What Happens To Our Bodies When We’re Fucking?
We all love comics, don’t we? I mean, they’re so versatile. You could make them all mushy and talk about love, or get all dark about it, or even personify life as a jumped up psychopath out to fuck you up!
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The act itself was fervent. Like a brisk tennis game or a summer track meet, something performed in daylight between competitors. The cheap mattress bounced. She liked to do it more than once, and he was usually able to comply. Bourbon was his gasoline. Between sessions, he poured it at the counter while she lay panting on the sheets. Sweat burnished her body. The lean neck. The surprisingly full breasts. He would down another glass and return.
He closed his eyes and heard himself make a gurgling sound. And as his trousers slipped down his legs all the burdens of his life to date seemed to fall away from him; he tipped back his head and faced up into the darkness beneath the ceiling, and for one blessed moment he felt as if he could understand the things of this world in all their immeasurable beauty. How strange they are, he thought, life and all of these things. Then he felt Anezka slide down before him to the floor, felt her hands grab his naked buttocks and draw him to her. “Come, sonny boy!” he heard her whisper, and with a smile he let go.
The walkway to the terminal was all carpet, no oxygen. Dilly bundled Finn into the first restroom on offer, locked the cubicle door and pulled at his leather belt. “You’re beautiful,” she told him, going down on to her haunches and unzipping him. He watched her passport rise gradually out of the back pocket of her jeans in time with the rhythmic bobbing of her buttocks as she sucked him. He arched over her back and took hold of the passport before it landed on the pimpled floor. Despite the immediate circumstances, human nature obliged him to take a look at her passport photo.
When his hand goes to my breasts, my feet are envious. I slide my hands down his back, all along his spine, rutted with bone like mud ridges in a dry field, to the audacious swell below. His finger is inside me, his thumb circling, and I spill like grain from a bucket. He is panting, still running his race. I laugh at the incongruous size of him, sticking to his stomach and escaping from the springing hair below.
Once they were in that room, Jason had slammed the door and devoured her with his mouth, his hands, which were everywhere. As if he were ravenous.
And she remembered standing in front of him, her dress a puddle on the floor, and how she’d started to shake, her knees knocking together, like she was a virgin, like this was the first time. Because had she allowed herself to hope, this was what she would’ve hoped for. And now here it was. And that was terrifying.
Jason had taken her hand and placed it over his bare chest, to his heart, which was pounding wildly, in tandem with hers. She’d thought he was just excited, turned on.
It had not occurred to her that he might be terrified, too.
She pushed on my hips, an order that thrust me in. I entered her. Not only my prick, but the whole of me entered her, into her guts, into her darkness, eyes wide open, seeing nothing. My whole body had gone inside her. I went in with her thrusts and stayed still. While I got used to the quiet and the pulsing of my blood in my ears and nose, she pushed me out a little, then in again. She did it again and again, holding me with force and moving me to the rhythm of the surf. She wiggled her breasts beneath my hands and intensified the pushing. I went in up to my groin and came out almost entirely. My body was her gearstick.
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Philip Larkin famously announced that sexual intercourse began in 1963 (“Between the end of the ‘Chatterley’ ban / And the Beatles’ first LP”). Being French, and a psychiatrist to boot, Philippe Brenot takes a rather longer view. In his latest book, The Story of Sex, a bestseller in France, he runs an anthropological eye over the sexual mores of human societies from prehistoric times to today. Yet Brenot believes that the sexual revolution did spark a dramatic change, creating the modern couple, which is the basis of our families today. Now, however, he thinks this partnership of equals is under assault from all sides.
The academic, who has the wonderful title of director of sexology at Paris Descartes University, has spent his life studying sexuality. The Story of Sex is an irreverent, graphic novel (in both senses), filled with fascinating – if alarming – history. Cleopatra used a vibrator filled with bees; the word “trousers” was considered to be positively pornographic in Victorian England. Illustrator Laetitia Coryn’s extremely cheeky, but never sordid, pictures liven up the page and keep the narrative zipping along. The book was a real collaboration, says Coryn, who says it was made easier by Brenot’s firm ideas – and the fact he liked her jokes.
The illustrator admits she hesitated slightly over collaborating on the book. “I told my publisher we have to be careful with the drawings and with the jokes – we have to be sensitive,” she says, because she wanted the book to have as wide an audience as possible. “I didn’t put any porn in it!” As a reader, however, the frankness of the pictures still shocked me (you, er, might not want to whip out the book on public transport or in the office).
Talking to Brenot over the phone (through charmingly accented English that becomes somewhat eccentric as he struggles with the complexities of his ideas) it’s impossible to escape the psychiatrist’s anxiety about our attitudes to love and intimacy today. We have never been freer to define our own relationships, and follow our own pleasure, he says, but despite this we are far from satisfied; and the modern couple is looking dangerously fragile.
“It’s incredible the difficulties couples have,” Brenot declares, in a tone that makes me imagine he is throwing his hands in the air in despair. Of the couples he sees in therapy, he says, “there is nothing wrong with them psychologically, but still they cannot communicate quietly, live calmly and have sexual fulfilment”.
While we think of lovers as a timeless relationship model, it has been the family that has been paramount in society for most of history, the 68-year-old says. “The couple used to get together for the sake of the family,” he explains. And the idea of equality in long-term pairings is even more recent, with “traditional” marriages putting men firmly in charge of their spouses.
“Love marriages have only been widespread for a century or so, and homosexuality was condemned until very recently,” Brenot notes.
“Since the 1970s, we have begun to invent modern couples with respect for each other and equality between the sexes,” he says. “This only came about after ‘marriage’ as a concept began dying out. Not because people stopped getting married, but because marriage stopped being seen as a sacred union – couples instead started developing on their own terms.”
Yet the rise in divorces since the 1970s and breakups of long-term relationships shows that the modern couple is not surviving, Brenot argues. In part, he says, this is because we are demanding more than ever before.
“It is difficult to live intimately, because we want perfect love and perfect sex and that is very difficult in a long-term relationship. We want a lot more than a reliable person to raise kids with.”
The solution, he says, is for us all to learn more about sex – which is where his book comes in. “It’s not possible to understand our intimate sex lives without looking at centuries of history, and even the origins of human life,” he says. “We understand what we live today if we understand from where we came.”
For instance, he says, if we look at the way relationships were formed in early human societies we can see echoes of our own problems. “We came from primates, but in chimp society there are never couples or families. There are lone males and females with children.” It was only as our brains evolved and emotions developed – including love – that monogamous relationships set in. For the first time (“somewhere between 1 million BC and 100,000BC”), it was possible to know the paternity of a child.
While the beginning of family life may sound like a wonderful moment, Brenot argues that it was also the start of women’s subjugation, with men taking possession of their female partner and offspring – which traditional marriage legalised. “Paternity is the beginning of male domination,” says Brenot simply. “The day that happened, men took possession of women.”
In the animal kingdom, Brenot argues, there is none of the domination of female partners that has been a hallmark of human societies through history, nor is there domestic violence. Instead, among animals “males fight against other males and females fight with other females,” he says.
“Violence between men and women is only in humans – because of marriage, which puts men above women.”
During antiquity, meanwhile, a woman’s role was to provide a child – and female sexual pleasure was dismissed. But this role was also a dangerous one. “There were so many impediments to female pleasure. In the 18th and 19th centuries, one in six pregnant women died in childbirth. Then there were the infections and sexual violence.”
For men, of course, things were different. “Men have always done what they wanted,” says Brenot.
Even for men, sex for pleasure was something that happened “outside the home – for instance with prostitutes. Women were seen either to provide offspring or pleasure.” In ancient Rome, these rules were so strictly upheld that women could take their husbands to court for ejaculating anywhere but inside her body during intercourse, “because sex within marriage was for procreation, and the wife’s role was to receive sperm”.
Even during periods that today we think of as being golden ages for same-sex relationships, such pleasures were “reserved for the elite” – and the reality was often less accepting than we think. In ancient Greece, for instance, it was only the man who was “receiving” who was not stigmatised in a pairing. Similarly for the libertines in the 18th century, “there was a fluid sexuality, but it was also the top end of society – the intelligentsia and aristocracy. Throughout the centuries and the world’s rural populations, to be gay – or for women to have control of their own sexuality – has always been frowned upon.”
Today too, Brenot argues, while much has been written about more people exploring fluid sexualities, entering polyamorous relationships and breaking down gender norms, “we shouldn’t make the mistake of thinking that this is trickling down to all sections of society”. And he warns too about a backlash from “new moralists” who oppose gay marriage, and will, no doubt, do the same for trans rights and alternative relationships as they gain more legal rights. Coryn says this is one of the reasons she enjoyed creating the book. “In France, people who don’t want gay people to be married, is a huge phenomenon. It’s awful. We say in the book this is a misunderstanding of sexuality; homosexuality is normal. I hope this is one topic on which people will change their mind in reading the book.”
For heterosexual couples, relationships began to look up about the time of the Renaissance and Enlightenment. Up until this period, “men were having fun outside the home – hunting animals or chasing women. While women were always at home,” says Brenot. But the new spirit of education and the pursuit of knowledge changed this. Finally, says Brenot, men and women could be friends and even have platonic love.
Yet it took contraception for men and women to gain a semblance of equality. Previously “women were immobilised by marriage. They can’t get out of it, they don’t have the possibility of working or being free. The story of sex is, first of all, the story of marriage and the difficulties [it creates] for women.”
To start combating the problems that these historical inequalities have left us with, the psychiatrist insists, we need better sexual education, and one that starts at an early age. “People think sexuality is just an instinct,” he says, “that it is natural like eating and drinking. No. There is no gene that drives sexuality. All sexuality is learned.”
Because of this, says Brenot, the models for our sexuality are very important. Today, talking about sex is still taboo, and the dissemination of pornography has filled the void. “People say pornography changes adolescent life. But it changes everyone’s sexuality,” he says. “We have sex differently now; we try to imitate what we see [on our screens]. People feel bad and say, ‘I can’t do what they do.’”
To displace this dangerous model, “sexual education should teach the rules that should govern relationships; it should teach us about communication, about consent and respect. This is not natural [to us]. We have to learn this.”
Coryn says that while the Story of Sex is not a sexual education manual, “we wanted it to be uninhibited”, to make talking about sex seem as natural as it should be.
“From the time children are little girls and boys, we have to teach them that everyone should be respected and to start accepting difference,” says Brenot. But, he says, while men and women are equal, that does not mean that they are the same. Railing against the teaching of “gender studies” departments, he says that a refusal to admit this difference is allowing gender inequality to become entrenched.
“They say, ‘Don’t speak of differences – a man is the same as a woman. Society is guilty of making differences, but underneath we are the same.’”
Unpicking these ideas, he says, is the only way to combat our most pressing problems. For example, “physical strength is different from a very young age. So [children] need to understand boys are stronger and take that into account – because that is the start of domestic violence, which is a real problem.”
If we leave this teaching too late, he says, the battle is already lost: “In children’s fairy stories it is the boy who seduces the girl, so there is power play early on.” Then there is the fact men have always been free to have multiple partners throughout history, because men don’t get pregnant. It is only by introducing the idea early on that “contraception is a joint responsibility” that we can challenge this.
Today’s modern couple, he points out, faces new challenges from the rise in options for dating to “new forms of relationship,” says Brenot. Yet Coryn stresses, as does Brenot, that there has never been a better time for people to live in terms of sexuality. Yet one thing has not changed, says Brenot – everyone still wants to find somebody to love. “People are afraid to be alone at the end of their life. They are afraid not to find the perfect person to live with. It is a difficult problem for everyone today.
“We have to learn how to live together anew.”
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When you’re gay, it’s hard to talk to your parents about certain things. No matter how accepting or open-minded they may be, gay relationships, gay culture, and the mechanics of gay sex will stay a mystery to them — unless, of course, one of your parents is gay — or both.
Anyone who has been out of the closet for any amount of time knows that “gay” is more than a label to define your sexuality. It is a core part of your identity, and words like “queer,” “bi,” and “LGBTQ” constitute a significant part of your life — your people, your language, and your interests, both politically and socially. These words define a culture that our straight parents will never fully know. They may watch softened depictions of it on Modern Family, but they have never sung drunk karaoke at your favorite gay watering hole or queened out to Britney. They’ve never danced in a sea of sweaty men till 6 a.m. and they have no idea what Nasty Pig is.
Much of our culture can be hard to explain. Poppers and anal plugs will probably never warrant a conversation with mom, but other conversations — about PrEP and nonmonogamy, for example — can lead to greater understandings. Here’s a list of all those things gay men don’t talk about with their parents, with a small smattering of advice on how to do so!
The thought of you having sex with another man crossed your parents’ minds from the moment they found out you were gay. Though they would never admit it, they still wonder about it from time to time. The image flashes when they’re trying to go to sleep, when they’re taking the dog out for a walk. Like many straight people, they may be clueless as to how it all works and may mistakenly believe it to be a very messy business. But douching — the process of cleaning out the anal cavity before sex — is one of those off-limits topics, one I would never bring with to them.
One way to hint at it without having to say anything is to have your parents over to your place for a night where there is, regrettably, only one shower. You must conveniently forget to unscrew the metal douching hose from its attachment at the side of your shower head. I’m not saying you should picture your mother naked, but envision her standing in your shower, looking through your assortment of overpriced sugar scrubs, charcoal-infused body bars, and organic, woodsy-smelling shampoos, and frowning over that dangling hose with the phallic-shaped metal attachment at the end. Then, hopefully, it will click, and she’ll deduce that your sex is not quite as messy as she thought.
When I’m talking to guys on Scruff whose profiles read “No PnP,” I usually ask, “Do you use poppers?” Most frequently, the answer is, “Sure. Love poppers.”
Poppers, while still a drug, are so mild that many gay men do not consider them in the same “sex drug” category that Tina (crystal meth) and G fall into. They’ve become staples of gay sex, gay culture, and gay history. We’ve been using them since the ’70s for their particular power of relaxing the anal sphincter for a few minutes, just long enough to get sex revved up. But if you try to explain the process of inhaling alkyl nitrites — video head cleaner — to your parents, they will likely conjure the imagine of junkies snorting glue in the school supplies aisle.
As with many items on this list, you could make the reasonable argument that poppers — like most facets of gay sex — never need to be brought up to your parents, since your sex life is not any of their business. But if they ever wonder why you have a few small amber bottles of some chemical that smells like nail polish in the freezer, poppers may inadvertently become a discussion topic in the kitchen.
Even if you don’t do it, you know someone who does. Fisting has long lost its shock value in gay circles, and has crossed over from dark sex dungeons into the arena of mainstream gay life. Many guys who aren’t regularly seen in leather harnesses now enjoy fisting. But imagine explaining to Dad how some guys take hands (and more) up the anus — especially when the idea of taking an erect penis up there is already outside the realm of his imagination. Many people, gay and straight, do not believe — or have not accepted — that fisting, when done safely and correctly, does not create long-term damage and can be an incredibly passionate and enjoyable sexual experience.
Even though words like “slay” and “werq” have broken into the straight lexicon — primarily thanks to RuPaul’s Drag Race — the art and culture of drag is still a queer creation and belongs to us. Straight people are welcome to enjoy drag shows at their local gay bar, so long as they tip, but theirs is not a history of disenfranchisement and oppression, abuse and homelessness, poverty and sex work — a queer history in which drag emerged as an act of self-empowerment.
Drag can be hard to explain to your parents. It was hard to explain to mine. My parents assumed that all gay men dress up in women’s clothes and sing diva power ballads, so the concept of drag was indistinguishable from the rest of gay life to them. They could not appreciate drag’s cultural importance because it’s not their culture, and they did not understand its complicated history with the transgender movement because they do not understand, and refuse to understand, the concept of transgender identity.
To them, as well as to many others, drag artists and trans people are the same thing — a deeply incorrect assumption that has led to something of a modern cultural rift between trans activists and the drag world. The two camps have an overlapped history, since many trans folks first discovered their true identities through drag. In the ’60s, ’70s, and ’80s, when the concept of “transgender” was not as developed as it is today, many transgender people could only express themselves through drag art. As our cultural understandings both of drag and transgender identity have evolved, the two have split, and the burden has fallen on many transgender folks and trans activists to highlight and explain the significant difference between the two. Many people, my parents included, consider a trans woman to be “a man in a dress” — essentially a drag performer — and the phrase has become a terribly offensive slur against transgender women.
Take your parents to a drag show. Give them bills to tip the queens. (This assumes that your parents, unlike mine, are wiling to set foot in a gay bar.) Let them see drag in all its ferocity and kitschy wonder, then afterward, walking home, highlight the fact that what they saw was performance art, a toss-up between cabaret and camp. Explain to them that even if a transgender person does drag, the drag is the performance, but their trans identity is not. Regardless of what someone does onstage, transgender identity is a person’s authentic identity. “While drag is done for an audience, coming out as transgender is done solely for oneself,” a trans friend once told me. “And it is just as healthy and important to do as any coming-out, any form of self-acceptance that your mental health depends on.”
The labels will be the bane and the delight of your gay life. Gay men have long established the bizarre practice of defining and stereotyping ourselves into labels based on body type and sex practices. In the gay lexicon, burly, hairy men over a certain age are “bears.” Young bears are “cubs.” Skinnier, scruffier guys are “otters.” Young, lean, hairless guys are “twinks.” Guys into puppy play (a kink scene that was listed on my list of 30 kinky terms every gay man should know) who enjoy the “pup” role are “pups,” both in and out of the scene. Guys who prefer condomless sex are “pigs.” Tall, skinny gay guys are “giraffes” (a lesser-known label).
How did we come up with these? Regardless of where they came from, and in spite of their much-debated value, the labels are likely here to stay. While they are common parts of our speak, your parents would probably be confused to learn that you think bears are sexy or that your boyfriend is a puppy.
Nonmonogamy works out for gay men. In fact, this writer believes that nonmonogamous pairings, open and semi-open relationships, and relationships with relaxed sexual parameters are ideal for us — much more so than the monogamous alternative. The concept of nonmonogamy may seem foreign to our parents. Having a frank conversation about the parameters of your particular gay relationship with your parents may be awkward, but it can lead to something good. Explaining the distinction between sex and love may not leave everyone in agreement, especially if your parents are religious, conservative, or both. But at the very least, it will be an illuminating window into your life.
Gay men are still disproportionately affected by HIV compared to our straight counterparts. While no one needs to come out as HIV-positive, least of all to their parents, many poz gay men choose to do so at some point, for various reasons. Coming out to my parents about my status was hard; I did it the same morning an op-ed I wrote about coming out as poz was published in The Advocate last December.
Many of our parents remember the early days of the AIDS epidemic, so the news can be hard for them. They may mistakenly believe that the outlook for an HIV-positive person in 2016 is the same as it was 30 years ago. Most well-informed gay men, particularly those who live in urban areas, are up to speed on modern HIV care and know that with antiretroviral treatment, HIV has become a livable chronic illness that is more preventable today than ever before. Our parents aren’t accustomed to seeing testing trucks outside of gay clubs or HIV pamphlets disseminated in chic gayborhoods, so they will probably need some information to alleviate the initial fear. Give them resources and time.
There may never be a need to talk about your once-daily Truvada pill to your parents, but if they see the medicine bottle by the sink one day when the family is sharing a beach condo, you need to have answers ready.
PrEP is the once-a-day pill regimen for HIV-negative people that has proven extremely effective at preventing HIV transmission. Statistically, it’s more reliable than regular condom use. Upon initial explanation, your parents will likely respond the way many have responded to PrEP and see it as an excuse to have raucous unprotected sex. Even if you are having raucous condomless sex, you will have to explain to them that you are still protected from HIV.
Just as your parents have been envisioning your sex from the moment they first learned you were gay, they have been wondering “what you do.” When/if they meet your boyfriend, they will wonder “what he does.” They won’t say it aloud, but they wonder, late at night, after the dinner dishes have been put away, whether you’re the top or the bottom. (I always find it remarkable how straight people assume every gay man is one or the other — versatile guys don’t exist in straight visions of gay sex.)
Like douching, this is one I will never talk about to my parents, no matter how chummy we get.
My parents know I am gay. They know I am having sex. They know I date and have sex with other men. But they do not know and will not be told how much I love having used underwear stuffed in my mouth and my wrists tied together with duct tape. The only time I ever came close to explaining my kink practices was at the beach a few years ago when I realized there were still red caning lines on my butt and legs. I lay in the tanning bed to darken the skin around the marks and opted for a pair of baggier, less flattering board shorts.
While kink is not restricted to gay men, we have certainly been longtime practitioners of the rougher arts. Like drag, leather was originally our thing and has by and large remained so. Kink and fetish play are things that gay men of all stripes can at least be familiar with, and have probably dabbled in at one time or another. But it is one area of gay life that our parents may have a hard time distinguishing from rape and abuse, perversion and degeneracy. Explaining it can be tough.
Its accouterments can be hard to hide — all those ass toys and leather gear require storage, and that sling in the bedroom cannot reasonably be disguised as a place to hang laundry. Have a regimen prepared for surprise visits and dinners, and if you enjoy getting backlashes or caning down your legs, try not to do so before a family beach trip.
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