The Phenomenon of ‘Bud Sex’ Between Straight Rural Men is the title of Jesse Singal’s article on sexuality in New York Magazine. In it, she describes the work of the University of Oregon’s sociology doctoral student Tony Silva who looked at rural white men who identify as “straight” and have sex with other men. The subjects of his work were 19-year-old straight (or mostly straight) men who had advertised for male sexual encounters in rural areas.
Perhaps the simplest way of describing the findings is that the men interviewed tended to be masculine in their behavior and enjoyed sex with other masculine men, but noted that it didn’t detract from their heterosexual identity.
Of course, “being gay” is an identity, not an objective fact. It’s how one thinks of oneself, just as one might think of themselves as “Italian” although they’re a 3rd-generation American and only one set of grandparents had entirely Italian blood.
In my years of sex therapy, I’ve come across men who rarely have sex with women yet identify as straight, as well as men who have sex almost entirely with women yet identify as gay, and of course, all points in between.
One of the interesting findings about straight guys hooking up reported by Singal is that an important piece of preserving these men’s identities as straight was that they themselves were “masculine” in their behavior, as were the men that they liked to have sex with, thus giving it the feel of sex between straight men.
There was a clear rejection of men who identified as gay or displayed stereotypical feminine behavior.
This was a particularly interesting finding to me. It exemplifies that while sexuality in and of itself can be fluid, how one identifies or thinks of themselves may be more strongly influenced by the cultural demands around them.
These men were from rural areas, and perhaps both due to prejudice and lack of exposure, may not have been aware that gay people come in all shapes and sizes, as well as likes and dislikes.
For me, as a gay man, an important part of that is that I enjoy masculinity. In my early coming out experiences, I sometimes felt pressured by other gay men to “be myself” and stop “trying to act so butch.”
But that’s who I was: a masculine man. It didn’t make me “less gay” or inauthentic. Nobody was acting. It is, in some ways, the inverse of what many of these men must have experienced where cultural demands for masculinity are at odds with identifying as gay or bisexual.
Another interesting aspect of the report is that the men almost uniformly denied an emotional connection beyond friendship to each other. Yet they also reported enjoying activities together that go beyond a casual sexual hookup.
One reported always meeting for coffee with his male sexual partner, another said he enjoyed shopping trips or weekends together with his sexual partner. And while the caring seems genuine, it also seems to be kept on the level of “buddies” and was not allowed to reach any deep emotional level that might be misunderstood as “being in love.”
Here. we brush across a very interesting key point: our masculine society holds stereotypical female behavior in contempt.
So the idea of men occasionally having sex with other men is not what is abhorrent to the greater world, but rather a man acting in any way that would be considered traditionally feminine.
In fact, at one point in the article, sex between men is referred to as “helping a buddy out.” Helping a buddy out is what men do for each other, like changing a flat tire. Baking cookies for him, getting “all sweet for him” are things a woman would do and therefore spoken of pejoratively.
I have heard many men over the years laugh about a camping trip or being drunk and one of them giving the other a blow job. In the discussion, the sexual exchange is usually treated as a routine thing that is liable to happen in those circumstances.
Not a terribly big deal where all the guys involved are straight. But to walk like a girl, or throw like a girl or fight like a girl that is what makes you the object of contempt. It is that which gets you labeled a sissy or a faggot, and makes you the object of public scorn.
Perhaps that explains why some straight men will have sex with other men but are terrified by romantic attractions to anyone, male or female.
Dr. Eli Mayer is a sex therapist for couples and individuals in New York City. If you’re looking for help understanding what’s happening in your bedroom, give Dr. Eli a call (212) 242-2219.