2017 has been a year of things good and bad, high and low, miserable and pleasurable. In the midst of the chaos, one unlikely candidate for your end of the year lists' Most Talked About spot may just be The Butt. As our culture's current obsessive interest in this most banal of body parts inflates like an implant-enhanced derrière, so does the conversation around a once more-taboo, but still not quite mainstream sex act: anal.
Alicia Sinclair knows this better than most, as a certified sex expert with fifteen years clocked in the sexual-intimacy industry. Sinclair carved out her own piece of the estimated $15 billion a year sex toy industry by founding b-Vibe, a company dedicated to creating products that make all things related to anal pleasure better, from the world's first rimming butt plug to vibrators specifically designed to stimulate the elusive A-Spot. b-Vibe also serves as a platform for positivity and education about what can be a highly stigmatized area of sexuality, which is already fraught with secrecy, misinformation and its own fair share of shame.
Recently, b-Vibe put on a one-night event at New York City's Museum of Sex dedicated to the history of anal sex. We caught up with Sinclair for a brief chat about the event and how stigma and taboo prevent us from experiencing our full sexual selves:
PAPER: Why did you want to address the topic of anal sex within a historical context?
Alicia Sinclair: A couple different reasons. I think overall in general this category has an immense amount of taboo and stigma and is riddled with misinformation and hesitation. I think the goal of this project was really to illustrate that how just like fashion can have trends, so can sexuality. And really taking the approach of having these different sections which illustrate how throughout time different cultures have had different relationships with it, as well as our legal system, and nature.
PAPER: What did you consider to be the main touchstones in the history of anal sex?
AS: The first one is [ancient] Peruvian Moche culture, from 100 to 700 AD. A lot of this is demonstrated on the artwork on their pottery, with a lot of illustrations specifically showcasing this form of sexuality and also the power dynamics and the relationship with it. It's been really interesting to see how it's betrayed in a very, very early time in history.
Then there's ancient Greek and Roman culture, which I think most of us have heard about with regard to the relationship to gender fluidity and the interesting power dynamics along with that. Then there's sex and nature, which is really to demonstrate how specifically different animals have a totally different relationship [with anal] and it's just like a normal part of their lives.
We had a table that represents how this form of pleasure works in the body, and how it's a level playing field, meaning it's very different than normal gendered sexuality, which is very specific. In this particular form of sexuality, this is something everybody can experience pleasure from. Then we looked at the products of the modern era.
PAPER: Why is anal sex so taboo?
AS: I think there's a relationship with that, and I think it has to do a lot with religion. Religion plays a really key role in our relationship with basically all our sexuality, right? If you're specifically taught that sex is not for pleasure and just for reproduction, thinking about this additional form of sexuality is even one step further than most people have ever thought to delve into. If you're not born into the idea that pleasure is your birthright, maybe exploring your body is something kind of scary. There's also so many disempowering stories about it.
Also for women, there's a really common narrative that, this is something that is done for somebody else and that it doesn't feel good and you should just kind of get drunk and you're not really gonna like it.
PAPER: It's interesting that in the last year or so, the taboo around anal play, especially among heterosexual people, has started to break down. Teen Vogue, for instance, recently published a widely-circulated guide to it (though it wasn't met without criticism), and shows like Girls have depicted it as a normal part of a sexual relationship. Why do you think we've seen this shift?
AS: We say in our office, anal is the new oral. All of the sudden it's really an interesting topic and people are more and more looking into it and from a very sex positive place. Which is awesome, you have all forms of genders, all sorts of sexual orientations and all sorts of couple dynamics really looking at how this can be a part of their experience.
It could just be a cultural shift toward our generation being more accepting of pleasure in general, and also it becoming more mainstream to talk about sex toys and to talk about sex as part of an overall healthy lifestyle, and it being recognized as an important part of your relationship dynamic, especially for your long-term relationships. There's something to be said about building trust and intimacy, and having more in your top drawer, if I may, options for play.
PAPER: What do sexual taboos in general do to us as a culture?
AS: Being a person who's in and has been in the field of sexuality all my professional life, I think what I noticed most from people is a real hesitation to just accept pleasure or accept their right to you know, buy a vibrator and enjoy it or to masturbate, and that a product isn't going to replace their partner. All those taboos, they really prevent you from experiencing your full sexual self.
Often times when I see people get really uncomfortable or they have something very negative to say about anal play, like, "Oh my God, this is DEFINITELY not for me, I'm not even interested," I feel like that's someone whose been really highly conditioned to really not be open to experiencing pleasure. And I think that's what it really does to you. At the end of the day, it just prevents you from experiencing your own body. And the truth may be that you don't like anal play, and that's also okay, but not allowing yourself to try is what I think happens with taboos.
PAPER: What do you wish people knew about anal sex and sexuality?
AS: I think what's important when we talk about butt stuff is that it's really great to get educated about it. A lot of the dynamics of what I've heard people express is not really understanding the experience before they get into it, and not knowing that there's some really simple things that can make it a positive experience (like lubrication, being relaxed, and not using something that numbs your body). So just educating yourself. That's one key takeaway. Take some time, even just to visit the expert advice section on b-Vibe, there's some really great articles that help alleviate a lot of stigma and taboo.
And then the second thing overall about sexuality, and I'm taking this from Good Vibrations, and this is really my favorite thing about their company is that everything goes back to this one concept, which is that pleasure is your birthright. You have this amazing body that has this potential to experience both pleasure and pain, and why not do things that feel good, especially in the dynamic with a partner or with yourself? Why do we have this hang up on feeling good?
Image courtesy of Alicia Sinclair