Anal play can be a leveler between the sexes, a space where we shed our armor, reverse power dynamics, and explore our capabilities as sexual beings.
I emailed a sex writer friend not long ago to ask what she thought of the newfangled hands-free clitoral stimulators. “Are they actually effective at making you cum while you’re getting fucked?” The answer was they are hit or miss and completely user dependent, which was the answer I didn’t want because I’m still looking for the effortless PIV orgasm. Then she signed off by saying, “I’ve started having anal orgasms which is something I want to explore more.” I suffered an immediate sense of sex writer imposter syndrome, having not known it was possible for a woman to have an orgasm from inside her butt.
I was too bashful to ask for more details, and perhaps too envious to risk saying, “I hate you.” But I did then go down the online anal orgasm rabbit hole until my cat put his own arse in my face demanding dinner. I eventually decided that people who can have anal orgasms may be like Cirque de Solei contortionists; I am in awe of their skills, but circumstances related to my thirty-six hours of childbirth labor may preclude my bum from ever performing such feats.
Even though I’ve always considered anal sex to be a perfectly reasonable way to get off, for much of my life I thought it was what men did to women and queer men did to each other. Until I met an anthropologist. Having spent three years living with Pygmy tribes in central Africa, this man had no fixed cultural hang ups and was forensic in his pursuit of sexual pleasure (not that he became so by living in the jungle, just that he was, by definition, a researcher). One morning he tucked into his bedside table and brought out a small, oddly shaped toy. Expecting he was about to pleasure me with it, instead he asked that I slather it with lube and stick it up his rear. Shortly thereafter, I witnessed my first slack-jawed, swooning spectacle that is a man having a prostate-assisted orgasm.
Butt sex has always been a thing. Dating back to 4500 BC, the Sumerians of southern Mesopotamia (modern day Iraq, Syria and parts of Turkey) had relaxed attitudes around sexuality and did not regard anal sex as taboo. Sumerians priestesses, in particular, were forbidden from reproducing and partook in anal sex as a form of birth control. Though early Greek and Roman men were known to practice erotic play with each other, there were, however, established rules of engagement. Sexual activity between men and adolescent boys, at least in Athens and Sparta, precluded penetrative sex, considered a violation of the younger partner. Greek artwork depicting sexual interactions between men and boys usually consisted of fondling or intercrural sex, aka coitus interfemoris, a type of non-penetrative sex where the penis is placed between the partner’s thighs and friction generated via thrusting. Essentially, the kind of sex a lot of us had on the couch in middle school. An adult man taking the passive role in anal intercourse was actually looked down upon in Rome as “immodest” unless that passive partner was a slave, in which case he was considered to be muliebria pati,
or “undergoing womanly things.”
Perhaps the best-known depictions of male-female anal intercourse in a pre-modern culture come from the Moche people of Peru who predated the Incas by seven centuries. A survey of their delightfully graphic sex pottery shows that 31% of the figures are participating in anal intercourse, significantly higher than any other sex act, with carefully carved genitalia to show that the anus, rather than the vagina, is being penetrated. Although there is technically no mention of anal intercourse in the Bible, the condemnation of anal sexual practices in Western culture is attributed to early leaders of the Christian church who, in the Middle Ages, justified attacks against those considered heretical by equating the anal sex they were apparently having with non-reproductive debauchery. Sodomy, popularly thought to signify anal sex between men, is actually believed by scholars to represent a much wider interpretation of acts considered subversive including oral sex, bestiality, or just about anything sexual outside the confines of marriage and reproduction.
Given my relative naivete around the wonderland of the derriere, I solicited a few readers to describe their own experiences. What I found from these self-selected enthusiasts was their unanimous belief that anal exploration had led them to a deeper and more profound enjoyment of their sexual response.
“It wasn’t just my sphincter that began to flex and expand, my mind did, too,” wrote one man who has allowed his more experienced female partner to be his midlife anal guide. Another wrote, “The bottom is vulnerable and erotic in a way the penis isn’t. I really began to get off on the vulnerability aspect in my late teens, manifested especially in the enjoyment of being spanked.” This man then goes on to say his most resounding orgasms were in conjunction with giving and receiving analingus, as well as gentle and shallow fingering of his sphincter.
Everyone who wrote reported a psychological shift through the exploration of the anus and the perineum (the area between the anal sphincter and the genitals). “I was taking on centuries of social stigma and blasting it into insignificance. With the intense, exhilarating physical sensations came change, the shedding of fears and assumptions. It wasn’t long before I started feeling the change outside these play sessions. A subtle but clearly present sense of confidence and power appeared. I know this will sound strange to some, far-fetched even, but I feel [anal penetration] has given me an awareness that I’m capable of something new and significant.”
Indeed, I connected with his sentiment thinking back on my frenetic dating days in London, as I discovered myself breaking open through an insatiable curiosity around my sexual and emotional re-formation. Like this man, when I tried something new, even if I didn’t particularly enjoy it – like the time I let a man eat a variety of finger foods from my yoni – unabashedly attempting a new sexual act put a slightly rebellious, self-actualizing spring in my step.
But a willingness to open this part of one’s body doesn’t always result in positive change. One friend confided that when he encouraged his wife to use her vibrator around his backside, which he enjoyed very much, he was met the next morning with an icy sense of rebuke and her growing suspicion that he wasn’t solidly heterosexual. Shouldn’t being a loving partner mean we make room for the expression of our sexual fluidity, especially within the presumed safe space of a committed relationship? His marriage ended shortly thereafter.
Why have so many hetero men and women internalized this notion of the male butt as a no-go zone? “I have seen far too many men who are petrified whenever anyone touches their ass,” wrote a female friend who frequents erotic parties in London. Our sexuality shouldn’t be defined by the spaces of our body we want to explore, but by the people we want to explore them with. For a man to think his orientation might be in question were he to experience pleasure around his ass is a true failure of imagination. For that matter, for any of us to feel fixed within a proscribed sexual orientation is also limiting and, hopefully, something our younger generations won’t fuss themselves over.
Watching a man surrender himself to anal penetration can be a beautiful thing. So much of the hetero anal sex in mainstream porn is of men banging away at a woman’s asshole as though it were an accessory vagina. And because my butt can’t handle that kind of activity, I don’t get off doing it or watching it. Yet when I search online for “women pegging men” I discover what I’ve experienced with a few unselfconscious partners; the moans and facial expressions from men we are accustomed to hearing from women being pleasured. What I find so tedious about hetero porn is how rarely we see a man’s face or hear him expressing the animalistic sounds of bliss that exude from a woman, real or fabricated. Yet what a man can’t hide when his ass is being entered is his disarmed vulnerability, having just allowed the most sensitive part of his body to be penetrated by a feminine steward of his sexual soul. Check out this sweet and hot clip from YouPorn of a husband and wife pair (and take note of the crescent shaped pillow in the background, an accessory to breastfeeding! How normal are they?!).
When I recall the times I’ve felt a real exchange of joy with a sexual partner, I must admit some stand-out moments have been when a man, not accustomed to playing with his own ass, has allowed me to go there. Whether the dildo I used pleased his prostate or he simply experienced bliss by being gently, rhythmically penetrated, it didn’t matter. The result was the same: post-orgasmic elation like I’ve never seen before, a triumphant surprise akin to having survived his first airborne dismount from the playground swing set. And if, in this moment, a woman can look at her man with tender eyes that say, “I’ve got you, Babe!” they are going to have themselves a bonding experience so unassailable they may go weeks without a single eye roll towards each other.
But yuck, you say, anal is just gross. There’s shit and it smells and it’s unhygienic. You wouldn’t be wrong and for some this is a deal breaker. Without care, preparation and precautions, anal intercourse and rimming (licking someone’s hole) can transmit bacterial and viral infections and damage sensitive rectal tissue. To believe that sticking things in one’s ass can happen spontaneously, without a possible mess is to believe that Ivermectin can cure Covid-19. Unless you’re seeking out poop, those performers getting drummed up their butts haven’t eaten solid food for two days and have given themselves three enemas. The terminal part of the large intestine is, by definition, a holding receptacle for feces. Even after our morning constitutionals, there’s plenty more making its way down the tube. So yes, shit may happen.
You can enjoy anal play rather cleanly with the right pre-play tools. One lover introduced me to a slim metal nozzle that attaches to a shower hose and acts as an enema system. Rather than elaborate here, there are plenty of anal aficionados on YouTube happy to instruct you on how to use a shower enema rather than the more cumbersome rubber douche. Then lay down some towels, get your water-based lube (always use lots of lube when attempting to penetrate an ass), and take your time. Going slowly and gently is key to having a good experience with anal. You can work up to the banging if you’re inclined. But most importantly, bring a relaxed attitude and a sense of fun to it all. The shower is right next door.
“Ultimately, I embrace anal sex because it creates incredible sensations. I can only describe it as similar to cervical orgasms – the pleasure is animalistic and dark. It is a complex and profound experience,” writes a friend who credits her love of anal to early experimentation with a kind and curious lover. Anal play can be a leveler between the sexes, a space where we shed our armor, reverse power dynamics, and explore our capabilities as sexual beings. And I’m a firm believer that a less than stellar previous experience does not mean all future attempts will fail at producing a good result. That’s why I recently purchased a remote-controlled anal vibrator. My body may still surprise me. Or I may just surprise my next lover.