Anal Sex-Phobia, Moral Panics and Gay Marriage

The New Hampshire House of Representatives voted today to reject a proposal to amend the state’s Constitution to limit legal marriage to male/female couples.And thank goodness for that. But part of the backstory is pretty significant.

Earlier in the week in a Judiciary Committee Hearing, N.H. State Rep. Nancy Elliott claimed that the legalization of gay marriage has led to graphic descriptions of anal sex being taught to 5th graders. Let’s take a look at what she said:

First off, notice that description of gay sex: “taking the penis of one man and putting it into the rectum of another man and wiggling it around in excrement.” She then asks, “would you let that happen to you? Is that normal?” My colleague, Dr. Carol Queen, responds that she never hears anyone describe sex as “wiggling” except 8- or 9-year olds. 🙂

Elliot’s comment is pretty enlightening on several levels. First off, like many other people, she equates being gay with anal sex. And as anyone who knows anything about sex can tell you, lots of gay & bisexual men don’t have anal sex, while plenty of heterosexual men and women of all sexual orientations do. In fact, according to the Centers for Disease Control, “40% of men and 35% of women [between 25“44 years old] have had anal sex with an opposite-sex partner.” (yes, I know the idea of “opposite-sex” is problematic, but I wanted to quote the original report.)

Meanwhile, the same survey showed that “[a]mong males 15“44 years of age, 5.7% have had oral sex with another male at some time in their lives, and 3.7% have had anal sex with another male.” That means that more men have had anal sex with women than have had anal sex with another man. Of course, that doesn’t address whether a higher percentage of gay men have had anal sex since there are fewer gay men than heterosexual men. But nevertheless, it highlights the fact that this legislator doesn’t know what she’s talking about. Further, if 35-40% of people have done something, that makes it a pretty normal thing to do. Perhaps not in the statistical sense, but in the everyday use of the word.

Second, Elliot doesn’t know much about anal sex. The rectum does not generally contain feces until just before you move your bowels. Granted, there can be some residue, which is why some people prefer to rinse the rectum with an enema before anal sex. But “wiggling around in excrement” is not how it usually works.

Lastly, it turns out that (of course), the school district doesn’t teach kids about gay sex.  When Elliot went back to confirm her sources after the meeting, she couldn’t find them. That’s because it’s not true. And it’s quite interesting that rather than, say, calling the school, parents, the police, or the school board, Elliot simply made her claims, which were based on something she had been told “shortly before the hearing.” Apparently, due diligence isn’t something she considered important here.

This is a really common political technique. Making a false claim that relies on shame and/or disgust is a great way to create a moral panic because they’re strong, negative emotions that are often hard to think about rationally. When you get people to feel them, they often respond without stopping to consider their actions. Perhaps that was Elliot’s intention, or perhaps it was the intention of the mysterious person who told her that anal sex was being taught to kids. At t his point, there;s no way to tell.

Elliot’s rather disingenuous apology has stirred up quite a bit of local anger. And while I’m really glad that the NH legislature didn’t allow hearsay to sway the decision, that’s not always the case. This is why sex education and sex positivity are so important- without them, we let people like Elliot take over. If she doesn’t want to have anal sex, that’s fine. But it’s not her business to shame other people who enjoy it and it’s not her business to spread falsehoods in order to ban gay marriage.

If anyone wants to chip in and help Elliot learn about anal sex, we have lots of great guides you could send her. Tristan Taormino’s Expert Guide to Anal Sex, Anal Pleasure & Health, and  The Anal Sex Position Guide are all good places to start. Or maybe she just needs to read the how-to info on this page. I’m just sayin’.


Dr. Charlie Glickman

Charlie Glickman is the Education Program Manager at Good Vibrations. He also writes, blogs, teaches workshops and university courses, presents at conferences, and trains sexuality educators. He’s certified by the American Association of Sexuality Educators, Counselors, and Therapists, and loves geeking out about sex, relationships, sex-positivity, love and shame, communities of erotic affiliation, and sexual practices and techniques of all varieties. Follow him online, on Twitter at @charlieglickman, or on Facebook.

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