Why do some gay men refer to themselves as Pigs?
Do you consider yourself a sexual pig? Ever wondered why some gay men describe themselves as pigs and what that might involve?
We’ve now got some solid academic research to help make sense of it all.
Dr João Florêncio is a senior lecturer in the History of Modern and Contemporary Art and Visual Culture at the University of Exeter.
His latest publication is Bareback Porn, Porous Masculinities, Queer Futures. It’s all about the ethics of becoming ‘Pig’ – in the context of the sexual identity of gay men.
We caught up with João to go deep on the research.
What led you to wanting to research and write about Pig identity and sexual behaviour?
It was a realisation that, over the last decade or so, I saw an increasing number of men identifying as pigs both on hook-up apps, my own hook-ups, and in porn – whether amateur or studio porn.
I had a feeling that such form of self-identification in sexual contexts had to do, on the one hand, with the development of antiretrovirals for the successful treatment and prophylaxis of HIV and, on the other hand, with the increasing availability of free pornography online. Porn has historically played a very important role in modulating the sexual imaginary of queer folk, not just by showing us the sex that we have but also by almost speculating on the sex and pleasures that we could be having.
The sex that I was seeing being associated with pig self-identification amongst gay men tended to be sex that appeared centred on a transgression of bodily boundaries – both through relentless penetrations and exchanges of all kinds of bodily fluids.
I started this project to try to triangulate the ways in which these new forms of 21st-century gay male self-identification emerged in a highly-mediated context, where both prescription and recreational drugs and online pornography have helped us shape the sense of the sexually-possible and – through that – the ways in which we understand intimacy, communion, and our own masculinity.
What was the research process that you followed for this work – did it involve watching a lot of porn and going to sex parties?
The project involved a lot of archival research to try to understand the history of the use of the term ‘pig’ among gay men.
Of course, that involved looking at a lot of pornography – produced mostly since the 1970s – as both printed matter and moving-image.
To complement that, I also interviewed gay men in London, Berlin, Los Angeles, and San Francisco – some of whom were also porn models – as well as some porn producers and artists working on the edges of art and porn.
I also went to clubs and parties where sex took place, and I became more self-reflexive about my own sexual encounters. A substantial part of the book starts from or builds on my own experiences, almost like a sexual auto-ethnography. Rather than being self-indulgent, I think that aspect of the work is really important, as – I hope – it will give readers a clearer sense of where my questions and thoughts come from, while trying to avoid one of the pitfalls of a lot of recent scholarship on sex which can tend to purely exist in the realm of the abstract or the theoretical.
My approach was to build on experience, build on the concrete, on anecdotes, episodes or encounters I share with readers in order to then reflect on them and, only then, move towards the theoretical and the abstract. After all, writing about sex matters because sex is such a material and complex aspect of everybody’s existence and sense of self, regardless of whether one has a lot, little, or none of it.
Have you been able to pinpoint the origin of Pig as a sexual identity for gay men?
When looking at gay magazines from the UK, USA, Germany, and France while doing archival research, I was able to identify men describing themselves as pigs as early as the late 1960s. Those references were quite periodical and used to appear both in the personal ads section of the magazines as well as in erotic stories and other editorial pieces.
Already, pig appeared associated with a lack of sexual limits or a curiosity to test and push boundaries, as well as being clearly associated in some cases with eroticised exchanges of bodily fluids – this was something that I found really very much present in more ‘hardcore’ German fetish magazines like Kumpel, which ran from the late 1960s until the 1980s.
With the public advent of the AIDS crisis in the early 1980s, those references seemed to become rarer, and references to safer sex eventually started appearing in both editorials, erotic fiction, and personal ads. Importantly, though, while they became rarer, they did not disappear completely.
Something that I found really interesting was that it did away with the idea that condoms had been universally adopted by gay men as a result of the AIDS crisis. That was clearly not the case. But even then, I couldn’t identify ‘pigness’ being associated with a desire to become HIV-positive or an eroticisation of the virus itself. What ‘pig’ appeared to mean, then just like before, seemed to have more to do with a more general eroticisation of practices and substances deemed ‘abject’ in dominant culture.
So, obviously in the context of the then emerging bug-chasing culture, in which gay men eroticise HIV and seek to become infected, one can understand how the term ‘pig’ also fits that sexual subculture and how it was also adopted by it. Yet, it is important that we note that pig had originally nothing to do with either barebacking – understood as transgressive condomless sex taking place in the context of the AIDS crisis – or bug-chasing.
That’s also one of the reasons why the vast majority of people who identify as ‘pigs’ are also either HIV-undetectable or HIV-negative on PrEP and – I’d argue – with no investment in fantasies of HIV transmission.
While the term ‘pig’ fits many different practices, its common framings around HIV are extremely reductive of what are much more complex situations, desires, sexual practices, and pleasures.
Can we self-identify as a Pig?
Pig, to me, is a form of self-identification of gay men, one that is based on how they frame the kinds of sex that they’re into. Pig is not about the body or looks – as in otter or a bear. It’s not about what people are physically but about what people do.
What pigs do can vary significantly. But, one of the things that defines ‘pig’ subjectivities is, to me, an investment in excess and in transgressing the boundaries of the body. That excess and transgression can be through being gang-banged by several men, or being fist-fucked, or exchanging all kinds of bodily matter such as piss, spit, cum, or shit.
That’s one of the reasons why I think ‘pigs’ are becoming more visible and rather mainstream in the age of antiretrovirals. It’s not because pigs necessarily eroticise HIV or even like the fantasy of HIV infection while being protected by antiretrovirals. Of course, some of them do, but to me, in those situations, what HIV is doing is merely being another instance of a foreign body entering one’s own – it’s an example of our bodily boundaries being transgressed, or crossed into.
From all I’ve seen and all the conversations I’ve had, I think that is what brings all pigs together – the pleasure they feel when something that should be outside their bodies is felt entering them. Antiretrovirals therefore allow for those sexual experiences to take place and for those pleasures to be explored without being life-threatening.
What does Porous Masculinity mean in this context?
My term ‘porous masculinities’ is an attempt to describe the kinds of experiences of masculinity that are emerging in the context of the sexual practices I’ve been describing.
They aren’t necessarily ‘good’ or ‘bad’ – those are judgements of value I don’t want to make. What they are, in my view, is deeply interesting developments in masculinity – more concretely in the experiences of masculinity of cis gay men – that raise very interesting questions about what we consider a man to be and about the history of western masculinity itself.
One of the things that has historically defined the male body was its supposed self-enclosure – its autonomy, impermeability, and impenetrability. As opposed to female bodies who were historically seen as leaky, permeable, penetrable, and thus lacking autonomy. These kinds of porous masculinity we see in gay ‘pigs’ – which so many times are performed in quite hyper-masculine and ‘heroic’ ways – seem to ground masculinity no longer on one’s penis and one’s ability to penetrate someone else but, instead, on one’s holes and one’s ability to be penetrated relentlessly and to be porous to all kinds of ‘foreign’ matter and bodies.
This is an important and radical inversion of an ideal of the male body that has dominated Western thought for much of modernity. Further, I think these emerging forms of cis masculinity are also one of the reasons why, over the last few years, we have been seeing a lot more trans men performing in gay porn without any fanfare or being objectified as ‘exotic’ – masculinities are living ideas and embodied experiences of gender and as such they are plastic and change. Beyond the experiences, incredible political activism and much-needed increased visibility of transmasculine folk, we see masculinities changing too amongst cis men – like gay pigs.
Of course. ‘pig’ masculinities can also come with issues, with less than ideal sexual ethics, with a narcissistic cult of heroism, athleticism, violence, endurance, emotional unavailability, and extreme risk-taking – all attributes that have also defined hegemonic western masculinity for a very long time.
The task is how to learn from the ways in which the porosity of gay ‘pigs’ can contribute to more capacious understandings of what being a man is about while still insisting on the importance of ethics of care in experiences of communion, intimacy, and how we generally live and love and have sex with others.
Who’s your target audience for this book? Is it a how-to guide on becoming a pig?
The book is an academic book and it’s mainly aimed at researchers or people who, not necessarily being ‘professional’ researchers may have an interest in the topic. What I hope the book will do is to help show how masculinity is not an ossified and unchanging thing but, instead, how it is plastic.
I also hope to show how bodies are incredible sources of pleasures known and yet-unknown, that people should be able to explore consensually while caring for and looking after one another. Our bodies are the factories of ourselves and sex plays a very important role in how we, modern subjects that we are, have come to know ourselves, our bodies, and those of others.
The book isn’t a call for everybody to become a ‘pig’ and it’s not a how-to guide. It is an academic study, certainly quite personal at times, but it is a study – a case study of a contemporary form of masculinity.
What does it mean for a gay man to identify as a Pig?
We caught up with Chet to talk about sex and his explorations of ‘pig’ side.
On a scale of 0=vanilla to 5=pig, where would you rate yourself?
Would you describe your sexual evolution as having become more raw and pig-like over the years?
Yes, but not in a continuously progressive manner. The behavioural change has been episodic and explorative. The mental aspect has greatly outpaced the physical. Both trend raw.
What are some of the encounters or experiences that have helped you explore that more pig-like side of your sexuality?
To me, the term ‘pig’ — unlike bear or otter — doesn’t describe the man based on physical characteristics. I loathe the term piggy because it’s diminutive, almost feminine. Pig, to me, derives instead from practice. However, pig also has to contend with value judgement — dirty pig, nasty pig, kinky pig, perverted — from within the gay community, and I internalised some of this negativity. That slowed my shift from ‘pig practice’ to ‘pig identity.’
My first sexual experience was blow job I gave to a stranger who sat across from me on the subway one night on the way home from Manhattan. There were two guys sitting across from me and I wanted to suck both guys. I grabbed my crotch and licked my lips at the men. My first choice, was a very fit guy but I was so horny and any dick would do. The other man, who was in fairly good shape, took me up on my offer. He led me behind tall shrubbery near an apartment complex at the end of the subway line in Brooklyn and I knelt down as he opened up his trousers and tugged down his briefs. I don’t remember how big he was but I do remember how much we both enjoyed it, and I remember swallowing his load. I was 18 or 19 and he was 30 something. I hadn’t come out to myself even. This anonymous cum guzzling gave me both guilt and a thrill. The second time in some adult bookstore, there was no guilt about swallowing.
I got out of the active-duty army and went to a large public university. While there, I came out in my second semester and started dating shortly thereafter. That was a mistake! I wasn’t mature enough for a relationship, and the guy and I weren’t compatible, but that’s what first — and second and third — relationships are for. After a couple weeks of vanilla sex with him, I got up the courage to eat his ass. I’m an ass man, and while I liked tonguing his hairy ass, I didn’t enjoy it because he didn’t enjoy it — he was too squeamish — too prissy.
On the way home from spring break, I stopped at an adult bookstore and hooked up with a guy who was slightly older than me. I ate his beefy muscular ass for about 20 minutes and he loved it. He had no issue kissing after that which was intuitive and exciting to me. He was the first guy to fuck me raw and breed me. When I got home to my boyfriend, I confessed what I’d done and the relationship ended. I was free! I learned how much I really like ass, and skin to skin.
For the remainder of my undergrad and graduate time, I whored bookstores, nude beaches, rest areas, and other cruising spots. My instinct for submitting to aggressive physical encounters with masculine men hit a turning point during this period.
The first encounter was with a sailor in a bookstore north of Boston. Typically, I’d go in a booth to fool around. This sailor wanted an audience, so he stood in the hallway and whipped out his meat. I knelt in front of him. He put his hands on my head and fucked my face. His masculine aggressiveness was amplified by the audience that gathered around. His nuts were bouncing off my chin as he got more physical and verbal until he shot and made me swallow. I had a hold of his muscular ass and loved the rock hard feel of those muscles as his cock swelled and he fed me his load. He kept his left hand on my head as his dick gave up its final drops while with his right hand he lightly slapped my face. “Good faggot…” he said lovingly. I was a good faggot. Inter-service cock became an instant favourite. I also lost my sense of shame.
The second encounter happened when my car gave me trouble at a rest stop. A state police officer pulled in while I was under the hood. He pulled up next to me, asked what was wrong, and had a listen to the car engine. He offered to follow me back to my place to ensure I got there safely because he was going that way anyway and was going off duty. Thankfully my car made it back to the apartment, and I thanked the officer. He asked if he could come in and change before he went home to his wife. Sure, I said. When we got inside he started changing in my living room and he stopped in his underwear. He wore low-rise white briefs that could barely contain his enormous meat. ‘Get on your knees, Son…’ was all he had to say. The next hour or so was aggressive masculine behaviour as his 6’3” 225 pound body pushed my 5’10″ 150 pound body to the limit. Submission was solidified as pleasure.There was a comfort in feeling a physically larger man against my whole body, whose pleasure was what mattered, knowing that I was the conduit to release that pleasure. I learned that I liked aggressive pounding and that I could take it.
I started thinking about piss-play a lot while I was deployed. I dreamt of finding the right top to take me to a leather bar with a trough urinal and make me kneel beside it so select men could unload in my mouth. Piss fantasy is about all I have, though I have drunk my own piss on cam for a couple guys who were interested in watching. This is a big interest I want to explore more.
My travels have enabled to me to get to baths in Atlanta, New Orleans, New York City, and other cities. I think the best fucks were at Flex, though Steamworks has been good too. Bald muscle dads were what I sought, followed by muscle, tall, and hairy, and any other interested men. What I learned to appreciate was how easily twenty or so naked men can get into a anonymous sexual fuck frenzy. This doesn’t happen all the time, but I learned how masculine bareback mindless group fucking is a transcendent experience.
I made Saint Andrew my patron saint about six years ago. I went to a nude men’s camp where there was ‘fuck shed’ with a St. Andrew’s cross. I’d been very horny after flirting with a beefy man at the camp. He helped me get my ankle and wrist restraints fastened. The camp was in the southern US, and the day was blazing hot. Regardless of the heat, I lasted for four hours bound to that cross, because of the sexual intensity. After that time, my leg muscles were worn out and I got down. My buddy gave me a couple gulps of water and then put on me on the sling and fucked me raw until I finally came. After that he had two buddies give me my first double penetration breeding. My buddy ate my ass after that pounding and then we made out like teenagers. This really demonstrated to me that my runner’s body and ass was able to take endurance poundings, that I could refrain from cumming, and that extreme penetration was very pleasurable.
These experiences have helped move me from someone who was role-playing, to someone who knows himself and who is comfortable in that pig identity.
How do you currently explore the more Pig-like sides of your sexuality?
I’m fairly content to enjoy what I’ve explored already but there are some activities that I would like to get to, like fisting.
I keep an 11-inch long thick dildo for my own pleasure, and will cam with some men.
How do you connect and meet with guys who want the same kind of sexual encounters that you want?
I’m trying to figure this out actually. Camming and social media don’t have a lot of appeal to me. Old-fashioned websites like Craigslist tend to have minimal crowds. Baths occasionally, and bookstores, have to suffice until I find something that might be of interest.
If someone was interested in exploring this more Pig-like style of sex, what advice or guidance would you give them.
Read, reference, and maybe watching porn with Dawson or porn by BBRTS or other BB studios. Mainly, I recommend that you trust your instinct, know your limits, don’t believe real life is like porn, and know what you’re willing to risk.