As I walked through midtown Manhattan on my way to the Museum of Sex for B-Vibe’s “Anal Throughout the Ages” event, I felt apprehensive. As much as I love writing about sex, anal sex wasn’t really my thing. What was the big deal with anal, anyway?
Not that I hadn’t tried it. But putting objects up my rear, I’m sorry, felt a little gross in a degrading kind of way. Shit and sex aren’t supposed to mix, and the subsequent anxiety turned anal from an enjoyable experience into something that felt obscene. So I resigned myself to purely topping, not bottoming.
But as a feminist and questioner of cultural norms, I was down for women who enjoyed sticking all sorts of things in their butt. So I took a deep breath and walked into MoSex. I was immediately bombarded by overpriced dildos and bondage gear from the front-door gift shop. I tried to keep an open mind.
Anal sex, evolution’s gift to the world
Photo via B-Vibe
B-Vibe’s exhibit was set up a bit like a pop-up museum, with about a half-dozen black tables placed across the Museum of Sex’s Disco Lounge bar. If you’ve never been, the name is not an exaggeration. Michael Jackson’s ’70s hits boomed from the speakers and an open bar served cocktails in a room with just enough light for visitors to read through the exhibits. By the time I arrived, the attendees were mostly crowding around the bar, grabbing drinks and hanging out on the retro sofas and barstools. Perhaps they were just as hesitant as I was to start peeking around.
However, I soon realized there was a common thread: Almost everyone there was a woman. That not only piqued my interest but also made me start to relax. After all, I had regularly seen B-Vibe’s toys at the Lower East Side’s Babeland, a feminist sex toy boutique that I popped into when the mood struck me. It made sense that this event would mostly focus on women.
I started wandering. White posterboards adorned with anal sex facts were laid on each table, with photosets and factsheets printed out below. Some exhibits had historical timelines, others featured headlines from modern media about anal. One table was dedicated entirely to non-normative sex in the animal kingdom, including gay sexuality among insects and mammals. As it turns out, all sorts of animals enjoy anal. Did you know thinhorn rams sometimes mount other males and penetrate their partners until ejaculating?
Photo via B-Vibe
To me, the most-fascinating exhibit was the table dedicated to anal’s early anthropological history. My B-Vibe host and PR contact, Brianna, enthusiastically told me that the Moche culture in northern Peru used to sculpt detailed pottery depicting anal sex between androgynous figures. Vaginal sex practically never appeared in their sculptures, and many showed women breastfeeding during anal sex. Not just that, but neither sex partner took a submissive or domineering role—it was just two people having intercourse.
In other words, it seems the baggage anal carries varies from culture to culture.
For example, when we walked over to the Greco-Roman section, Brianna told me that anal sex emerged as a symbol of power during Western civilization’s ancient, early days. Back then, artists depicted bottoms (aka women) as lesser, while tops (aka men) were seen as powerful, domineering presences. This, unsurprisingly, took on misogynistic roots, a symbol of how women were treated in the Western world and thus how we ended up with so many women, myself included, disinterested in anal because of its subtext: Bottoming women are to be controlled, subjugated, and subsequently discarded.
Over 2,000 years later, those same values run rampant throughout our culture. Noted pro-rape men’s rights haven Return of Kings considers women who frequently have anal sex to be mentally ill, and is upset that anal is no longer a “sexual domination move used by men on women,” but rather something women are open to trying (if not outright encouraging their partners to do so). Even in the past five years, Vice published an article encouraging women not to have anal sex, warning women they’ll “shit cum” afterward.
But B-Vibe’s pop-up event was proof that people (and animals) of all kinds historically enjoyed and embraced anal—even of the female variety. B-Vibe’s founder, Alicia Sinclair, will happily tell you anything you want to know about the anus, how it operates, and why anal feels so pleasurable for so many women. And I was all ears.
We were all even given a gift for stopping by, and mine was none other than the company’s Novice Plug. It even came with a thorough guide to anal sex inside, discussing everything from washing and cleaning toys to beginner’s tips for lubricating and fingering the asshole for play. Fears of shit cum, be damned.
Anal is great, actually?
After I said goodbye to B-Vibe’s team and made my way over to the train, slightly buzzed from a free rum and coke during last call, I thought about something Sinclair said: Anal is an equalizer because people of all genders can have pleasurable anal sex, from cis men to trans women. Our literal sex having doesn’t need to be defined by our genitalia and all the fraught stigmas and myths that go along with it.
That’s why it’s cool that B-Vibe is going out of its way to educate women, encouraging newcomers to start slow and get acquainted with a part of their body that they may never see or talk about. It kind of reminds me of the common wisdom spread across the queer community, where bottoming elders give newcomers tips on everything from knowing their limits to picking out a starter dildo.
So, buzzed on an empty downtown 6 train, I started psyching myself up: What if I gave anal another try? I was probably just turned off by the power-play stigma and needed a group of sex-positive women to show me that, yes, anal can be pleasurable if women are given the tools, toys, and information needed to have a blast.
As my subway train pulled into the station, that plug felt a little powerful in my gift bag. I knew it would be put to good use.