Chapter Nine Gay Male Homosexual and Sexual Behavior of Gay Males
The gay male clone was not a representative male homosexual of gay liberation during the late 1960s and early 1970s. But what was representative of male homosexuality was what became to be known as the gay male lifestyle. What it meant to be me a gay male homosexual was extremely sexualized, a lifestyle that revolved around sexual activity. In all of history the male homosexual of gay liberation appears to be unique. Historically significant too are the consequences resulting from this gay liberation for all homosexuals and for all of society.
A change in who homosexuals actually have sex with, became more significant during the 1960s and resulted in new sexual behaviors among male homosexuals. Prior to the 1960s homosexual men had sex with heterosexual men who were called "trade". The latter was the passive partner in a sex act; usually this was an oral sex act. Although there were occasions when the heterosexual trade was the active insertive partner in anal sex. But as the stigma against homosexuality increased heterosexual men became frightened that they too might be labeled homosexual and thus were no longer willing to be participate in sexual activity with homosexual men. This resulted in more homosexual men having sex with other homosexual men and the specific sexual behaviors themselves also changed. This change in male homosexual behavior also resulted in the changes in some of the specific diseases that effected male homosexuals and dramatic rates in the instances of sexually transmitted diseases among male homosexuals.
Indeed, there is no record of any culture that accepted both homosexuality and unlimited homosexual promiscuity. Far from being the universal default mode of male homosexuality, the lifestyle of American gay men in the seventies and eighties appears unique in history. (Rotello, Sexual Ecology: AIDS and the Destiny of Gay Men, p. 225)
For the first time ever, a community standard developed that transformed anonymous sex into a god thing - another choice on the broadening sexual palette. Casual sex encounters no longer took place simply because men needed to conceal their identities, but because it was considered hot to separate sex from intimacy. (Sadownick, Sex Between Men, p. 83)
In the 1970s, a new cultural scenario developed that celebrated and encouraged sexual experimentation and the separation of sex from intimacy among gay men; this, in turn, reinforced the transactional nature of the market as anonymous sexual encounters and multiple partners became normative (see Murray, 196, 175; Sadownick, 1996, 77-112). Levine (1992, 83) summarizes the effect of gay liberation on gay sexual scripts: Gay liberation’s redefinition of same-sex love as a manly form of erotic expression provoked masculine identification among clones, which was conveyed through butch presentational strategies, and cruising, tricking, and partying . . . In a similar vein, the roughness, objectification, anonymity, and phallocentrism association with cruising and tricking expressed such macho dictates as toughness and recreational sex . . . The cultural idea of self-gratification further encouraged these patterns, sanctioning the sexual and recreational hedonism inherent in cruising, tricking, and partying. While relational sex or coupling and safe sex may have become symbolically important in the 1980s and 1990s, scripts that legitimate the transactional market are still prominent, and there is no conclusive evidence that the market has become relational (see Sadownick, 1996 chapters 5-7; Murray 1996, 175-78; cf. Levine 1992, 79-82.). (Laumann, Ellingson, Mahay, Paik, and Youm, The Sexual Organization of the City, p. 97)
In sum, gay sex institutions and the sexual activity in them became the functional social equivalent of family, friends, and community: They promoted social bonds that gave gays a sense of belonging and social support. (Rushing, The AIDS Epidemic Social Dimensions of an Infectious Disease, p. 30)
The institutions of the gay world have often made it easier for men to meet for sex than for companionship, and most long-lasting relationships accept sexual infidelity, through the word itself rings oddly. (Altman, Defying Gravity: A Political Life, p.118)
In general, sexual adventure is regarded within the gay world as an end in itself, not necessarily linked to emotional commitment- while, in reverse, emotional commitment does not demand sexual constancy (may not even demand sex at all) to survive. (Altman, Defying Gravity: A Political Life, p.118)
These observations of new syndromes associated with a very active male homosexual life-style suggests that both the type of sexual activity and the extent of promiscuity associated with it changed markedly during the 1970s. (Root-Bernstein, Rethinking AIDS: The Tragic Cost of Premature Consensus, p. 285-286)
The extensive casual networks of gays engaging in sex apparently for the sole purpose of sensuous pleasure, and in so many different ways, went far beyond anything that had occurred before in the United States or elsewhere or that anyone could have imagined just a few years previously. Without question, the sexual style of gay communities in the 1970s and early 1980s was a specific historic phenomenon (Bateson and Goldsby, 1988:44). (Rushing, The AIDS Epidemic Social Dimensions of an Infectious Disease, p. 27)
The complex research agenda that characterized the period from the early 1970s to the beginning of the AIDA epidemic reflected major changes within the gay and lesbian communities themselves. The decision by a large number to openly label themselves gay men and lesbian changed the experience of same-gender sexuality. From a relatively narrow homosexual community based primarily on sexual desire and affectional commitment between lovers and circles of friends, there emerged a community characterized by the building of residential areas, commercial enterprises, health and social services, political clubs, and intellectual movements. (Turner, Miller, and Moses, Editors. AIDS Sexual Behavior and Intravenous Drug Use, p.127)
Gay historian Dennis Altman notes that in the liberated seventies, when promiscuity was seen as a virtue in some segments of the gay community, being responsible about one’s health was equated with having frequent checks for syphilis and gonorrhea, and such doubtful practices as taking a couple of tetracycline capsules before going to the baths. To gay men for whom sex was the center and circumference of their lives, their only real health concern was that illness would prevent them from having sex - which, to their way of thinking, meant they would no longer be proudly gay. (Andriote, Victory Deferred: How AIDS Changed Gay Life in America, p.37)
When AIDS hit the homosexual communities of the US, several studies were conducted by the vigilant CDC to determine what it was in the homosexual lifestyle which predisposed to this immunosuppressive condition. There were really only two things which distinguished the homosexual lifestyle: the promiscuous sex and the extensive use of recreational drugs. (Adams, AIDS: The HIV Myth, p.127)
Other men who had participated enthusiastically in the life of the ghetto had grown tired of its anonymity and inverted values. They questioned why membership in the gay community had come to require that one be alienated from his family, take multiple drugs and have multiple sex partners, dance all night at the right clubs, and spend summer weekends at the right part of Fire Island. Rather than providing genuine liberation, gay life in the ghettos had created another sort of oppression with its pressure to conform to social expectations of what a gay man was supposed to be, believe, wear, and do. (Andriote, Victory Deferred: How AIDS Changed Gay Life in America, p.24)
Sexual Behavior of Gay Male Homosexuals
Unique in the history of homosexuality is what begin to occur in the 1960s and continues today. That is the social behavior and sexual behavior of gay male homosexuals. This fundamental change began with gay male self-perceptions and beliefs in what it meant to be a gay male homosexual. What it meant to be me a gay male homosexual was extremely sexualized, a lifestyle that revolved around sexual activity. This resulting change in social behavior resulted in correspondingly changes in sexual behavior. That is the sexual habits of gay male homosexuals: ways of having sex, kindsm and numbers of partners. Gay male homosexuals abandoned strict role separation in the sex act itself, and played both the insertive and receptive roles in anal sex. Even more dramatic in gay male sexual behavior was the number of partners that is the promiscuity of gay male homosexuals.
Furthermore, in previous periods in history when homosexuality had been widely accepted socially, as, for example, in classical Greece, there had been no sexual practices remotely resembling those associated with the gay subcultures of the 1970s and 1980s. (Rushing, The AIDS Epidemic Social Dimensions of an Infectious Disease, p. 27)
Evidence convincingly argues that before the middle of the century gay sexual behavior was vastly different from what it was to become later, that from mid-century onward there were fundamental changes not only in gay male self-perceptions and beliefs, but also in sexual habits, kinds and numbers of partners, even ways of making love. These revolutions reached a fever pitch just as at the moment HIV exploded like a series of time bombs across the archipelago of gay America. When gay experience is viewed collectively, it appears that the simultaneous introduction of new behaviors and a dramatic rise in the scale of old ones produced one of the greatest shifts in sexual ecology ever recorded. There is convincing evidence that this shift had a decisive impact on the transmission of virtually every sexually transmitted disease, of which HIV was merely one, albeit the most deadly (Rotello, Sexual Ecology: AIDS and the Destiny of Gay Men, p. 39)
In the 1970s an extraordinary proliferation of clubs, bars, discotheques, bathhouse, sex shops, travel agencies, and gay magazines allowed the community to come out and adopt a whole new repertoire of erotic behavior, out of all measure to any similar past activities. (Grmek, History of AIDS, p. 168-169)
We don’t know, in real quantitative terms, what really changed in homosexual behavior in the 1970s, but it is possible to identify three major areas of change: the expansion of homosexual bathhouses and sex clubs, which facilitate numerous sexual contacts in one night (by 1984 one bathhouse chain included baths in forty-two American cities, including Memphis and London, Ontario), the emergence of sexually transmitted parasites as a major homosexual health problem, especially in New York and California, and a boom in recreational drugs - that is, the use of chemical stimulants such as MDA, angel dust, various nitrates, etc. - in conjunction with what came to be known as fast-lane sex. These three elements would all be linked to various theories about AIDS during the 1980s. (Altman, AIDS in the Mind of America, p. 14)
When the bath-houses existed, for example, many men who attended sought out multiple sexual experiences each evening; many would be disappointed if they only had one sexual encounter during the course of several hours. In his study of the bath-house culture in the 1960s, for example, Martin Hoffman interviewed one young man who, as the passive receptor, often had some fifty sexual contacts in the course of an evening.
Bath-house sex, as is true of various other contexts of gay sexual activity, was generally anonymous. The men who went there usually had no social contact with each other save for the most casual of conversations. They had no knowledge of the nature of each other’s lives in the outside world and addressed one another only by first names. (Giddens, The Transformation of Intimacy Sexuality, Love and Eroticism in Modern Societies, p. 145)
One of the remarkable features of the baths is the really very great amount of sexual contact that a man can have during a single visit to a bath. In fact, many customers are disappointed if they go to the baths and have only one sexual experience, even though they may feel it is satisfactory. I once interviewed a young man who preferred to take the receptor role in anal intercourse and had 48 sexual contacts in one evening, simply by going into his room, leaving the door open, lying on his belly and letting 48 men in succession sodomize him. (Hoffman, The gay World Male Homosexuality and the Social Creation of Evil, p. 50)
Perhaps the most import fact about a gay bar is that it is a sexual marketplace. That is, men go there for the purpose of seeking sexual partners, and if this function were not served by the bar there would be no gay bars, for although homosexuals also go there to drink and socialize, the search for sexual experience is in some sense the core of the interaction in the bar. (Hoffman, The gay World Male Homosexuality and the Social Creation of Evil, p. 53)
Anal sex had come to be seen as an essential - possibly the essential - expression of homosexual intimacy by the 1980s, (Rotello, Sexual Ecology: AIDS and the Destiny of Gay Men, p. 101)
In the middle of the century, and particularly in the sixties and seventies, gay men began doing something that appears rare in sexual history: They began to abandon strict role separation in sex and alternately play both the insertive and receptive roles, a practice sometimes called versatility. (Rotello, Sexual Ecology: AIDS and the Destiny of Gay Men, p. 76)
Another relative novelty was the increasing flexibility of sex roles. Homosexuality in more traditional cultures had typically followed rigid patterns: certain men were the insertive partners in oral and anal intercourse, others the receptive ones. In the 1970s and 1980s, however, American gay men often took both insertive and receptive roles. Rather than serve as cul-de-sac for the virus, as heterosexual women often did, gay and bisexual men more often acted as an extremely effective conduit for HIV. (Allen, The Wages of Sin: Sex and Disease, Past and Present, p. 125-126)
As the gay version of the sexual revolution took hold among certain groups of gay men in America’s largest cities, it precipitated a change in sexual behaviors. Perhaps the most significant change was the fact that some core groups of gay men began practicing anal intercourse with dozens or even hundreds of partners a year. Also significant was a growing emphasis on versatile anal sex, in which partners alternately played both receptive and insertive roles, and on new behaviors such as analingus, or rimming that facilitated the spread of otherwise difficult-to-transmit microbes. Important, too, was a shift in patterns of partnership, from diffuse systems in which a lot of gay sex was with non-gay identified partners who themselves had few contacts, to fairly closed systems in which most sexual activity was within a circle of other gay men. Also important was a general decline in group immunity caused by repeated infections of various STDs, repeated inoculations of antibiotics and other drugs to combat them, as well as recreational substantive abuse, stress, and other behaviors that comprised immunity. (Rotello, Sexual Ecology: AIDS and the Destiny of Gay Men, p. 57-58)
The magical link was through a key term. One word, the gay writer Nathan Frain has written, is like a hand grenade in the whole affair: promiscuity. Although promiscuity has long been seen as a characteristic of male homosexuals, there is little doubt that the 1970s saw a quantitative jump in its incidence as establishments such as gay bath-houses and back-room bars, existing specifically for the purposes of casual sex, spread in all major cities of the United States and elsewhere from Toronto to Pairs, Amsterdam to Sydney (though London remained more or less aloof, largely due to the effects of the 1967 reform). Michel Foucalt has written characteristically of the growth of laboratories of sexual experimentation in cities such as San Francisco and New York, ;the counterpart of the medieval courts where strict rules of proprietary courtship were defined. For the first time for most male homosexuals, sex became easily available. With it came the chance not only to have frequent partners but also to explore the varieties of sex. Where sex becomes to available, Foucault suggests, constant variations are necessary to enhance the pleasure of the act. For many gays coming out in the 1970s the gay world was a paradise of sexual opportunity and of sensual exploration. (Weeks, Jeffery. Sexuality and Its Discontents Meanings, Myths and Modern Sexualities, p.47-48)
These data demonstrate definitively that the gay liberation movement resulted in a great increase in promiscuity among gay men, along with significant changes in sexual practices that made rectal trauma, immunological contact with semen, use of recreational drugs, and the transmission of many viral, amoebal, fungal, and bacterial infections far more common than in the decades prior to 1970. The same data strongly suggest that recent changes in sexual and drug activity played a major role in vastly enlarging the homo- and bisexual male population at risk for developing immunosuppression. Since promiscuity, engaging in receptive anal intercourse, and fisting are the three highest-risk factors associated with AIDS among gay men and since each of these risk factors is correlated with known cases of immunosuppression, they represent significant factors in our understanding of why AIDS emerged as a major medical problem only in 1970. (Root-Bernstein, Rethinking AIDS: The Tragic Cost of Premature Consensus, p. 290-291)
Whatever the cause of AIDS, single or multi-factorial, it is certain that the promiscuous homosexuals of the late seventies and early eighties were fertile ground for an epidemic." (Adams, AIDS: The HIV Myth, p.131)
The primary factor that led to increase HIV transmission was anal sex combined with multiple partners, particularly in concentrated core groups. By the seventies there is little doubt that for those in the most sexually active core groups, multipartner anal sex had become a main event. Michael Callen, both an avid practitioner and a careful observer of life in the gay fast lane, believed that this was a historically unprecendented aspect of the gay sexual revolution. (Rotello, Sexual Ecology: AIDS and the Destiny of Gay Men, p. 75)
It was an historic accident that HIV disease first manifested itself in the gay populations of the east and west coasts of the United States, wrote British sociologist Jeffrey Weeks in AIDS and Contemporary History in 1993. His opinion has been almost universal among gay and AIDS activists even to this day. Yet there is little accidental about the sexual ecology described above. Multiple concurrent partners, versatile anal sex, core group behavior centered in commercial sex establishments, widespread recreational drug abuse, repeated waves of STDs and constant intake of antibiotics, sexual tourism and travel -these factors were not accidents. Multipartner anal sex was encouraged, celebrated, considered a central component of liberation. Core group behavior in baths and sex clubs was deemed by many the quintessence of freedom. Versatility was declared a political imperative. Analingus was pronounced the champagne of gay sex, a palpable gesture of revolution. STDs were to be worn like badges of honor, antibiotics to be taken with pride.
Far from being accidents, these things characterized the very foundation of what it supposedly meant to experience gay liberation, Taken, together they formed a sexual ecology of almost incalculably catastrophic dimensions, a classic feedback loop in which virtually every factor served to amplify every other. From the virus’s point of view, the ecology of liberation was a royal road to adaptive triumph. From many gay men’s point of view, it proved a trapdoor to hell on earth. (Rotello, Sexual Ecology: AIDS and the Destiny of Gay Men, p. 89)
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