Growing up, the sex education lessons that I received in school were exclusive of LGBTQ people and solely focused on intercourse between a cisgender straight man and woman. Coming into my identity as a cisgender black gay young man, I used the internet to increase my understanding of sex and healthy relationships. I found that sex included consent, trust, kissing, masturbation, oral intercourse, and more.
It was only until I had had enough of butt jokes from cisgender straight friends that I realized that they thought of relationships cisgender gay men only have penetrative anal sex. I was only able to do so much to expand their views about gay sex, especially in a climate where the lives and experiences of LGBTQ people are still stigmatized and where six states have laws that expressly forbid teachers from discussing LGBTQ issues. Fortunately, recent research proves what I was trying to illustrate so long ago — that penetrative anal sex only occurs in about a third of sexual encounters between cisgender gay men.
You might have read that statistic and thought, ”How is that possible??”
Well, the truth is, each individual, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity, has different sexual preferences, behaviors, and experiences. For instance, study participants that identified as gay reported 1,308 unique combinations of sexual behaviors. The most commonly reported behavior was kissing a partner on the mouth. It is important to note that the study was focused primarily on a single sexual event — the most recent.
Before engaging in penetrative anal sex, some cisgender gay men require a certain level of intimacy and trust. People can recognize a few signs of trust when their boundaries are respected, compassion is exhibited, and they don’t feel shame when disclosing sensitive information about their sexual health. Different people’s level of intimacy may change from person to person depending on how close they feel to them. It may take some time to develop intimacy and trust with someone — and that is ok.
In addition, penetrative anal sex can be a lot of work! There are many reasons why people may not prefer it during every sexual encounter. These include shame around sexual pleasure, power dynamics, the pressure to “properly prepare,” and the fact that it can sometimes be physically painful.
My sex education classes focused on the fact that sex should occur after marriage and only for the purpose of reproduction. There was no mention of pleasure, and peers and I would leave most lectures feeling devastated and sometimes guilty. Due to stigma, sex between two cisgender gay men sometimes reverts back to the same guilt that we experienced in class. Individuals that prefer to be the receptive anal sex partner (bottom) or those that choose to not engage in penetrative anal sex are sometimes ridiculed and judged for knowing what they want.
Nevertheless, when engaging in any type of sex, you should be reminded that you are free. Free to express your feelings, desires, and pleasures on your terms. We all deserve sex that makes us feel good. We also deserve evidence-based, medically accurate, LGBTQ-inclusive sexuality education.
“Is it normal to not like anal?”
It’s pretty normal to prefer not to have anal sex and still engage in safe, fulfilling sexual interactions. For instance, you can embark on your personal Beyond Anal Exploration by asking yourself, “What are some positions and sensitive areas on my body that satisfy me?”
For example, there are a variety of ways that you can still enjoy yourself and not have penetrative anal sex.
- Oral sex
- Sex toys
- Mutual masturbation
- Cuddling, hugging, spooning
- Frotting: a non-penetrative form sexual activity done by two individuals with penises who rub against each other
Remember: It’s okay to be a cisgender man that has sex with cisgender men and not like anal.
You should never feel coerced by anyone to engage in any behaviors you don’t feel comfortable with. Intimacy is yours and yours only. You know what makes you smile. There are tons of ways you can explore pleasurable and consensual sexual practices without feeling like you have to go back — no pun intended.
Armonte Butler is a writer and activist based in Washington, D.C. He is passionate about adolescent sexual health and supports LGBTQ youth of color and youth living with HIV to become activists and leaders in their communities, on their campuses, and at the institutional, state, and federal levels. In addition, he has conducted an array of research on gender and sexual minorities in Argentina and the Dominican Republic. He holds Bachelor of Arts degrees in Global Studies and Gender Studies from Sewanee: The University of the South.