Sex Talk: Politics

Back in the 1960s, feminists coined the phrase “The personal is political.” And that still goes, notably in the case of the very personal matter of male/male sex. From New York to New Delhi, lawmakers wrangle over issues ranging from same-sex marriage to legalizing gay sex. And, conversely, private playing can be colored by political considerations.

Says one man who’s been a gay activist for decades, “There have been plenty of attempts to legislate morality on issues like divorce, birth control, and use of drugs and alcohol. Hell, until a couple of years back, it was illegal to sell dildos in Texas. Queer sex, though, seems to generate an exceptional amount of heat, maybe because many people’s sense of identity is so dependent on gender and family. In the U.S.A., the idea that some folks are using their bodies in ways that others don’t approve of has fueled the seemingly endless ‘culture war,’ which is largely a fight over two issues: abortion and male/male sex.”

In advanced industrialized democracies, penis-on-penis pleasure is usually permissible. Many European nations even allow gay marriage and queers in the military, while in other parts of the world, orthodox theocracies put men to death for giving head. Geographical generalizations aren’t absolute, of course: While gay rights are enshrined in South Africa’s constitution, it took a Supreme Court decision to legalize sodomy in parts of the United States, and that took place just a few years ago.

Though conventional wisdom says that queers tend to be on the liberal side of the spectrum, there have been many notable queer conservatives, and even, as was the case with famed author Yukio Mishima, gays who veer toward fascism. There’s also the “doth protest too much” closet factor; it’s no surprise that a number of prominent antigay politicians have been caught with their pants down, both metaphorically and literally, while cruising for sex.

Governmental policy isn’t the only place where penises and politics intersect. When guys get it on, touchy subjects like race, class, and age often join them in bed. “Sorry, but I don’t get turned on by men who are as old as my father,” says one 20-something fellow. “Maybe that makes me prejudiced, but I like what I like.” Still, while none but the most doctrinaire would propose a dingus-based affirmative action program, it does help to keep an open mind. Even then, there are pitfalls.

“Having a racial preference can be kind of a ‘damned if you do, damned if you don’t’ situation,” says an observer of the scene. “Face it, when it comes to sex, many of us—even if we’re otherwise unprejudiced—have ethnic turn-ons and turn-offs. But if a white guy, for example, doesn’t care to play with Asian men, that leaves him open to charges of racism. If he prefers Asians, though, he might be accused of racial objectification.”

Stickier still is the subject of politically touchy fetishes. What if you’re a pacifist whose dick springs to attention at the sight of a man in uniform, a animal-rights activist who loves men in black leather, or a member of Amnesty International who secretly gets off on POW porn? And how about verbal scenes that include racist or sexist slurs?

From SM to incest roleplay, kink can be quite controversial. Feigned abuse of power is an intrinsic part of sadomasochistic scenes, and forbidden fantasies can be very tempting. “This black friend of mine likes to be a slave in role-playing scenes,” says one Jewish man. “And that’s his choice. I mean, safe, sane, and consensual, right? But though it’s all well and good to argue that politics stops at the bedroom door, I myself am totally grossed out by Nazi-themed porn.”
Inconveniently, though, the beyond-the-pale, taboo nature of a truly transgressive scene can be precisely what makes it so hot. What to do?

Whether at the ballot box or at a bathhouse, politics can make strange bedfellows. So perhaps when it comes to penis, it’s simpler to be pragmatic than policy-oriented. As our 20-something says, “I’m usually a conscientious citizen, and I always vote. But if I’m cruising a cute guy, I’m much more interested in his penis than in his political party.”

In the best of all possible worlds, we would all be colorblind and totally tolerant of each other’s views, singing “Kumbaya” in one big circle jerk. In this world, though, sexual desire can be gnarly, contradictory, even offensive. Maybe the best a conscientious shaft-sucker can do is aim for consensual, caring hook-ups that leave the participants feeling good about themselves…and ready to vote.

Simon Sheppard is the editor of Leathermen and Homosex: Sixty Years of Gay Erotica, and the author of Sex Parties 101, Kinkorama, and In Deep: Erotic Stories, and can be reached at [email protected]. Visit Simon at

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