By Matthew Hodson | @Matthew_Hodson

The other day I found myself talking about anal sex with the sixty-something year old mother of a friend. I didn’t raise the subject, I hasten to add.

She’d just seen a play which involved some descriptions of anal sex and wanted to know whether gay men actually enjoyed it (yes) and could they climax from it (sometimes).

“It never did much for me,” she confessed.

“That’s because you don’t have a prostate gland,” I explained.

I do know some women who enjoy butt sex but they are at a distinct biological disadvantage for anal joy. We men have the prostate gland, which for most leads to sensations of pleasure when stimulated, and women don’t. Pleasure from anal stimulation isn’t inherently a gay thing. It’s as possible for heterosexual men as it is for gay men – our bodies and bits are all the same. Kanye West went to great lengths to insist that he’d never enjoyed a finger up his butt – but maybe it’s about time he tried it? Who knows? He might find he loves it.

But it’s not just heterosexual men who feel wary about admitting to enjoying anal sex. However far we’ve come in terms of gay liberation, there remains a strong seam of shame when it comes to discussing the mechanics of gay sex. I doubt that there’s a single gay man reading this who hasn’t heard some variation of the ‘he says he’s versatile which means he’s a bottom’ joke at some point.

It’s drummed into us that being insertive is masculine and that being receptive is feminine – and that femininity is something that men should avoid at all costs. None of this is true. Getting pleasure from prostate stimulation is as definitively masculine as you can get. In any case, perceived masculine and feminine qualities are not right and wrong, they’re just different from each other – and they’re not simply determined by gender either.

Homophobes obsess about anal sex because they think it makes us dirty. They argue that just because the arse is used for another biological purpose it shouldn’t also be used for sex. Of course this is nonsense. Humans use many bits of our bodies for a range of purposes: we eat, breathe and speak with our mouths; we piss and cum with our cocks. We shouldn’t let the fear and ignorance of others define how we think about our sexuality.

What we do and don’t enjoy sexually is influenced by a wide range of factors. Some are physiological, some psychological and some social. And that’s OK. Not everyone enjoys having their nipples or balls played with and not everyone is crazy about receiving blowjobs either. By the same token, if you’re not into anal sex at all, or if you’re only into giving or receiving, that’s also fine.

But the majority of gay men (about 90%) do enjoy anal sex. That’s why when HIV first came on the scene we adopted condoms – because the prospect of giving up on anal sex altogether was not acceptable as a long-term (and for some, not even as a short-term) solution.

Not only do most of us do it, the majority of us are actually versatile in our anal sex behaviour. The idea that gay men are either exclusively tops or exclusively bottoms doesn’t reflect our lived experience.

Why does any of this matter? Because it’s anal sex, specifically receptive anal sex without a condom (and without the protection of anti-retroviral drugs), that results in so many gay and bisexual men becoming infected with HIV.

If we can’t talk about it honestly, without defensiveness or scorn, then how do we get to the point where we’re able to have those all too necessary straightforward conversations about sex? If we feel shame about the sex we like, what impact does that have on our ability to be open and honest about what we do and don’t like doing and what we have and haven’t done? If we denigrate, or allow others to denigrate, gay men for enjoying something that they are biologically developed to gain pleasure from, we’re contributing to a cycle which results in people having less confidence, and less ability to negotiate the sex that is right, and safe enough, for them.

LGBT people are not inherently bad or wrong. Neither is the sex that we enjoy.

Matthew Hodson is the Executive Director of NAM