Beneath an eBaum’s World video titled “Sexiest Mechanical Bull Ride Ever,” a comments section writhes with a curious mix of horniness and misogyny. “If that was a real bull I bet not even PETA could call it animal abuse!!” one commenter exclaims. “That bull gave her epic fapping!!” Another marvels that women riding mechanical bulls could be allowed to occur in public (“the controller is essentially fucking her with the bull… so that makes it a fucking machine… sex in public is ok as long as you keep your clothes on”), and yet another makes an attempt at Shakespearean poetics: “I like a girl that likes some big meat betwixt her legs.”
There’s a consensus here, though, that women who ride mechanical bulls in bars are “sluts.” “This probably isn’t her first time doing this, and she probably also has a lot of sex,” one muses, while another suggests more ambiguously that “she must practice in the off season.” There are also multiple, mostly negative comments about the woman’s face (“Why do sluts always have big noses?”), repeated suggestions that the commenter has jacked off to the video (“long enough to fap”) and some Klan-level racism not worth repeating, likely because two black women are visible in the background and some of the video’s music is rap. This comments section feels like one of the grossest corners of the internet, but there are dozens more like it on porn tube sites and manospherish entertainment sites like Barstool Sports.
The image of an attractive woman riding a mechanical bull has become sexually coded: Movies and TV shows like Urban Cowboy (1980) and Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle (2003) employ the trope to suggest a sexually forward and experienced woman, and porn sites have whole sub-sections dedicated to videos of women — often topless, sometimes as pairs — gyrating on mechanical bulls. And, of course, the notoriously porn-y Carl’s Jr. ads of the 2000s, ground zero for normative male desire, featured model/actress Cameron Richardson straddling a mechanical bull while she chomps down on a burger.
But why, exactly, is this image treated as a shortcut to male horniness?
On one level, the answer is simple. The image is meant to appeal to a straight, cisgender man, and on some metaphorical level, he’s meant to imagine that he’s the bull. A beautiful woman is straddling his forceful, unpredictable body, but instead of becoming scared or dislodged, she handles the situation with impeccable skill. Not only that, but she enjoys the whole thing, with a wide smile fixed across her young, beautiful face. The eBaum’s World commenters couldn’t be more straightforward about the connection: “lucky bull,” “I would love to be that bull” and “sexy time. i wish i was that bull.” (The connection is also drawn in an article by Pick-Up Artist hack Jesse Charger about the “Riding the Bull Sex Position,” in which he notes that “in this position the woman is lifted up and rides the man like he’s the rodeo bull.”)
There’s also the suggestion of sexual availability — recall the numerous “slut” comments at eBaum’s World. Matt Powell, a 39-year-old software developer based in New Zealand, thinks that the association with drunkenness is also relevant. “I feel like the main energy — which, I’ll be clear, I neither support nor condone — is ‘she wouldn’t be doing this if she were sober,’” he tells me. “The guys in this situation are being gross and predatory, and the bars are supporting that by being like, ‘Check out this drunk girl.’”
Although the image of a sexy woman riding a mechanical bull is traditionally filtered through a male gaze, I hear from three queer women who tell me that they also find the image deeply arousing. “I’m very queer, both in terms of my sexual orientation and my gender identity,” Laura, a 29-year-old educator and writer in Portland, tells me, “and something about women engaging in a very physical task that would typically be considered a masculinized activity ticks a lot of boxes for my dumb horny lizard brain.” Grace Lavery, associate professor at the English Department at University of California, Berkeley, and a queer, trans woman, concurs. “I do find women on bulls horny. I’m not sure why, possibly something like a kind of mastery over chaos. There’s something about women triumphing over mechanics and cattle that’s important, too.”
Laura thinks the image of a woman riding a mechanical bull with aplomb evokes Judith Butler’s ideas about gender trouble. “Probably part of the appeal is the proximity to cowboy culture/aesthetics, which play a big part in the sort of mythic ideal of American masculine identity,” they say, adding that a woman performing the mechanical bull ride “exposes that American cowboy masculinity is itself performative.” They add that while most representations of female bull riding are sexualized, it’s “in a way that feels like a deliberate performance. It feels a little like the saucy wink you get in a drag performance, precisely because of that sort of gender inversion.”
A related point is raised by Ada, a 23-year-old retail worker in San Jose (who asked me to use a changed first name for privacy), who says that the image of a woman riding a mechanical bull is “weirdly enticing as a trans woman.” She describes herself as a “trans lesbian” and “femme into other femmes” and adds that she’s both attracted to the idea of women riding bulls, and the idea of riding the bull herself. “Somehow it’s super femme to me,” she explains.
The image of a woman riding a mechanical bull is, then, potentially a powerful one: Not only is it teeming with sexual innuendo, but it might be toying with the very foundation of traditional masculinity and even gender itself. Still, not everyone is dazzled by the image. “I was once at a bar and saw Snooki, an American reality TV star I was in love with, riding a mechanical bull, and it didn’t make me remotely horny,” says Kyle, a 31-year-old truck driver from New Jersey.
In which case, he’s positive: “I don’t think there’d be any circumstance in which a mechanical bull being ridden would turn me on.”