Luvin’ Buns: A NerveCenter Chat on Anal Sex

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Luvin' Buns A NerveCenter Chat on Anal Sex

bacco56: Anal sex seems like the ultimate intimacy.

jack_morin: Yes, many people comment on the special intimacy of anal sex. Maybe this is because it’s an area that’s normally hidden and usually doesn’t get seen or touched. For some people, the sense of intimacy comes from breaking a rule that says, “Don’t touch.” Also, there’s a lot of trust involved in allowing someone to touch you in such a vulnerable area.

nina2: What’s brought about the greater acceptance of anal sex?

jack_morin: First, the HIV crisis brought the topic into the daily news. Second, there’s a greater acceptance of gay people in our society today. Third, couples are hungry for new ways to spice up their sex life.

kevinhildebrand: I’ve tried engaging in anal sex but find it quite painful. Any advice?

jack_morin: Pain is usually a sign that the anal sphincter muscles are not relaxed. The best advice is to learn how to relax them. I’m a fan of inserting the finger into the anus every day in the shower and taking a few deep breaths. You’ll feel two ring-like sphincter muscles: one right at the anal opening, and one maybe half an inch in. The inner sphincter is controlled by the autonomic nervous system that controls involuntary functions, and that is where a lot of us store stress, tension and fear. Remember that the rectum is not a straight tube; it has a couple of curves. Certain positions help to straighten out those curves: any position that puts the legs at right angles to the body tends to straighten out the rectum, e.g. doggie style, side by side spooning or the receiver sitting over the partner. Some people like anal sex with their legs up in the air.

watto: Discounting the STD factor, and assuming that the two partners are monogamous, is there any danger associated with internal ejaculation during anal intercourse?

jack_morin: Monogamous healthy partners don’t have to worry about any of that.

nina2: Do you think most men still think of anal sex as a “gay” thing?

jack_morin: I think many do. But I get letters from guys around the world — straight guys — and they say, “I really like anal stimulation, but my wife or girlfriend freaks out when I mention it. She accuses me of being gay.” Certainly gay men do their fair share of experimenting with anal sex, but so do a lot of other people! All the nerve endings are the same, regardless of sexual orientation.

ladymaybe: What kind of condoms do you suggest?

jack_morin: I recommend that people try the Reality Condom — the so-called “female condom.” It’s polyurethane, so you can use oils and put it in ahead of time, then leave it in when you take breaks.

sellthesky: But then aren’t you making love to a Ziploc bag?

jack_morin: Yes, it is a little like Saran Wrap. It even makes that crinkly sound! But many people learn to tolerate, if not eroticize, condoms.

nerve: What does extensive, regular, anal sex do to your intestinal system, your bowel movements, etc.? (Oh, if Mom could hear me now, she’d be so proud.)

jack_morin: It actually can help your rectum by promoting relaxation and awareness, but if the sex is irritating or painful, it can cause contractions, perhaps constipation, or even diarrhea. Relaxation is the key.

ladymaybe: I’ve heard nasty rumors about problems later in life resulting from stretched sphincter muscles — does this happen?

jack_morin: As far as muscles stretching, it’s a very common rumor, and it’s just that. During anal sex, the muscles are not stretched, they simply relax — as they would with bowel movements — and once the stimulation is over, they go back to their normal state. If you’re worried about it stretching, one of the best things you can do is the “Kegel Exercise,” where you contract and release the pelvic muscles repeatedly, as if you were stopping urine flow.

kingcottin: My girlfriend tells me that I am too big and it hurts her. What can I do so she will enjoy it?

jack_morin: Perhaps you could offer her an anal massage. You’ll need a good oil. I recommend safflower oil; it’s smooth and has practically no scent. Make sure your fingernails are trimmed and smooth. Then find a comfortable position and put oil on your fingers and gently rub it around your partner’s anus using a circular motion.

nerve: What are the pros and cons of rimming?

jack_morin: The pros: it can feel very intimate, wonderfully forbidden and extremely sensuous for both the receiver and giver. The downside is that the majority of people have some problem with the smells in that area. Oral contact with even a little bit of feces can transmit intestinal parasites if the person has them. And Hepatitis A can also be transmitted. But with two healthy partners, there are no particular health risks. Thoroughly washing the area first greatly reduces the chance of exposure to parasites. Some people use a barrier for rimming, such as a “dental dam” or a piece of Saran Wrap.

nerve: What about germs?

jack_morin: There are bacteria that cause no harm in the rectum but will in the vagina. So, don’t use the same finger or penis or toy in the anus and vagina without washing in between, or covering it with a condom.

nerve: So, are we talking serious in-out action like the male jack-hammering tradition, or should backdoor penetration always be a little more gentle?

jack_morin: People are quite varied on that. Some people like to “pound” during anal intercourse. Others don’t like that at all and prefer slow gentle movements. Some people much prefer a kind of circular motion with the penis to a thrusting type motion.

nerve: What’s the evolutionary significance of anal pleasure? Why would we be designed to feel such pleasure there?

jack_morin: I think healthy bodily functioning feels good, because we’re more likely to sustain it. For example, our bodies will discourage us from having bowel movements in a way that hurts and we’ll get pleasure when we have them through relaxation and without pain. There’s no doubt that healthy bowel movements can feel terrific! I think our anus and rectum are designed to give us pleasure when they’re functioning in a healthy way.

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  • Dispatches

    The Mainstreaming of Anal Sex

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    The Mainstreaming of Anal Sex  

    Recently, a client strolled into my office for his weekly therapy session and, with a mischievous grin, launched right in: "Guess who I saw on TV last night?" I innocently asked who it was, not realizing that Comedy Central had replayed an interview I had done for their news spoof, The Daily Show, when the third edition of my book, Anal Pleasure and Health, came out last summer.
         "Yeah," he went on, "I was channel surfing and there you were with a mirror between your legs, demonstrating how to look at your butt." I immediately sensed a memorable "therapy moment" in the making. For a split second I flashed back eighteen years when another client had stumbled across the book when it first came out. He terminated his therapy in an angry phone message — no discussion.
         How different things were with this Gen-Xer. He spent only a few moments describing his surprise at seeing me in such an uncompromising position on national TV. Before I could explain myself, he was recounting how his girlfriend had recently put her finger up his butt while giving him head, thus introducing him to the joys of prostate massage. "What an orgasm!" he proclaimed. "She calls it the magic spot." His openness, in more ways than one, was delightfully refreshing. He informed me that the topic of anal sex comes up regularly among his friends and that reluctance has only been expressed by a couple of guys who fear that their anal adventures might be mistaken as signs of gayness.
         This degree of comfort with anal sexuality is certainly far from the norm, but the contrasting reactions of these two clients is a fitting analogue for a wider sea change in attitudes, a shift that appears to be unfolding far more rapidly than anyone could have predicted. The signs are unmistakable: sex toy boutiques report brisk sales of butt plugs, lubes and other anal paraphernalia. And whereas people used to blush, giggle or change the subject when they'd hear about my book, now they tell me anal sex stories and ask advice. Ten years ago I couldn't beg my way onto a radio show; now I'm a popular guest on morning talk shows across the country.
         When I'm not recommending to Howard Stern that he stick a finger up his butt every day in the shower, I'm wondering, "Is anal sex becoming — dare I say it — almost normal?" For as long as anyone can remember, the anal taboo has been reinforced by visceral reactions of disgust: the anus is revolting, so ignore it, don't talk about it (except for jokes), and whatever you do don't get off on it! As we approach the new millennium, is this ancient and mighty taboo finally pooping out?
         To understand what's going on, we have to start with the fact that taboos, especially sexual ones, have paradoxical effects. Sure, their purpose is to control behavior. But because they imbue the forbidden object or behavior with intense significance, they're also unexpected aphrodisiacs. When an internalized taboo silently proclaims a giant "No," sexual curiosities and desires are either short-circuited or they become supercharged by the thrill of the forbidden — sometimes both. This push-pull dynamic permeates erotic life in so many forms that I call it "The Erotic Equation": ATTRACTION + OBSTACLES = EXCITEMENT.
         As long as a taboo maintains broad cultural compliance, forbidden urges are forced underground. But when that consensus breaks down, as in times of rapid social questioning and change, subterranean fascinations begin to seep into public consciousness, propelled by the energy of the taboo itself.
         I first saw signs of seepage in the 1970s when sex therapy clients, mostly gay men at first, specifically asked me for help in learning how to relax so they could enjoy anal intercourse. Virtually nobody had ever made such requests before that time. The total lack of reliable information on the subject prompted me to develop and test a sex therapy process for anal problems as my doctoral research. I encountered enormous resistance, but somehow I got away with it, probably because the sexual revolution was in full swing and sophisticates everywhere felt compelled to hide their prudery.
         The two most enduring cultural-political movements of that era — feminism and gay liberation — set the stage for the mainstreaming of anal sex. As women claimed increasing choice about their turn-ons, the concept of anal experimentation moved way beyond tired images of women taking it in the rear in male porn. For the first time, large sex surveys showed that substantial numbers of Americans were trying anal fingering, licking and fucking at home. In my work with couples it became clear that women were often the instigators of anal play, while others discovered that they actually liked it after being coaxed into it by their partners.
         Still and all, in most people's minds, butt sex and male homosexuality are inextricably linked. This linkage stems from the widespread belief that the only "real" sex is intercourse and, consequently, that gay sex IS anal intercourse. It doesn't seem to matter that most gay sex doesn't involve intercourse. Historical and anthropological data suggest that cultural attitudes toward anal intercourse and homosexuality are strongly correlated. So with the rise of gay liberation in America, the anal taboo lost a big chunk of its purpose — the suppression of queer desires.
         It's also crucial to recognize that gay liberation and feminism share a strong connection. Not only are members of both groups denigrated and oppressed, but if you ask any homophobe what's wrong with gay guys, the answer is always a variant of, "They're not real men; they're too much like women." At its stinking core, homophobia IS sexism in action.
         The first cases of what we would later call AIDS appeared shortly after the original publication of Anal Pleasure in the early 1980s. As it gradually became clear that anal intercourse was a major pathway for the sexual transmission of HIV, I feared that any strides toward greater anal awareness would be decisively crushed by a powerful resurgence of the anal taboo. Ironically, however, HIV has proved to be the greatest single promoter of anal literacy. For the first time in history, anal sex was regularly mentioned on the evening news. The nation's health required that we violate the bedrock of the taboo; we had to talk about it.
         The effects of our national discussion have been — surprise! — paradoxical. Of course, the specter of HIV has sullied the image of the anus — already seen as the epitome of filth — even further. But simultaneously an implicit, yet unspoken question grew more persistent with each round of statistics and safer-sex warnings: Why is there so much butt sex going on in the first place? In a time when sexual boredom was taking hold, the prospect of a new and risqué erotic option started to look very interesting indeed. Once it became clear that they could be practiced safely, various forms of anal sexuality became increasingly popular, precisely because they had been newly liberated from the stranglehold of taboo.
         The path to mainstream is, however, inevitably rocky. While it's now relatively acceptable for a couple — gay or straight — to experiment with anal stimulation, lingering inhibitions often require that it been done in the heat of passion, with the participants literally groping in the dark. Not surprisingly, many unwary experimenters quickly discover how horribly their butts can hurt when penetrated without adequate self-awareness, relaxation, and sensitivity. Nerve endings work both ways: the greater the capacity for pleasure, the higher the potential for pain.
         It turns out that the greatest barrier isn't the one against anal sex. Far deeper and more intransigent is the prohibition against becoming intimately and comfortably acquainted with this hated body zone. I've talked with hundreds of men and women who find it much easier to try anal intercourse than to get out a hand mirror and take an extended gander at their own bottoms — with the lights on. Similarly, plenty of guys are perfectly willing to enter the anus, but are squeamish about massaging or touching a partner's — not to mention their own. To fuck it is one thing; to lovingly caress it is quite another.
         Here's another paradox: once the anal taboo has weakened enough to allow for anal experimentation, but not enough for thorough self-knowledge, the potential for discomfort or unintended damage is at its highest. More often than not, for example, receivers of anal intercourse aren't aware that they have two sphincter muscles, and that the external one may be easy to relax while the inner one goes into involuntarily spasms. Others don't realize their anuses are chronic tension zones, accumulating stress just like a stiff neck. In these cases, anal relaxation requires gentle and persistent attention, something the anal taboo remains foursquare against.
         When the short anal canal relaxes enough to allow entry into the larger rectum, yet another key discovery awaits: the rectum isn't a straight tube like the vagina. Instead, it's a curvaceous organ that can readily accommodate a dick or a dildo when the angle of entry is right, but can just as easily hurt like hell when an object rams into the rectal wall, usually at the first curve, a few inches in. Unfortunately, too few anal sex experimenters are sufficiently clear about their requirements regarding such essentials as positioning, lubricants and preferred movements. Gaining intimate knowledge of one's internal rectal landscape isn't particularly difficult, but it does require the sort of curious self-exploration that the anal taboo silently, yet tenaciously, discourages.
         Another downside of the mainstreaming of anal intercourse is the unwelcome arrival of a whole new set of disruptive performance pressures for both sexes. Women may feel the burden of making yet another orifice available (like it or not, sometimes) for more poking and prodding from horny guys. And men may worry about keeping it up for yet another activity that sinks or swims depending on the status of their erections. In some circles, especially among gay men, an ultra-demanding vision of what it means to be sexually "versatile" can easily disrupt the simple pleasures of erotic play. Today's sexual sophisticate is supposed to be comfortable with it all — an impossible standard for most of us to meet.
         For pioneers who learned to love anal sex when it was still kinky and verboten, normalization is a different kind of a mixed blessing. On the plus side, it's uniquely validating when the masses belatedly discover something you've known for years. But some enthusiasts are reporting a distinct reduction in raw excitement as the prohibitions they once enjoyed flaunting turn into mush. When transgression is hot, mainstreaming is not.
         But taboo-busters, take heart! While it's clear that anti-anal prohibitions ain't what they used to be, they're still alive and well. Taboos are insidiously non-rational, permeating culture and psyche, just as language invisibly shapes our thinking and perceptions. There's no sign that "asshole" will become a term of endearment any time soon.
         Luckily, we don't have to obliterate the last vestiges of the anal taboo before we begin reaping the rewards of violating its tight-ass rules. The freedom already exists, for those with the courage to claim it, to learn how to love our buttholes. One of the best steps you can take is to insert your finger in your anus every day in the shower for about thirty seconds as you breathe deeply. Differentiate the two sphincter rings with your finger tip (about 1/2 inch in). With practice, you'll be able to relax the "involuntary" internal sphincter at will. This healthy habit will boost your awareness immensely and can even help prevent (or heal) common tension-related anal medical problems such as hemorrhoids, fissures (scrapes or tears), or constipation.
         If anal eroticism interests you, try masturbating while inserting your finger (women: don't use the same finger for vaginal stimulation). If you want to get fucked, learn about your inner shapes first with the help of a butt plug or flexible dildo. And make a solemn pact with yourself to immediately stop anything that causes anal pain. One of the most dangerous legacies of the anal taboo is the mistaken belief that butt sex inevitably hurts at first. The truth is: if it hurts, you need to back off and take more time to relax.
         The mainstreaming of anal sex is a dynamic work in progress. As the nation fumbles its way toward greater anal awareness and pleasure, lingering retrograde impulses will fight back valiantly. Who knows, there may even be clamoring for a new round of sodomy laws. But in the end, a growing army of sensuous assholes will save the day.

    ©1999 Jack Morin, Ph.D and Nerve.com