Despite the fact that I’m a sex educator and spend much of my time thinking about sex, I’m not actually very good at instigating sex. Despite the fact that I’m basically always down for sex, I almost never initiate, which has been a point of contention in some of my relationships. One Saturday morning a while back, however, I woke up in bed next to my partner and – to my surprise – really wanted to roll around with him. Even more surprising was that I wanted to top him, which is another thing that almost never happens.
I hugged my partner closer and tried to slide one of my legs in between his, but he didn’t seem to understand what I was trying to do and simply moved his legs out of the way. So I tried another tactic, this time turning towards him and trying to climb gently on top of him. He rolled onto his side.Huh?
As it turned out, my partner knew exactly what I was angling for, and he wasn’t down. “But I bottom for you all the time,” I said, knowing full well that that I was at risk of violating the oldest, most obvious rule of consent: no means no.
And yet – my partner’s resistance to assuming a submissive role every was starting to affect my willingness to be submissive for him. My own desire to be tossed around, spanked, penetrated and more was deeply contingent on the feeling that my partner and I were equals – willing to match each other in vulnerability if not in sexual role. As we talked, it became clear that so many months of defaulting to a less vulnerable sexual role had left him feeling out-of-touch with the part of himself that was willing to trust me with his body and mind. It wasn’t just about being physically unready for penetration; it was also about being emotionally unready. And that felt bad, since I had been penetrated by him hundreds of times in the past.
Which led me to a pretty simple conclusion: all men should be penetrated – or at least express willingness to be penetrated – every once in a while.I expect to catch some flak for this position, and not just from the cisgender, straight men who are afraid of anything related to their own butts. This may be the first time a trans man is tempted to use the hashtag #notallmen. Consent advocates and pleasure-positive folks will be quick to point out that nobody should ever feel pressure to engage in sex acts that they don’t enjoy. And they’re right. But our feelings about penetration and sexual vulnerability are deeply tied to gender roles, and I’m starting to think that we can’t live in an equal world unless all boys start taking it up the butt (or whatever orifice is most convenient).
I’m being glib, of course. But on a base level, this is about appreciating – and fully understanding – the things that we ask of our partners. Many men report that their first time being penetrated is a little bit painful, a little bit scary, and even a little bit disempowering. And while I don’t expect that statement to be super persuasive to the penetration-resistant among us, it does provoke an interesting question: if that’s how penetration feels to you, why would you subject anyone (especially a partner who you ostensibly care about) to it?
The fact, of course, is that it can feel good to be penetrated, but only if your partner is skilled and patient, and only if you are okay ceding physical and emotional power to another person. It’s not enough to simply claim that you trust your partner, however. Real, two-way trust is built when you prove yourself through action.
And this applies, yes, to all men*, because penetration is as much about gender expectations as it is about sexual acts. If you’re a trans man reading this article, consider the ways in which your sexual expectations (and the expectations people have of you) have changed since you came out and/or started to transition. It may be tempting to forego penetration because it reminds you of the way you were socialized, but it’s important to not fall into the trap of solidifying gender roles and sexual stereotypes. Especially with our romantic partners, we should feel safe in our gender identities even when we’re not performing our expected gender roles.
To be clear, I’m not encouraging anyone to pressure their partners into being penetrated. I’m asking men to volunteer themselves for penetration. All sex must be consensual – no coercion, no cries of, “If you really loved me you’d let me peg you,” and no bribery. I’m asking men to consent to sex that might not actually be pleasurable, which on the surface feels totally counter to everything I stand for. But there are reasons to have sex that extend beyond pleasure every once in a while, and trust-building is one of them.
If you’re reading this post and you’d like your partner to start considering penetration, try bringing it up. Don’t be demanding or coercive, obviously, but it’s worth asking him over breakfast one morning, “Hey, have you ever considered being penetrated?”
If he says no, ask him why not – and then sit him down in front of this blog and see what happens next.
*[Okay, I lied. Asexual men are the notable exception, though even they might want to consider penetration if they have sex to please their partners.]