After binging my way through Netflix, I recently found myself pursuing other streaming services for a new series. I landed on Girls on HBO, wanting to finally understand this character who uncommonly, shares my first name. Within the first two episodes, it becomes clear that Lena Dunham’s character, Hannah, is painted as one of the sexually deviant members of the cast. The script even goes as far to insinuate that her personality and behavior is the reason that she contracts HPV in episode two. Hannah starts to accept herself more in Episode 3, entitled “All Adventurous Women Do” in reference to when Jessa, Hannah’s friend, and the most sexually promiscuous of the group, states nonchalantly, that “all adventurous women have several strands of HPV.” While this show was made in 2012, I couldn’t help but grimace at the blatant generalization and pervasive stigmatization of “adventurous” women in a show that was celebrated for being so progressive.
In this digital age, media controls the narrative for young sexual beings who are seeking to figure out their likes and dislikes, expectations, and their realities surrounding sexual encounters. Warped lenses, social media, movies, books, and television shows depict a narrow narrative around sex, delimiting “healthy and acceptable sex” from “taboo and dirty” sex. While I watched in slight horror at the scene unfolding in front of me on my screen, I started to wonder how this script would have been handled differently if Girls were to be produced in today’s society. While it is clear Girls is meant to thoughtfully provoke the audience, I felt that the negative stereotypes of sexually “promiscuous” women along with the abrasive undertone surrounding sexual encounters are inherently problematic and perpetuating an antiqued ideal of sexuality. It can be argued that this mindset is still prevalent within our society, despite the recent cultural progression.
Akin to the character Jessa in Girls, I’ve found myself as the token “promiscuous” friend in many of my social circles. While I take pride in my ability to embrace my sexuality, experiences, kinks, and desires, many of my girlfriends are not as open. I’ve taken countless friends to adult stores, only to have to drag them to the vibrator section, promising them they will thank me later. They always do. Sexuality is a spectrum and so is the ability to talk about it. I recognize that I am on the far left of the sexuality scale, and I take no shame in that. However, too often my friends find themselves walking past the anal toy section of an adult store, genuinely shocked and concerned with the array of options, all designed for pleasure. Although I have never been someone to view anal play as a taboo and dirty area of sexual exploration, it is clear that our society reinforces the opposing stereotype. Anal play can be pleasurable and stimulating for everyone involved, if practiced responsibly with care and communication.
Anal play does not mean solely anal penetration. However, within this article, the perspective in which I will discuss will be from a heterosexual viewpoint. It is necessary to recognize and explicitly state that anal play is inherently intertwined with the LGBTQI+ community. I have no authority to speak on behalf of members of that community and their relationship with anal play. I can only speak on my experiences.
Although anal play may still be considered a “touchy” subject within modern society, (pun intended), ancient societies such as the Romans, Greeks, and the Peruvian Moche culture embraced these sorts of sexual encounters. Depictions of anal sex can be found of various forms of pottery dating back between 100 and 800 AD. The archaeologists who unearthed the 10,000+ vases have attempted to understand why this specific sexual act was the source of so much artistic inspiration. One theory includes the belief that anal sex served as a source of political power, forming an authority structure in which the cultures operated in. An alternate theory states that the ancient cultures believe semen was sacred, and that it would increase fertility.
While some cultures viewed anal intercourse as a sacred consummation, Christianity viewed sodomy as an unforgivable sin, and began to outlaw the act entirely. They preached the “ungodly” and “evil” nature of anal sex, referencing Genesis 19: 14-25. The rise of Christianity reinforced this societal idea that anal intercourse was something to conceal and was a punishable offense. British criminal laws rooted in the Christian religion expanded into the United States’ penal code as early as the beginning colonial days. Throughout the 20th century, the sodomy laws began to undergo a reversal process as a result of major court cases such as Bowers v Hardwick and Lawrence V Texas. In 1962, Illinois was the first state to repeal their legal codes against consensual sodomy.
The first case of AIDS was publicized in June 1982, across a group of homosexual men in Southern California. This suggested narrative that the transfer of HIV/AIDS was transmitted sexually, and thus, was associated with the gay community throughout the late 80’s and 90’s. Although research suggested that the deadly disease was transferable through heterosexual contact as well as other bodily fluids, society viewed AIDS as a disease for the homosexual. By the end of the 20th century, AIDS was the fourth leading cause of death worldwide. This widespread fear was ingrained in society and was associated with sexually deviant behavior.
As of April 2014, seventeen states either had yet to repeal heir laws against sexual encounters amongst consenting adults or have failed to revise their laws to properly reflect the court decisions of Lawrence V Texas, which invalidated same-sex activity in thirteen US states. Although our society has rapidly undergone major shifts within the last few years, the harsh judicial consequences for anal play within the United States are still felt amongst communities.
For those who lived through the AIDS epidemic and all those that followed, our society still feels the after-effects of a missing generation of artists, disruptors, musicians, activists, and all in between. This emptiness has translated into an upbringing that reinforced that anal play is a “risky” behavior, an unsafe choice, and a sexually deviant act. We whisper about the act to our girl friends at brunch and wear oversized sunglasses to peruse the anal play aisle in the adult store.
However, while some may use incognito web browsers to search for “anal how to’s”, others are searching for anal porn. Pornhub released that “anal” is the third highest search result in 2018, signaling that society is overcoming the negative connotations surrounding anal play and beginning to explore the backdoor. Commonly thought of as the “vagina’s ugly stepsister”, it is time we reclaim anal play and find the pleasure that can come with a safe and consensual experience.
I had the opportunity to speak to Ms. Alicia Sinclair, the founder and CEO of B-Vibe, and a certified sex educator who is the unofficial expert on anal pleasure. Ms. Sinclair aims to destigmatize the category of anal play within the marketplace as well as the culture. I spoke with her regarding misconceptions surrounding anal play and how we, as a culture, can tackle these stigmas. She states her personal mission is to open the minds of women to the concept of anal play, and that it can be something pleasurable for them.
“I think the biggest misconception around anal play is the idea of ‘why would a woman do this?’ I think this really goes back to the root narrative that speaking in the heterosexual dynamic, that anal is something women do for men, and I hate that. This is so disempowering.”
She suggests that through small, exploratory steps, we can begin to tackle our concerns that are too often perpetuated by cultural stigmas. Most commonly, concerns of pain, bleeding, tearing or lastly, fear of unconscious excretion, to be frank, are valid, however, are preventable. Ms. Sinclair suggests starting with a finger, and states “Do not go from zero to penis”, meriting an audible chuckle on my end. Rather than plunging into full anal penetration, she suggests those who wish to explore (because you should never feel forced into a sexual situation), can start with small steps. If you are not yet comfortable exploring anal pleasure with a partner, start with masturbation, that includes some backdoor play. Lubrication is essential, as an anus does not result in the same self-lubrication as the vagina provides. From there, toys, fingers, or a mouth can provide the next step in your rear-exploration. Some suggestions of toys include:
JellyJelly by UnboundNeed This Now| $16
CrescendoCrescendo by MysteryVibeNeed This Now| $149.99
Eva IIEva II by DameNeed This Now| $135
Snug Plug 2Snug Plug 2 by B-VibeNeed This Now| $45
SquishSquish by UnboundNeed This Now| $99
OH! To Go BagOH! To Go Bag by UnboundNeed This Now| $34
If something hurts, stop right away. Just as in any sexual exploration, listen to your body. Injuries from anal play are extremely rare, although if you do not properly prepare, bleeding could occur. By exploring with toys, such as butt plugs, one can expand their anus, allowing for an easier and more pleasurable experience. Lubrication is essential when it comes to full anal penetration in order to avoid tears. Along with this, communication is key between partners. By describing emotions, wants and desires, you can express what you would like from your partner, be that a change of rhythm, pace, exterior stimulation or position. Positions that offer the most control of the pressure and pace include doggy style and missionary. Focus on your comfort above anything else. If you feel that doggy style is oppressive and too submissive for you, there are plenty of positions that offer control as well.
While it is up to you, and only you, to decide if you would like to experiment and practice anal pleasure, it is up to all of us to destigmatize the cultural stigma surrounding anal play. I had the opportunity to ask Ms. Sinclair about how she would suggest we begin to alter the discourse surrounding the backdoor entry. She calmly stated “sometimes, you have to be willing to say, ‘I do not agree with that’. The more we normalize [pleasure], even in conversations with our close friends, the faster we can begin to destigmatize taboos”. The polarizing nature of anal play only remains powerful and threatening if we allow it too. Regardless of if you wish to partake, it is necessary to think about the repercussions of your rhetoric regarding sexuality, promiscuity and kinks.
For some women, anal play is simply a check-mark on a hypothetical list that society has created for us to please our partners. Culture suggests that anal penetration is for the sexually deviant, the nefarious, or the atypical. While anal play has not always been considered an abomination, the after-effects of modern stigmas have painted this form of sexual intimacy as “wrong”. Shame should never be a part of a consensual sexual experience. Our society does not have the right to tell us what type of consensual intimacy we are allowed to partake in. So, while HBO’s GIRLS may tell us the desires of Jessa and Hannah are promiscuous and something to be ashamed of, this Jessa refuses to apologize for her desires, and you shouldn’t either.
Feature Image via Vanessa Granda