Forget the ‘Yuck Factor’: Taming Gay Sex Taboos

A Huffington Post article last Monday directed attention to
executive producer Shonda Rhimes’s pwning of a random Twitter user, who
proclaimed, “The gay scenes in Scandal
and How to Get Away with Murder are
too much. There is no point and they add nothing to the plot.” Rhimes
transformed the critical into the political: “If u use the phrase ‘gay scenes,’
u are not only LATE to the party but also NOT INVITED to the party. Bye
Felicia. #onelove.” 

In Rhimes’s response is an implicit assumption that gay sex (defined
here as sex between exactly two people who identify as male and were assigned
the male sex at birth) is, and should be, exactly the same thing as straight
sex. Still, even in social spaces in which being gay is generally
regarded as nothing out of the ordinary, there seems to be a discrepancy
between the general acceptance of queerness in people and the perpetuation of
gay sex as exotic.

Last Monday, headed out of my room at 6:30 a.m., I
discovered a line scrawled on my door’s whiteboard: “Welcome to the sex
room; enter here for some good booty.” I erased the board without thinking,
rejoicing that I had risen early enough to keep my neighbors from reading
it. I now recognize that the feeling I experienced when reading that message
was shame. If my gay sex is exactly the same as straight sex, why should I feel
shame for having it and having it often? Aren’t we supposed to be living in a
sex-positive community at Pomona?

If I was straight and my sex was with consenting women,
would I get the same reaction from my neighbors? I doubt it.

I want to emphasize how much I agree with the sentiment
behind Rhimes’s words. In an ideal world, nobody would ever even imply that the
love and impassioned sexual relations that take place between a man and a woman
differ fundamentally from those that take place between two men. In communities
like Pomona where the general social consensus leans toward the acceptance of
queer people, I think I would be hard-pressed to find someone who disagrees
with the previous statement. 

Why, then, are ‘gay scenes’ still so popular, and ‘gay sex’ such a foreign idea if being gay is widely accepted as normal? I can think of at least two reasons. 

First, many people, including heterosexuals and non-sexually
active gay men, may have trouble reconciling culturally ubiquitous notions of ‘gay sex’ with the activity itself. Since heterosexuals (obviously) do not have
gay sex, there becomes a vacuum of understanding among heterosexuals as to what
gay sex really is. That vacuum is then filled with movies like Brokeback Mountain (2005), which have
defined gay sex as random, spontaneous, illicit, infrequent and requiring a
degree of distance from civilized society to take place.

The evolution and growing general acknowledgment of apps
like Grindr, Hornet and Jack’d (location-based apps ostensibly existing to
facilitate random hookups between gay men) contribute to the stereotype of
ephemerality of gay sexual encounters. It’s hard (even for me!) to imagine gay
sex as an activity that happens frequently between two consenting adults in
a monogamous relationship in dark rooms behind closed doors—exactly the way
heterosexual sex is framed in American culture.

Heterosexual sex is
ubiquitous—it is certainly happening somewhere in the world at every moment of
every day. Few would question that, but it may be harder to fathom the same
for gay sex because the natural inclination of a person would be to think, “But
there just aren’t enough gay people!”Actually, there are. We now know (thanks
to Grindr) that gay sex is probably happening less than 4,000 feet from you
right now.

Second, there is still a bit of a ‘yuck’ factor surrounding
gay sex. My own stepmother permits heterosexual sex and forbids gay sex in the
house, arguing only that it’s “yucky,” and though I know she’s misguided, I’m
convinced the ‘yuck factor’ is actually associated with anal sex. Even though it
can take place between gay or straight partners, anal sex doesn’t come to mind
when one says “heterosexual sex,” while “gay sex” immediately conjures it up.
The ‘yuck factor’ of gay sex comes in part from the ‘poop taboo’ in Western
culture (did you know that President Obama poops?) but also in part from the
aversion of the straight man to the demasculating idea of being penetrated.

I’m convinced the student, or students, who were responsible
for leaving the note on my whiteboard saw my gay sex as illicit, marginal and
maybe a little revolting because they were incapable, thanks to popular
culture and pervasive taboo, of seeing it as simply the practice of two people
that love each other.

Overall, the ‘I’m-not-homophobic, in-fact-I-have-a-lot-of-gay-friends-but-gay-sex-is-still-kinda-yucky’ mentality is alive and well, and it
contributes to a setting-apart of gay sex from straight sex. It may be the case
today that gay as a status and gay as a role in bed are culturally distant from each other in ways heterosexuality and straight sex are not, but
I have faith this gap will close in due time. We just have to thrust it closed
a little harder.

Hunter Reardon PO ’15
is a French and politics double major. Athena Beck PO ’17 contributed to this
article.

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