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A Brief History of Homosexuality and Bisexuality in Ancient China

By Zachary Zane

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Bisexuality and homosexuality in Ancient Greece is (relatively) well-documented and understood, but same-sex love and romance in Ancient China is a little more complex and speculative.
Still, there is recorded documentation of same-sex relationships in each of Ancient China’s many dynasties, and there are many things we know about how bisexuality manifested itself during those times. Similar to Greece, there wasn’t a strict divide between “gay,” “straight,” and “bisexual,” and in Ancient Chinese times, it’s believed that same-sex relationships were more commonplace.

To increase your knowledge of queer history, here’s some factoids about bisexuality and homosexuality from the time of Ancient China. (Unsurprisingly, many of the historic accounts of homosexuality take the form of stories/myths, so we’ll share some of those too.)

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Ancient Chinese Terminology

Let’s start with some Classical Chinese terminology, which is quite fascinating. There were two common phrases for men who engage in same-sex relationships in Classical Chinese, which are sometimes (though not often) used today: “The passion of the cut sleeve” (斷袖之癖)  and the “divided peach” (分桃).

Modern Chinese slang is equally as interesting, with Baboon (狒狒) being the literal translation of what Westerners call a bear-chaser and monkey (猴子) being the literal translation of what Westerners call a twink. 0 is also a symbol for bottom (0 is supposed to reference an anus) and 1 is a reference for top (1 being a symbol of the penis). So naturally, .5 means vers.

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The History of the Cut Sleeve and Same-sex Relationships and Intimacy among Emperors of the Han dynasty.

We can probably guess your response when you first read the term “the cut sleeve,” (Is it a euphemism for a circumcised penis?! What does it mean?!) but there’s actually a heartwarming story that explains it. Emperor Ai of the Han Dynasty who ruled from 7 to 1 BC took the throne when he was 20. He was very much known for his homosexual, proclivities, we’ll call them. One morning, Ai’s lover Dong Xian was still asleep in bed, lying on Ai’s robes. Instead of waking Dong Xian, Ai cut off his sleeve to let his lover continue to sleep peacefully.

But Emperor Ai wasn’t the only emperor of the Han Dynasty (206 BC to 220 AD) that had same-sex sexual relationships. The Han records show that nearly every emperor that ruled during the Han Dynasty had same-sex lovers (10 of the 13) in addition to their wives and female concubines.

After the Han Dynasty, ancient Chinese people were more tolerant of same-sex relationships, assuming it didn’t get in the way of eventually marrying (a woman) and starting a family.

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The Tears of Lord Long Yang

Another passionate same-sex love story comes from Lord Long Yang who was lovers with the King of Wei. The two men were fishing, and together they caught an impressively large fish. Then, they happened to catch an even bigger fish, so the king threw away the first one. Suddenly, Long Yang broke out into tears. When the King asked him what was wrong, Long Yang replied that he was afraid he would be treated like the first fish. When the king found someone newer and more impressive, he’d be thrown away too. Moved, the King of Wei issued a decree stating that “Whoever shall dare speak of beauties in my presence will have his whole clan extirpated [destroyed].”

(Isn’t that adorable? I mean, possessive and nuts, but also adorable?) Anyway, that’s why “Long Yang” is a another reference to same-sex love in China.

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In Classical Chinese, the pronouns he, she, and it were written with the same gender-neutral character, tā (他). If only English learned from Classical Chinese, instead of differentiating gender with obnoxious pronouns…

Because of this, there’s more ambiguity with regards to same-sex relationships occurring in classical Chinese texts. Many stories can be read as either homosexual or heterosexual depending on the reader’s desire. Also, many ancient writings were written by men with a female voice (or persona), further complicating as to whether the work was intended to be heterosexual or homosexual.

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The switch of attitudes against same-sex relationships in the 19th century

Ancient Chinese attitudes towards same-sex couples were pretty relaxed (assuming it didn’t interfere with heterosexual marriage and procreation), but of course, that’s not the case with China today. It’s unclear what exactly caused the attitude shift toward same-sex couples, but many scholars credit modern China’s homophobia/biphobia and disapproval of same-sex relationships to the country’s adoption of Western viewpoints of homosexuality.

In the 19th century, the idea of the “modern homosexual” was born in the West, and with it, the birth of the “modern heterosexual” whose behaviors and sexual activities were opposite of the modern homosexual. It’s believed China picked up some of the new Western perspectives concerning homosexuality in the 19th century, which dichotomized sexuality, eventually demonizing same-sex relationships.

Complete Article HERE!

What Happens To Men Who Stay Abstinent Until Marriage?

by Sarah Diefendorf

Russell Wilson and his girlfriend Ciara

Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson and his girlfriend Ciara arrive at a White House State Dinner in April.

Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson and his girlfriend, the singer Ciara, recently announced plans to remain sexually abstinent until marriage.

It was a vow that came as a surprise to many. After all, sexual purity is a commitment that is historically expected of, associated with – even demanded of – women. However, sexual abstinence is not something assumed of men, especially men like Russell Wilson.

Wilson, an accomplished, attractive athlete, embodies contemporary ideals of masculinity, which include style, wealth and, yes, sexual prowess.

So how does a man like Russell Wilson navigate a commitment to abstinence while upholding ideals of masculinity? Wilson’s status as an athlete and heartthrob is likely giving him what sociologist CJ Pascoe calls “jock insurance.” In other words, due to his celebrity status, he can make traditionally nonmasculine choices without having his masculinity questioned.

But what does it mean for a man who isn’t in the limelight, who makes a similar type of commitment to abstinence? And what does it mean for the women they date, and might eventually marry?

I’ve been researching men who pledge sexual abstinence since 2008, work that comes out of a larger scholarly interest in masculinities, religion and sex education.

While men make this commitment with the good intentions for a fulfilling marriage and sex life, my research indicates that the beliefs about sexuality and gender that come hand in hand with these pledges of abstinence do not necessarily make for an easy transition to a married sexual life.

Who’s Pledging “Purity?”

Comedian Joy Behar recently joked that abstinence is what you do after you’ve been married for a long time. Here, Behar makes two assumptions. One is that sexual activity declines both with age and the time spent in a relationship. This is true.

The second is that abstinence is not something you do before marriage. For the most part, this is true as well: by age 21, 85% of men and 81% of women in the United States have engaged in sexual intercourse.

purity ringIf we compare these numbers to the average age of first marriage in the United States – 27 for women, and 29 for men – we get the picture: most people are having sex before marriage.

Still, some in the United States are making “virginity pledges,” and commit to abstinence until marriage. Most of the data that exist on this practice show that those who make the pledges will do so in high school, often by either signing a pledge card or donning a purity ring.

Research on this population tells us a few things: that those who pledge are more likely to be young women, and that – regardless of gender – an abstinence pledge delays the onset of sexual activity by only 18 months. Furthermore, taking a virginity pledge will often encourage other types of sexual behavior.

Virgins In Guyland

But little is known about men who pledge and navigate this commitment to abstinence.

I was curious about how men maintain pledges in light of these statistics, and also balance them with expectations about masculinity. So in 2008, I began researching a support group of 15 men at an Evangelical church in the Southwest. All members were white, in their early to mid-20’s, single or casually dating – and supporting each other in their decisions to remain abstinent until marriage.

The group, called The River, met once a week, where, sitting on couches, eating pizza or talking about video games, they’d eventually gravitate toward the topic that brought them all together in the first place: sex.

On the surface, it would seem impossible for these men to participate in what sociologist Michael Kimmel calls “Guyland” – a developmental and social stage driven by a “guy code” that demands, among other things, sexual conquest and detached intimacy.

Rather, the men of The River approach sex as something sacred, a gift from God meant to be enjoyed in the confines of the marriage bed. At the same time, these men struggle with what they describe as the “beastly elements” – or temptations – of sexuality. And it is precisely because of these so-called beastly elements that these men find each other in the same space every week.

The men of The River grappled with pornography use, masturbation, lust and same-sex desire, all of which can potentially derail these men from their pledge.

It raises an interesting dilemma: to these men, sex is both sacred and beastly. Yet the way they navigate this seeming contradiction actually allows them to exert their masculinity in line with the demands of Guyland.

Group members had an elaborate network of accountability partners to help them resist temptations. For example, one had an accountability partner who viewed his weekly online browsing history to make sure he wasn’t looking at pornography. Another accountability partner texted him each night to make sure that he and his girlfriend were “behaving.”

While these behaviors may seem unusual, they work in ways that allow men to actually assert their masculinity. Through what sociologist Amy Wilkins calls “collective performances of temptation,” these men are able to discuss just how difficult it is to refrain from the beastly urges; in this way, they reinforce the norm that they are highly sexual men, even in the absence of sexual activity.

The River, as a support group, works largely in the same way. These men are able to confirm their sexual desires in a homosocial space – similar to Kimmel’s research in Guyland – from which Kimmel notes that the “actual experience of sex pales in comparison to the experience of talking about sex.”

A ‘Sacred Gift’ – With Mixed Returns

The men of The River believed that the time and work required to maintain these pledges would pay off in the form of a happy and healthy marriage.

Ciara, in discussing her commitment to abstinence with Russell Wilson, similarly added that she believes such a promise is important for creating a foundation of love and friendship. She stated that, “if we have that [base] that strong, we can conquer anything with our love.”

So what happened once after the men of The River got married? In 2011, I followed up with them.

All but one had gotten married. But while the transition to married life brought promises of enjoying their “sacred gift from God,” this gift was fraught.

Respondents reported that they still struggled with the beastly elements of sexuality. They also had the added concern of extramarital affairs. Furthermore – and perhaps most importantly – men no longer had the support to work through these temptations.

There were two reasons behind this development.

First, respondents had been told, since they were young, that women were nonsexual. At the same time, these men had also been taught that their wives would be available for their pleasure.

It’s a double standard that’s in line with longstanding cultural ideals of the relationship between femininity and purity. But it’s a contradiction that leaves men unwilling to open up to the very women they’re having sex with.

These married men and women were not talking to each other about sex. Rather than freely discussing sex or temptation with their wives (as they had done with their accountability partners), the men simply tried to suppress temptation by imagining the devastation any sexual deviations might cause their wives.

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After marriage, the men felt left to their own devices.

Second, these men could no longer reach out to their support networks due to their own ideals of masculinity. They had been promised a sacred gift: a sexually active, happy marriage. Yet many weren’t fully satisfied, as evidenced by the continued tension between the sacred and beastly. However, to open up about these continued struggles would be to admit failure as masculine, Christian man.

In the end, the research indicates that a pledge of sexual abstinence works to uphold an ideal of masculinity that disadvantages both men and women.

After 25 years of being told that sex is something dangerous that needs to be controlled, the transition to married (and sexual) life is difficult, at best, while leaving men without the support they need. Women, meanwhile, are often left out of the conversation entirely.

So when we urge abstinence in place of healthy conversations about sex and sexuality, we may be undermining the relationships that are the driving goal of these commitments in the first place.

Complete Article HERE!

Making a Marriage Work; A Primer For Sexual Success

I’m preparing a workshop for recently engaged couples. I expect there will be about a dozen couples attending. While most of the participants will be preparing for their first marriage, there will be at least two couples working on their second marriage. My experience tells me that regardless of how many turns one takes on the merry-go-round anxiety about sexual compatibility, particularly for the long haul, abounds.

One of the best resources out there for those considering a sexually exclusive traditional marriage is Esther Perel’s controversial book, Mating in Captivity: Reconciling the Erotic and the Domestic.  Her thesis is that increased emotional intimacy between partners often leads to less sexual passion. I’ve been preaching the same sermon for nearly 30 years. But I assure you; there are ways around this predictable stumbling block.

Here we have Paige, age 22 from Tulsa. OK.

I am engaged to a wonderful guy. I’m excited about my upcoming marriage, but I’m also afraid that it will fail. I know you are going to think we’re freaks, but my fiancé and I have decided to save ourselves for after we are married. Some of our friends even our recently married friends are having trouble with their relationship and with the divorce rate so high, what are the chances that my marriage will work? Do I just have cold feet or am I not ready to get married?

First off, I don’t think you’re a freak for reserving full sexual expression till after you’re married. It wasn’t too long ago when that was the norm. But even people who enter marriage as established sex partners aren’t assured success.

I caution you to jettison any Pollyanna notion you might have about marriage being a breeze, or that all you need is love. These are dangerous fictions. Your recently married friends have problems because there are always problems in a marriage. It’s the nature of relationships. Hopefully, the problems you guys will face won’t be insurmountable, but sure as shootin’ problems will be your constant companions, even big problems. So count on it and prepare yourself accordingly.

You can also be assured that the problems you will encounter, regardless of their nature, will impact on your sex life together. Money concerns, the stresses of a career, kids, in-laws, you name it will all influence how you perceive your spouse. Nothing dampens ardor like financial difficulties or meddlesome relatives.

So Paige, rather than focus on the nature of your sex life as you enter your marriage, may I suggest that you concentrate on the bigger picture. And in order to do that you need to ask; why do most traditional, sexually exclusive marriages flounder? They crumble because they can’t bear up under the strain of the couple’s expectations for each other. Simply stated, they want too much from their spouse. They expect companionship, economic support and family for sure, but they also expect their partner to be their best friend, confidant and passionate lover. That’s a pretty tall order to fill for a single individual. Who wouldn’t have cool feet, or even be frozen in place, faced with those daunting expectations.

A lot of engaged couples overly concern themselves with the sexual viability or their relationship. My sense is that sexual concerns, by themselves, don’t tax a marriage to the point of breaking. You’ll notice that I said, ’sexual concerns, by themselves’. While sex and intimacy issues are indeed real and sometimes overwhelming, it’s the underpinnings of the relationship that bring these sexual issues into stark relief. Let me give you an example.

Say I’ve just spent 60 hours this past week at work; I get snarled in traffic on my commute every single day. I drag my sorry ass home to a loving partner, who may have been looking forward to an amorous night of sex play. But I’m completely fagged out, so to speak. I simply don’t have an interest in the old slap and tickle. It’s not that I don’t love my spouse; I do! I don’t have the energy to even squeeze one off by myself, let alone please and pleasure my partner.

Or say I’ve been caring for a house full of sick, ornery kids all day; and freaking out about our family’s precarious financial situation. I have barely the time and energy to rustle together some grub for the brood, when my loving partner, who may have been looking forward to an amorous night of sex play, arrives back at the homestead with stars in his/her eyes. I’m exhausted; and the idea of a tussle in the sack is the last thing on my mind. It’s not that I don’t love my spouse; on the contrary. I just don’t feel attractive, interesting, or more importantly, randy.

As these examples point out it’s not that the sexual energy has flown the coop. More often than not couples who face the tribulations of life together redirect their energy into resolving more pressing concerns than gearing up for sex. The reason I know this for certain is, if I were to take this stressed out couple away from the humdrum of their day-to-day, and land them on a tropical beach without a care in the world; I know for certain they’d fuck like bunnies.

Another example, say a couple is joined at the hip; you know the ones I’m talking about. Where one or the other partner can hardly take a trip to the loo without their spouse traipsing along. Many couples think this kind of closeness is a sign of their love and fidelity, and it may very well be for them. But I can guarantee this kind of familiarity will also stifle sexual passion. The truth of the matter is erotic fervor is dependent on at least a modicum of mystery. If I know my partner like the back of my hand, I’m less likely to see him/her as a sexual object; in the same sexual way as when we were courting.

This also can be proven. Why is the chick at work, who I have virtually nothing in common with, such a turn on? How is it that my yoga instructor, someone I hardly know and who pays me no attention, make me wet? It’s the mystery or the forbidden that jacks up the sexual tension.

The way I see it is passionate sex is dependent on a good deal of sexual tension. This kind of tension dissipates with time and it takes a great deal of work to keep that tension alive. Most couples don’t invest that kind of energy; even though they may pay lip service to the notion that they want the passion to continue.

Intimacy, on the other hand, is dependent on domestic tranquility, in other words, the elimination of tension in the relationship; regrettably this also includes sexual tension. And since most couples desire intimacy over sex they choose (either consciously or not) the path of domestic tranquility. But the result can be the kind of sexual frustration so many married people report.

I’ve been to a lot of wedding; and I’ve officiated at more than I can count. I’ve helped numerous couples construct their vows. Generally the first thing they want to say to each other is something like: “I promise to be your best friend, your confidant; your constant companion. Sound familiar? I thought it might. What I never hear is: “I promise to always be up for all your hot monkey love.” Not only would that vow be a showstopper; it would be an impossible promise to keep, unless you’re a blow-up doll. Frankly, it’s so much easier being a best friend or confident than the sexual siren that will be the answer to all your erotic dreams after we’re married for a few years.

Sexual exclusivity is at the heart of the romantic ideal. That’s why sexual infidelity is such a bugaboo in our culture. But the truth of the matter is, sustaining a model where marriage is the font from which all fulfillment flows is simply unrealistic. Maybe if we expect sexual exclusivity from our spouse, we ought to manage our other expectations of him/her (best friend, confidant, etc.) more pragmatically.

I am of the mind that since more than 50% of marriages in this country end in divorce; we must look at the relationship model we are laboring under. Maybe the romantic ideal is simply an illusion. I mean we can’t honestly try to explain away the divorce rate by saying all these couples simply married the wrong people. Know what I mean?

The parameters of a healthy, successful marriage will need to expand and contract with the stresses put upon it; it is after all a living entity. The balance between dependence and independence will constantly shift; so will the power dynamic in the relationship. Carve these things in stone and you will be mark a grave, not milestones on a path to growth.

Good luck

Middle-aged sex without the mid-life crisis

More people are dating in middle age, but are they looking after their sexual health?

A regular, happy sex life can benefit our physical, mental, emotional and social wellbeing, improving health and prolonging life

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With more middle-aged people dating, or starting new relationships than ever before, are we taking enough care and consideration of our sexual health?

When we think of the faces behind recent statistics that are showing a rise in sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), we probably picture someone young. Those irresponsible students and twentysomethings playing around and not thinking through the consequences of their actions. But not so much. It is becoming clear that a large proportion of people contributing to those statistics are in fact, middle-aged. The Irish Family Planning Association (IFPA) annual report highlighted an increase in women aged over 50 coming to the clinics for sexual health services, including sexually transmitted infection screening and menopause check-ups.

The association said there was a perception that once women reached menopause, that they no long needed sexual health services. But that’s not the case. Minding our sexual health all through our life is as important as looking after our physical and mental health.

Unplanned pregnancies

For many women, perhaps coming out of a long marriage or relationship, they perhaps don’t seem to think they have to go back to the good old days of contraception and protection. Yet there are more unplanned pregnancies in the 40-plus age group than the younger ages.

“We definitely see an innocence and a lack of knowledge in middle-aged women seeking our services,” says Caitriona Henchion, medical director of the IFPA. “We see women not knowing if they need emergency contraception or whether they are experiencing menopausal symptoms. They’re not sure even in their late 40s and early 50s whether they still need contraception.”

The recommendation for contraception is very simple, yet perhaps not widely known. Until you have not experienced periods for two full years and you are under the age of 50, or one full year without periods after the age of 50, you need to still consider contraception. Amid constant talk of falling fertility as we age, many women are confused about their contraception needs.

This lack of knowledge about sexual health needs is apparent not just in the number of unplanned pregnancies in older women, but the rise of STDs in that age group as well. According to Henchion, advice from GPs can sometimes vary in quality and quantity, and so any sexually active woman over the age of 40 needs to seriously consider both her health risks and contraception needs.

Regular screening

The recommendation is that anyone who is sexually active needs regular screening. This seems to be something that many women feel unable to do. But emerging from a marriage or long-term relationship where the partner may have had other sexual partners means that STD screening is imperative.

“Discovering an unfaithful partner is a really common reason that we see older women coming to our clinics for screening,” says Henchion. “Our advice would be that the first thing to consider when starting with new partners is to ensure you have safer sex with condoms.”

But condoms don’t protect against everything, so the recommendation from the IFPA would be that if in sexual relationships you need to have testing twice a year.

“Obviously the people I see are a self-selecting group who are sexually active and attending our services, but certainly I would see a lot more people in the 50-plus [group] who are openly talking about their wants and needs and their problems with it, which is great,” explains Henchion. Who they do not see are the men and women not seeking sexual health services, or asking openly about their needs

One of the reasons there is a rise in general of STDs is because far more tests are being carried out, and therefore, more positive results. The tests are better now for chlamydia and gonorrhoea, so whereas a few years ago tests had less than 75 per cent detection rate, today it is 99 per cent. The tests themselves are simple. For men with no symptoms it is a straightforward urine sample and blood test, and for a woman, a vaginal swab and blood test in a nurse-led clinic.

Simple rule

According to Henchion, “the simple rule would be if you have a new partner for a few weeks, get tested.” But for many people, we perhaps don’t even know what to look for.

The top three STDs in terms of prevalence would be chlamydia, warts and herpes, and although many of the symptoms are obvious such as bleeding or physical warts, in more than 50 per cent of cases there are no symptoms. How many cases are picked up is through automatic testing when going for certain contraception options such as the coil.

Henchion believes we need better sex education and awareness for all generations. “I see 21-year-olds coming in with no understanding of how STDs such as herpes and warts can still be spread even though they are using condoms. And for sexually active people in middle age, there is often a significant lack of knowledge.”

For now, until sexual health education is more widely available, there are plenty of support services including GPs, well woman/well man sexual health clinics and the Guide Clinic at St James’s Hospital. The IFPA offers free advice, and there are plenty of online services such as HealthyIreland.ie.

“The key message is that early detection makes a huge difference in reducing risk of pelvic infection and obviously reducing the risk of passing it on,” warns Henchion. “Anyone, whatever age, who is sexually active needs to mind their sexual health.”

Middle-aged, single and on fire – or talking ourselves celibate?

For many women who have reached the supposed sexual prime of their 40s and 50s, their body image is shattered along with their energy. A recent survey suggested some women in this age bracket have the lowest confidence of any other age group regarding body image, and it’s affecting their sex lives. Yet another survey highlighted the fact that some women in middle age are having the best sex of their lives. If both surveys are right, is it all just down to attitude, and can changing your attitude change your sexual mojo?

In the two decades since the iconic shenanigans of the “man-eater” Samantha shocked a nation in Sex and the City (while women everywhere sniggered at the delight of it), middle-age sex is becoming mainstream. The BBC were at it with Happy Valley, and even Cold Feet caught up. First time round, Adam and co were in their youth, but now that they are heading towards 50, who is the one having all the sex? Karen. Middle-aged, single and on fire. Now that ordinary middle-aged women are being shown to be – gasp! – sexual, it begs the question: what does this mean for us? Is this liberating or intimidating?

It seems your answer to that question is the difference between having an active sex life in and beyond middle age and putting away the sexy knickers and taking out the comfy slippers.

Like tight skin and fashionable clothes, sex used to be the domain of the young. But now middle-aged women can have tight skin, fashionable clothes and sex as well. It all depends on your attitude. If you think your sex life is over at 50, it will be.

“Attitude is so important,” says sex therapist Kate McCabe. “I see women challenging traditional values and beliefs that you are past it sexually after a certain age. Women are having babies later, new relationships later, are mentally and physically healthier and anxious to be active and participate fully in every aspect of their lives.”

In fact, a regular, happy sex life can benefit our physical, mental, emotional and social wellbeing, improving health and prolonging life. This generation of middle-aged women have opportunities to redefine what stereotype they fit into, experiencing greater sexual, financial, social and intellectual freedom than at any previous time. Contraception has meant we are not overburdened with childbearing, and openness about sex means that issues which might have caused discomfort and difficulty can be addressed. The increase in divorce and separation now means that middle-aged dating is an acceptable social norm.

So why are all middle-aged women not taking advantage of the chance to flirt their 50s away and sex up their 60s

“Sex must be worth it,” explains McCabe. “I see women who come into therapy to see how they can best improve their sex life, even to the extent that they’ll bring in their partners and manage to engage in that conversation.

And it’s women of all ages. McCabe has clients in their 60s and 70s. “They are definitely getting out there, and they want really good, honest information on how to make the most of their sexual potential.”

But what about those women who are talking themselves celibate because of lack of confidence? Media plays a huge part in how women can often rate themselves. According to McCabe, feeling sensual has nothing to do with how you look.

“Finding intimacy is a brave step. Overcoming hang-ups to really explore our own sensuality is vital. And much of it relies on getting the right attitude.”

Complete Article HERE!

Why Straight Rural Men Have Gay ‘Bud-Sex’ With Each Other

 

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A lot of men have sex with other men but don’t identify as gay or bisexual. A subset of these men who have sex with men, or MSM, live lives that are, in all respects other than their occasional homosexual encounters, quite straight and traditionally masculine — they have wives and families, they embrace various masculine norms, and so on. They are able to, in effect, compartmentalize an aspect of their sex lives in a way that prevents it from blurring into or complicating their more public identities. Sociologists are quite interested in this phenomenon because it can tell us a lot about how humans interpret thorny questions of identity and sexual desire and cultural expectations.

Last year, NYU Press published the fascinating book Not Gay: Sex Between Straight White Men by the University of California, Riverside, gender and sexuality professor Jane Ward. In it, Ward explored various subcultures in which what could be called “straight homosexual sex” abounds — not just in the ones you’d expect, like the military and fraternities, but also biker gangs and conservative suburban neighborhoods — to better understand how the participants in these encounters experienced and explained their attractions, identities, and rendezvous. But not all straight MSM have gotten the same level of research attention. One relatively neglected such group, argues the University of Oregon sociology doctoral student Tony Silva in a new paper in Gender & Society, is rural, white, straight men (well, neglected if you set aside Brokeback Mountain).

Silva sought to find out more about these men, so he recruited 19 from men-for-men casual-encounters boards on Craigslist and interviewed them, for about an hour and a half each, about their sexual habits, lives, and senses of identity. All were from rural areas of Missouri, Illinois, Oregon, Washington, or Idaho, places known for their “social conservatism and predominant white populations.” The sample skewed a bit on the older side, with 14 of the 19 men in their 50s or older, and most identified exclusively as exclusively or mostly straight, with a few responses along the lines of “Straight but bi, but more straight.”

Since this is a qualitative rather than a quantitative study, it’s important to recognize that the particular men recruited by Silva weren’t necessarily representative of, well, anything. These were just the guys who agreed to participate in an academic’s research project after they saw an ad for it on Craigslist. But the point of Silva’s project was less to draw any sweeping conclusions about either this subset of straight MSM, or the population as a whole, than to listen to their stories and compare them to the narratives uncovered by Ward and various other researchers.

Specifically, Silva was trying to understand better the interplay between “normative rural masculinity” — the set of mores and norms that defines what it means to be a rural man — and these men’s sexual encounters. In doing so, he introduces a really interesting and catchy concept, “bud-sex”:

Ward (2015) examines dudesex, a type of male–male sex that white, masculine, straight men in urban or military contexts frame as a way to bond and build masculinity with other, similar “bros.” Carrillo and Hoffman (2016) refer to their primarily urban participants as heteroflexible, given that they were exclusively or primarily attracted to women. While the participants in this study share overlap with those groups, they also frame their same-sex sex in subtly different ways: not as an opportunity to bond with urban “bros,” and only sometimes—but not always—as a novel sexual pursuit, given that they had sexual attractions all across the spectrum. Instead, as Silva (forthcoming) explores, the participants reinforced their straightness through unconventional interpretations of same-sex sex: as “helpin’ a buddy out,” relieving “urges,” acting on sexual desires for men without sexual attractions to them, relieving general sexual needs, and/or a way to act on sexual attractions. “Bud-sex” captures these interpretations, as well as how the participants had sex and with whom they partnered. The specific type of sex the participants had with other men—bud-sex—cemented their rural masculinity and heterosexuality, and distinguishes them from other MSM.

This idea of homosexual sex cementing heterosexuality and traditional, rural masculinity certainly feels counterintuitive, but it clicks a little once you read some of the specific findings from Silva’s interviews. The most important thing to keep in mind here is that rural masculinity is “[c]entral to the men’s self-understanding.” Quoting another researcher, Silva notes that it guides their “thoughts, tastes, and practices. It provides them with their fundamental sense of self; it structures how they understand the world around them; and it influences how they codify sameness and difference.” As with just about all straight MSM, there’s a tension at work: How can these men do what they’re doing without it threatening parts of their identity that feel vital to who they are?

In some of the subcultures Ward studied, straight MSM were able to reinterpret homosexual identity as actually strengthening their heterosexual identities. So it was with Silva’s subjects as well — they found ways to cast their homosexual liaisons as reaffirming their rural masculinity. One way they did so was by seeking out partners who were similar to them. “This is a key element of bud-sex,” writes Silva. “Partnering with other men similarly privileged on several intersecting axes—gender, race, and sexual identity—allowed the participants to normalize and authenticate their sexual experiences as normatively masculine.” In other words: If you, a straight guy from the country, once in a while have sex with other straight guys from the country, it doesn’t threaten your straight, rural identity as much as it would if instead you, for example, traveled to the nearest major metro area and tried to pick up dudes at a gay bar. You’re not the sort of man who would go to a gay bar — you’re not gay!

It’s difficult here not to slip into the old middle-school joke of “It’s not gay if …” — “It’s not gay” if your eyes are closed, or the lights are off, or you’re best friends — but that’s actually what the men in Silva’s study did, in a sense:

As Cain [one of the interview subjects] said, “I’m really not drawn to what I would consider really effeminate faggot type[s],” but he does “like the masculine looking guy who maybe is more bi.” Similarly, Matt (60) explained, “If they’re too flamboyant they just turn me off,” and Jack noted, “Femininity in a man is a turn off.” Ryan (60) explained, “I’m not comfortable around femme” and “masculinity is what attracts me,” while David shared that “Femme guys don’t do anything for me at all, in fact actually I don’t care for ’em.” Jon shared, “I don’t really like flamin’ queers.” Mike (50) similarly said, “I don’t want the effeminate ones, I want the manly guys … If I wanted someone that acts girlish, I got a wife at home.” Jeff (38) prefers masculinity because “I guess I perceive men who are feminine want to hang out … have companionship, and make it last two or three hours.”

In other words: It’s not gay if the guy you’re having sex with doesn’t seem gay at all. Or consider the preferences of Marcus, another one of Silva’s interview subjects:

A guy that I would consider more like me, that gets blowjobs from guys every once in a while, doesn’t do it every day. I know that there are a lot of guys out there that are like me … they’re manly guys, and doing manly stuff, and just happen to have oral sex with men every once in a while [chuckles]. So, that’s why I kinda prefer those types of guys … It [also] seems that … more masculine guys wouldn’t harass me, I guess, hound me all the time, send me 1000 emails, “Hey, you want to get together today … hey, what about now.” And there’s a thought in my head that a more feminine or gay guy would want me to come around more. […] Straight guys, I think I identify with them more because that’s kinda, like [how] I feel myself. And bi guys, the same way. We can talk about women, there [have] been times where we’ve watched hetero porn, before we got started or whatever, so I kinda prefer that. [And] because I’m not attracted, it’s very off-putting when somebody acts gay, and I feel like a lot of gay guys, just kinda put off that gay vibe, I’ll call it, I guess, and that’s very off-putting to me.

This, of course, is similar to the way many straight men talk about women — it’s nice to have them around and it’s (of course) great to have sex with them, but they’re so clingy. Overall, it’s just more fun to hang out around masculine guys who share your straight-guy preferences and vocabulary, and who are less emotionally demanding.

One way to interpret this is as defensiveness, of course — these men aren’t actually straight, but identify that way for a number of reasons, including “internalized heterosexism, participation in other-sex marriage and childrearing [which could be complicated if they came out as bi or gay], and enjoyment of straight privilege and culture,” writes Silva. After Jane Ward’s book came out last year, Rich Juzwiak laid out a critique in Gawker that I also saw in many of the responses to my Q&A with her: While Ward sidestepped the question of her subjects’ “actual” sexual orientations — “I am not concerned with whether the men I describe in this book are ‘really’ straight or gay,” she wrote — it should matter. As Juzwiak put it: “Given the cultural incentives that remain for a straight-seeming gay, given the long-road to self-acceptance that makes many feel incapable or fearful of honestly answering questions about identity—which would undoubtedly alter the often vague data that provide the basis for Ward’s arguments—it seems that one should care about the wide canyon between what men claim they are and what they actually are.” In other words, Ward sidestepped an important political and rights minefield by taking her subjects’ claims about their sexuality more or less at face value.

There are certainly some good reasons for sociologists and others to not examine individuals’ claims about their identities too critically. But still: Juzwiak’s critique is important, and it looms large in the background of one particular segment of Silva’s paper. Actually, it turned out, some of Silva’s subjects really weren’t all that opposed to a certain level of deeper engagement with their bud-sex buds, at least when it came to their “regulars,” or the men they hooked up with habitually:

While relationships with regulars were free of romance and deep emotional ties, they were not necessarily devoid of feeling; participants enjoyed regulars for multiple reasons: convenience, comfort, sexual compatibility, or even friendship. Pat described a typical meetup with his regular: “We talk for an hour or so, over coffee … then we’ll go get a blowjob and then, part our ways.” Similarly, Richard noted, “Sex is a very small part of our relationship. It’s more friends, we discuss politics … all sorts of shit.” Likewise, with several of his regulars Billy noted, “I go on road trips, drink beer, go down to the city [to] look at chicks, go out and eat, shoot pool, I got one friend I hike with. It normally leads to sex, but we go out and do activities other than we meet and suck.” While Kevin noted that his regular relationship “has no emotional connection at all,” it also has a friendship-like quality, as evidenced by occasional visits and sleepovers despite almost 100 miles of distance. Similarly, David noted, “If my wife’s gone for a weekend … I’ll go to his place and spend a night or two with him … we obviously do things other than sex, so yeah we go to dinner, go out and go shopping, stuff like that.” Jack explained that with his regular “we connected on Craigslist … [and] became good friends, in addition to havin’ sex … we just made a connection … But there was no love at all.” Thus, bud-sex is predicated on rejecting romantic attachment and deep emotional ties, but not all emotion.

Whatever else is going on here, clearly these men are getting some companionship out of these relationships. It isn’t just about sex if you make a point of getting coffee, and especially if you spend nights together, go shopping or out to dinner, and so on. But there are sturdy incentives in place for them to not take that step of identifying, or identifying fully, as gay or bi. Instead, they frame their bud-sex, even when it’s accompanied by other forms of intimacy, in a way that reinforces their rural, straight masculinity.

It’s important to note that this isn’t some rational decision where the men sit down, list the pros and cons, and say, “Well, I guess coming out just won’t maximize my happiness and well-being.” It’s more subtle than that, given the osmosis-like way we all absorb social norms and mores. In all likelihood, when Silva’s subjects say they’re straight, they mean it: That’s how they feel. But it’s hard not to get the sense that maybe some of them would be happier, or would have made different life decisions, if they had had access to a different, less constricted vocabulary to describe what they want — and who they are.

Complete Article HERE!