Bud-sex: Sex between rural straight men

By Tony Silva

Scholarly interest in straight men that have sex with men has increased in recent years, and for good reason: the narratives of men in this population highlight the social construction of sexualities and masculinities. How individuals identify, understand, and express their sexuality and gender reflects culture, time period, social structures, and personal interpretations. My ongoing interview research project explores how rural straight men that have sex with men understand their gender, sexual practices, and sexual identity. While there is a framework to describe women’s sexual flexibility—“including straight women kissing each other (Hamilton 2007; Rupp and Taylor 2010) or having sex with other women (Budnick 2016)—there is no such framework for men. As my Gender & Society paper details, the narratives of my participants demonstrate the flexibility of male heterosexuality, the centrality of straightness to rural masculinity, the importance of geographic location for how individuals identify and express their sexuality and gender, and how similar sexual practices carry different meanings across contexts and populations.

Consider the narratives of a few of these straight men, who interpret their sex with men as compatible with straightness and rural masculinity. Jon describes himself as “pretty much masculine” because “I’m a… straight guy that likes to hunt, fish, camp, and I raise cattle for a living.” He loves his wife, raises several children with her, and occasionally meets men on Grindr and has sex with them in his barn. Marcus is not sexually attracted to men, but has oral sex with them to satisfy a specific “craving.” He seeks particular male sexual partners on Craigslist: “A guy that I would consider more like me, that gets blowjobs from guys every once in a while, doesn’t do it every day. I know that there are a lot of guys out there that are like me… they’re manly guys, and doing manly stuff, and just happen to have oral sex with men every once in a while.” David is retired and describes himself as a respected and visible figure in his community, and has sex with his male “friend with benefits” to maintain his sex life as he and his wife grow older: “I’m not getting sex at home, and I want sex… older men are a lot more receptive to sex, they’re more enthusiastic,” because “senior women have kinda lost their desire to do much of anything.” While their reasons for having sex with men are diverse, the participants share an identification with straightness and masculinity, as well as interpretations to reinforce both.

silvaThe men in this study engaged in what I call bud-sex to reinforce their straightness and rural masculinity, which distinguishes them from other groups of straight men who have sex with men. They reinforced their straightness through unconventional interpretations of same-sex sex: as “helpin’ a buddy out,” relieving “urges,” acting on sexual desires for men without sexual attractions to them, relieving general sexual needs, and/or a way to act on sexual attractions (see also my forthcoming paper in Sexualities). They reaffirmed their sense of themselves as “normal,” masculine rural men through their choice of male sexual partners on the axes of masculinity, race, and sexual identity, as well as through the type of sex they prefer. By having sex mostly with other men like themselves—conventionally masculine, white, and straight or secretly bisexual—and by enjoying secretive and romance-free same-sex sex, the participants framed their encounters as straight and masculine. “Bud-sex” captures the participants’ unique interpretations of their sexual practices, as well as how they had sex and with whom they partnered. Through complex interpretations, the participants reframed sex with men, usually not compatible with heterosexuality or rural masculinity, to reinforce both.

The implications of straight, masculine men open to sex with other men are complex. On one hand, unconventional expressions of heterosexuality and masculinity demonstrate that normativity can be challenged, though unintentionally, from within dominant identities. Relatedly, it is encouraging that some straight men are willing to enjoy sex with men despite the “one-act rule of homosexuality,” the widespread perception that any man who has sex with men is gay. On the other hand, the participants’ masculinity reinforces inequality. All nineteen maintain straight privilege by publicly identifying as straight and keeping secret their same-sex sexual encounters. All of the straight men avoid effeminate men, and several insulted male effeminacy, contributing to the widespread devaluation of femininity. Moreover, thirteen were married and had extramarital sex without their wife’s knowledge, underscoring their male entitlement and unwillingness to consider ethical non-monogamy. The participants enjoy marginalized sexual practices, but they are unwilling to challenge heterosexism or other forms of domination, maintaining numerous systems of inequality.

Tony Silva is a doctoral student in the Sociology Department at the University of Oregon. His primary research interests include sexualities, gender, rurality, and qualitative and quantitative methods. His dissertation includes interviews with rural straight men that have sex with men to explore how they understand their identity, practices, and gender. His article,”Bud-Sex: Constructing Normative Masculinity among Rural Straight Men That Have Sex With Men,” can be found in the February 31 (1) issue of Gender & Society here.

Reconsidering Gendered Sexualities in a Generalized AIDS Epidemic

By Christie Sennott and Nicole Angotti

In the rural area of Mpumalanga Province, South Africa that we study, HIV is estimated to infect 1 in 5 people. Many researchers have studied the social, biological, and behavioral factors that contribute to HIV infection and the consequences of high mortality from AIDS-related diseases. Yet, less attention has been paid to how people actually living in communities affected by HIV/AIDS talk about the epidemic in everyday life—a useful way for understanding how men and women experience a significant threat to their lives and the lives of those around them.

HIV/AIDS is a unique type of threat: it is transmitted sexually, potentially fatal, and therefore has wide-reaching consequences for men and women’s sexual lives. Whereas several studies have found that individuals work to “reaffirm” or recuperate long-standing norms governing gender and sexuality when those norms are threatened, we find that HIV/AIDS – which threatens not just individual lives, but also relationships, families and communities – provokes reconsideration of gendered sexualities at the community level. We define reconsideration as the processes through which men and women debate, challenge, make sense of, and attempt to come to terms with the social norms circumscribing gendered sexual practices. Our focus on reconsideration shows the multiple voices and commentaries on HIV/AIDS that are circulating in the community, and that ideas about masculinity and femininity are complex, contradictory, and evolving in everyday conversation and interaction.

Our data are ethnographic and collected by men and women from the community. Over several months in 2012, a local team of “insider ethnographers” wrote field notes capturing conversations about HIV/AIDS that they encountered in public settings, such as large community events like village meetings, and other venues where interaction is commonplace, such as at bus depots and at church. These data are ideal for understanding local ideas about threats like HIV/AIDS because they are captured in real time and show the multiple perspectives that come to bear on the social experience of living amid an HIV/AIDS epidemic.

Continue reading “Reconsidering Gendered Sexualities in a Generalized AIDS Epidemic”

Playing (Fantasy) Sport with the Guys

By Sarah Winslow and Rebecca Joyce Kissane

In the next week, we will have crowned a new World Series Champion, thus ending the MLB season, NFL football is now in full gear, and both NHL hockey and NBA basketball are a few weeks into their seasons. If you’re one of the nearly 57 million people in the United States and Canada who play fantasy sports, it’s likely that your enjoyment of these events is accompanied by the excitement of drafting, monitoring, and competing with your fantasy sports team. But does this experience differ for men and women? Both men and women play fantasy sports, frequently competing against one another in a context in which the presumed physical differences between males and females are seemingly irrelevant, conditions that may make gender irrelevant as well. Yet, our research demonstrates that is not the case. Women are treated as outsiders and consequently challenge, to varying degrees and in varying and sometimes contradictory ways, how they are treated and perceived.

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Final “Bro League” standings, image by Grace Greene

In fantasy sports, individuals build virtual sports teams comprised of real athletes who accumulate points based on their performance in actual games. The majority of participants compete in fantasy football, baseball, and basketball, although fantasy sports leagues exist for a wide range of sports. Although recent attention has been focused on daily fantasy sports, with some states moving to declare these activities illegal, the majority of players—and those that we focus on in our work—currently play in traditional fantasy sports leagues like that depicted in the popular FX series The League; this means they create and manage their teams over the course of an entire sports season and compete against other managers doing the same in a virtual league.

Despite its skyrocketing popularity, there is a dearth of research on fantasy sports, and little serious attention has been given to how gender operates in this space. We know that since the 1972 passage of Title IX, women’s and girls’ participation in athletics has substantially increased, female athletes have become cultural icons, and a few women, like baseball player Kelsie Whitmore or NBA assistant coaches Becky Hammon and Nancy Lieberman, have made inroads into male-dominated sports. Yet, we also know that women’s sports still receive less attention from fans and the media than men’s, female athletes are often treated as sex symbols, sports largely remain sex-segregated, and women in sports still garner lower financial rewards and hold fewer positions of power than men do. As an example of the contradictory position occupied by women in sports —simultaneously celebrated for their accomplishments and cast as outsiders and publicly denigrated when they veer too far into what has historically been men’s domain – on October 6, 2015, two-time Olympic Gold Medal-winning softball player Jessica Mendoza, already a regular analyst for ESPN’s “Sunday Night Baseball,” made history when she became the first woman to call a nationally-televised MLB playoff game. Touted as a major step forward for women in sports, the event was also swiftly met with what can only be described as sexist, misogynistic backlash. Continue reading “Playing (Fantasy) Sport with the Guys”

Masculinity and the Stalled Revolution

By Sarah Thébaud and David S. Pedulla

Researchers increasingly find that American men who are millennials—more than men of earlier generations—aspire to create relationships in which they and their spouse equally share earning and domestic responsibilities, including care of young children. Such egalitarian ideals are difficult to attain, however, given the time and energy demanded by today’s employers.

One oft-cited remedy to this problem has been the introduction obalancef progressive work-family policies, such as paid parental and family leave as well as flexible workplace practices. Such policies make gender-egalitarian relationships considerably more feasible because they provide workers with the time and resources needed to more realistically balance the often competing demands of employment and family obligations. In practice however, men are much less likely than women to take advantage of such policies. Continue reading “Masculinity and the Stalled Revolution”

Striking Goals for Pay and Prize Parity in Sport

By Cheryl Cooky

Cross-posted with permission from The Society Pages here.

In March 2016, the United States women’s national soccer team filed a wage discrimination complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. According to the complaint, the U.S. women’s national team is paid less than their male counterparts, despite having the same work requirements. In fact, as the American women won the 2015 World Cup and returned home to ticker tape parades, media appearances, and sold out crowds, the team struggled with low compensation and access to the resources they had so clearly earned and deserved. The U.S. women’s team earned $2 million from FIFA in their World Cup win; the U.S. men’s team received $9 million for their 2014 World Cup performance, despite being eliminated in a very early round of the tournament.

By the end of May, the U.S. Senate had passed a unanimous resolution (S.Res.462) urging the United States Soccer Federation to “immediately eliminate gender pay inequity and treat all athletes with the same respect and dignity.” Around the same time, the women’s team asked a federal judge for permission to go on strike against the U.S. Soccer Federation, two months before the team’s scheduled appearance at the 2016 summer Olympic Games in Rio, Brazil. Their absence from the Olympics would be glaring and significant—not only for U.S. soccer, but for the Games.

This is not the first time the U.S. women’s soccer players have spoken out against unequal treatment. Last summer, in the lead up to the Women’s World Cup, several players complained to FIFA that the women’s games were scheduled on artificial turf, while the men’s games were scheduled on natural grass, the ideal surface for the game. The women also took issue with FIFA’s unequal distribution of prize money. Continue reading “Striking Goals for Pay and Prize Parity in Sport”

When Men Take Virginity Pledges

By Sarah Diefendorf

Last spring, David Magnusson’s portraits of girls who attended purity balls generated lots of attention.These images of young women in white gowns, embraced by their fathers, evoke the sentiment and purpose of purity balls: dances at which daughters pledge their virginity to their fathers until they marry. As Amy Derogatis argues in her new book, Saving Sex, purity balls raise questions about the autonomy of these girls and the value we place on their virginity. Purity balls are a dramatic example of contemporary right of passage for many American teens: the virginity pledge. These rituals – pledges and balls – highlight cultural understandings of virginity and gender in which young women are supposed to protect their virginity, because it doesn’t really belong to them. It belongs to the men they will marry.

Continue reading “When Men Take Virginity Pledges”