Slate writer Kyle Mustain conducted an informal study of nearly 87,000 Bateworld users, a website known as “Facebook for masturbators,” to better understand the site’s self-proclaimed “straight” men who nonetheless enjoy masturbating with other dudes.
Mustain estimated that 15 to 30% of Bateworld’s users probably identify as straight: This includes some of the site’s bisexuals who might publicly be closeted and identify as straight offline, as well as some of the 5% of users who’d “rather not say” their sexual orientation.
He then used Bateworld’s user-created polling questionnaires to ask questions like, “Is mutual masturbation gay?,” “Which of the following actions make a person gay?” and “How important are straight adult videos when jerking off with another dude?”
For his first question, 82% of 565 respondents said that mutual masturbation isn’t gay. For his second question, most men said that “kissing another guy” and “becoming emotionally involved with a male sex partner,” are the most gay things you can do with another man. For his third question, only 1% said “[straight adult videos are] the sole focus” when masturbating with other men — the other respondents ascribed varying degrees of importance to adult videos during their whack-off sessions.
“According to these responders,” Mustain wrote, “touching a c*ck isn’t gay; lips touching lips is gay; and for that matter, heart touching heart is really gay.”
He continues, “It can be frustrating, seeing straight men debate the infinitesimal difference between touching your own c*ck and someone else’s, hearing each one hand-wring about ‘how far he’ll go,’ and whether double penetration or using a Fleshlight on a friend is gay.”
In his article, Mustain references the 2015 book by sociologist Jane Ward, Not Gay: Sex Between Straight White Men, in which Ward says that straight white men who have sexual encounters with other men often employ “props, costumes and dialogue” that seemingly uphold their heterosexuality rather than threaten it.
“They get drunk and stoned, watch heterosexual porn, and they talk about ‘p*ssy,’” Jane writes. “The [personal] ads draw heavily upon the model of adolescent friendship, or the presumably meaningless and proto-sexual circle jerk. [They also mention] nostalgic commentary about being buddies or ‘bros’ and sharing ‘legit’ male bonding experiences…”
Mustain concludes, “What I have found on BateWorld is that these lines between ‘just fucking around’ and ‘kinda gay’ and ‘OK, that’s really gay’ are indeed superficial and imaginary.” He says they’re also based upon a heterocentrist world where “straight” is seen as the default.
Mustain isn’t the first person to delve into this topic.
In 2016, a University of Oregon sociology doctoral student interviewed 19 men who used the M4M casual encounters section of Craigslist about their sexual habits and identities. He found they used terms like “dude sex,” “heteroflexible,” “bud-sex,” “helpin’ a buddy out” and relieving “urges” to frame their desire.
He also found that these men often sought out “straight-identifying” and married men, rejecting effeminate or “flaming” men to avoid any romantic or emotional entanglements that might complicate their daily lives.
In 2017, Ritch C. Savin-Williams, a professor emeritus of development psychology at Cornell University, described a rising group of “mostly straight” men who feel more comfortable with their same-sex attraction. Nevertheless even these men refuse the “bisexual” label as “too gay” for their predominantly heterosexual orientations.
It’s important to remember that a guy can have a same-sex experience without having to identify as gay or bi, just as many gay men have had experiences with women without identifying as straight. Rather, our preoccupation with solid sexual identities might entirely result from societal heterocentrism and homophobia rather than an inherent need to identify as one way or another.
Even animal behaviorists avoid assigning sexual orientations to animals, preferring to say that some creatures exhibit same- or different-sex sexual behaviors for a set time. This allows greater flexibility and accuracy than allowed by rigid sexual orientations.