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Coitus More Ferarum [NSFW]

June 22, 2012 | by

Warning: explicit images after the jump.

Now that Game of Thrones has aired its second season, there has been no shortage of commentary about the amount of skin and sex on the Emmy-winning HBO drama. Viewers have taken notice of the gratuitous nudity and graphic fucking, which are sometimes necessary, and sometimes incidental, to the plot. I’ve noticed something else, something more specific: from rape within an arranged marriage to sibling fucking, it seems like the sexual beings of the Seven Kingdoms of Westeros speak two primary languages, fellatio and doggy style.

Why do I care? Besides being an obsequious and social consumer of television (I host Game of Thrones night weekly at my house), I’m a writer of short fiction who has also published erotica under the pseudonym Olivia Glass. My story “Drought” was published in the (sadly now defunct) women’s sex magazine Filament and was selected by Violet Blue to appear in Best Women’s Erotica 2012, from Cleis Press. I’m always interested in sex as it is presented to us—in literature, film, and art—in that it is both a reflection of what we think, and a reflection of what we think those consuming the art want to see.

So what’s happening in Game of Thrones? What does it mean that the primary sexual positions in a highly sexualized show are those of domination?

And, more specifically, what’s up with doggy style?

Doggy style—coitus more ferarum, or “sex in the manner of beasts”—needs no real introduction. Regardless of actual doggy style as it is performed by actual people, we can agree that it’s less visually intimate than other sexual positions in which partners are able to gaze into each other’s eyes. (I’m not going to touch on fellatio here, but fellatio has a similar problem in that it’s visually nonintimate, and like male-on-female doggy style, is never reciprocated in GoT.)

Doggy style seems to be part of a larger sexual coding in this universe. Transgressive sex—an extremely wide category in this case that includes sex with prostitutes, sibling incest, rape, pseudo-lesbian sex lessons—happens in the form of doggy style. Even the scene between Theon Greyjoy and a woman he does not yet realize is his sister involves Theon riding behind her, groping her breasts and sliding his hand down her pants. Not doggy style per se, but a similar expression of physical domination. (And the most awkward family reunion ever.) Though she holds the metaphorical ace in this scene, the code still exists and is only overturned when the truth is revealed.

The reasons for this coding system (whether it’s intentional or not) seem obvious—doggy-style sex is, visually, all about power—one figure (male) “taking” another (female). Several excellent articles have talked about how Game of Thrones manages all sex as an expression of power on behalf of the female characters, but the immediate visual cue is one of no intimacy, love, or pleasure for the receiving partner.

The first instance of doggy-style sex in the entire series, appearing in the first episode, “Winter Is Coming,” involves Jaime Lannister fucking his sister, Queen Cersei, from behind, in a tower at Winterfell. Discovered by one of Ned Stark’s sons, Jaime stands up and shoves the boy out of a tower window. The brutality of the push is unexpected to viewers who haven’t read the source material, but it’s undeniable that there’s something weirdly natural about Jaime moving from mounting to an act of violence. Trying to imagine the same scene with Cersei and Jaime facing each other—with him scrambling up from gazing lovingly into his sister’s eyes—is harder than you’d expect.

The coding, though, is clearest when inverted. We see the progression of the relationship between Daenerys—daughter of a disposed despot, sold into marriage by her wicked brother—and Drogo, leader of the horse-riding desert tribe that seeks entrance into the kingdoms. Disturbing racial coding aside—The New Yorker called it “head-clutchingly problematic”—the sexual message is not different from any other previous encounter. The arranged marriage begins with (doggy-style) rape—a departure from the pseudoconsensual marriage night scene in the book. Only when Daenerys asks her handmaiden how to please a man do we see anything happening face-to-face. And when Daenerys encourages Drogo to have sex facing each other (“Tonight I would look upon your face”), not only does the tenor change—from rape to pleasurable, even romantic sex—but a child is conceived from that union. The code is clear: doggy-style is rape-y, domineering, sexist. But the purity of face-to-face sex is so great that it can turn a brutish rapist into a loving husband. Babies are born from gazing into each other’s eyes.

There are exceptions to the coding, of course. Prior to feeling up his sister, Theon is on a ship having sex with the daughter of the captain. The scene is painful in its cruelty: she loves him, he couldn’t care less about her, but they are having sex face-to-face, and almost slowly, in a way that could almost be tender, but true to form, even that scene ends with Theon letting her know how little he cares about her, before turning her over to take her from behind.

In his take on the sexual politics of Game of Thrones, Scott Meslow of The Atlantic says,

I suspect that the main reason Game of Thrones has drawn so much criticism for its sexual content is that it’s a fantasy series. The Sopranos regularly featured sex scenes every bit as explicit (and sometimes as discomforting) as the ones in Game of Thrones—but that was a gangster drama. For decades, viewers have been conditioned to expect fantasy to be fantastical. But unlike previous fantasy series, like the whimsical Hercules: The Legendary Journeys, or films like the Lord of the Rings trilogy, Game of Thrones is every bit as gritty and troubling as the real world. That takes some getting used to.

Are troublesome sexual politics the sole property of the realm of science fiction/fantasy? Hardly. But the unfamiliarity of the medieval-style world of Westeros—where an undead army marches on the kingdom, dragons and shadow-babies are born, and naked women never seem to have any pubic hair—is very easy to impress with our existing biases on the relative intimacy of sexual positions. And why wouldn’t they? Game of Thrones is so overrun with characters and plotlines that sexual shorthand seems almost a necessity at times, if an unfortunate one.

I’m just waiting for them to start complicating the shorthand and showing some tender reverse cowgirl and angry cunnilingus.

Carmen Maria Machado is a graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. Her fiction has appeared or is forthcoming in Unstuck, Indiana Review, and Opium Magazine.

11 COMMENTS

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7 Comments

  1. Bill | June 22, 2012 at 1:25 pm

    ”The scene is painful in its cruelty: she loves him, he could care less about her,”

    How much did he care? I mean, it’s not as if he couldn’t care less.

  2. Thessaly La Force | June 22, 2012 at 1:31 pm

    Thank you, Bill!

  3. Tom May | June 22, 2012 at 2:49 pm

    “Will it play in Peoria?

    “Yes.”

  4. MythicalMe | June 23, 2012 at 1:57 am

    Lest you forget the world constructed is mostly male dominated. Until Dany becomes the mother of dragons is there any kind of female leadership. Cersei, I guess could be argued as a reigning monarch, but that was why Tywin sent Tyrion to be the hand of the king (even the imp is better at ruling than the queen).

    As for doggy style, perhaps you’re correct but I know that my wife and I who love each other get some of the greatest pleasure from the position.

  5. OAJ | June 23, 2012 at 2:10 pm

    “Fucking..” Shocking, moving…

    It’s intriguing to read an essay on the meaning ‘doggy’ and ‘face to face’ copulation ( fucking, if you’d rather) particularly after reading recent headlines: “Sandusky Guilty of Sexual Abuse of 10 Young Boys”

    Sex and violence makes for good copy, I suppose.

  6. Ekes Gonini | June 24, 2012 at 2:30 pm

    Bill, see Steven Pinker on “he could care less”: he points out that it’s sarcastic. (Imagine “I could care less” said by a snotty teenager.) Give some more credit to the writers/speakers of this phrase.

  7. Bernard Black | November 13, 2012 at 2:53 pm

    it isn’t sexist.
    1. “Doggy Style” is often used in movies, literature, and television as the sex position choice of barbarians or any group less technologically advanced. Since this is a fantasy this is to be expected. If it was a sci-fi tale there would be less.

    2. Fact is, doggy style is one of the most preferred sex positions as chosen by women.

    3. Doggy style is much easier to film while getting both actors faces in the frame, seeing and feeling their emotions.

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