dead historians and philosophers have said about it, let’s break down the facts.

FACT ONE: Buttholes have lots of nerves

As you mentioned, there is a lot of sensation around the anus, thanks to a combination of delicate tissue and the pudendal nerve. Something as simple as a hard poo can ruin your day, while a well-timed (and lubed) finger can significantly elevate a sexual situation. This is regardless of gender or sexuality. Anal pleasure (or pain) is not the exclusive provenance of any demographic.

Knowing that someone is interested in anal play tells you nothing about their level of gayness, other than the fact gay men are less likely to have cultural hang ups about it.

For people with prostates, there is an obvious added bonus to penetrative stimulation; but for a person with a vagina, anal penetration can also stimulate the much disputed G spot, evoking an orgasm as well. Knowing that someone is interested in anal play tells you nothing about their level of gayness, other than the fact gay men are less likely to have cultural hang ups about it.

FACT TWO: Body parts (and sexual acts) do not have sexual orientations

There’s a perception that when two penis-havers hook up, there will always be anal play, yet that’s wildly untrue. Some gay men never engage in anal sex at all, meanwhile plenty of heteros and queer women do. It has a lot more to do with comfort with experimentation and perceptions of what is normal.

Then there’s lived practice and the way it shapes our associations. Maybe the best head you get is consistently from people of one gender. That doesn’t necessarily mean you’re only (or even more) attracted to that gender. But it might mean that you seek out those people as sexual partners more often, contributing to the process of how you identify. But sexual orientation is a huge constellation of factors, not just how your gender compares to the gender of the people you most like to fuck.

FACT THREE: Most of our gender norms are about power and dominance

When we talk about what non-sexual activity is and is not gay, we’re really discussing whether we think it’s feminine. It’s not that it’s “gay” to paint your nails or wear sparkles, it’s just coded as feminine. Plenty of decidedly gay men have sucked plenty of dick without being into feminine stuff and plenty of dedicated heterosexual men enjoy activities that were arbitrarily labeled as “for girls.” What we’re actually discussing is whether a man loses masculinity points – and therefore male power – by enjoying things that we have culturally associated with women.

And when we talk about whether a sexual activity is masculine or feminine, we’re really talking about whether it’s dominant. That’s why some men believe it’s possible for any sex act with a woman to be called “gay.” The Sopranos expertly satirized this idea in an episode about whether or not it was gay for a man to eat pussy.

Plenty of decidedly gay men have sucked plenty of dick without being into feminine stuff and plenty of dedicated heterosexual men enjoy activities that were arbitrarily labeled as ‘for girls.’

This is also why in highly macho spaces, it’s possible for men to engage in sexual violence against other men without believing it makes them any less heterosexual. To these men sex is intrinsically about power. Sexual assault has nothing to do with desire and everything to do with violence.

IN SUMMATION: Your brother has a lot of unlearning to do

One day I hope the only conversations we have about whether or not something is gay are about whether or not it’s GOOD enough for that label. In the meantime, if your brother is truly not homophobic or wants to be a person who holds beliefs that can stand up to the tiniest bit of scrutiny, hopefully he’ll think on these points.

Right now we have generations of men who are missing out on pleasure because of needless taboo associations and in so doing, are reinforcing some of the grossest parts of our culture. And we can simply all do better.

Have a question for Dr. Timaree? Send an email to asktimaree@philadelphiaweekly.com.

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    • Timaree Schmit Headshot

      Timaree Schmit is basically an episode of Adam Ruins Everything, but in the shape of a person. She has a PhD in Human Sexuality Education and years of experience in community organizing, performance art, and finding the extra weird pockets of Philly.

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