Anal sex may just be the ultimate sexual taboo. Not taboo as in not-to-be-condoned. Taboo as in dirty. Forbidden. Yet desperately wanted. I fully condone anal sex. (Full disclosure: I've never had it. There is only so far my research will take me.) Anal sex used to be associated with homosexuality alone; if you were a straight guy vying for the butt, you were the next thing to gay. Not so anymore: these days anal sex is rampant in the heterosexual relationship, too. Women want it. Fourteen-year-olds are doing it. And yet, for the most part, we are still hush-hush when discussing the down and dirty in the butt.
Part of the difficulty with discussing anal sex is that it brings out the starkest differences in men and women's sexual orientations. Heterosexual anal sex is inherently misogynistic. Men have anal G-spots; women don't. Men can achieve maximum physical pleasure from taking it in the butt; women can't. It doesn't boil down to the G-spot alone. A family friend once told me about a psychiatry patient who could, quite simply, think herself an orgasm. Men visualize sex. Women intellectualize it. We like to hypothesize and speculate about men and women's sexual difference to no end. Anal sex makes those differences painfully obvious.
But misogynistic or not, the butt is big. And in more ways than one. A recent sex survey by the National Center for Health Statistics found the proportion of men "who have anal sex with a female increases from 4.6 percent at age 15 to 34 percent at ages 22-24." For women, "the proportion who have had anal sex with a male increases from 2.4 percent at age 15 to 32 percent at age 22-24." One out of every three women admitted to having had anal sex by the age of 24, while 3.7 percent of men aged 15 to 44 admitted to having had anal sex with other men.
Everyone knows-or should know-the cardinal rule of anal sex: lube, lube, lube (think real estate, as in location, location, location). Some of what we don't know: even though women may not get physical pleasure from anal sex, many women adore it for more psychological reasons. There's something about giving your man something that isn't supposed to be given, a pleasure that you alone can give him. It's the taste of something new and unusual. The idea is erotic, even if the physical is less than pleasurable. Consider, for a second, Tristan Taormino, Village Voice columnist and author of The Ultimate Guide to Anal Sex for Women, editions one through three. Taormino tours the country, teaching anal-pleasure workshops and sticking her fingers up strangers' asses everywhere she goes. No joke: her classes cover the whole "hand-chilada." In a sense, anal sex is that much more advantageous for the woman: the physical sensations a man gets may not be there, but the psychologically induced pleasure, including the occasional orgasm, is scarily powerful.
The rest of the media has remained strangely silent on the anal issue. Shortly after the results of the National Center for Health Statistics' sex survey were released, Slate.com reported a prevalent media tendency to dismiss the anal sex trend in favor of all things lesbian or oral. This media silence is downright disturbing, if for no other reason than the ease with which STDs are transmitted during anal sex. (Word to the wise: just because you can't get pregnant doesn't mean you won't get HIV. Wear a damn condom.) But it's not clear whether the media is just orally fixated or if this silent-on-the-anal trend runs deeper.
One of my straight guy friends, while detailing his anal escapades to me, became increasingly embarrassed as he spoke. He was drunk, he said. She probably wouldn't have done it if she were sober, either. He would never do it again without discussing it first. I'm not going to lie: his red face was kind of cute. But it was odd how desperately he felt the need to justify his actions to me. It may be something about how we live in a sexual world where we'd like to say anything goes when really very few things actually go over well. Or it may be something about the anal sex taboo. Going silent on the anal talk really has very little to do with whether we find it gross. If anal sex stops being something forbidden, it may very well lose all of its sexual appeal.
Perhaps more than anything else, the growing trend of heterosexual anal sex is an indication of ways in which our definition of sexual pleasure has expanded over the last few years. We have become much more open to receiving physical pleasure from other, less traditional, parts of our body, and as such, lines between sexual orientations and sexual activities become increasingly blurred. There is nothing inherently homosexual about anal sex, or, for that matter, two women making out. Giving and receiving pleasure isn't about who you are. It's about what makes you feel good. I don't know if I'll ever be able to stomach taking it in the ass. But saying that I'll never try it would be like the time I justified my decision to smoke cigarettes by swearing I'd never smoke pot. You never know when anal will start turning you on. The least we can do is be prepared.
Miriam Datskovsky is a Barnard College junior majoring in human rights and political science. Sexplorations runs on alternate Mondays.