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So You Want To Get Pegged. We've Got You Covered.

Dan Savage helped coin the term in 2001. Now it's everywhere.

Posted on June 28, 2022, at 10:34 a.m. ET

The right PR at the right time can launch certain sex acts into to the forefront of discourse and onto our bedroom menus. Sex and the City popularized rabbit-style vibrators, millennials normalized eating ass, and now pegging, a word referring to the act of anal penetration with a strap-on dildo, appears to be having a moment. Back in April, a TikTok of a group of young men roaming the streets chanting, “What do we want?” “To get pegged!” And, “How do we do it?” “By finding women who are down!” went viral.

“I was trying to think of things that I genuinely wanted but might be embarrassed to tell other people about,” said Max Zavidow, a 24-year-old, New York–based comedian and TikTok creator whose video has amassed nearly 2 million likes since April. “My thought process was that if I wanted it and was embarrassed to say it, so did other people.” The vulnerability struck a chord. “The response was definitely insane. Over 400 strangers reached out to peg me,” he said. “My favorite part of the outreach in general was people telling me the video led to them getting pegged or pegging their partner.” For an act that has long been treated as taboo, how did we get here?

The term “pegging” is a recent addition to our sexual vocabulary, one that sex columnist Dan Savage helped coin in the early 2000s. It was a practical matter for Savage. “This was when my column was only in print,” he said in an interview with BuzzFeed News, “and every time someone said, ‘I’m a straight guy and I want to get fucked in the ass with a dildo,’ it took up a lot of space! Back in the day, you would cut ‘that’s and ‘the’s, anything to get it down to word count. That was the motivation. Here’s a twelve-word phrase I keep having to use. I want a one-syllable word for it. It needed a name, a short one, percussive, as with all good sex slang, and my readers gave it to me.”

‘‘It needed a name, a short one, percussive, as with all good sex slang, and my readers gave it to me.’’

In June 2001, after he tallied over 10,000 votes from his readers, the phrase “pegging” entered (sorry) the popular lexicon. It beat out other strong contenders, like “punt/punting” — because you kick things over to the other team — and “bob/bobbing” — a reference to Dr. Carol Queen’s landmark 1998 sex ed video series, Bend Over Boyfriend.

Since then, pegging has enjoyed brushes with pop culture prominence and mainstream recognition. Broad City’s 2015 episode “Knockoffs” featured main character Abbi on a date with a man named Jeremy, who asks if they can switch up their sex. Abbi assumes this means changing positions, but Jeremy is actually asking her if she will don a harness and dildo and fuck him in the ass with it. The show is a comedy, but the request itself isn’t played for humiliating laughs. Intrigued by the request, Abbi calls her best friend Ilana for a pep talk. Ilana is overjoyed and supportive of her friend’s sexual exploration.

“The whole comedy was Abbi replacing the dildo so the guy she had a crush on wouldn’t find out she ruined it in the dishwasher, the comedy wasn’t, oh, here’s a guy who wants to get fucked in the ass,” Savage said. “That wasn’t the butt of the joke. It was a perfectly legitimate fun form of sex that they could engage in that they were up for. I think it reflected the practice being embraced.” After the episode aired, the term “pegging” spiked in Google searches.

The 2016 movie Deadpool features Ryan Reynolds’ character on the receiving end of a dildo worn by his girlfriend (the actor Morena Baccarin). “Happy International Women’s Day,” she says before sticking it in — the punchline to a scene featuring their escalating sexcapades, but also the highest-profile pegging scene in a Hollywood film to date.

And in 2019, a tweet from a Rihanna fan asked, “Fellas… be honest. Would yall [sic] let Rihanna peg you? This is a safe space.” The tweet went viral, with thousands of likes and responses from male fans sharing their fantasies, some serious, some joking about getting topped by the pop star.

In the years since the creation of the term, the definition of pegging has expanded to include all genders and sexualities, as long as someone’s having anal sex with a strap-on. “Pegging classic is when a woman fucks a man in the ass with a dildo,” Savage said. “New pegging is anyone fucking anyone anywhere with a dildo. The definition is broadening,” he added. “Even [in 2001, when the term was created], there were objections to straight guys getting their own name for buttfucking, because maybe it walled off the kind of buttfucking they were doing, and I can see that.”

These objections arose from concerns about cisgender heterosexual men distancing their desires from anything the patriarchy deemed weak, effeminate, or threatening to masculinity. “Cis men believe the world revolves around them and anything they do should have its own special word — see: man bun, man purse, guyliner,” said Goddess Nyx, a professional dominatrix, “as sexuality becomes a bit more open and nebulous and we start to do away with the boring idea that a man who likes butt stuff is gay.”

Savage credits the evocative nature of the word as the source of its popularity. “I think people remember the initial connotations, but I think the thing that’s stuck is that it’s buttholes that get pegged, not vaginas,” he said. “‘Pegging’ doesn’t mean ‘straight.’ A peg gestures towards the use of a dildo. Pegging enters into your mind that it’s not a penis, it’s a peg. It’s the implement being used, which is what it’s referencing. Not so much the gender or sexuality, but the tool.”

‘‘As sexuality becomes a bit more open and nebulous and we start to do away with the boring idea that a man who likes butt stuff is gay.’’

Although the word “pegging” is only about to celebrate its 21st birthday, strap-on sex itself is an ancient art. Archaeologists have discovered dildos with holes for straps dating back to 10,000 BCE. Murals in the brothels of Pompeii depict a sex worker penetrating a male client anally with a dildo and harness. Depending on the availability of materials, these ancient dildos were fashioned from everything from carved jade to sanded bone, and they were attached to the bodies of wearers with leather and cloth.

In more recent history, Savage noticed an uptick in interest in strap-on sex in the late ’90s with the establishment of more sex-positive retail spaces. “These feminist sex shops started popping up in urban neighborhoods, places like Babeland, and suddenly this idea of strap-on sex and how lesbians strapped on dildos to fuck each other, kind of seeped out into mainstream hipster-land. That’s when I started getting a million questions about it.”

Nowadays, users no longer need to DIY their own strap-on solutions. A variety of sizes, shapes, and materials exist for purchase, including hand-poured, body-safe silicone dildos and adjustable, machine-washable harnesses. (The sex educator in me also wants to stress that lube is a must-have.) But the many reasons someone might enjoy trying pegging have remained constant since the olden days.

First and foremost, pegging can provide a lot of intense physical pleasure. “If you have a prostate, anal sex is kinda built for you! If you have a vulva it can be a fun way of accessing more sensitive pleasure points like the C-spot from the anal canal,” said Lola Jean, sex educator, coach, and professional dominatrix.

“That first time you learn to relax your sphincter, you see stars,” said Scott, a bisexual social worker living in New York. “Pegging is not like most sex that people with penises are taught to expect. For us, sex is rigid and linear — the buildup of tension and the explosion is what we're taught to know and love. Taking it in the ass is more complicated — it's more of a conversation,” he explained. “Taking it in the ass is more riding the ebb and flow of waves than pursuing a destination. The result is challenging, frustrating, and ultimately, one of the best orgasms you'll ever have in your life.”

“What I love most about pegging is the vulnerability and intimacy of it,” said Aidan Allgood, a “deli clerk by day, pro[fessional]-am[ateur] stunt bottom by night” from Seattle, in his early 30s. “Some people say it's 'not supposed to hurt,' but I actually like that. I want to feel my partner push and thrust and make their will known, inside of my body. I want to yield to them, bend to their will, feel the way they changed me. That's what gets me hot.”

For some people, the allure of pegging is inherently about subversion. For many practitioners, it can rub up against taboo: the fear or shame of anal play, conceptions of masculinity as being sexually aggressive, conceptions of femininity as passive and receptive. The cultural message we often receive is that sex between straight, cisgender people relies on penis–vagina penetrative sex as its central axis. Pegging reverses the configuration, thereby calling the central assumptions into question, about who is the giver and who is the taker. “Straight men are curious about penetration, curious about inverting gendered roles like who penetrates who, not just getting their asses fucked for the pleasure of getting their asses fucked, but for the erotic tension, that symbolism and inversion,” Savage said.

Janielle Bryan, a public health and sex educator, agreed. “It’s not just physical, but also mental stimulation happening during pegging,” she said. “Flipping the heteronormative, and routine, power dynamic is exhilarating for some people. Many of us play coulda, shoulda, woulda about a lot of situations. This act allows us the live-out fantasy of flipping the script. During that time we can briefly experience how our partner may feel.”

“When I’m the penetrator, I get hyper-focused on my partner’s pleasure, which is enjoyable in a completely different way than being receptive during sex,” said Allison Moon, author of Girl Sex 101 and Getting It: A Guide to Hot, Healthy Hookups and Shame-Free Sex. “During a great pegging session, I can fall into a sort of flow state, tracking my partner’s facial expressions, breath, body movements, and nonverbal noises. I particularly love introducing men to a new form of pleasure that they may not be used to, helping them discover new things about their bodies and sexuality. Meanwhile, being a pegging top allows me to show my partners a side of my sexuality and gender they may not see in day-to-day life. It [also] allows me to bring my full queer identity to sex, even when I’m with a straight guy.”

Despite the increased visibility of pegging in mainstream conversation, stigma about the act is still commonplace. There is a difference, after all, in seeing something portrayed with some narrative distance versus asking for it yourself. The same qualities that make pegging hot (taboos around anal sex in general, perceptions of gender roles, wanting something you’re “not supposed to want”) continue to create wariness and vulnerability around communicating that particular desire. “Shame causes a lot of things, including pegging, to stay unspoken,” Bryan said. “It seems that no one wants to be the first to bring it up. My friends and I talk about it openly, but these aren't the same conversations they're having with their partners.”

“We still have a lot of work to do on destigmatizing pegging and other nontraditional sex acts,” Goddess Nyx said, “but I am glad to live in a time where I can fairly openly talk about all the boy butt I’ve been reaming.” ●