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Strap-on Sex and Pegging  Written by: Mistress Tracy, 05/19/2009

The uses and pleasures derived from different sex toys are varied and diverse, with lots of people using different sex toys in their own inventive ways. One particular toy, however, has derived not only its own psychological connotations, but also its own terminology. The strap-on is a dildo that is harnessed to the body either with built-in straps or a separate harness with a ring to attach a dildo with. Though anyone can use such a device, a woman using a strap-on to anally penetrate her male partner is called pegging (1). This is the term most understood in dialogs and websites referring to using a strap-on, though there are other forms of strap-on play. Femdom fetishists will often find strap-ons used as a way of penetrating submissives in a scene and the act of training someone in face-fucking by using an unusually large strap-on is common.

The cultural understanding of strap-ons was well-understood as only a lesbian phenomenon until very recently. Since the revelations of Freud and the concept of "penis envy," (2) the lesbian use of a strap-on to penetrate her partner has been understood and fetishized in the Western world in those terms. In other cultures, such as the Azande of Sudan, lesbian relationships between groups of married women often involved penetration with a sweet potato or manioc root that was tied around the waist of another woman. (3) When British anthropologist E.E. Pritchard observed this and wrote his lengthy history of witchcraft in Zande culture in 1937, he understood this in very simple, reductive terms.

"Wives would cut a sweet potato or manioc root in the shape of the male organ, or use a banana for the purpose. Two of them would shut themselves in a hut and one would lie on the bed and play the female role while the other, with the artificial organ tied around her stomach, played the male role. They then reversed roles." (4)

In fact, it was almost a footnote in his report, as the overall sexuality of the Zande culture was largely ignored, save for the discussions of adultery and its punishment, particularly for women who committed adultery with other women. When he did focus on the lesbian couples in two small paragraphs, he described the women as role-playing a power relationship and, of course, wishing for penetration that their husbands might not be willing or able to perform on them. He described the loneliness found in polygamous families where the wives would often turn to each other for comfort. In describing lesbian couples who remain faithful to one another, (in other words, those not confined to a household under the watch of a man), he frames them as desperate women in need of both power and sexual fulfillment. His theory has never been reexamined from a culturally relative perspective, but it is interesting that the groups of women who might be denied sex or are simply attempting to bond with each other using a homemade strap-on instead of relying only on cunnilingus and finger play are described at all, particularly when lesbianism and, indeed, any homosexuality is not permitted in their culture.

Another, even older, study is often mentioned in the history of strap-ons, though it focuses more on dildos and the history of sex toys than strap-ons per se. It focused on double-ended dildos in use in Zanzibar in 1899. (5) The study isn't penetrative, but it is interesting that sex shops and sex-positive websites will refer to a dildo meant for two women to use at once as an equivalent to a strap-on. There is little sociological and anthropological discussion of dildos and sex toys that strap onto the body and might be used on a man, but its absence in historical literature doesn't necessarily mean that such artifacts didn't exist in history. A Chinese painting from the 19th century depicts dildos strapped to a woman's shoe (6) and, of course, the Kama Sutra mentions the use of dildos with straps and a harness, (7) though it is not agreed that these are used for pegging. It is suggested by some that men would actually use these prosthetic penises to extend their penis size. (8) One dildo, apparently from the Paleolithic era, has a hole through it and it has been hypothesized that this hole is meant for a string or thong to be used in order to wear it. (9) While nothing seems certain, it's fair to say that current anxieties about prosthetic phalluses are not deeply rooted in history.

In the West, The idea of the butch lesbian who might penetrate the femme lesbian using a strap-on was very much understood in the mainstream world until more recently, when the Femdom fetish began gaining popularity in the straight world. The idea of a straight male being dominated by a powerful female is not any newer than lesbian sex or sex toys in general, but the use of a strap-on by a female to penetrate her straight male partner is a phenomenon only beginning to be understood, though the act itself has been around for a long time. While in the fetish world, the role reversal of powerful females dominating males is the theme and a strap-on is often used, in the world of more mainstream sex, for heterosexual males who admit they enjoy ass play and some penetrations with fingers or tongues, often while they are penetrating a woman or receiving oral sex, the act of being penetrated anally still has strong homosexual connotations. Although, recent breakthroughs have been seen such as suggestions by Tristan Taormino who suggests,

"…every man should have his prostate stimulated through anal penetration at least once before he dies. I said something like, 'Every guy could take at least a pinky.' (Last month I got Howard Stern to say that maybe he'd take a pinky in his ass, and maybe is better than never.)" (10).

This changing but still prevalent understanding of a male being penetrated as a homosexual sex act can cause much anxiety in a straight man, even ones who enjoy ass play and might want their partner to peg them.

Pegging goes hand in hand with the idea of sissification, a form of Femdom play that involves feminizing a male with clothing, underwear, makeup, tasks and penetration. The man might be forced to perform an act seen as particularly feminine, like serving and cleaning dressed in the costume of a servile woman such as a maid's uniform. The sexual part of the play could involve cunnilingus, but it's very likely that the submissive male will be made to perform fellatio on a strap-on worn by the Domme. He might be made to suck on one dildo while being penetrated by another, or he might simply be gagged and penetrated. Whatever the nuances in the scene performed, the idea of a heterosexual man being sissified by a woman involves him being penetrated in the way that a heterosexual woman might be by a straight man. The role reversal is part of the play and the strap-on is integral to the man's body being treated as though it is female in a heterosexual scenario.

Pegging is specific to the straight world. The term was coined very recently by sex columnist Dan Savage, who held a contest to decide on the best term to describe a straight man being anally penetrated by a female wearing a strap-on. The term "pegging" won and was announced in the June 21, 1991, column of "Savage Love." (11) Since then, the dialog about straight men being pegged by their girlfriends has gained both ground and notoriety. It's not just about Femdom anymore. The term does not apply to lesbian couples who use dildos on each other, nor does it apply to pansexual players who might find themselves in various situations such as the one popularized in "Sex and the City," where a lead character who is normally engaged in heterosexual relationships finds herself in a lesbian couple where she is asked to penetrate her female partner with a strap-on. (12) The use of a strap-on by lesbians raises the argument over heternormative gender roles, given the assumption that women, even homosexual women, crave penetration and will inevitably orgasm from it. Even though it is well known that most women need some form of clitoral or g-spot or other stimulation beyond penetration to orgasm, the popular myth that being penetrated is the only way to make a woman cum is reiterated in television, Hollywood and, of course, pornography. This ideology is what makes pegging subversive and fascinating for straight couples.

Penetration is common, but certainly not the only use to which a strap-on might be put. In play involving denial or ruined orgasms, a man might be forced to wear a strap-on to penetrate his partner in order to deny him tactile pleasure and orgasm from the act. This particular use has actually extended out of the fetish community and made its way into the medical world. As such, the denial and sissification aspects of strap-on play are reversed in order to regenerate the sex drive of impotent males. Two studies have been done using strap-ons as a form of sexual rehabilitation for impotent male survivors of prostate cancer. Rather than undergo further surgeries or take ineffective drugs, these men were encouraged to use a strap-ons to penetrate their straight female partners. (13, 14) In both cases, the performance anxiety and concern that their partner will not be satisfied is removed from the equation and each has gone on to enjoy multi-orgasmic sex with partners. Both studies conclude that doctors should recommend the use of strap-ons in a psychologically reassuring context even before attempting surgery and/or drug intervention. In fact, a similar device was developed in 1907 for exactly this purpose, but it is only today that medical studies have shown the positive effects for men using strap-ons.(15) It is also notable that in 1907, few cases of prostate or testicular cancer were seen or understood and the social aspects of using a strap-on for erectile difficulties would have been largely outside a medical setting and likely have no "official" cause, such as chemotherapy or surgeries.

This is an interesting development, not only because the idea of rehabilitating a male sex drive with a "false" penis is definitely an innovation, but also because the usual connotation of role reversal is completely eliminated in this scenario. "The roles of active initiator and penetrator are no longer solely the domain of men, nor are the qualities of receptivity and passivity for girls only." (16) The heteronormative idea of "giving and receiving" is broken down by a woman pegging a straight man and now also by males using strap-ons to heal themselves. The idea of butch and femme lesbians is also being broken down by lesbians who enjoy penetration, battling the notion that they are somehow secretly or subliminally desirous of penetration by a man. While many are in the same boat as straight women in terms of vaginal stimulation not having the effect they're looking for, many women enjoy both exterior and interior stimulation by their partners. Some lesbian writers are starting to ask what effect lesbian strap-on sex in a non-BDSM relationship might be. While some butch lesbians are proud of their strap-on skills, along with skills at cunnilingus, fingers and thighs, others prefer to use only parts of the body with their own sensation. A whole other argument about phantom limbs and extension of nerve structures can come up from that, but at the moment the strap-on is an intimate, personal item that is not expected to deliver physical sensations to the wearer from its surface, except where it rubs against the abdomen or clitoris.

To add to the complication of strap-on stimulation, women now have the option of using strap-on vibrators should they wish for hands-free clitoral stimulation only. These toys are small vibrators encased in silicone gel that strap onto a woman to stimulate only the clitoris. Many come with remote controls, so partners can stimulate each other in public if they wish. This adds to the phenomena of taking personal control of one's own sexuality, in this case not for healing so much as for focusing only on one part of the body.

It's fair to say that at the moment, no one particular use of a strap-on is seen as "correct," though pegging and sissification are the most prevalent understandings of strap-on sex in mainstream culture. The quest for the perfect orgasm has lead to much in the way of accepting dildos and sex toys in straight culture and even in some, though not many, deeply religious ideologies. The anxiety over women with power and women with phalluses can still be seen in the fetishization of Femdom, transsexual sex, lesbian sex and many other parts of our sexual world. As the quest for orgasms, new experiences and deep sexual satisfaction continues, the strap-on might remain indefinable, even as it becomes more and more commonplace in mainstream and not-so-mainstream sex.

References:

1. "Savage Love," Dan Savage, June 21, 2001

2. "On Narcissism," Sigmund Freud, 1914, Hogarth Press, London

3. "Witchcraft, Oracles and Magic Among the Azande," E. Evans-Pritchard, 1937, Oxford University Press, Oxford

4. Ibid

5. "Occurences (sic) of Contrary-sex Among the Negro Population of Zanzibar," M. Haberlandt, 1899, Translated by Bradley Rose, 2001

6. "What a Tool," Extra, Zoe Bake-Paterson, August 3, 2006

7. "The Kama Sutra of Vatsayayana," Translated by Sir Richard Burton, Chapter 2, 1883, Accessed at: http://sacredtexts.org, 2009

8. "What a Tool," Extra, Zoe Bake-Paterson, August 3, 2006

9. Ibid

10. "The Pinky Swear," Tristan Taormino, The Village Voice, May 9, 2006

11. "Savage Love," Dan Savage, June 21, 2001

12. "Sex and the City," Episode 54, Allan Heinberg, aired June 21, 2001

13. "Restoration of satisfying sex for a castrated cancer patient with complete impotence: a case study," Drs. Warkentin, Gray, Wassersug, Boston University, Oct 2006

14. "Restoring sexual function in prostate cancer patients: an innovative approach," Drs. Gray, Klotz, Psychosocial & Behavioral Research Unit, Sunnybrook & Women's College Health Science Centre, Toronto, Ontario, Canada, June 2004

15. "Penis Stiffener," http://mypleasure.com, accessed May 2009

16. "The Pinky Swear," Tristan Taormino, The Village Voice, May 9, 2006




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