"Ass is the new p*ssy": Why anilingus is on the rise

Marnie is hardly the only girl into butt play. America's sexual appetite is evolving, and anal is now on the menu

Published February 2, 2015 11:57PM (EST)

Allison Williams in "Girls"             (HBO/Mark Schafer)
Allison Williams in "Girls" (HBO/Mark Schafer)

This article originally appeared on AlterNet.

AlterNetWith anilingus currently in so many editorial spreads and on the tip of so many tongues, it bears noting that Mozart wrote a song about eating ass. Titled “Leck mich im Arsch,” which literally translates to “Lick me in the ass,” it’s the sort of song that might be referred to as a “bawdy ode” or a “ribald verse,” and consists almost solely of the repeated request that we all get real familiar with the business end of Mozart’s anus. The music is by lesser-known Czech composer Wenzel Trnka von Krzowitz, but the lyrics are pure Mozart: “Lick my ass nicely / lick it nice and clean,” the canon jauntily proposes. “Come on, just try it / And lick, lick, lick!” Nearly 300 years before Desi buried three-quarters of his face in Marnie’s ass on this season’s premiere of "Girls," Mozart was already foreshadowing our cultural embrace of anilingus, aka rimming, ass munching, salad tossing, and to bring things fully up-to-date, “eating cake.”

What took us so long? After hardly being spoken of publicly for the last few centuries—or the decade and a half since Charlotte confessed to performing it on "Sex and the City"—anilingus has finally became a featured player in pop culture. The most quoted lyric from Nicki Minaj’s hit “Anaconda” is about a dude who “tossed [her] salad like his name Romaine.” In an episode of “Broad City,” Ilana nonchalantly mentions that “anal is on the menu.” Trey Songz echoes the sentiment on the track “Cake,” a song all about eating “cake.” The precious moment between two unidentified Detroit Lion fans who decided a public parking lot was the perfect venue for ass eating was captured in a photo that went viral. And porn star Asa Akira declared in an interview that, “Culturally, ass is the new pussy.”

That says an awful lot, culturally, about what kind of ass play is and isn’t viewed as fully okay. Set aside, briefly, the pervasive hangups about butts that are seemingly separate from, but almost certainly subconsciously intertwined with gender and sexuality; that they’re dirty, smelly, and even sinful sites, making anilingus an act so deviant that even Alfred Kinsey never studied nor referred to it. If asses are just newfangled knottier vaginas, the act of having your ass licked is innately one of feminization. Through the lens of heteronormativity and patriarchy, anilingus is for everybody—that is, as long as the bodies being acted upon are female.

It’s this ultimately misogynist and homophobic take on rimming that sits in our collective cultural subconscious, and at the socialized root of so much straight male discomfort around being on the receiving end of a tongue up the bum. The idea that ass play somehow makes you gay, and not just a human who has a staggering number of nerve endings down there, is a notion that dies hard, yet it seems to be receding ever so slightly. A 2008 study of more than 1,400 heterosexual American men found that among those who had experienced heterosexual anal sex, giving and receiving anilingus was fairly commonplace. Twenty-four percent had performed anilingus on their female partners, while a healthy 15 percent had received it. (Another 24 percent had been anally fingered.) More recently, a 2012 Esquire poll of 500 men found that 12 percent secretly wished they were getting more anilingus. Even considering these numbers are likely underreported, as are nearly all admissions of cultural taboos, it suggests that straight men are getting their butts licked, or desperately hoping to get their butts licked, much more than we’ve been led to believe.

The shift, in both attitude and practice, is likely an outgrowth of the fact that anal sex has steadily been making inroads with heterosexuals over the last two decades. In 1992, a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study of people age 18 to 59 found that just 20 percent of women and 26 percent of men had tried anal sex. By 2005, those numbers had risen significantly: 35% of women and 40% of men between the ages of 25 and 44 said they’d had anal sex at least once. By the time the CDC again posed the question in 2006-2008 to 13,495 people between the ages of 15 and 44, heterosexual anal sex was more popular than ever. Forty-four percent of men and 39 percent of women had engaged in straight anal sex, a leap that seems nothing short of impressive. It follows that the ever-expanding perception of the anus as a sexual organ would manifest in multiple—and fluid—forms of butt play, from sticking to licking.

While there is some culturally ingrained ickiness over anilingus, particularly when performed on the male body, it’s undeniably waning. Last year alone, unisex guides to performing anilingus appeared in magazines as diverse as EbonyCosmopolitan and GQ. Butts were increasingly sought out in porn, with “big booty” the top gaining search term in the United States in 2014 (it rose by an astonishing 486 percent) according to a Pornhub survey. And with the media’s newfound discovery of butts as body parts deserving of attention, the societal prohibitions around anal play are likely to continue to wither.

The obvious conclusion of so much anus-focused pondering is that we’re entering an age of more sexual openness about butts, along with more degendered sex roles. The classic phrase about opinions and assholes (that everybody has one) means there’s the chance for anal play to someday become wholly divorced from notions of femininity or masculinity, straightness or gayness. Cast in this light, anilingus is an equal-opportunity sex act that implies neither domination nor submission, but a more general, power-balanced form of sexual pleasure. The primetime appearance of anilingus in the debut episode of Shonda Rhimes’s legal procedural “How to Get Away with Murder” is more than just a blow against homophobia. It’s fully transformed into a subversion of the sexual status quo that is roundly "sex-positive" and progressive from every angle.

And yet, in some ways, we’re merely coming full circle. The prevalence of depictions of both homosexual and heterosexual anal sex acts on pottery made by the ancient Japanese, Peruvians and Greeks suggests anilingus was probably part of the festivities. (There’s a reason “speaking Greek” is a euphemism for anal sex.) They were followed in time by Mozart, who saw fit to rewrite a song in order to make rimming its cheeky main focus. Taken with the latest round of nods to anal play in every media form, it’s almost as if anilingus is a time-honored tradition—one whose time has merely come again.

By Kali Holloway

Kali Holloway is the senior director of Make It Right, a project of the Independent Media Institute. She co-curated the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s MetLiveArts 2017 summer performance and film series, “Theater of the Resist.” She previously worked on the HBO documentary Southern Rites, PBS documentary The New Public and Emmy-nominated film Brooklyn Castle, and Outreach Consultant on the award-winning documentary The New Black. Her writing has appeared in AlterNet, Salon, the Guardian, TIME, the Huffington Post, the National Memo, and numerous other outlets.

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