Top, bottom, or vers? Sexual satisfaction and masculine conformity as correlates of queer men's use of sexual positional identities



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To date, a great amount of the research literature documenting the sexual experiences of queer men has examined HIV and STI prevention, as well as risk assessments in terms of alcohol use, nonconsensual sexual encounters, and safer sex practices and behaviors, whereas little attention has been paid to queer men’s experiences and conceptualizations of sexual pleasure. One specific dimension of some queer men’s sexual experiences is labeling oneself as "top," "bottom," or "vers," to indicate which anal sex role that one prefers. Among queer men, a “top” is defined as someone who takes on the insertive position in anal sex, and people who take on the receptive role during anal sex are considered a “bottom.” “Vers,” or versatile, men describe themselves as being open to playing the receptive or insertive role in anal sex. Among queer men, sexual positional identities (SPIs) may serve as a key piece of information as to whether or not one is sexually compatible with a potential partner, but these roles have implications beyond a description of what anal sex role position one identifies with. SPIs may also be the basis on which others draw a variety of assumptions about potential partners, themselves, and sexual pleasure, and these assumptions have been linked to problematic gender norms and assumptions about the conceptualization and expression of masculinity. In this study, I utilized sexual scripting theory, an intimate justice framework, and feminist theories to explore queer men’s SPIs in the context of a heteronormative, gendered system. The sample was 303 queer individuals who identified as men, transgender men, or genderfluid who had recently engaged in anal sex and reported using SPIs. Regression analyses and MANOVA were used to answer the research questions.. Ultimately, I found that individuals’ conceptualization of sexual satisfaction, as well as sexuality and relationship status, were predictors of queer men’s sexual positional identities, while conformity to masculinity was not. This pattern is noteworthy in that it suggests sexual satisfaction is a key concern for individuals when negotiating their sexual positional identity, yet this finding alone does not illustrate a complete picture of men’s construction of their SPIs. Individuals of different SPIs reported significant differences in the extent to which they conformed to masculine norms. Based on the extant literature, it is understood that masculinity can be eroticized and pleasurable as a feature of one’s identity but can also be laden with consequences from the social expectations that hegemonic norms impose. While the influence of masculinity on queer men’s sexual experiences exists, this study importantly highlighted the associations between SPIs and sexual pleasure. I argue for comprehensive and inclusive sexuality education that normalizes and prioritizes conversations about sexual pleasure related to safe and consensual sex.



Sexuality, Masculinity, Sexual Satisfaction, Feminism, Queer Studies