copyright 2010, Jump Cut: A Review of Contemporary Media
Jump Cut, No. 52, summer 2010
Bend Over Boyfriend to Take it Like a Man: pegging pornography and the queer representation of straight sex
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 [gay porn] narrative is never organized around the desire to be fucked, but around the desire to ejaculate (whether or not following on or from anal intercourse). Thus although at the level of public representation, gay men may be thought of as deviant and disruptive of masculine norms because we assert the pleasures of being fucked and the eroticism of the anus, in our pornography this takes a back seat.” (28)
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.
Gender role reversal is the central theme of Bend Over Boyfriend and pegging pornography more generally. At a minimum, the active/insertive male, passive/insertee female paradigm is reversed. However, this reversal is taken even further in Bend Over Boyfriend, as reversals in sexual position are accompanied by reversals in behavior. In an opening statement, Queen opines that part of the enjoyment of pegging for women is in “becoming more masculine” and “seeing their men become softer,” and we see this play out over the course of the video. The women exhibit stereotypical masculine traits once their strap-ons are in place. They begin to stand taller, their voices become deeper and more authoritative, and they display a masculine bravado in their gestures and bodily movements. Likewise, the men take on stereotypical feminine traits. For example, while being penetrated by Cupcake, Troy allows his long and previously pinned back hair to flow down his back, which he proceeds to toss playfully from side to side like a supermodel in a shampoo commercial.
On the one hand, these moments uphold the masculine/feminine binary by (re)associating sexual penetration with masculinity and strength and sexual reception with femininity and weakness. On the other hand, these moments divorce gender from sex, suggesting that masculinity and femininity are unstable performances with no firm basis in biology. In other words, the masculinized women and feminized men in Bend Over Boyfriend create an effect similar to that of the drag queen as discussed by Judith Butler in Gender Trouble. Sex and gender become denaturalized via performances that calls attention to their mutual exclusivity and reveal, as Butler states about drag,
“that the original identity after which gender fashions itself is an imitation without an origin” (175).
Key to all this gender play is the (strap-on) dildo itself. Most closely associated with lesbian and female autoerotic sexual practices, some feminists have dismissed the dildo as nothing more than a “male-identified” penis substitute, a patriarchal accomplice that impedes the pursuit of female sexual pleasure beyond the act of penetration. Other feminists have disputed these claims, but they are ultimately irrelevant to pegging pornography as, unlike in much lesbian pornography where penises are entirely absent, in pegging pornography penises are present. Accordingly, the dildo is best thought of not as a penis substitute but as a sex equalizer, one that allows women to “override anatomical determinism” and to switch with a queer fluidity from penetrated to penetrator (Conway 151-3). The dildo also enables a queering of the female body itself, which remains traditionally female on top and acquires a “maleness” on bottom. This fact is perversely highlighted in several Bend Over Boyfriend scenes in which the women peg their boyfriends in the missionary position, allowing the male partners to fondle their women’s breasts at the same moment that they are being penetrated by their women’s “cocks.”
Significantly, the strap-on dildo also remains at the center of the action throughout Bend Over Boyfriend’s sexual interludes. At the same time, the men’s biological penises are rarely glimpsed and are almost never a focal point. For example, in one scene, Troy gets on his knees to worship and fellate Cupcake’s “dick,” which remains in center frame, while his biological penis stays out of view. Even when the men’s penises are visible, they are always overshadowed by the larger and more actively engaged dildos.
In a similar vein, male ejaculation is of less concern in Bend Over Boyfriend than in the average pornographic film in which ejaculation, as Linda Williams famously stated in Hard Core, is the “sin qua non” of the genre that provides the visible proof that “real” bodily pleasure has taken place (100-3). Thus, we see Troy cum at the end of his “scene” with Cupcake, but the other men never visibly ejaculate. In fact, in an uncharacteristic moment, the film ends not with male ejaculation but with shots of Queen pumping her strap-on into her husband’s grateful bottom as she moans in orgasmic abandon.
All of this – the gender reversals, de-emphasis of the penis/ejaculation and focus on female desire and male anal pleasure – produces in combination a much different construction of sexuality than one normally finds in pornography. As previously noted, Dyer suggests that mainstream pornography constructs a heterosexist, phallic-based sexuality through its narratives which foreground the penis and male ejaculation. In contrast, Bend Over Boyfriend presents a model of hetero-masculinity that is not based on male phallic dominance but on male anal eroticism, and that depicts female sexual pleasure independent of receptive penetration and male ejaculation. This female pleasure is expressed through the audible sighs and exclamations that the women make while penetrating their men, as well as their satisfied facial expressions. This female pleasure is also decidedly active in nature: The women, who are all real-life pegging enthusiasts, not only talk openly about their fantasies and desires, they pursue and actualize them on screen.
These anti-sexist qualities of Bend Over Boyfriend are made all the more significant by the fact that Bend Over Boyfriend is an educational video that, as mentioned earlier, aims to involve the viewer on a corporeal level. That is, Bend Over Boyfriend aspires to have the viewer, in some form or fashion, physically imitate what he or she sees on screen. Dyer has argued that pornography, as
“an art, rooted in bodily effect can give us knowledge of the body that other art cannot” (27).
Accordingly, Bend Over Boyfriend extends porn’s capacity to stimulate/educate the body not only by seeking to arouse the body (as all porn seeks to do) but also by seeking to engage the body in new practices through its pedagogical interludes and film-within-a-film structure – new practices that may allow the viewer to experience her or his body and gender in non-traditional ways.
So, if Dyer is correct and mainstream pornography, with its emphasis on androcentric pleasures and male domination, is at least partially responsible for teaching us the
“worst aspects of the social construction of masculinity that men learn to experience in our bodies” (27).
Then Bend Over Boyfriend, which diverges from a traditional “masculine model of sexuality” (i.e., one grounded in penetration and ejaculation) has the potential to “re-educate desire” in the body (27). Insofar as the viewer does indeed respond corporally, either through arousal or through imitating what s/he sees on screen, s/he is receiving a much different education about femininity and masculinity than s/he would receive from more standard pornographic fare. This progressive pedagogy is made all the more remarkable by the fact that all of the “educators” in the film (besides Morgan) are women, and, if you include the director, at least one is a lesbian. For as Heather Butler has argued, the film offers a much needed space
“where the female presence in pornography can really exact an influence,” changing pornography’s educational role for the better (190).
Pegging is porn
In June of 2001, three years after the release of Bend Over Boyfriend, columnist Dan Savage, writing for Seattle’s The Stranger, ran a contest to determine the neologism that would subsequently be used to describe the act of a woman penetrating a man anally while wearing a strap-on dildo. The top three contenders included “BOBing,” after the initials in Bend Over Boyfriend, a testament to the success of the film, which upon its initial release was the fastest-selling video for the San Francisco-based sex shop Good Vibrations (Nathan 16). The other two contenders were “punting,” for “kicking the ball to the other team,” and “pegging,” the term that won the contest. One respondent claimed that pegging was historically significant:
“Pegging was a position in Her Majesty’s Navy. He was the boy available for the after-hours pleasure of the sailors on those long nights at sea. To keep loose for his hard night’s work, he would sit on a peg during the day” (Savage, par. 7).
Other respondents preferred the term because “Peg” is a woman’s name and, thus, evokes the biological sex of the person doing the pegging, and because “getting pegged” just sounds like a great deal more fun than getting “bobbed” or “punted” (Savage, par. 1-15). Yet, whatever the reason for the term’s selection, “pegging” is now a part of the U.S. sexual lexicon.
In the years since Bend Over Boyfriend and Savage’s contest, discourses on pegging have increased and communities centered on female-to-male penetration have emerged via blogs (e.g., http://www.pegging.thumblogger.com) and websites (e.g., http://www.take-it-like-a-man.com). Pegging has also begun to be recognized within popular media. In 2003, electroclash singer Peaches included an ode to pegging, “Back It Up Boys!,” on her album Fatherfucker. In 2006, an episode entitled “Crush Girl Love Panic” on the television program Weeds featured an instance of pegging between Andy Botwin (Justin Kirk) and his lust interest, Yael Hoffman (Meital Dohan), who to Botwin’s surprise removes a large harness and strap-on dildo from underneath her bed during their first sexual encounter. And in the 2008 independent film Zack and Miri Make a Porno (Kevin Smith), sex worker Bubbles (Traci Lords) pegs cherubic ingénue Barry (Ricky Mabe) in a semi-pornographic scene, while co-director Delaney (Craig Robinson) looks on and nervously remarks,
“I’m disturbed by how turned on I am by this.”
There is also evidence to suggest that pegging is becoming more popular among folks in the real world; according to at least one retailer, the sale of strap-on dildos to straight couples has risen dramatically in the years since Bend Over Boyfriend’s release. Perhaps most significantly, since Bend Over Boyfriend’s emergence, the quantity of pegging pornography being sold has increased dramatically. Whether a momentary fad or sign of things to come, this substantial subgenre currently includes everything from popular titles like Babes Ballin’ Boys (now in its nineteenth edition) and Strap On Chicks (now in its twentieth edition) to Xtube videos of amateur straight couples experimenting with strap-ons in the comfort of their own homes. In the following two sections I analyze two examples of this subgenre. These examples are intended to provide the reader with some information about the types of films that are being marketed to consumers as pegging porn. However, given the sheer number of pegging porn titles on the market, this is far from a comprehensive survey.
There are some observations that can be made about pegging porn in general. For one, all of the pegging porn that I have come across is marketed to straight men and heterosexual couples (as opposed to gay men). This is made clear by their categorization as “straight porn” on the various websites and catalogues (e.g., TLA video) in which they are advertised, as well as by the trailers for generic straight videos that accompany their releases (the DVD release of Strap-On My Man, for instance, includes trailers for the titles Cream Pie for the Straight Guy and 10 Hot Chicks). Unlike Bend Over Boyfriend,most pegging pornography has no aspirations to be educational. But, like Bend Over Boyfriend, most pegging pornography actively promotes gender-play and sex role reversal. This is made clear on the packaging for the videos and DVDs. Take, for example, the following blurb from the back of the Strap-On Addicts 4 DVD:
“Boys will always be boys, but sometimes girls wanna be boys too! And it’s easy...all they gotta do is strap a big hard dildo over their snatch, grease it all up and slide that plastic cock deep inside some lucky dude’s waiting ass! So check out these ‘well-hung’ chicks- they love doin’ the screwin’ as much as you do!” [sic]
However, beyond heterosexual address and the recurring themes of gender play and female-to-male penetration, there is little that ties all pegging porns together. Some films include other forms of heterosexual sex, while others do not. Some focus on one-on-one encounters, while others feature gangbang scenarios (i.e., scenes of several women pegging a single man). Some showcase interracial and/or bisexual sex, while many do not. The following films – Strap-On My Man and Take It Like A Man – have been chosen as they represent two dominant strands in pegging pornography: non-violent pegging porn and violent/sadomasochistic pegging porn.
Strap-On My Man
Strap-On My Man (Unknown, 2003) begins with three white women, one dressed in a long black gown, on a couch discussing their sexual fantasies, which include rimming (anal-oral contact) and female-to-male strap-on sex. The woman in the black gown tells her companions that a mutual friend will soon bring over a guy (later identified as Sonny) who has a fantasy of being fucked by multiple women, a fantasy that “his girlfriend won’t let him do.” Soon Sonny, an African-American male, is standing before them, fully clothed and wearing a blindfold. One of the women jokes that, with the blindfold on, Sonny will not see who is fucking him, and it “could be anyone . . . even the cameraman,” to which Sonny reacts with a nervous grin as the other women shout “no!”
Sonny’s grin and the women’s reaction reassure the audience that Sonny is a straight man. This can be read as homophobic gesture but is also key to pegging porn’s heterosexual male address. The verification of the male performer’s heterosexuality presumably functions to comfort the straight male viewer in the knowledge that one does not have to be homosexual to enjoy the sight of male penetration. Thus, while pornographic films such as Strap-On My Man may encourage straight men to imagine non-normative sexual possibilities for themselves, these films do not necessarily encourage straight men to question their core sexual identities. Indeed, these films often go to great lengths to mark themselves and their performers as heterosexual and clearly to dissociate male anal receptivity from the “taint” of homosexuality. This works toward breaking the persistent link between gay men and anal sex, making heterosexual sodomy and perversion known in the process, but also (re-) establishes gay men as the abject ‘other’: that which it is ultimately not ok to be.
Following this moment of verbal heterosexual reassurance, the women persuade Sonny to take off his clothes, before they ask him to turn around to show them his body. As with Bend Over Boyfriend, Sonny’s derriere and not his penis remains the center of visual attention throughout most of the scene that follows. This is not only significant in terms of breaking with pornographic gendered convention (as previously established, in mainstream commercial pornography the penis is generally the narrative focus) but racial convention as well. Sonny is a black man in a society that de-humanizes black men and reduces them to the level of genitalia and the sexual threat that this genitalia connotes in a racist society. As Frantz Fanon famously stated in Black Skin, White Masks,
“The Negro is . . . turned into a penis. He is a penis” (170).
Accordingly, while this scene involves the domination of a black man by several white women and can thus be accused of reiterating harmful black/white power dynamics, this de-centering of the penis also works against racist representational tropes.
Also, in light of the fact that the women remain at least partially clothed in the scene while Sonny is fully naked and the center of visual focus, a provocative question is raised. For whose pleasure is the film being made? If it is for straight men, then the film appears either to present a fantasy of erotic self-attention and objectification or more subversively to allow straight men to take pleasure in the male body under the “cover” of heterosexuality. If it is straight women, the fantasy seems to be in the creation of a space where women can gaze with desire at the male body with impunity since the blindfold denies Sonny the power to look back at the women, and the women’s clothed bodies hinder the objectifying gaze of an extra-diegetic male audience. Whatever the case may be, it is clear that, as with Bend Over Boyfriend, Strap-On My Man diverges from traditional phallocentric pornography in its deliberate eroticization of the male backside (as opposed to the penis) and de-objectification of the female body.
In the ensuing scene, the women place a makeshift jock-strap made of red masking tape on Sonny before they ask him to “get on all fours” on the couch. They then proceed to penetrate him with their fingers and several different butt plugs and dildos and finally with the strap-ons they are all wearing. The mood throughout the scene is one of playfulness, spontaneity, and erotic communication as the women joke, talk, and have fun with their appendages. This casual lighthearted mood culminates in a moment of surprising self-reflexivity, when one of woman acknowledges that they are all performing in a video and giddily suggests they call the porn, “Surrender Yourself to Sodomy.”
As with Bend Over Boyfriend, the women are also quite vocal about their pleasure throughout the scene, making such comments as, “I think I’m going to cum watching this.” They are also quite respectful of Sonny and his boundaries. At one point, Sonny cries out in pain and the women stop penetrating him. At another moment, they tell him, “Yell if you need us to stop.” Sonny, however, remains silent during most of the scene, only occasionally emitting a groan of pleasure or a sexual request (e.g., “go slower”). His pleasure is made obvious, however, by his erect penis and the copious “money shot” that concludes the scene: After being fucked by the women for about fifteen minutes, Sonny stands up and ejaculates while standing over the couch. This ending to the sexual number momentarily aligns Strap-On My Man with more conventional straight pornography and demonstrates that pegging pornography does not always break from the narrative pattern of mainstream pornography. Although, at the same time, it is important to note that this clichéd ending does not necessarily erase the “difference” that has preceded it.
The scenes that follow this “opening number” mostly feature Sonny in one-on-one sexual encounters with various women. In these scenes, pegging is smoothly integrated with more “traditional” forms of heterosex – cunnilingus, fellatio and vaginal intercourse – through jump cuts that remove the transitional moments between sexual acts, such as the women actually putting on their strap-ons before penetrating Sonny. In other words, moments of pegging are incorporated into the larger sexual scenes through cuts that suture the various sex acts together in a free-flowing and diverse amalgam of (hetero)sexual acts. The abrupt but smooth transitions between these acts, and the lack of any anxiety surrounding the incorporation of female-to-male penetration create the impression that pegging is just one of many perfectly natural practices that can be enjoyed by men and women during their (hetero)sexual interludes.
This is perhaps the film’s most interesting and progressive element. Strap-on My Man reiterates certain masculinist, pornographic conventions: as mentioned, scenes end with close-ups of male ejaculation, and one scene ends with Sonny ejaculating onto the face of his female sex partner. However, through smooth integration with other more commonplace sexual acts, pegging is situated as a “natural” heterosexual practice and desire. If Strap-On My Man has a message for straight male consumers, it seems to be that there is nothing wrong with being pegged and that it is relatively easy to integrate such practices into one’s sex life. Furthermore, as with Bend Over Boyfriend, Strap-On My Man demonstrates that women can derive pleasure from being in the “driver’s seat” and that men can and do enjoy the ride.
Take It Like A Man
Unlike Strap-On My Man, Take It Like A Man (Unknown, 2005) does not present pegging as a “natural” and relatively harmless variation on traditional heterosex. In fact, it depicts pegging as a type of gendered revenge. This is made clear in the blurb on the back of the DVD release:
“Today girls take their revenge, right from the start the action is intense as these girls find out just how much fun it is to wear the pants, and the cock in the situation. Choking and ass fucking is the name of the game. No less than 3 girl cocks per man ass and one man-whore even took 4 big black girl cocks. Stay tuned to the end for an unbelievable double anal that just keeps going and going.”
True to this description, the focus in Take It Like a Man is on rough sadomasochistic sex. The film is comprised of three scenarios. In the first, a group of women hire a male prostitute, Billy, for strap-on sex. In contrast to the other pegging videos that I have screened, Billy is explicitly figured as a gay prostitute. This is unusual in a porn subgenre that, as previously mentioned, actively attempts to reassure its male audience that the featured men are straight. However, there are several possible explanations for Billy’s gay identity. The film may be addressing female viewers who do not care about the sexual identities of the featured men and who might even be aroused by the prospect of engaging in sex with a gay man and possibly “converting” him. Given the film’s theme of punishment and degradation, Take it Like a Man could also be capitalizing on the internal homophobia of some of its male consumers, who may wish to be punished for their “deviant” desires. Or, perhaps the film is attempting to address open-minded – or even questioning – straight men.
Whatever the reasoning, in the ensuing scene, Billy is verbally humiliated (“Suck my dick, you little bitch!”), slapped across the face and ass as well as spit on, choked, and roughly fucked by the four women. The women all wear black dildos, hence the statement about “one man-whore” who “even took 4 big black girl cocks” on the DVD’s back cover. Although the women themselves are all white, this statement furthers the film’s theme of revenge, tinging it with racial connotations. Despite the gender-bending reference to “big black girl cocks,” the film reinforces the connection between “big cocks” and “black men,” a connection that conjures long-standing racist fantasies of black male sexual prowess as well as fears of black male sexual danger. As Kobena Mercer states:
“In the fantasmatic space of the supremacist imagination, the big black phallus is a threat not only to the white master (who shrinks in impotence from the thought that the subordinate black male is more potent and sexually powerful than he), but also to civilization itself, since the ‘bad object’ represents a danger to white womanhood and therefore miscegenation and racial degeneration.” (177)
One way that whites have dealt with this threat is through the overinvestment in or fetishization of the “big black phallus;” a fetishization which allows for a disavowal of the underlying anxieties the “big black phallus” provokes. Take It Like A Man takes this process one step further through the fetishization of big black phalluses that are entirely removed from potentially threatening black male bodies. Given that the women wearing the black dildos perform an aggressive, violent and misogynistic masculinity, through a chain of signification, this scene also reinforces stereotypical associations between black men and antisocial behaviors.
In the second scenario, an unidentified man is tied to a bed and forced to fellate and “bend over” for three women after declaring, “Getting fucked is not my thing.” This man later ejaculates while performing cunnilingus on one woman as another penetrates him from behind. In the third and final scenario, a man arrives home from the beach to find his wife having sex with two other women. In a more conventional porn, this moment would likely lead to a scene of straight male sexual domination in which the “lesbians” would be depicted as having been waiting for a man and his penis all along. Yet what starts out as an average straight male fantasy quickly becomes another rough sex scenario in which the women take turns fucking the husband, culminating in an instance of double-penetration.
As in the opening number, the women in these two scenes enact masculine identities. This is similar to the women’s gender behavior reversals in Bend Over Boyfriend, but if the women in Boyfriend enact masculine identities, the women in Take It Like a Man enact hyper-masculine identities, taking their gender-bending performance to a more aggressive extreme. Not only do they refer to their dildos as their “cocks” and “dicks,” but they treat the dildos as if they were real, stroking them and scratching the fake testicles in displays of masculine prerogative. This depiction defies common conceptions of women as (sexually) passive and gentle, and it offers a potentially empowering image of assertive womanhood. This “feminist” reading is complicated, however, by the violence and aggression in which the women participate. That is, it could be argued that Take It Like A Man justifies the abusive treatment some women experience in pornography by sanctioning the humiliation of individuals who perform the sexual role of bottom. From this perspective, Take It Like A Man simply reiterates and condones the problematic gender dynamics of mainstream straight pornography – namely “male” power and “female” submission.
Yet Take It Like A Man is not a mainstream porn film. It is aimed at a more specialized audience and represents desires and pleasures that mainstream pornography does not. In this regard, it might be a mistake to view the women in Take It Like A Man as essentially male substitutes, simply because of their violent and aggressive behavior. As Jill Dolan states in The Feminist Spectator,
“Power is not inherently male; a woman who assumes a dominant role is only malelike if the culture considers power as a solely male attribute” (68).
Dolan goes on to argue,
“Power, sexuality, and desire can be recuperated from the strictly male domain, and can assume distinctly different meanings placed in different sexual and gender contexts” (81).
Here Dolan is referring specifically to lesbian performance and pornography, but her assertions are applicable to pegging porn as well. Pegging porn’s expressions of power and desire are rendered differently than those of mainstream straight pornography by virtue of the change in context and the reconfiguration of the gender roles depicted. To dismiss the women’s aggressive behavior as simply male-identified or patriarchal and the men’s submissive behavior as female-identified and weak overlooks the ways in which pegging pornography disrupts and re-imagines traditional gendered meanings and the display of power, dominance, and submission in mainstream pornography.
Likewise, it is important to keep in mind that films like Take It Like a Man offer complex fantasies to viewers, and as the pro-sex feminists argued in the 1980s, sexual fantasies, no matter how non-politically correct, do not necessarily translate into a desire for the real thing. As such, although male and female viewers can derive pleasure from the violence leveled against men in these videos, this pleasure does not necessarily mean a desire to cause pain or to be hurt, nor to force someone to participate in pegging sex against their will (as we see happen in Take It Like a Man). Indeed, most participants in sadomasochistic activities argue that sexual fantasy and actual crime/abuse are entirely distinct and that the vast majority of sadomasochistic encounters are egalitarian and consensual. Dolan even claims that sexual fantasy can have a liberating effect, allowing
“for a limitless re-visioning of a reality that has been hampered by strict gender and sexual roles” (81).
Accordingly, by taking the themes and images of previous films like Bend Over Boyfriend to a violent extreme, it is possible that Take It Like a Man promotes a re-visioning of our gendered reality by presenting a fantasy in which men are no longer in control and assertive women have the power to turn the sex/gender system on its head.
In the final analysis, it is clear that pegging pornography offers a window onto an alternative realm of heterosexual desire and, as is the case with Bend Over Boyfriend, sometimes encourages viewers to participate physically. The alternative articulation of heterosexuality expressed in pegging pornography, which might be termed a “new heteroerotic” or a “queer form of heterosexuality,” turns the gender roles associated with “normal” heterosex on their head and complicates a one-to-one association between homosexuality and sodomy by pulling straights into the fold of sexual perversity. To say the latter another way, the fact that pegging involves a form of anal sex is significant. For, anal sex has long been regarded as a depraved practice, one which, especially in the age of HIV/AIDS, is likely to lead to disease and even death. These sentiments have shrouded the practice of anal sex in fear and denial. For straight men interested in pegging, the association between anal receptivity and effeminacy, weakness and homosexuality, heightens this fear and denial. Yet pegging pornography, which to varying degrees represents straight male anal receptivity as harmless, natural, erotic and fun, works against the embarrassment over anal sex, as well as its strict association with gay men.
In a similar vein, the practice of pegging links its participants with the queer project of reinscribing stigmatized practices and resisting sexual shame. Sexual shame has been an important topic in recent queer theory. Michael Warner, the queer theorist who has perhaps written most eloquently about sexual shame, states the following in the opening chapter of The Trouble with Normal:
“The most common judgments about sex assign dignity to some kinds (married, heterosexual, private, loving), as long as they are out of sight, while all other kinds of sex are no more dignified than defecating in public, and possibly less so. That kind of dignity we might as well call bourgeois propriety. In what I am calling queer culture, however, there is no truck with bourgeois propriety. If sex is a kind of indignity, then we’re all in it together. And the paradoxical result is that only when this indignity of sex is spread around the room, leaving no one out, and in fact binding people together, that it begins to resemble the dignity of the human.” (36)
Pegging pornography, which works against normative representations of “married, heterosexual, private, loving” sex, indeed has “no truck with bourgeois propriety.” Furthermore, its focus on a queer heterosexual practice serves to “spread the indignity of sex” around a room that is inhabited not only by queers but by straights as well.
Thus, one could say that pegging pornography offers a vision of queer-straight alliance that transcends mere rhetoric and provides an example of queer theory in straight practice. Although pegging pornography may not directly promote the kind of (queer-straight) bonding through shame and indignity that Warner advocates, at the very least these works allow the knowledge of straight male anal pleasure and queer heterosexual practice to be disseminated. They also permit straight male viewers to see that they are not alone or wrong in their desire to be penetrated. This is a small, but first step towards the realization of the (queer-straight) abject camaraderie and world-making possibilities desired by Warner. Films like Bend Over Boyfriend, Strap-on My Man and Take it Like A Man make female-to-male sodomy speakable and defend the practice against those who would like to keep such anti-normative (straight) practices in the closet and out of view.
Of course there is a difference between representation and reality and it would be utopian to suggest that a new pornographic subgenre can produce real world effects. In “From Here to Queer,” sociologist Suzanna Walters chastises queer scholars for recklessly celebrating representations of gender play while not attending to the realities of social life in a sexist, homophobic world. As she states,
“Rearranging the signs of gender too often becomes a substitute for challenging gender inequity. Wearing a dildo will not stop me from being raped as a woman or being harassed as a lesbian” (856).
In this regard, there is a risk in overemphasizing the transgressive aspects of pegging porn. More pegging porn on the shelves will not necessarily translate into more open-minded straight folks in the bedroom or fewer gay bashings in the streets. Yet although pegging porn may not inspire a sex/gender revolution, it does allow us to glimpse a world in which women are in charge, gender trouble is a way of life, anal sex is not shameful, and everyone is a little queer.
2. To be clear, although there are hundreds of pegging porn videos currently in existence, both within the amateur and commercial markets, the future of the subgenre is unclear. Whether pegging porn will prove to be an ongoing phenomenon or a temporary trend remains to be seen.
3. Individual scenes of pegging began appearing in mainstream pornography as early as 1975’s The Opening of Misty Beethoven, directed by Radley Metzger.
4. Adult Video News is a trade journal that covers the adult video industry in the United States. They sponsor an annual awards show modeled after the Academy Awards.
5. Nan Kinney and Deborah Sundahl formed Fatale Video in 1985, after having previously joined forces with Susie Bright to publish the erotic lesbian magazine On Our Backs, the sex-positive answer to Off Our Backs, a feminist magazine known for its anti-pornography standpoint. Fatale Video provided one of the few forums for lesbian sexual expression in the 1980s and early 90s and generated greater visibility for lesbian sexuality via the successful, nation-wide distribution of such videos as Hungry Hearts (1989) and Suburban Dykes (1990). Today, Fatale Video continues to produce lesbian pornography, but has also expanded its repertoire to include instructional videos like How To Female Ejaculate (1992) and non-lesbian-specific works such as Bend Over Boyfriend (1998).For more information on Fatale Video and the evolution of lesbian pornography, see Heather Butler, “What Do You Call a Lesbian with Long Fingers? The Development of Lesbian and Dyke Pornography,” in Porn Studies, ed. Linda Williams (Durham and London: Duke University Press, 2004), 167-197.
6. Kegel exercises consist of contracting and then relaxing the muscles that form part of the pelvic floor. Kegel exercises are believed to improve muscle tone and increase sexual gratification.
7. Queen does, however, note that not all women feel more masculine in taking on the role of penetrator. Likewise, Morgan is quick to point out that the role of bottom is not necessarily feminine or passive: that the penetrated man is “fucking his partner as much as his partner is fucking him.”
8. In other words, Bend Over Boyfriend highlights the artificiality of gender performance: the fact that anyone can perform masculinity or femininity, regardless of their biological sex and there is no necessary connection between biological sex and the gender that one chooses to perform.
9. For more on the “anti-dildo/anti-penetration” position, see Mary T. Conway, "Inhabiting the Phallus: Reading 'Safe Is Desire'," Camera Obscura 38(1996): 143-8; and Heather Findlay, “Freud’s ‘Fetishism’ and the Lesbian Dildo Debates,” in Out in Culture: Gay, Lesbian and Queer Essays on Popular Culture, ed. Corey K. Creekmur and Alexander Doty (London: Cassell, 1995), 328-30.
10. See, for example, Mary T. Conway, “Inhabiting the Phallus: Reading Safe is Desire,” Camera Obscura 13 (1996): 132-160.
11. Scenes of “strap-on fellatio” are common in the pegging porns that have followed Bend Over Boyfriend.
12. It may be that Morgan ejaculates during his final sex scene with Queen, but this is unclear from the way that the scene is shot: if Morgan does indeed ejaculate, the camera makes no effort to capture this visually, as it would in a more conventional porn film.
13. Additional pegging blogs and websites include www.lovepegging.com and www.straponsalon.blogspot.com. For a list of pornographic pegging websites, see footnote fifteen below.
14. Not all pegging representations in the popular media have been as affirming as the examples that I have listed. For example, in 2007, in the pilot episode of Dirt, tabloid editor Lucy Spiller (Courtney Cox) attempts to blackmail basketball superstar Prince Tyreese (Rick Fox) with photographs of Prince Tyreese being pegged by a prostitute. Unlike the other examples I have mentioned, Dirt (re)establishes male anal receptivity as shameful and debase.
15. A spokesperson from women's erotic emporium Sh! claims that, "A few years ago 98 percent of our strap-ons were sold to lesbian couples, but in the past year straight couples are becoming a significant factor in the dildo/harness market and now clock up around a fifth of all sales." As quoted in “Strap-on Sex for Straights: Are Two Cocks Better Than One?” Scarlet, 21 January 2005, (6 January 2009).
16. Xtube is an adult video hosting service on the Internet, which allows unregistered and registered users to share adult video content with others.
17. Pegging porn is available for purchase at www.tlavideo.com and can be downloaded for free on www.xtube.com, or for a fee on such Internet sites as www.babesballingboys.com, www.straponscreen.com, www.strapon.com, www.ladiesfuckgents.com, www.strapontales.com, www.straponpower.com, www.strapondiscounts.com and www.peggingporn.com. Readers interested in learning more about the diversity of pegging porn are encouraged to look to these outlets.
18. See, for example, Pat Califia, “Feminism and Sadomasochism,” CoEvolution Quarterly 33 (1982): 33-40. Also, an interview with Pat Califia that includes links to several of his articles can be found on-line at http://www.technodyke.com/features/patcalifa1.asp
The author would like to gratefully acknowledge Janet Staiger, Jill Dolan, Peter Alilunas and the anonymous reviewers at Jump Cut for their helpful feedback on earlier drafts of this essay.
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