Dude Sex! Our interview with the study author
Why do men who identify as straight have sex with other guys? What would lead a heterosexual male living in rural America to orally service his best bud? And what can be said about the sexual orientation of guys who occasionally hook up with one another?
These are just a few questions buzzing around the Internet after a ground breaking research paper hit the Internet.
In his study, Bud-Sex: Constructing Normative Masculinity Among Rural Straight Men That Have Sex With Men, doctoral student Tony Silva at the University of Oregon’s sociology program may have the answers.
And make no mistake about it – his research has got everyone talking!
Given interest in this topic, Gay Pop Buzz spoke with Silva about his work and asked a series of questions to help offer readers clarity. What follows is our interview, which we hope you find interesting.
Let’s jump right in!
What prompted you to do this research?
Although there is quite a bit of research about sexuality and masculinity in urban areas, rural sexualities and masculinities are fairly understudied. For this reason I was interested to examine rural areas.
Further, there is very little research about heterosexuality—there is a widespread perception that all straight people are basically the same, when in fact there is considerable diversity in attractions, desires, and sexual practices among straight-identified individuals, including among men.
Additionally, male heterosexual flexibility is understudied. Although there is an emerging literature exploring women’s sexual flexibility, few previous studies have investigated how men may experience unintentional changes to their sexual attractions or sexual desires, or unanticipated changes to their sexual practices, especially across the life course.
Major age-related themes emerged: 12 of 19 men experienced unintentional changes to their sexual attractions, years or decades after marriage. Further, 7 of 19 said they began having sex with men at least in part because sex became painful, uncomfortable, or undesirable for their wives, and 2 did so because they experienced erectile dysfunction, which limited their ability to penetrate sexual partners. This suggests the need for more life course research on sexualities and masculinities.
I was interested to study straight men, specifically, because there is a cultural narrative that they aren’t very sexually flexible. As the participants in this study (and other emerging research projects) demonstrate, many straight men do in fact experience sexuality as flexible.
How did you arrive at the term “Bud Sex”?
I came up with the term “bud-sex” to describe the participants’ experiences as straight, rural men. Bud-sex reflects the ways in which participants interpret their sexual practices (e.g., “helpin’ a buddy out” or acting on “urges”), their preferred male sexual partners (almost always masculine, and often white and straight or secretly bisexual), and the sexual encounters in which they engaged (secretive and non-romantic).
Jane Ward developed the term “dude-sex” to explain sex between straight white men in urban, suburban, or military settings.
How is bud-sex different than dude-sex or bro jobs?
First, it’s important to keep in mind that interpretations are central to sexual identities. Identities like straight, gay/lesbian, bisexual, queer, pansexual, and others refer to a complex matrix of attractions, sexual practices, and interpretations of each.
Sexual identities don’t just refer to attractions or sexual practices—they also indicate how people interpret each one, as well as how they evaluate other aspects of their lives. It was this interpretive element that I was hoping to explore, to see how participants saw themselves as straight and masculine despite engaging in sexual practices that wider society frames as gay or bisexual.
Men like these participants use unconventional interpretations to bolster their identification as straight. Thus, while “bud-sex” and anonymous gay hookups may appear similar, the people involved interpret them in completely different ways.
For gay and bisexual men, their sex with men reinforces their gay or bisexual identity. For straight men, the ways in which they have sex with men—and how they interpret it—reinforce their straightness. Similar sexual practices carry different meanings across contexts and populations.
Similarly, while bud-sex refers to sex between rural straight men, dude-sex (which Jane Ward explains) refers to sex between straight white men in urban, suburban, or military settings. These types of sex share similarities, but are distinct. “Bro-job” wasn’t a term developed by a researcher, but it seems to be another phrase for dude-sex.
How difficult was it to find the 19 men you interviewed?
Recruitment was a major challenge, and it continues to be as I expand this for my dissertation. Men in this population are highly secretive, and even those who want to talk may not have the privacy and free time to do so. Recruitment has been the top challenge, and I expect it will continue to be.
How reliable to you think the interviews were when gauging bud-sex?
Although there is a hypothetical possibility participants in interviews could lie, that doesn’t often happen in interviews. Dedicating an hour to an hour-and-a-half to talk about something like this is generally something people will do only if they really want to share their experiences. Indeed, many participants said they were happy that they were able to discuss their experiences with someone (me), since they aren’t often able to do that. For many, I was the first person other than their male sexual partners they told about their sex with men.
Would you describe these men as truly “straight” or are they really bisexual?
These men genuinely identify as straight or some variation thereof. They are not “fooling” themselves.
Regarding straight men that have sex with men, it is important to differentiate between two populations: (1) those who identify as gay or bisexual but tell other people that they are straight, and who are thus “closeted,” and (2) those who identify as straight and perceive their sexual identity in ways that run counter to what people think of as straightness. Men like my participants are in the second population. Interpretations are key to sexual identification.
Certainly, they have been affected by social forces that encourage identification as straight (including widespread heteronormativity and bi/homophobia) and influence the ways they interpret their sexuality. Participants’ interpretations of their sexual practices and other aspects of their lives cement their straight identity.
We cannot say an individual’s identity is inaccurate—that is their identity. We are all affected by social forces, and what identity we adopt reflects a complex combination of personal agency and social forces that influence our interpretations and choices.
What’s your sense about how much dude sex happens in rural settings?
This is difficult to know. Representative surveys are the best way to measure the percentage of the population with same-sex sexual practices, and that research indicates that the proportion of the US male population that has had sex with a man has been increasing slightly over the past few decades.
In the entire US population, the proportion of men who have ever had sex with another man is under 9%; most estimates put it somewhere between 6%-8%. It could be higher, however, since even on anonymous surveys respondents usually underreport same-sex sexual practices or attractions. As a whole, surveys indicate that there are more men who have had sex with men than who identify as gay or bisexual.
This is true in rural settings, similarly to suburban and urban contexts. Most of my participants said they hooked up with many guys like themselves, suggesting this is fairly common in rural areas.
It seems the men you spoke with put a heavy emphasis on masculinity. Can you speak more about why this might be?
Hooking up with other masculine men and having sex with men in ways they saw as compatible with rural masculinity—secretive and non-romantic—normalized their sexual encounters as compatible with straightness and masculinity.
By having sex with men like themselves, and in particular ways, they were able to interpret their sex with men as straight and masculine.
What surprised you most about the interviews?
Going into it I thought participants might associate being penetrated with femininity or gayness, and penetration with masculinity or straightness, when in fact most did not. These interpretations of penetration as unrelated to straightness or masculinity reaffirmed their own straightness and masculinity, regardless of what specifically they did.
None questioned their masculinity or straightness due to penetrating or being penetrated. It was how they interpreted sex that was key to identifying as straight and masculine, not whether they penetrated or were penetrated.
Can you share your own sexual orientation and a little about your background?
I identify as queer, and grew up in a semi-rural area. My primary research interests include sexuality, gender, rurality, and qualitative and quantitative methods.
–End of Interview–
GPB would like to thank Tony Silva for his time and participating in this interview.