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by Gert Hekma in Columns & Opinions , 30 oktober 2001

Dit artikel is ook in het Nederlands beschikbaar

Sodomy refers to the Biblical town Sodom of which never one single trace was found. For a long time theologists told the tale this mythical city was destroyed because of the homosexual sins of its inhabitants, but these days they presume it wasn't because of homosexuality, but for negating the laws of hospitality.

That is why the city went up in flames and was then buried under the water of the Dead Sea. From about the year 1000 the word sodomy refered to sex not aimed at procreation or outside the context of marriage. This Ôsin' knew gradations. The worst was sodomy against nature, where it concerned anal sex and bestiality. Sodomy or unnatural sexual abuse was a concept standing for the sexual forbidden. It was a precursor for the nineteenth century expression Ôperversion'. Though most gay men don't see anal sex as an evil or a perversion, according to Christian doctrine it was the pre-eminent sin.

Silent sin
During the period 1000 - 1800 sodomy was strictly forbidden. For the Christian church it was a sin and for the law a major crime. A sodomite who confessed this 'horrid' crime before a court or was caught in the act, ran the risk to either be burned, strangled, hung or drowned. Research by Dirk Jaap Noordam, Leo Boon and Theo van der Meer revealed that in Holland several hundreds of sodomites were killed, especially in the eighteenth century. In those days the expression 'safe sex' was still unknown, because a confession of homosexual behaviour which didn't concern anal sex led to much lighter punishment. Unfortunately most homosexuals didn't know this. They often weren't even aware sodomy was considered a major crime. It was also called an 'unspeakable' or 'silent sin' since it couldn't be discussed. So boys who fucked each other in the Utrecht orphanage thought sodomy meant cutting off dicks.
The ban on sodomy kept many men from anal sex. In fifteenth century Florence the police kept an archive on sodomy in which over half the male population was registered. In a hamlet like Faan in the Dutch province Groningen men engaged in rather casual sex with each other until a witch hunt begun directed by the village judge Rudolf de Mepsche. It cost two dozen men their lives on the stake which de Mepsche erected for the sodomites of Faan.

Perverted anal sex
When gays and doctors in the nineteenth century began taking a stand, in guarded terms, for gay emancipation, they made a sharp distinction between homosexuality and anal sex. A Dutch homosexual doctor in 1870 wrote: 'I am a Uranian, not a pederast [...]. I abhor ped(erasty) and with me certainly 199 of the 200 Uranians'. Pederasty here stands for anal sex and Uranian for homosexual. According to this doctor anal sex was as infrequent amongst gays as amongst heteros. Gays tried to gain respectability by making a sharp division between sodomy as perverted anal sex and homosexuality as an identity which mainly revolved around love and embracing and maybe mutual masturbation. Such noble Uranians turned sharply against Oscar Wilde in 1895, who defended himself against the 'insult' he was a 'somdomite', but nevertheless had been fucking newspaper boys.
The cautious emancipation strategy, in which the importance of anal sex in homosexual relations was negated or put into perspective, has been maintained by the gay movement for a long time. Unabashed glorification of anal sex isn't found until 1972 in Het homoseksuele verlangen (The homosexual desire) by Guy Hocquenghem. With the rise of aids after 1981 it became clear how much anal sex was an everyday component of homosexual practice. Hardly had sodomy been recognized as an exciting sexual variation, when it got a negative label again as a form of unsafe sex which could lead to aids and thus, again, to death. It made Leo Bersani pose the rhetorical question 'Is the anus a grave?'

From behind
In his book Van achteren bezien (Seen from behind) (1995) Marty van Kerkhof discusses 'anal sex in the aids era'. According to him the anus isn't a grave since safe sex is possible with a condom, but many gay men don't like it: they want to feel physical contact without a protective membrane. Van Kerkhof sums up the negotiations between men about anal sex and condoms and discusses all the excuses people try to find which will allow them to engage in unprotected sex. The clear cut messages of the aids campaigns are twisted so, that unsafe sex appears less risky. A monogamous relationship might offer security, but not after three weeks. A budding gay as partner lessens the risk for the older partner, but that doesn't count vice versa. Pulling out before shooting isn't safe yet only because it is safer than the anal transmission of sperm.
In his book Van Kerkhof has an open eye for the inportance gay men attach to anal sex. According to some only anal sex is real sex. Others want primarily to be fucked since they enjoy that, some because they want to feel humiliated. Some can only fuck, others prefer to be fucked, while a third party prefers doing it both ways and alternate penetrating their partner and being penetrated.
Some gay men prefer a big dick up their ass and others prefer a small one since they have a narrow entry. There are men who only want to fuck after the anus has been flushed clean since they abhor shit and stench while others love just that. In short, men who love anal sex will do so in a thousand different ways.
For most people being fucked stands for humiliation and feminization of the penetrated party. This age old supposition, alive already amongst the ancient Greeks and Romans, is still kicking. For this reason being fucked was a severe punishment with the Romans, violating the honour of the punished man for ever. Though contemporary people don't care that much anymore for the concept of male honour, such age old images still surface when it comes to anal sex. For the Marquis de Sade being beaten and fucked was a humiliation, not only wiping out all ideas of Christian virtue and male honour, but also giving rise to the ultimate experience of lust. According to him, a man who was never taken from behind didn't know a thing about sexual pleasure. De Sade seems to suggest that the liberation of sexual pleasure is only possible when all men have learned the pleasures of anal sex. When we come to the 'V' of 'vernedering' ('humiliation') we'll deal with that.

Next: sling, tattoo, toilet.



In the New Issue of Gay News, 323, July 2018

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