Since my last blog post, "Guys on the 'Side': Looking Beyond Gay Tops and Bottoms," in which I introduced the term "sides" to describe gay men who simply don't prefer anal sex, I've received many emails from gay men who do prefer anal sex who describe the problems they encounter when they find themselves in bed with a side.
I have worked with gay couples in which one partner prefers anal sex and the other does not, and both partners tend to assume that anal sex could "happen over time." At the start, they don't put much emphasis on it, because they feel so good with each other in every other way, but over time, the honeymoon feeling wears of (as it does for all of us, sadly), and when the reality sets in, they find their sexual incompatibility painfully unacceptable. I have seen many couples break up over this issue.
If you ask people how important sexual compatibility should be in a relationship, many will judgmentally reply, "A relationship is more than sex. You found love, so get over it!" Others will play the law of averages: "Over time, interest in sex diminishes anyway." These are easy judgments to make, but they still require that each partner check in with the other to determine the importance of sex in their relationship -- especially if they choose monogamy and agree to be sexual exclusively with each other.
In my work with gay, lesbian and straight couples, the issue of sexual compatibility comes up frequently. One partner might be kinky and the other "vanilla"; one may have a higher sex drive than the other; one may prefer certain positions that the other dislikes; or both partners may be bottoms or tops. As many gay personal ads state, these things are "just a preference," but as with any individual preferences, differences can contribute to problems in a relationship.
In straight couples, if the female partner refuses to engage in oral sex or doesn't enjoy it when she does, the couple frequently drops oral sex from their sexual repertoire. They suck it up (no pun intended), so why can't gay couples when it comes to anal sex? But if you don't feel that you can go without anal sex, that's OK, but you must decide for yourself.
Things to Consider:
Do you feel any negative stigma about being a bottom?
Many gay men have internalized homophobia about being a bottom. For some time, the gay community has referred to bottoming as being passive. Even today, bottoms are often stereotyped as being closeted, sexually submissive and effeminate. It's awful how we negatively judge gay men who enjoy receiving anal sex. Even gay porn stars are often credited as tops or versatile much more often than they are credited as bottoms.
In allowing yourself to be a bottom, power dynamics can also get in the way. When it comes to anal sex, couples -- straight, lesbian or gay -- usually have issues over dominance and submissiveness. Bottoms can feel that they are giving up power and control and don't want their partners to wield all the power in their sexual relations.
In his book Anal Pleasure and Health, psychotherapist Jack Morin says, "When intercourse is a symbol of power, one or both may insist on 'equality' -- inserting half the time, receiving half the time -- as a matter of principle rather than preference. But all too often, the enjoyment of anal play becomes secondary or non-existent until the underlying power struggle is addressed."
Is anal sex physically uncomfortable to the point that you cannot enjoy it?
Rather than bite their nails, many people unconsciously react to everyday tension by squeezing their anus tightly. Others strain and push too hard during bowel movements, which leads to hemorrhoids and other anal problems. As a result, their capacity for receiving pleasure during anal sex is extremely limited, if it's not entirely physically uncomfortable. If this is the case for you, you can engage in techniques to relax the anus and begin to let it become a place of enjoyment and pleasure.
Another way to "loosen things up" is to start small. You can begin relaxing your anal muscles by introducing fingers, dildos or dilators. Start by inserting a soapy finger into your anus while showering, and over time, as you get accustomed to the sensation, insert two or more. Believe it or not, just by relaxing that area, exploring it and playing with it, your anus can become an erogenous zone.
Does a concern about cleanliness and hygiene account for part of your lack of interest?
If this is the case, then before engaging in anal sex, you can shower together or alone to make sure that the area is clean. Many people use enemas to eliminate the intrusion of fecal matter during and after intercourse; many also wear condoms for this reason (though condoms are always recommended for anal sex, of course).
Does planning ahead for sex with your partner bother you?
The above scenario would require a discussion with your partner ahead of time, but I see many couples who say that sex should be spontaneous. They say that if there has to be any prep work, it needs to be short and sweet, perhaps even part of the foreplay; otherwise, one or both partners may lose their desire or somehow feel that they aren't having "real" sex.
But the kind of spur-of-the-moment anal intercourse that we see in the movie Brokeback Mountain doesn't necessarily work in real life. Planning for sex can actually be sexy, which people find out all the time in the beginning of relationships and while having affairs. So when couples tell me that they aren't interested in sex that isn't spontaneous, I don't believe them. They often discover that there are other issues involved.
There is no one "right way" to have sex. To make it enjoyable for you both, adapt to each other's preferences.
If you want anal sex but your partner doesn't, would you consider an open relationship in order to find anal sex outside the relationship but keep yours intact?
Couples need to choose for themselves whether monogamy is right for them. However, I have seen too many couples move too quickly into opening up their relationship for the sake of getting their sexual needs met without truly communicating what it will mean and what the rules and boundaries are for them as a couple.
Sex advice columnist Dan Savage says that although there is so much hype about non-monogamy ruining relationships, and a lot of reinforcement for monogamous relationships, not opening up your relationship could be what ends things. This is all something you should talk about with your partner.
If you choose to experiment with having anal sex, I don't recommend diving into it. Jack Morin warns not to make it a reciprocal, I-will-fuck-you-and-then-you-fuck-me thing, because that will take the eroticism and play out of anal sex. I recommend that you truly explore why you both rigidly adhere to a certain sexual role and make sure that if you decide that that is more important than investing more time and energy into your relationship, you make sure you ask yourselves, "Is this really a deal breaker?"
Every couple has to deal with incompatibility and differences. It is neither the incompatibility nor the differences that is the problem. Rather, it is how the couple negotiates these differences.