I’m a 16 year old boy, and for as long as I can remember I have been attracted to girls and yet rarely able to feel comfortable around them and get to know them. I’ve always been a nice person (the friendly guy) but without that many actual close friends who are girls. Recently I’ve noticed I am turned on (and everything that follows that) with the thought of receiving anal. Yet when I actually tried to see what anal was like through porn (I know this isn’t realistic) I really didn’t like it (to be polite). People have sometimes quietly thought of me as homosexual as I’ve never had a girlfriend and now I’m really not sure about myself? There are so many bad stereotypes and public jokes about gays I don’t think its worth considering? I guess if I could fall in love with a girl and kiss her I would be far more confident…but I shouldn’t need this! Advice please?
Heather Corinna replies:
There are gay or bisexual men who love or like anal sex, it’s true. But there are also gay or bisexual men who don’t like it, or who just aren’t interested in it. There are heterosexual men who don’t like anal sex or aren’t interested in it, either. There are also heterosexual men who like or love it. And for all of these groups, all of that goes for being on either end of anal sex, as it were, and for people with partners of any or every gender. Human sexuality is incredibly diverse, and all someone liking a given kind of sex can usually tell us by itself is that someone likes that kind of sex. That’s it.
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Whether or not someone of any gender is curious about, wants, fantasizes about or takes part in anal sex in any way doesn’t tell us a darn thing about their orientation. Now, if and when a guy fantasizes about it, wants or or engages in it with other men, then that is an indication that guy probably is attracted to other men (though maybe not just men: being attracted to other men doesn’t always mean only being attracted to men), but that’s still not about anal sex specifically. That same guy might also feel that way about kissing and who he kisses, but if he told people he was interested in kissing — just kissing, not kissing any given gender of people — you wouldn’t hear anyone suggesting that probably means he’s gay, right?
Everyone has an anus. Some people enjoy engaging their anuses or those of others sexually, some don’t, and who’s who isn’t about sexual orientation. Wanting or enjoying anal sex is not any kind of bellwether of being gay or of being any orientation, just like wanting or enjoying kissing isn’t.
Why do some people think it is? Some of this is as trite as a lot of people being uncomfortable with that part of their anatomy. Many people have strong, negative feelings about bottoms and the things that can go into them or come out of them. Some of those feelings can really flavor some folks’ feelings about anal sex and spin their ideas into some wacky places. Fear or shame have the capacity to sometimes cause otherwise smart people to say or think things that are seriously stupid.
Some people have the idea that for someone to engage in any kind of receptive sex — in other words, where they’re the “catcher” and not the “pitcher” — means that person must not be a man, because that’s only something for women or people who some folks consider “not real men.” And for some people whose definition masculine also means only heterosexual, gay or bisexual men fall into that classification of “not man.” Often as part and parcel of that, or separate from it, some people think that being a person with a sticking-in body part taking in another person’s sticking-out body part means being subordinate: in other words, think means a receptive partner is automatically underneath or on the bottom of a power dynamic where the other person is in charge or on top. And when we’re talking about guys and butts, for some people, their idea of being a “real man” means always being on top or in charge in interpersonal situations, including sex, therefore, to them, a guy being a receptive sex partner means he isn’t masculine.
Not only is all of that something many of us disagree with when it comes to plain old logic (and something many of us find offensive to pretty much everyone), it’s something almost all of us who work in sexuality disagree with simply because we know that who is and who isn’t the receptive partner in sex isn’t about gender, and what gender or sex someone is doesn’t determine what they’ll be curious about, want or like sexually, nor what position, if any, they are in any kind of power hierarchy.
We know that people of all genders and orientations mix it up quite a lot when it comes to sex and sexual roles, and that people of all genders may or may not enjoy being receptive partners in sex (and also that some people may enjoy it sometimes but not others; with this partner, but not that one). And just like we don’t think or have any indication that men who want or enjoy receptive sex aren’t “real men,” we don’t think or have any indication that women who don’t enjoy receptive sex aren’t “real.” We’re all real, and our gender identities are what they are and, ideally, nothing anyone should need to prove to or have proven by anyone else. Most of us who work in sexuality have a big problem with the idea that what kind of sex someone thinks about, wants or engages in tells us anything at all about somone’s gender, both because we know ideas like that tend to impact many people’s sense of self, sexuality and sexual lives negatively, and because we know that those ideas just don’t reflect the sexual realities of many, many people.
You’re right: there’s also a lot of homophobia out there and a whole lot of hating on those of us who are queer. At the same time, we can say the same thing about gender, about disability, about race, about being poor, about being an abuse survivor, about being a teenager: the list of groups who get dissed by others goes on and on and on. There are a lot of crappy stereotypes and bad jokes about many, many groups of people, particularly people of any minority or people with less rights or agency than others, but I’d say that’s not a sound criteria to try and figure out who we are or want we want.
Those jokes or stereotypes also should not be considered as sound sources which can tell you any kind of truths about what’s it’s like to be a member of that group. If someone got the idea it must suck to be gay from people who have bias against gay people who say it does, that’s not sound. People hating on other people tend to be the least credible people about who they’re hating on, not the most credible. Someone who hates on women is not the person I’m going to be looking to to tell me what it’s like to be a woman or to tell me what value I might find in being one.
Rather than leading with ideas about orientations from others, or other’s opinions of who we might or must be, I think our energy is much better invested in just feeling out and figuring out who we are and what we want, being true to ourselves in that way, and discounting and dismissing stereotypes and discrimination, rather than giving those things any kind of authority. A lot of that is going to be something we do by ourselves, but we often want some help or feedback along the way. When we do, the sound places to get it are going to be from people who are open-minded, supportive, educated and thoughtful, not closed-minded, nonsupportive, ignorant or hateful.
This is, of course, assuming that you are thinking about your orientation, which it seemed you were. But if when you talk about being gay being something “worth considering,” you mean you think it’s something you need to consider just because you’re interested in anal sex, or just because you think you’re supposed to, then know you certainly don’t have to. When many of us think about whether or not we might be queer, it’s not usually an intellectual exercise, or something we consider because, in general orientation as something to consider holds merit. It’s usually something people consider and question because of internal feelings they have that suggest to them they are or might be.
If you want to try and get a better sense of what your orientation is, rather than focusing on what parts of your body you might want to explore sexually or what groups of people you don’t feel comfortable around, what you want to look at is what groups of people, on individuals, you tend to feel sexual or romantic attraction to; what groups of people or individuals you’d want to pursue those kinds of relationships with, ideally, or already have. In trying to sort out orientation, you want to think about the ways you feel like a magnet that is pulled towards other people (or not), not about what, if any ways, you might feel like a magnet that is pushed away from others or pushes away others.
I haven’t heard you say you feel any attraction to men, so I have no sense of if you feel or have felt that at all, and, if so, to what degree. I do hear you saying you feel attracted to girls and that that’s what is most familiar to you and what you have a long history with. So, let’s go ahead and let it be a given that you can be attracted to girls. Unless that changes for you, or you find that while you can be attracted to girls, but are usually, if not almost always, attracted to men, homosexuality, as it’s usually defined, is probably not where you’re at.
On the whole, when someone is heterosexual (or straight), that usually means they find they are only or mostly attracted to people of a different sex or gender than they are. When someone is homosexual (gay or lesbian), that usually means they are only or mostly attracted to people of the same or similar sex or gender as theirs. When someone is bisexual or pansexual, that usually means someone find they can be attracted to people of either the same or similar sex or gender or of a different one. These aren’t the only three words we have to talk about orientation or sexual identity around gender, mind you. Some people identify as queer, some people as questioning; some people identify as asexual, some people construct their own language or combine terms, some people don’t identify as anything at all, either because they just don’t know where they fit or because they just don’t want to have or feel like they have an identity around this. There’s a big spectrum when it comes to orientation, and I don’t know where you fall on it, but since you already know you feel attracted to girls, that might be the soundest place for you to start.
I also hear you saying you feel uncomfortable around girls. That doesn’t really tell us anything about orientation because feeling sexual or romantic attraction to someone or a group of people doesn’t mean we’ll feel comfortable with them. Those feelings can be strong or unfamiliar, and make us feel uncomfortable all by themselves: a lot of people experience those feelings as uncomfortable and feel nervous or anxious around people they have them for, especially at first. As well, how comfortable any of us feel socially, period, or with certain people, varies. So, who knows if the lack of comfort you feel has anything to do with your orientation and, if it does, what it has to do with it. If it helps, know that aversion — feeling really turned off, repulsed or uncomfortable by someone or a group of people, rather than just being disinterested — often isn’t part of orientation: again, orientation is about attraction.
It seems to me like in trying to sort this out, the outstanding question is what, if any, sexual or romantic attraction you have to guys. You might have an easy answer to that right this very second, or you might feel unsure at this point: remember that this isn’t something you have to figure out right now, nor is sexual orientation something most people figure out very quickly. More often than not, it’s something that people kind of come to over time, based on having an increasing sense of… and often, also, a relationship or attraction history to look back at. For sure, some people do have a strong sense of what their orientation is in their teens or even earlier, and for some of them, that orientation will feel right to them for a lifetime. Others may have strong feelings one way, but experience a shift sometime in life, some even more than once.
Sometimes, though, people need more time to get to these answers about our orientation. It’s not crystal-clear right at the gate for everyone: some people aren’t sure about this for decades. On top of that, if people feel like any orientation is a wrong answer, if one possible truth feels very scary or unacceptable, rather than, again, just not something we feel into, it can be way tougher to get to that truth. That can happen a lot for people who aren’t heterosexual because we all live in a world more accepting of heterosexuality than of other orientations.
You also already know that porn can be a poor place to figure out what you like. You’re right: a lot of porn is not realistic in a whole lot of ways. For instance, some of the interpersonal dynamics between partners you have seen in porn around anal sex might have been very one-note, when in real life, the dynamics people have when engaging in those kinds of sex, just like with every other kind, can vary widely. For instance, just because someone’s bottom is being engaged doesn’t mean that person has to be the bottom, that a partner is enjoying humiliating another person or having them experience pain. Those are some ways people can engage in anal sex or other kinds of sex, but only some: in real-life, sexual dynamics are all over the map.
Who is what orientation is also not something people can easily figure — or figure at all — based on who has or hasn’t dated who. Not everyone has the same opportunities to date. Not everyone has the same wants and needs with relationships, nor the same preferences or broadness of attraction to others: some people may find it very easy to find the kind of person they want to date and who wants to date them. Others may find it very challenging. And we don’t all always want to be dating at all, even if we do have sexual or romantic desires, and even if we are attracted to people who we could have dating relationships with. So, again, while I don’t know what your orientation is, what I do know is that the best expert on that is going to be you, and what other people are assuming based on this kind of non-criteria isn’t sound. Whether it’s about orientation or anything else, the surface r [at assumptions people make about us are often inaccurate, and we’re going to know more about ourselves than they are.
If you feel like you’re a straight guy and find that when you do fall in love with or kiss a girl that makes you feel more confident in that, that’s okay. I don’t see a need to make judgments about what is or isn’t okay for you to feel would make you feel better about your orientation when it’s about things I assume and hope will be something mutually pleasant and that you and the other person in that equation both want when it happens. Kissing someone we want to kiss usually does make us feel good, including emotionally. Falling in love, while it can be a bit of a rollercoaster sometimes, often does feel very good, and having people fall in love with us can certainly be something that makes us feel good about ourselves. If you’re straight and either or both of those things make you feel good about being straight, so what? You get to feel good about kisses, and you get to feel good about whatever your orientation is, including if it’s heterosexual.
I hope you know there are no wrongs or rights here, nor are there orientations which are acceptable and others that aren’t. Whoever you are and whoever you’re attracted to, that’s who you are and who you’re attracted to. And if and when you do pursue romantic or sexual relationships, as long as you do that with integrity — with care and respect for yourself and others — it really is all good. Of course, that doesn’t mean everyone will feel that way or have that kind of acceptance for all people of all orientations. Not everyone will. But when people don’t, that’s about their failings, not the failing of people they have bigotry or bias about. The same goes for what sexual activities you might choose to engage in: what they do or don’t mean to you isn’t something someone else can put on you. Only you get to determine their meaning or import, whether we’re talking about what you want and like, what your orientation is, or what you think about your gender.
My hope is that whatever conclusions you come to with any of this, they’ll be conclusions that support who you are, what you uniquely want and feel good about for yourself, and will support a sexual and romantic life that is really about you as a person — not about what other people think you should be or want — and makes you feel good about you, whoever you turns out to be.
Here are a few links that might give you some more food for thought about all of this:
- With Pleasure: A View of Whole Sexual Anatomy for Every Body
- Q is for Questioning
- Let’s Get Metaphysical: The Etiquette of Entry
- Genderpalooza! A Sex & Gender Primer
- 10 of the Best Things You Can Do for Your Sexual Self (at Any Age)
- I like gay male porn, but gay men in real life freak me out.