Pin New Study Suggests that People can Predict Gay Couples' Sex Roles
Amongst gay people, the terms 'top' and 'bottom' are well known, with 'top' meaning the insertive partner in anal sex and 'bottom' referring to the receptive. Even though there is little agreement between gay men about the usefulness (or the reliability) of these labels, a recent study has suggested that people are able to tell, with some accuracy, which member of a gay couple is the top and which is the bottom.
While it might be possible to predict who likes to be the insertive or receptive partner, the article doesn't seem to touch on the many gay men who identify as 'versatile', meaning that they swap between being the receptive or insertive partner according to how they feel. When a couple swaps roles in a single sexual encounter - commonly called 'flip-flopping' - this throws into question any claim that 'top' and 'bottom' are the only possible identifications.
Maybe it's simpler to see sexual identification amongst gay men as being on a continuum: just as there are heterosexual men who enjoy 'pegging', being pleasured with a strap-on, there are straight men who would never dream of switching sexual roles. The general assumption that a receptive partner is 'passive' while an insertive partner is 'dominant' also isn't necessarily true.
In addition to the variation of sexual preference which the study does not seem to admit to, there is also the fact that some gay men do not practice anal sex at all, preferring oral sex, mutual masturbation, and other erotic exchange. While it is true that many men do identify exclusively as liking one sexual role more than the other, relationships are dynamic and a particular relationship might find each man going outside of his usual comfort zone.
It's easy to assume that effeminate appearance and behaviour means a man is likely to be a bottom while masculine behaviour identifies a man as a top, but often people do not match expectations. For example, take self-identified gay 'bears' - bearded, hyper-masculine men. The study did also find that the way people perceive a gay men's masculinity plays a part in his sexual identification, suggesting that preference for a role is socially influenced, as much as it is a matter of choice.
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