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The Straight Men of the Rural Midwest Who Have Sex With Each Other

More Brokeback ‘Prairie’ than ‘Mountain’

When was the last time you went out for a cup of coffee with another straight friend and sucked him off afterward?

You know, just a quick beej to help a bud out.

What if you lived in the middle of nowhere and were no longer having any kind of sexual relationship with your wife?

It might sound like the makings of a gay porn scene, but a recent study from Tony Silva, a researcher at the University of Oregon, suggests it happens in the real world, too. Silva found 19 white, straight-identifying men in rural, socially conservative regions of five Midwestern and Pacific Northwest states (Missouri, Illinois, Oregon, Washington and Idaho) through Craigslist M4M casual encounter ads. Each of the men admitted to having sex with other men — or “bud-sex,” as Silva terms it when two guys from a rural area who identify as straight hook up.

“These men genuinely identify as straight or some variation thereof,” Silva tells me. “They aren’t fooling themselves.” They have wives. They have kids. They know how to work a chainsaw and clean a dead deer.

When it comes to straight men having sex, Silva says it’s important to differentiate between two groups: (1) Closeted guys who tell people they’re straight but secretly identify as gay or bisexual; and (2) Those who identify as straight but perceive their sexual identity in ways that run counter to what many people think of as straightness.

Silva’s participants were among the latter and reframed sex with men to fit rural, hyper-masculine identities. In other words, they were just “helpin’ a buddy out” or “acting on urges.”

Bud-Sex: Constructing Normative Masculinity Among Rural Straight Men That Have Sex With Men

This in and of itself wasn’t all that shocking. At least two recent movies have dealt with straight-guy-on-straight-guy boning — The Overnight and The D Train. It’s also something we’ve covered previously. What was different about Silva’s study is where this was taking placee— the American Heartland and the non-urban centers of Washington state and Oregon. So I asked Silva to share with me what his study’s participants told him and offer his explanation as to why they reckoned what they were doing wasn’t gay at all.

It’s not gay if you’re both totally straight.

Pat (69): I have a 15-year collection of Playboy magazines. I don’t think gay people subscribe to Playboy.

Mike (50): I don’t want the effeminate ones, I want the manly guys. If I wanted someone that acts girlish, I got a wife at home.

Jeff (38): I perceive that men who are feminine will want to hang out, have companionship and make it last two or three hours.

Explains Silva: “Because normative masculinity is critical for men’s social acceptance in rural areas, identification with heterosexuality to bolster normative masculinity was especially important.”

It’s not gay (and you aren’t cheating on your wife) if you’re just blowing each other.

Kevin (69): Meetin’ up with women would be cheating on my wife. When I meet up with guys, I justify it by sayin’, “Well, it’s only fun between me and the other guy, it’s not like I have another woman…”

Cain (50): I’m not cheating on my wife. I don’t have the intention of leaving her.

Pat (69): Sex with men is not cheating because part of marriage is sex, and my marriage has no sex.

Explains Silva: “Participants in my study thought that sex with men either didn’t constitute cheating or was less threatening to their marriage than extramarital sex with women, in large part because it’s devoid of deep emotional ties.”

It’s not gay if you occasionally hunt and fish.

Jon (39): I’m a straight guy who likes to hunt, fish, camp and raise cattle for a living.

Pat (69): I drive a pickup and like guns. I’m not good at hunting, but I like to go up in the woods and sit there and drink my half pint of Jack Daniels and act like I am hunting.

Kevin (69): I’ve always done blue-collar type work, I live in a rural area, I’m a farmer.

Will (52): I lean a lot toward masculine. I can clean a deer, I can catch some fish and I’m a very good handyman.

Reuben (28): I exercise, play sports, take part in what you’d call stereotypical masculine activities. I go hunting every now and then, things that a quote-unquote manly man would do.

Explains Silva: “Many participants explained that growing up in rural areas affected how they see themselves as masculine and straight. While most expressed frustration about the difficulty of finding sexual partners in rural areas, they nonetheless mostly chose men who are masculine, white and straight or secretly bisexual, underscoring the importance of these characteristics for their normative masculinity and bud-sex.”

It’s not gay if you’re just like me. (Because I’m not gay.)

Marcus (38): [I prefer] a guy that I would consider more like me, that gets blowjobs from guys every once in a while, doesn’t do it every day. I know that there are a lot of guys out there that are like me: Manly guys doing manly stuff and just happen to have oral sex with men every once in awhile. … It also seems that more masculine guys wouldn’t harass me, hound me all the time, send me 1,000 emails, “Hey, you want to get together today… Hey, what about now?” And there’s a thought in my head that a more feminine or gay guy would want me to come around more.

Explains Silva: “By having sex with particular types of men similar to them — masculine, white and straight or secretly bisexual — participants were able to construct and reinforce normative, rural, heterosexual masculinity, despite having sex with men.”

It’s not gay if you’re over 60.

Ryan (60): As [my wife and I have gotten older] there’s been changes to our bodies, and it’s even painful for my wife to have sex. I have no problem taking care of myself with another guy.

David (74): Older men are a lot more receptive to sex, they’re more enthusiastic because senior women have kinda lost their desire to do much of anything.

Explains Silva: “Sex with men helped nine participants bolster their masculinity, despite the fact that they or their wives were experiencing age-related bodily changes that made sex more difficult. Seven explained that sex became uncomfortable or undesirable for their wives, and sex with men helped relieve sexual desires.”

It’s not gay if you’re getting fucked in the ass.

Mark (61): I see being penetrated as a very masculine thing. No one knows how to please a man better than another man.

David (74): It’s a mutual sexual satisfaction, however you get it. I don’t feel any less of a man if I’m bent over and he’s in me, at all. I just don’t.

Explains Silva: “Going into this study 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.”

It’s not gay because everyone’s straight on the prairie.

David (74): I think you’re more socially driven to be straight whether you want to be or not. I think gay people in rural areas are ostracized, teased a lot, looked down upon; they’re not accepted at all, so regardless of what your personal feelings are, in rural areas you would hide them. You would go with the status quo and say yeah, “I’m just like him, so…” You’d be afraid to admit it. That’s what happens I think when people, particularly men, from rural areas end up going to college in urban areas, life really opens up for them, and sometimes they never go back, they won’t go back home. They’ve learned a lot of things, sex being just one of them. It’s really a straight life, rurally, it just is. There’s no leniency.

Explains Silva: “Every participant described the need to be secretive, which was tied to rurality. I found this to be the saddest element of my study: They felt the need to keep their same-sex sexual encounters secret, and often felt great anxiety at the thought of discovery. Regardless of how people identify, it would be ideal to live in a society where people could be open about their sexual encounters so long as they involved safe, healthy and pleasurable sex between consenting adults.”

It’s not gay because there’s a difference between sexual orientation and sexual identity.

Kevin (69): I’m a husband and a father, and a grandfather, and I consider that a part of a man’s life as bein’ straight. I enjoy my kids, I enjoy my wife, and enjoy my life, and I certainly wouldn’t want to change it. I have no intention of leaving the wife for a guy or anything like that, it’s just, the guy part is just somethin’ I do. Kinda like some guys drink too much. It’s hard to explain.

Explains Silva: “Sexual orientation refers to a complex combination of emotional attractions and sexual attractions, desires, fantasies and practices, whereas sexual identity refers to how individuals label and understand their sexuality. It’s important to keep in mind that interpretations are central to sexual identities. Sexual identities like straight, gay/lesbian, bisexual, queer, pansexual and others refer to a complex matrix of attractions, sexual practices and interpretations of each.

“Men like these participants use unconventional interpretations to bolster their identification as straight. Thus, while ‘bud-sex’ and gay hookups may appear similar, the people involved interpret them in completely different ways. Similar sexual practices carry different meanings across contexts and populations. 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.”