by Curran Nault
In Richard Dyer’s influential essay, “Male Gay Porn: Coming to Terms,” first published in the pages of this journal in 1985, Dyer criticizes gay pornography for its narratives of phallic dominance, which establish a patriarchal, heterosexist (i.e., normative) model of sexuality:
The solution to this predicament for Dyer would come from new types of pornography, presumably including those that highlight the transgressive pleasures of male anal receptivity and that, through an appeal to the flesh, “can be a site for re-educating desire in the body” (27).
But, if such a pornography “organized around the [male] desire to be fucked” did not exist in 1985, and there is some disagreement on this point, [open endnotes in new window] then it certainly exists today. A quick survey of the gay porn shelves at the local XXX rental shop or online store is liable to turn up more than a few titles dedicated to such anal-centric practices as fisting (the insertion of a hand into a rectum) and rimming (anal-oral contact). And these titles which invite audiences to identify with fantasies of penetration from both the penetrator’s and penetrated’s point of view. However, it is not just on the gay shelves that one can find such material. At present, a subgenre of straight pornography narrativizes the male “pleasures of being fucked, and the eroticism of the anus” does not take a “back seat” and is, in fact, the subgenre’s raison d'être. This subgenre, which features acts of female-to-male penetration, has come to be known as pegging porn or strap-on porn on account of the appendages worn by the women in the films. Although in 1985 Dyer probably never imagined this subgenre of heterosexual pornography that diverges from the “masculine model of sexuality,” with hundreds of titles on the market, pegging pornography has indeed arrived. And it is challenging the notion that queerness and homosexuality must always go hand-in-hand.
What exactly is pegging pornography? What content do we find in pegging porn videos and DVDs? To whom are these works targeted? And to what degree do the representations within pegging porn deviate from the (hetero)sexual status quo? In the essay that follows, I will answer these questions and, in the process, formulate some tentative conclusions concerning pegging pornography’s chances for enabling the kind of desire reeducation Dyer seeks in “Male Gay Porn.”
To do so I begin with an analysis of the “how-to” educational video, Bend Over Boyfriend. Although it is not the first pornographic video to feature acts of female-to-male penetration, it is a milestone in the development of the subgenre. While distinct from more purely erotic examples of pegging pornography in its aspiration to both titillate and teach, Bend Over Boyfriend nevertheless conveys some of the central themes of pegging porn:
Following my analysis of Bend Over Boyfriend, I discuss two recent, and much less overtly educational, instances of pegging pornography – Strap-On My Man (Unknown, 2003) and Take it Like A Man (Unknown, 2005) – in order to give the reader a sense of pegging porn’s diversity, continued themes and limitations.
As I shall argue in relation to these texts, while it is difficult to say what effect if any pegging porn has had on viewers’ understandings of their own sexualities and genders, nevertheless, the representations contained within are sex and gender significant. That is, pegging pornography puts on display a new heteroerotic (the kind that Dyer might support) in which the anus, not the penis, becomes the principal site of male pleasure; and categorical distinctions between masculine and feminine, hetero and homo are frustrated. Although problematic, especially in its images of gendered violence and moments of sexist and homophobic discourse, pegging porn violates the long-standing taboo against male anal eroticism and breaks the rules of a conventional phallic-based sexual regime.
Bend Over Boyfriend
Bend Over Boyfriend: A Couple’s Guide to Male Anal Pleasure (1998) is directed by Shar Rednour, the first lesbian, as opposed to straight male, director to win the “Best All Girl Feature” Award from the Adult Video News, which she received in 2000 for the film Hard Love. Financed by Fatale Video, a pro-sex feminist production company that primarily produces pornography by and for lesbians, Bend Over Boyfriend stars Dr. Carol Queen, a sex educator, relationship advice columnist, co-owner of the women-owned sex emporium Good Vibrations, and author of such books as The Femme and the Leather Daddy, Real Live Nude Girl and Exhibitionism for the Shy; as well as Queen’s real-life husband, Robert Morgan, who co-narrates the film. The film also features Laura and Greg and Cupcake and Troy, two heterosexual couples who, unlike Queen and Morgan, are positioned within the film as pegging novices. Finally, Miss Behavin’, a sexy and flirtatious doctor, appears sporadically throughout the video to share pegging-related medical advice.
At the onset, Queen states that Bend Over Boyfriend contains information “that is going to be relevant to anybody who wants to do anal play,” but it is clear that the video is primarily addressing a heterosexual audience and, in particular, a heterosexual female audience. Fatale’s feminist brand suggests as much, as does the video’s title, which is a potent sexual command ostensibly spoken from a woman to her willing, or at least willing to be coaxed, male partner. This female address is significant, given that pornography overwhelmingly caters to the male consumer. Bend Over Boyfriend, with its forceful, gendered title, actively courts the female consumer. In addition, Bend Over Boyfriend exalts its female subjects, elevating them to the position of educators. No mere sex objects, the women in Bend Over Boyfriend, and specifically Queen and Miss Behavin’, are situated as authoritative sources of sexual knowledge, even when it comes to the male anus and rectum.
This theme of female empowerment is also suggested visually, and within the opening shots of the film. Bend Over Boyfriend begins with a close-up of an unidentified man’s ass, bathed in green light, as he lies on top of an unidentified woman, before being flipped over, the woman taking control of the sexual scenario. This gender role reversal continues into the subsequent montage, which includes shots of Cupcake lubing up her strap-on dildo and Queen aggressively fucking her husband as he lies sprawled across a table. These opening images, which are accompanied by the names of the female talent who created Bend Over Boyfriend, establish that the viewer is entering a world where women, both figuratively and literally, call the shots. Or, as Queen later puts it in reference to male-to-female penetration, where women are “in the driver’s seat.”
This opening section of the film, which includes images of the novice couples watching Queen and Morgan on video as they speak and perform, also sets up the film’s narrative pattern. That is, Bend Over Boyfriend contains a film-within-a-film structure that through its reflexivity designates the kind of viewer it intends us to be: heterosexual, coupled and female-to-male anal sex inexperienced, but curious. As such, throughout the film, we watch as the two couples view the same video of Queen and her husband that we are watching at home and see them practice the skills that they have been taught. For example, instructional scenes of Queen and her husband talking about such things as the pleasures of the prostate (“It’s like a male g-spot”) and the employment of kegel exercises to improve the sphincter muscles, are interspersed with scenes of the couples listening and then doing. As might be expected of an instructional video, the viewer is being asked to practice the skills at home along with the couples; and, insofar as the viewer complies, the distinction between pegging representation and pegging practice collapses. In this way, Bend Over Boyfriend encourages its viewers not only to witness but also to become bodily participants in the gender role reversals portrayed on screen.