Sex talk
Speaking of Cigars

Simon Sheppard, QSyndicate.com

Sometimes, as Sigmund Freud famously remarked, a cigar is just a cigar.

But when it comes to queer men, a cigar is often something more; that stogie clamped between a macho guy's jaws can be a big, fat, odiferous phallic symbol. As one butch fellow notes, "I manage to attract attention simply by smoking a cigar. Seems like lots of guys – from daddy tops to bottomboys – love the look and the smell."

Still, one might argue that a big, brown, leaf-wrapped cylinder sticking out of one's mouth is not in and of itself attractive; it's clear that the enduring appeal of the cigar is all about masculinity. In the queer world, Robustos often go hand-in-hand with hairy chests, muscles, facial hair, uniforms, or leather – the whole nine macho yards. A craggy leatherman or burly bear kicking back, putting his boots up, and puffing away on a big cigar is a fetishized icon of manly strength. "I'll admit it," says one leatherguy. "Just the smell of cigar smoke can give me a woody."

Stogies are props of swaggering power. Even less ostentatiously butch businessmen flaunt their clout when they puff a $10 Torpedo. Unlike its less-eroticized cousins – the everybody-smokes-'em cigarette and the too-tweedy-to-be-sexy pipe – that thick, eight-inch-long Giant Corona exudes "alpha male." Just the names of cigar sizes – "Toro," "Robusto," "Churchill" – speak of manly manliness. (Skinny, slim Cigarillos, it's safe to say, carry little of that dick-hardening, ultrabutch erotic charge; size does matter.)

It's not always just a matter of smoking, either; cigars can be used as toys in erotic play. Submissives kneel to light their masters' stogies, grateful to have smoke blown in their faces or to feel the warmth of a glowing cigar tip. Ash play – flicking ashes as a sign of domination, using a bottom's body as an ashtray – can be kinkily hot. (Literally too hot if a top's not careful.) "One of the most exciting scenes I've witnessed," recalls the aforementioned leatherguy, "involved a master flicking cigar ash onto his boot and his slave licking it off." And then there's insertion play, the most publicized case involving a certain very het former president.

Others are not nearly so sure of the Panatela's appeal. "My frail granddad used to smoke cigars," says an otherwise butch nonfan. "So the smell always reminds me of a bunch of out-of-shape old men sitting around gossiping. Sorry."

A cigar rapidly makes its presence known to anyone within smelling distance. For each guy delighted by the odor, there's probably another who thinks that, as one man bluntly puts it, "Cigars really stink." So if the thoughtful homo is going to engage in cigar play in a group situation, he should make sure all concerned are agreeable, especially if he's going to smoke indoors.

And there's one other matter: Cigars are simply not very good for you. "Most gay men hate to criticize other queers' erotic practices," says an antismoking activist. "But research indicates that gay men smoke in much higher numbers than the general population. Cigar smoking causes a variety of cancers, and there's the proven risk of secondhand smoke. Eroticizing it is just as wrong in my eyes as eroticizing unsafe sex. I know that may make me sound like a prude, and the transgressive, dangerous aspect of smoking is in itself an erotic plus for some guys, same as with barebacking. But hey, I just want gay men to live long, healthy lives." (Of course, it's important to note that an occasional cigar-based sex scene is a whole lot less dangerous than a three-cigar-a-day habit.)

So, with due deference to Dr. Freud, it's clear that cigars can be many things: masculine signifiers, sex toys, phallic symbols, even threats to health. And also, for many, a relaxing good smoke: just a cigar.

Simon Sheppard is the author of Kinkorama: Dispatches from the Front Lines of Perversion

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