It was when I heard Leonard Cohen sing “give me crack and anal sex” on his 1992 album, The Future, that I realized that not everybody shared my sunny view of sodomy.
“I’ve seen the future, brother, it is murder,” continued Lennie, who elsewhere on the same album crooned, “From the fires of the homeless, from the ashes of the gay/Democracy is coming to the USA,” as if democracy was some ominous force that would put an end to us all.
My favourite sex-positive heterosexual poet seemed to be blaming the act of rear entry itself for overturning “the order of the soul.”
After Cohen it just got worse. That same year, William D Gairdner’s hysterically conservative book The War Against The Family had just come out – and so had I. In the Cole’s bookstore of the small town I lived near, I furtively browsed Gairdner’s book (’cause it had the word “homosexual” in the index, something I always looked for in those days), and read all about the filthy habits of gay men, including ingesting feces, seeing their bodies shut down from misuse and dying off, all the while destroying society as we know it.
My first few years of gay life were spent avoiding butt sex; I was sure this strategy was my ticket to a long life. In the face of my subtle rejections, several sex partners guessed that I was avoiding condoms and kept steaming ahead – a suggestion that made me run from the room.
In mainstream culture, buggery has always been degrading for the recipient. Think of the rape scenes in Pulp Fiction (1994), Deliverance (1972), Fortune And Men’s Eyes (1971) and even the current cable prison hit, Oz. Sodomy is packed tightly with the idea of humiliation and authority, with its demi-monde cast of rogue cops, hillbillies, prisoners, prison guards, sailors and biker gang members.
Supposed pain as the source of pleasure was a nod to homosexual self-loathing, to not being man enough and to suffering for it. And the term “Greek love” suggested not only anal sex, but man-boy love, the initiator and the initiated, the taker and the taken. Even in gay porn, the bottom often lacks a hard-on, as if someone going through such a traumatic experience could hardly be expected to show excitement.
The tragedy of AIDS seemed to back up a distaste for anal sex. Some safe-sex advocates in the US have suggested that the way to reduce HIV transmission is to de-emphasize anal sex in favour of oral. Gabriel Rotello, author of 1997’s Sexual Ecology: AIDS And The Destiny Of Gay Men, suggests that that if gay men of the 1970s avoided non-monogamous anal sex, the epidemic would not have happened.
Amidst all this anxiety, one of the most vitriolic battles I’ve been witnessing lately is between safe sex “condom every time” supporters and barebacking activists, who would like to stamp out condom use for gay men. Bareback promoters are even lobbying adult video companies to stop producing condomed porn – condom commercials, as they call them.
Well, all of this seems a glum treatment of a great source of pleasure. I can’t believe all the years I wasted worrying about it. Sure, issues of health and power circle around our butt holes. But these are side issues that should not distract from the fun they can offer. Anal sex in its purest, most pleasure-giving form is central to gay life. The physical sensations it offers, the trust and intimacy involved add up to one of the most satisfying sex acts.
Recently a friend of mine in his 30s told me he rarely had butt sex. It wasn’t worth the trouble, he said. I shook my head and thought, what a waste.
Paul Gallant is Features Editor for Xtra.