If pop culture is to be believed, having successful, safe and pleasurable sex is as easy as one, two, penetration. And preparing for it? That's as easy as, well, doing absolutely nothing at all.
Problem: This is bullshit.
Sex, especially of the anal variety between gay dudes, takes actual preparation. But that's something we rarely see in pop culture depictions of gay sex, or hear talked about at all. And the more we avoid talking about what good sex really takes, the more confusion, frustration and dissatisfaction we're bound to run into when we try to have it for ourselves.
Leaving out the "lubey" details: In a recent essay for BuzzFeed LGBT, writer John Sherman highlights his frustration with movies for their damaging tendency to depict anal sex, particularly between gay men, as something that can happen spontaneously, immediately and without any preparation. (That is, when they show gay sex at all.)
"Gay sex, when it appears in mainstream media, is often done poorly, whether out of ignorance or reluctance to get into the lubey details," he writes.
But in omitting that one detail, some young men grow up confused. In his essay, Sherman shares that his first-ever sexual experience suffered because his main impression of gay sex at that point had come from an iconic scene in Brokeback Mountain, in which Heath Ledger's character was able to penetrate Jake Gyllenhaal with nothing more than a grunt and a dab of saliva.
Taking the time to prepare: In the real world, one dose of "spit lube" wouldn't make for a safe, let alone pleasurable, first sexual experience. "The anus does not have much flexibility to expand like a vagina," Jennifer Bass, communications director for the Kinsey Institute, told Mic. "It is very important that lubrication be used with anal penetration, along with a condom. Tears in and around the rectum can lead to infection and increase the risk of transmission of STIs and HIV."
"People should start out slow when getting used to anal stimulation," Joanna Ellington, a sex scientist and researcher, told Mic. "Take the time to play with finger and oral play first — stretching and finding what feels good." Also, she added, "Use safe lubes."
But those who have anal sex, especially gay men, have to figure this out on their own, thanks to lack of realistic depictions in pop culture or lack of comprehensive sex ed, which puts them at risk for having unsatisfying, or worse, unsafe sex. Just 1 out of 3 gay sex encounters includes a condom, according to a 2012 study by George Mason University and Indiana University. Even in using lube and condoms, men still run the risk of making potentially harmful mistakes, such as using oil-based lubes with condoms, which can break down latex and compromise condoms' effectiveness.
Lube is only one piece of the underrepresented sex-prep puzzle. Simply being clean enough for sex is another important concept rarely talked about, despite the fact that many people have questions about sexual hygiene, and a number of receptive sexual partners who prefer to not engage in the act without using an enema or at least taking a shower first.
"Enemas and washes are great," Ellington told Mic, "but often don't happen in spontaneous sex."
The fairy tale of spontaneity: That very phrase — spontaneous sex — is at the core of the issue. We romanticize heat-of-the-moment sexual encounters, the "must have you" moments seen in movies and TV. But our actual bodies require a little more planning than that. For women, that can mean plenty of foreplay. For those about to engage in anal, well, just check out the thankfully realistic lube scene from Looking.
Should the burden be entirely on pop culture to teach us how exactly to strike a balance here? Of course not. If anything, Hollywood's misleading depictions speak to an even stronger need for realistic and gay-inclusive sex ed in school curriculums. Only nine states are currently required to offer LGBT-inclusive sex education; eight states actually boast prehistoric sex ed policies that prohibit educators from "advocating" homosexuality.
In the meantime, while the sex education system fumbles to get its shit together, representing sex more realistically in Hollywood could go a long way. In turn, while we wait on Hollywood, we can spread the Gospel of Lube.