WARNING: What follows is a frank discussion about my views on the use of anal sex in the M/M genre. If that sounds icky to you, don’t read it.
This came up when I was writing Billy’s Bones about a man who had repressed memories of childhood sexual abuse. Since he had a history of sexual abuse, it would be ludicrous (and incredibly insensitive) for me to end with him and his lover having anal intercourse. That is in fact something he might never feel comfortable doing, even if they remain a loving couple for the rest of their lives.
Yet this is a standard part of the M/M romance formula. I’ve actually been criticized by readers for not always following this formula “correctly,” and it’s now become a pet peeve of mine.
The formula is basically this: the couple meets and falls in love, often having various kinds of sex along the way—mutual masturbation, handjobs, blowjobs, 69s, etc. And then comes the Big Moment, the moment where they truly share themselves with one another. One man opens himself up to the other, allowing full anal penetration, and in the moment of orgasm, they are joined heart and soul and truly become one!
I’ve apparently violated this formula in two different ways. The first was when I failed to get there fast enough. I constructed a careful escalation of sexual experimentation that progressed through mutual masturbation next to one another (no touching) to masturbating each other t0 masturbating while kissing, etc. I thought it was damned hot, but a reader dismissed it as, “It’s nothing but mutual masturbation!”
The next crime I committed (in the same story, in fact) was when their experience of anal intercourse occurred in front of other people, who offered them money to take it to the next level. The characters agree and then discover that they really like it, forgetting about everybody in the room but each other. This was apparently disgusting, because they would never agree to do something that intimate and emotional in front of other people!
Frankly I was shocked by both responses (from different people). Mutual masturbation is my favorite sexual activity (Stop reading, Mom!) and even though I like anal sex, I’ve never liked it that much. It’s just one of the many ways people can enjoy having sex with each other. Given a choice, I think 69 is definitely the best way to go. There’s a penis right there for me to play with, at the same time that someone’s playing with my penis! It’s awesome!
As far as having sex in front of people…I had a housemate who was paid $500 to have sex with her boyfriend on camera. She didn’t seem terribly traumatized by it. I myself have had sex with a crowd of people watching. (Shy? Not me.) Would I have been willing to try something new in front of that audience? If it didn’t hurt, sure. Why not?
Not all M/M novels are culminate with anal intercourse, of course. But I’ve just read a couple more recently that promote this trope. It didn’t ruin the novels for me, but I definitely find it irksome.
Somebody once suggested that the whole “anal sex is the ultimate form of love” thing is a holdover from straight romance novels, in which “going all the way” — i.e., full vaginal penetration — is reserved for special moments in the novel, such as the final love scene or even held off until after the novel, when our hero and heroine are safely married. That’s not really the case anymore with straight romance, any more than it is with gay romance, but it seems to be embedded in the psyche of many readers.
The truth of the matter is, there’s nothing special about anal sex. Yes, some people — both male and female — enjoy it. Many even prefer it. I’ve heard one gay man describe it as the sort of melding one reads about it M/M novels. But for me? No. It was fun. That’s it. Angels didn’t sing. Some of my previous boyfriends hated it, as do many gay men. They thought it was filthy and disgusting.
Yes, that’s right: a lot of gay men hate having anal intercourse.
Oh, yeah. I said it. We’re not all cookie-cutter robots who like the same things. Go figure.
I do occasionally include anal sex in my novels, but not always. It isn’t always appropriate. Certainly it wouldn’t be appropriate in a novel about a rape survivor and frankly I think I would be offended by a plot in which his lover felt compelled to teach him “how to enjoy” anal sex, as if that was particularly “healing” and there were no alternatives they could engage in. That possibility did cross my mind as I was contemplating how to end the novel and I immediately rejected it.
While I’m on the subject, I also recommend against including anal intercourse in YA novels. Not because of the sex part. I expect anyone writing a YA novel to hold back on explicit detail anyway, of course. But in terms of what two teenagers would try on their first fumbling attempts at sex…? It’s possible, but I would say they probably wouldn’t. It’s kind of scary for young men who have never tried it before. (I did in fact ask my first boyfriend to try it with me, when I was nineteen, because I was more adventuresome than he was. It hurt; we stopped.)
So once again, I’m not necessarily saying everyone should stop using anal sex in M/M novels. But I really think there’s a little too much emphasis on it, as if it represents the ultimate merging of souls for two men. It can be that, just as any sexual act can be for two people who are in love.
But that’s just my point. It doesn’t have to be anal sex. There are other possibilities.