Let’s talk about anal sex. It’s a topic I have delicately avoided for ages because it scared me, and grossed me out a bit, truthfully. The consensus among my girlfriends when sex conversations start to veer in that direction is that we just won’t go there, unless we’re talking about Dan Savage and Rick Santorum.
Lena Dunham went there in the pilot episode of “Girls.” She writes for HBO, so she can. Dunham’s treatment of the subject seemed to summarize how we, as a society, are supposed to feel about anal sex. If you are a boy, it’s the holy grail of sex that you would be lucky to convince a girlfriend or partner to agree to. If you are a girl, it’s the awkward and somewhat perverse kind of sex that you would be lucky not to be asked to perform.
I think one of the many reasons anal sex is so taboo is because of its inherent associations with homosexuality. Anal sex is gay men’s sex, and sex between men still makes a lot of us uncomfortable, including many of us who are gay rights advocates. Men marrying men and men humping men are two different ideas, and the former is a lot easier to swallow (pun intended). I took a class called Literature & Homosexuality — or “homo lit” as my friend and I affectionately and inappropriately called it — this past spring. We read Neil Bartlett’s book, “Who Was That Man? A Present for Mr. Oscar Wilde,” in which he wrote about, among other things, the gay code of the ‘80s — phrases like, “Do you like a bit of brown?” And there it was, crude and impossible to ignore, the other reason anal sex is so taboo — because it involves putting a penis in the place where poop comes out.
I don’t want to rag on Lena too much, since I cringed when I read that line in Bartlett’s book. My first exposure to the idea of anal sex did not encourage me to ever consider it again. I first heard about guys who want to put it in your butt hole from a friend who had a friend who tried it and subsequently “shit white for three days.” Now I realize that unless her partner was a racehorse, a volume of semen that lasts three days is quite unlikely. A few years later, I read an article in the U.K. version of Marie Claire on a plane. I have a collection of women’s magazines from overseas airports because the European versions are always deliciously dirtier than American ones). Most women have anal sex twice in their life, the article reported jokingly: the first time just to try it, and the second times to see if it was really that bad. The majority opinion of the British Marie Claire readership was enough to sway me — if it was that bad, I counted myself in the percentage of women who would never try anal sex.
Fast-forward to a less virginal, college me, whose boyfriend was much more enthusiastic about backdoor sex than I was. To be clear, he did not force me into having anal sex with him, but with the pressure of his willing-to-try-it ex-girlfriend hanging over me, I caved to my own internal idea of being the perfect girlfriend and consented. I hated it. It hurt, it smelled, I felt completely unsexy, and worst of all, there was a bit of brown. I was mortified, even though my boyfriend didn’t think it was a big deal. We cleaned up, and I tried to laugh the whole thing off as killing my chances of ever winning a game of Never Have I Ever, but then I swore him to secrecy because I was embarrassed about being one of “those girls” who would even agree to try it in the first place. I tried to put the whole thing behind me.
Recently, after getting over my embarrassment enough to admit I’ve tried it, I had a conversation with a gay friend about anal sex. “No offense, but you probably weren’t doing it right,” he told me when I said that it had hurt. “Most people don’t use enough lube.” He’s probably right — it did hurt, but mostly it was just uncomfortable, and more lube could have made it much less so. Clearly anal sex can be enjoyable for some people, so they must know something I don’t.
“It’s so much work though, and planning … like, I couldn’t be eating this Mexican food right now if I wanted to have sex tonight,” he said. And there we were again — back to poop. Back to the part that probably scares me the most. I realized that with proper planning, the right timing and a good amount of lube — and obviously the right partner — maybe, just maybe, I would be willing to join those Marie Claire readers who try it twice. That day has yet to come, but I haven’t closed the door on the idea this time — as long as I haven’t had Mexican food for lunch.
Elaine B. is a Behind Closed Doors columnist and does not expect to win a game of Never Have I Ever at any party she attends in the near or distant future.