A Brief History of Anal Sex

Bringing you up to date on a human tradition.

In 2012, Vice published an opinion piece titled Why Girls Should Only Have Anal Sex. In 2015, Cosmo pumped out an article detailing the best sex positions to try during anal adventures. Here we are in 2017, and even Teen Vogue has decided to come through the backdoor, publishing its own in-depth and unbound guide to anal sex earlier this year. Of course, people have been engaging in all kinds of sex forever and always. But the headlines seem to suggest that a curiosity surrounding anal sex has officially exploded. And women have increasingly found themselves smack in the middle of it all.

According to a 2011 report conducted by the Centers for Disease Control, 39 percent of women aged 20-24 have experimented with anal sex. That’s a significant increase from years before. In 1992, just 16 percent of women admitted to having entertained some kind of anal exploration. Of course, it’s not all about penetrative action. So much has taken place between tongues and butts over the years that in 2011, porn star Asa Akira officially declared ass the “new pussy.”

The Pornhub analytics blog finds American interests in (heterosexual) anal sex have been on the rise for years. According to its team, searches for content involving anal sex shot up 120 percent between 2009 and 2015. But alas, not all that glitters is gold.

“Anal is the new oral,” sex advice columnist Dan Savage observed in an interview with GQ, acknowledging that with the recent celebration of anal sex comes a certain pressure to perform. If being a sexual adventurer is a goal worth working toward, anal sex is the trophy you need to cement the title. That’s the idea at least, and it has made conversations concerning consent all the more muddied.  

Fortunately, there is a better argument in place for experimenting with anal sex, and it revolves around pleasure. New York City’s Museum of Sex recently hosted an event dedicated to the subject of anal sex, presented by the sex toy company b-Vibe, and founded by sex educator Alicia Sinclair. “The idea that women don’t enjoy anal sex… disempowers them and takes away their sexual agency as beings with their own sexual desires and complex sexuality,” states b-Vibe's website.

Many men enjoy anal sex because it provides direct stimulation to the prostate, or P spot. Women, we know, don’t possess a prostate, but they do have a lot of other erogenous zones. There’s the A spot, the G spot, the O spot and the C spot, plus a few more, and all of them can be accessed by way of the butt.

Of course, we weren’t always so eager to celebrate this kind of play. In the modern United States, having anal sex with another man could land you in jail for up to 10 years. The Supreme Court didn’t get around to invalidating these kinds of laws until 2003, and even then not all states were keen to comply. Long before we were pushing for more open and honest conversations concerning the subject came the fight to make it legal in the first place. For that, we can thank the early proponents of the gay rights movement.

America has a rich, puritan history of rejecting non-procreative forms of sex. But instances of anal sex exist across the human timeline. In Roman times, the concepts of “homosexuality” and “heterosexuality” didn’t present as it does today. Older guys getting down with younger men was pretty commonplace. But just because a society bends on certain things like sexual orientation doesn’t mean it deserves any kind of progressive trophy. In ancient Rome, landing on the receiving end of anal sex meant you fell further down the social strata. That’s why the role was typically reserved for younger men, and women.

For the Romans, anal sex was a bit of a boy’s game, but the same can’t be said for all ancient cultures. The Moche were an early Peruvian civilization, best known for their ceramic pottery. Of the thousands of pieces remaining today, at least 500 depict detailed sexual acts. Anal sex just happens to be one of the most popular. For the Moche, it wasn’t really a gendered type of recreation. It’s not uncommon to see images of women receiving anal sex in their art. Actually, images of women doing other things like breastfeeding while receiving anal sex are seen in quite a few pieces. Vaginal sex, on the other hand, doesn’t seem to show up so much. Some historians believe that has something to do with Moche attempts to equalize the sexes, through sex. Vaginal intercourse carries the risk of pregnancy, an inherently “feminine” condition. Anal sex allows one to dodge that risk. 

Humans aren’t the only ones to have tapped into the splendors of the sphincter. Eight percent of male rams seem to prefer anal sex to traditional intercourse, and young American bison bulls actually engage in it more often than they do heterosexual sex. Male giraffes are known for their anal orgies. Bonobos, who are almost all bisexual, are certainly no strangers to the butt. To date, researchers have observed anal sex activity in over 1,500 species.

There is, however, one talking point we haven’t seen so widely covered, and it revolves around anal health. Unlike the vagina, the anus doesn’t self-lubricate. In order to prevent the delicate skin surrounding the area from tearing, it’s important to have a store-bought lube handy. Going slow can also prevent unwanted irritation.

There is also the risk of sexually transmitted infections. According to the CDC, about 79 million Americans are currently infected with HPV. While in most cases the virus resolves itself on its own, certain strains can cause cervical and other cancers. A gynecologist will typically test for it during a routine pelvic exam. Thanks to the reported rise of anal sex, some clinicians are starting to wonder if the butt deserves the same kind of attention. Anal pap smears are not currently standard gynecological practice, but who knows what the future holds? For now, we can take comfort in the fact that condoms can help squash those risks. And it looks like the time is ripe to start stocking up. Anal sex is officially on the menu, having reentered the scene with a very big bang, and a few pleasurable whimpers. 

 

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