Some Thoughts on Cock-rubbing
and the Cultural Tyranny of Butt-fucking
Cock-rubbing. The non-gay reader will not appreciate how difficult it is for a gay man to confess, even in 1999, that his preferred mode of sexual expression was to rub his erect cock against another man's, rather than to engage in anal intercourse. Yet that was the case with me for most of my adult life, despite a consensus that began to develop within the gay-male community not long after I came out that anal intercourse was the culminating male-male sexual act, and that anything less was at best just foreplay, if not sexually immature. I resisted this view; despite enormous pressure to conform, cock-rubbing remained at the heart of my sexual desire and practice. My allegiance to cock-rubbing probably prevented my becoming infected with HIV; and, more important to me, it was the defining sexual act of my relationship with my lover, Brett Averill.
Cock-rubbing as a sexual ideal was an invention of my lonely adolescence.
I grew up without any sex education whatsoever. It was like being raised by wolves, although had I been a wolf I would have at least had instinct to guide me. What little I knew about sex I learned literally in the back alley, from boys whose ideas of procreation were little more advanced than my own. They told me that a man got on top of a woman and put his boner inside of her, and that ejaculate was stored in the testicles. That was as far as their information went. No one ever even showed me how to jack-off, and about oral or anal sex I of course had no notion. Moreover I was reluctant to ask questions of my peers, for fear that something I said might reveal my homosexual feelings, or that in talking about sex with my pals I might develop an erection and be exposed as a queer.
Instead I had to figure things out on my own. I knew that close contact with another boy, such as I might have while wrestling with him, could produce a hard-on. And I also knew that rubbing my cock against the sheets of my bed, in the sanctuary of my room, could produce an ejaculation. And while one never saw anyone, male or female, have sex on TV or in the movies, men were frequently seen to fight and wrestle. Indeed, that was about the only contact they had. Much of the world didn't make sense to me anyway. If I saw two guys fighting on TV, two cowboys wrestling in the dirt, say, I didn't understand why they didn't both get hard-ons and start making love. Perhaps that would happen later, after the cameramen and everyone else had gone home, when they were alone; indeed, it was hard for me to imagine that it wouldn't happen. To me it seemed inevitable that two men wrestling would end up in a front-to-front, full-body embrace, grappling strenuously while furiously rubbing their hard cocks one against the other, the way I now rubbed mine against an old bathrobe bundled up beneath me to give the illusion of a partner; and, I thought, the force and heat of those two warrior cocks rubbing together would become so great that, in the fierce instant before they both came, they would seem to merge into one. Like every child of that era, I was bombarded by images of combat: of cowboys against Indians, yes, but more important to me of Allies against Wehrmacht, partisans against Germans, Russians against the West. Wouldn't sex and strife combine, I wondered, to produce heroes who were lovers, and lovers who were heroes?...
From these elements, over time, I developed a rich fantasy life, in which wrestling or fighting with another boy would lead to our stripping down and making love, a hard, combative love in which our cocks would strive to prove who was master, a contest both athletic and erotic that would last up until that all-consuming ecstatic moment when our differences were subsumed in an ocean of thick, white cum and we emerged, exalted and transformed, into a magical, mythical, radiant land, where, eternal comrades, we would live and love forever.
Eventually, as the reality of heterosexual oppression and hatred of homosexuals became ever more clear to me, and as I came to understand more about vaginal intercourse, it occurred to me that what I wanted to do, wrestling and the rubbing of cock against cock which would follow it, was uniquely homosexual, something that could be uniquely our own, me and my imagined lovers, something that the hated straights could never do. And so I came to value it more and more, although despairing of ever finding a partner with whom I could make love in this way.
But then, I came out, and the very first night that I had sex with another man, we rubbed cocks until we came. I was elated. For thirteen years, from the age of eleven until I was twenty-four, I had struggled with my homosexual feelings. I had been told over and over again that I was sick, diseased, in need of psychiatric help, that no man could possibly share my sexual desires, that I was doomed to a lifetime of loneliness and frustration. For twelve of those thirteen years, I believed those nay-sayers, believed that I was a thing apart, an unhealthy aberration that could never be sexually fulfilled. And then, in my twenty-fourth year, I began to question the heterosexual dictatorship, in large part due to the nascent Gay Liberation movement, whose literature I had come across while reading a New Left broadsheet. I had tried and tried to be heterosexual, I had seen a psychiatrist for seven years, dutifully attempted to fantasize about women, even dated one for about a year, a beautiful, kind person who had been raped when young and so, conveniently, had no interest in sex. All that my striving after heterosexuality had done was to make me feel more and more dead inside.
What exultation, then, to discover, on my very first night of gay sex, that what I wanted wasn't weird, or strange, or unthought of, but rather something that another male, a stranger, would do without being asked or being told, something that was as natural to him as it was to me. My joy was intense, and I resolved never to distrust my sexual feelings again: in matters sexual, I swore, I would hereafter only look within.
I came out in 1972. And for several years I continued, delightedly and somewhat innocently, to follow, with my sexual playmates, what I thought of as the way of cock-rubbing. In real life it wasn't as combative as it had been in my adolescent fantasies, though that aspect of it always remained in my thoughts. Rather, in my newly acquired sexual freedom, I found cock-rubbing to be passionate, affectionate, and intimate, an ardent expression of sexual comradery and, sometimes, incipient love that was face to face and heart to heart as well as cock to cock. And I reveled in it. Of course there was mutual masturbation too, and I learned about, and to enjoy, oral sex, but for me it was a decidedly secondary pleasure. Anal sex was rarely initiated by my partners, and when they requested it I turned them down. The reason was that I had a nervous stomach, what today is called Irritable Bowel Syndrome, and I found that, aside from the initial pain of anal intercourse, it would be followed the next day by diarrhea. I really disliked the spasms and cramps which accompanied my stomach upsets, and since I frequently had these symptoms independent of anal intercourse, I saw no reason to subject myself to more of them through a practice that was, to me, after all, just a pale imitation of what the hated straights did.
For that is how I thought of anal sex, as a poor copy of heterosexual intercourse in which one partner was reduced to the passive, or female, role, not able to writhe and buck and wrestle the way two men who were rubbing their cocks could. And what was the anus, after all, but a sorry substitute for the vagina? If the penis corresponded to the clitoris and the scrotal tissues to those of the vagina, the anus, it seemed to me, corresponded to nothing. It was not an organ of sexual pleasure. It was just a convenient hole for one man to use while pretending, on some level, that he was fucking a girl. And I had no interest in that--either in penetrating women or being penetrated the way that they were. Indeed, I had no patience with any of those parts of homosexual culture which sought to equate gay men to women: the derogatory use of the words "girl," "she," and "her," to refer to other gay men, and the adulation of drag. I wanted to sleep with men, that is, other gay men who were male-identified; I did not want to have struggled all those years to become a self-accepting male homosexual only to end up sleeping with people who thought of themselves (or me) as girls.
Which is not to say that it didn't feel good to fuck somebody. It feels, after all, wonderful. But it didn't feel good to get fucked, and, in either case, there was a lack of the equality that was so important to me in a sexual encounter. For me, sex had to be a contest of equals.
I was, however, content to let others think of anal sex as the most important expression of male intercourse, even if it was not what I wanted. But butt-fuckers were not prepared to extend the same tolerance to me. For gay culture was changing, it was growing and at the same time, paradoxically, becoming more monolithic. The mid-seventies saw the onslaught of the clone, and with him, the domination, in pornography, and in gay-male thinking, of butt-fucking as the defining gay sexual act, synonymous with true gay sexuality. The first time I encountered this attitude made flesh I was in bed with a large, handsome man, a social worker and committed Gay Liberationist, whom I'd been hoping to sleep with for months. It was the eve of Thanksgiving, 1975, and Steve told me he wanted to fuck me. The thought of getting fucked the night before eating a large, heavy, barely digestible meal didn't appeal to me, and I declined, adding that I really didn't like to get fucked. Steve's face acquired an expression both evangelical and concerned: "Oh," he said, "I don't think you're really gay unless you get fucked."
I was truly ticked off, and told him that not only did I not like getting fucked, but that I didn't like having a gay man attempt to lay a new version of sexual orthodoxy on me. Hadn't we both struggled for years to escape just such thinking?
Steve was not moved. He was a lay therapist, after all, and had absorbed the neo-Freudian developmental view, that I'd so often heard described by my psychiatrist, which saw all humanity striving to progress through oral, anal, Oedipal, and latency stages to achieve the sexual Holy Grail, something called "Full Genital Maturity." For straights this was vaginal intercourse. Apparently the gay version was to be butt-fucking.
In any case I didn't let Steve fuck me. His proselytizing had really turned me off, and our sexual encounter was soon ended. But Steve's view--that the only true gay sex was anal, and that anything else was immature and incomplete--became increasingly prevalent as the decade wore on; by the beginning of the 1980s it was so pervasive that gay men in New York and San Francisco who preferred jerking off formed clubs, The Jacks, to provide a space and atmosphere in which men who liked JO could come together without feeling defensive. These clubs, it should be noted, predated the rise of AIDS; they were a response not to disease, but to intolerance within the gay-male community.
This is not to suggest that my generation of gay men invented anal intercourse, which is certainly, as they say in my home town, as old as the hills. What was new, I believe, was the push in the emerging gay culture to find norms, about appearance, about politics, about sex. This rise of a new, allegedly more liberated but actually less tolerant gay lifestyle was greatly facilitated by the advent of a gay press, of slick, readily available full color hard- and soft-core pornographic magazines, of cinema porn, and, in the late 70s, the beginning of the VCR revolution. All these elements worked together to produce and enforce a definition of gay male sex in which anal intercourse was the sine qua non.
Was this a change from the way preceding generations of gay men had thought about sex? I think so. I remember my elderly Fire Island landlord, a man who had come out during World War II, remarking, whenever the subject of someone's sexual predilections arose, "Oh, we're all live and let live here." Certainly the smaller, more beleaguered gay communities that preceded Stonewall could not afford to exclude members for lapses in sexual orthodoxy. On the other hand, butt-fucking, aping as it does patriarchal sex practices, may always have been the norm; it may be merely be that I, coming out near the end of the '60s, with its "Let a thousand flowers bloom" mentality, had experienced a brief moment of forbearance.
I am quite stubborn, and when pushed become more so, and so I steadily resisted the increasingly common demand from men to let them fuck me. But few can fight the zeitgeist forever. By the time I moved to New York in 1979 and began seriously hunting for a lover, I, albeit reluctantly, let men fuck me when it seemed politic to do so. I was lucky not to have sero-converted during this time. But I didn't have many partners, and, in any case, I wasn't a very good fuck--I didn't really like it and never fully relaxed. I don't remember anyone cumming in my ass, although somebody must have; I just wasn't a good receptive partner.
TWO RODS, ONE HEART, ONE LIFE
I LOVE YOU, BILL, FOREVER
MORE THAN ANYTHING ELSE
MORE THAN I CAN EVER
And then I met my lover, Brett. And our first night of sex we rubbed cocks. And it was everything--strong and embattled and passionate and equal --that I had ever wanted or imagined in sex with another man. I remember, at some point in the night, looking into his eyes and saying, "Let's see each other often." And I remember that I said it because our mutual ardor was so great, because what we were doing felt so right.
Brett, younger than me, was both physically and spiritually extraordinarily handsome, the warrior prince of my boyhood fantasies now given an almost too real life. He had pale, piercing blue eyes and dirty blonde hair that tumbled in hyacinthine locks almost to his shoulders; in our sweaty embrace, the dark hairs of my chest entangled with his light brown fur, the salty flesh of his cock and balls jammed against my own, I felt our bodies strive for that mystical moment of mythical union of which I'd dreamed as a child, so many years before, and, Brett later wrote, it seemed to him that we would melt together into one form, the physical equivalent of what our psyches so quickly became. For there was between us an overwhelming and irresistible call of heart for heart and cock for cock; that first night of sex, we would soon realize, transfigured our lives, transmuted and forever changed them, in what was truly an all-consuming and ecstatic moment it was revealed that neither of us would ever be alone again, never again forsaken nor forgotten, that the dark oppression of our lonely boyhoods had finally fallen away and, as the earth crossed the terminator and dawn broke, our souls suffused with light. Like two small birds emerging from the underbrush after a storm, Brett said, we would fly forward together into the future.
We remained--for the next twelve years, the length of time that we continued having sex (which was up to about a year before Brett's death from AIDS)--passionate, constant cock-rubbers. Some of it had to do with the way our bodies conformed to each other. Brett's legs were longer than mine, but our torsos were of almost equal length, so that when we lay cock against cock our chests and hearts merged as well, and we could kiss deeply. Brett's cock, when hard, curved slightly to the left, providing a hook for my own; this meant that our cocks did not slip off of each other, as often happened with other people, and that our fervor was not interrupted by the need to rearrange our dicks. "Our bodies fit so well together!" Brett would often exclaim. This happy physical correspondence deepened our sense of predestination, our conviction that our meeting and love were not accidental. "Our love, I believe, has a destiny, to last forever," Brett wrote on our tenth anniversary in 1992; did not our bodies, the encasements of our souls, themselves manifest how fitting was our love? And in a Valentine Brett gave me in 1986 he said, "Cupid's cock stood erect when yours did with mine and we tumbled together into passion from the precipice of longing." The godling himself had been present at, and smiled on, our union, and our expression of it.
Almost as ecstatic for me as cock-rubbing with Brett was to feel his balls against mine, another childhood fantasy now come true. Often I would ask him to sit astride me and forcefully ride his ball sac against mine. As a boy I had fantasized wrestling with another boy while wearing jock straps that had been cut to allow our balls to hang loose and slap together. With Brett I was able to have long sessions of ball play, rough and masculine; nothing thrilled me more than having contact with his balls, that alone could get me off, so great was the virtue within them.
Brett and I sucked each other, and we fucked, some, him inside of me, me inside of him. But neither fucking him nor being fucked by him was what I wanted. I wanted the union of equals that, for me, could only be expressed by cock-rubbing.
Towards the end of Brett's life, when we were no longer able to have sex, I developed, with another partner, more tolerance for getting fucked. The reason for this is not mysterious: as I pushed into my mid-forties, my Irritable Bowel abated, as is often the case, so that being fucked no longer carried with it negative repercussions. And, too, through many years of exposure to gay men and gay sex I had become less judgmental, I no longer viewed fucking as being necessarily an echt heterosexual act, I could understand it as the expression of a male-male ethos, even if different from my own, and could acknowledge, at least somewhat, without surrendering my own attachment to cock-rubbing, how important butt-fucking was to other gay men.
And so I wonder, if Brett had not died of AIDS, if the two of us might have gotten more into fucking, in time. I doubt it. Brett was the fulfillment of the cock-rubbing mythos of my adolescence. To have shared the passion of, to have rubbed cocks with, this powerful, handsome, noble youth was at the center of my desire; I believed it to be my destiny, and with Brett it was fulfilled.
I was inspired to write all this down by the sad tale of a friend of mine, a writer, who told me that when he'd arrived in San Francisco in the late '70s he disliked being fucked, and that he'd worked long and hard in therapy, a good six months, to overcome his fear of this form of sex, and at last achieved a "breakthrough," and was able to go out and get fucked. And of course he was infected with HIV at that time, and now has AIDS. And knowing what the pressure to conform was like in New York, I can only imagine how great it must have been in San Francisco, whose gay subculture is so compact and introverted.
And I had to wonder about the tyranny of culture, of how it can persuade us to do something that goes against our nature and our most fundamental feelings; and about human adaptability, about how easy it is for us to accommodate ourselves to conditions that we should find intolerable. And I wondered too how many thousands or even tens of thousands of gay men had been infected during a sexual act they didn't particularly enjoy, but endured because it was culturally dictated, probably using poppers to push past the pain. And I remembered how, after the link between HIV and anal intercourse had been established, the gay intelligentsia scrambled to discover and lend legitimacy to other forms of gay-male sexual expression, including body-rubbing and JO, and how a friend of mine, a "Safer Sex" educator (who would himself later be a victim of the epidemic), spoke dismissively of people liking anal sex because it was "a quick fuck." I wondered at the time whether, a few years earlier, he would not have been a proponent of butt-fucking.
But the fact is that I had a long and passionate sex life with my partner that centered around cock-rubbing, and in which anal intercourse played almost no part.
I have often been called eccentric for the way I live my life. But the longer I live, the fewer regrets I have for the way I have lived it. If I need to apologize, I feel, it is for those moments when I have failed to be true to myself, not for my failure to mimic others. But whether I have been right or wrong, we need, I believe, as the history of our tragic generation is written and re-written, to look at all the factors that facilitated, even if inadvertently, the spread of AIDS, including our own sexual intolerance, and to re-examine those first principles of Gay Lib which promised, so briefly, a better world.
Bill Weintraub lives in rural California. He is writing a memoir of his life with his late lover. He'd be pleased to receive responses and reactions to this article by email at firstname.lastname@example.org
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