Getting Behind America's Anal Sex Fetish
On 18 May 2011 , the prolific dominatrix-turned-pornstar Asa Akira sent her Twitter followers one brief, but provocative message: "Ass is the new pussy."
Although Akira was not the first to utter this smutty axiom, the tagline has been pegged to her name. That may have made it easy for many to dismiss the concept as nothing more than a shocking, perhaps self-promotional assertion by a savvy performer sometimes known as porn's " Ass Queen ." But the starlet wasn't just blowing smoke out of her buttocks. She was channeling a growing and convincing body of data on the inexorable rise of heterosexual anal play in America.
We can actually track the rise of heterosexual anal sex over the past quarter century thanks to your tax dollars. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has released a series of studies in which they asked huge groups of people the same nosey questions about their sex lives— including whether men had ever put their penises "in a female's rectum or butt" and if women had experienced a man putting his penis in their rectums (or butts) . In 1992, 20 percent of women and 26 percent of men aged 18 to 59 had reached fifth base with an opposite sex partner at least once. In 2005, the figure was 35 percent of women and 40 percent of men aged 25 to 44. In 2011, it was 39 percent of women and 44 percent of men aged 15 to 44. In some smaller age subgroups, the prevalence of anal experimentation was even more common.
The CDC didn't ask whether people had heterosexual anal sex on the reg (probably because it's hard to measure what "the reg" means), experimented with other forms of anal play, or tried male-recipient butt stuff. The best numbers we get regarding frequency are studies that look at what proportion of people had heterosexual anal sex in the last year, or the last time they had sex, which is a weak proxy at best. But it give us a sense that recurrent hetero butt sex is on the rise as well as one-off experiments.
A 2010 study also suggests that experimentation with wider forms of anal play may be even more common than experimentation with anal sex amongst heterosexual couplings. Among its subjects, 43 percent of women and 51 percent of men surveyed in heterosexual couples copped to testing out anilingus, anal fingering, or anal toy play at least once. A 2008 study suggests that at least some self-identified heterosexual men are receiving anal pleasure as well (mostly fingering, some anilingus). We have no good data to compare that to in terms of trends. But given the taboos against men receiving anal play, any male-receiver experimentation seems, anecdotally at least, like a pretty big sign of the times.
Pop culture's gotten wise to this trend over the past few years, showcasing anal play in mainstream shows like Broad City , Girls, and How to Get Away with Murder and how-to guides in mainstream publications like Cosmo, Ebony , and GQ. An inevitable deluge of think pieces have followed, pinning this sexual trend on everything from anal sex's overrepresentation in porn to widespread social liberalization . Some spill cartridges of ink, decrying heterosexual anal sex as a painful fetish foist upon women (especially those looking to keep their vaginal virginity intact, but still eager to be sexual or please a man), while others write tomes on how to have good heterosexual anal sex and play.
Yet for all that we've collectively bickered, raved, and railed about this widely acknowledged trend, almost no one's investigated what America's changing anal inclinations have meant for the sex market— namely brothel owners, pornographers, and toy manufacturers . To find out, I reached out to a few makers and shakers in the sex industry to get a quick look at how America's smut mongers have responded to the rise of hetero anal sex.
According to Pornhub, the king of dirty search data, the heterosexual anal revolution correlates with exactly the trends you'd imagine. Anal-related porn searches still represent less than 10 percent of all queries on their site. However, anal is a more common term among straight content searches than gay ones and its pervasiveness in hetero searches is rising rapidly. Pornhub crunched the numbers for VICE and found that between 2009 and 2015 , anal-related searches increased by 120 percent in America. That's significantly higher than the 78 percent increase in anal-related searches globally. The increase was steeper among male than female users, but anal-related tags were still the 18th most searched most searched terms among the site's female clientele.
(As a side note, Pornhub's investigation found that users aged 18 to 24 are actually 33 percent less likely to look for anal content than users aged 35 to 44, which is unexpected given how often we talk about hetero-anal as a young person's game. But that 18 to 24-year-old demographic is 290 percent more likely to search for My Little Pony porn than any other age bracket, which is certainly its own can of worms.)
Yet, despite this clear demand spike, and the excitement a first-time anal scene can generate for a female performer, anal-focused heterosexual videos make up a small portion of the market. A Pornhub investigation last year revealed that just 7 percent of their straight content has an "anal" tag on it. And it doesn't seem like porn studios are making any notable move to increase the volume of anal-focused content they create.
There's Anal Warriors, where women are shown as strong and powerful and in control of the sex that they're having.
"I don't think the overall production has gone up," says Holly Kingstown, the editor of Fleshbot and a fixture of the adult industry since 1999 who's held every job possible save actress. "In your talent pool, there are still [only] a certain number of girls who will do [anal]. And how many of that scene can you do with that girl?"
"There are performers who are willing to do it," possibly due to industry pressures and consumer demand. "But in terms of the quality, when you're talking about DVD sales..." she adds, before pausing briefly. "You can get a crappy internet scene or two out of a girl, but if she's not really good at it, you're not going to get that too many times. And when you're talking about a girl who does it just to get a scene, it's usually not going to be a girl who loves it or does it very well. So she's not going to get that much work."
Kingstown does believe that there's more consumption of the anal-focused content that already exists. But the absolute number of anal-focused titles available for consumers is fairly static.
What has changed, says Kingstown, is the tone and packaging of the anal porn that gets made. Towards the early 2000s, when Kingstown was still working at Buttman Magazine, she and a her colleagues realized that more couples, versus angry men looking for painal (grimacing girls , visibly suffering and un-lubed ass-ramming), were exploring their content. Adjusting to this mass market, pornographers shifted to portraying anal as pleasurable and normal versus painful and sick, which had apparently been the norm for the bulk of anal porn content up to that point.
"You still see the stuff where you'll see a woman called an 'anal whore.' But you also see the tone overall to be a bit more... I want to say woman-positive," says Kingstown. "For example, I'm looking at my desk and I've got James Deen Loves Butt here. This isn'tJames Deen Loves Sodomizing Little Girls and Making Them Cry . That title would sell too, but to a whole different audience. There's Anal Warriors, where women are shown as strong and powerful and in control of the sex that they're having. There's a whole ton of these kinds of movies where the women who enjoy anal are shown as strong and powerful."
But even if movies today portray anal sex as pleasurable, they still don't paint it realistically. They don't focus on the time and preparation most (s)experts agree good anal requires . They often show a ramrod, angled experience that wouldn't be pleasant for more than a few women in the world. Of course, a lack of realistic sexuality is a chronic problem in all niches of fantasy-driven porn.
We're seeing a lot more prolapses. We're seeing double anal. It used to be five anal scenes, done, not four anal scenes and a double penetration. They can go further, so they do. –Holly Kingstown
This pleasurable-looking anal, says Kingston, is now treated like a run-of-the-mill aspect of porn rather than a specialty act. Whereas in the past, you might stuff all your anal content into one niche film, nowadays directors think nothing of nonchalantly inserting an anal scene into a larger project. The overall amount of anal content remains the same—it's just not as clustered into niche markets and individual movies. Yet, as anal becomes a normal part of heterosexual porn for a wider audience, a small audience craving painful or extreme porn, for whom anal is now too passé and mainstream, has started demanding more physically taxing and (Kingston believes) potentially dangerous ass play acrobatics from the limited actress pool.
"You see a lot more circus stuff than you used to," says Kingstown. "We're seeing a lot more prolapses. We're seeing double anal. It used to be five anal scenes, done, not four anal scenes and a double penetration. They can go further, so they do. And physically, there's only so far that you can go with your body [as a performer]."
"Anal sex has always been a frequent topic of conversation with our [mostly heterosexual] customers," Claire Cavanah, co-founder of Babeland, told VICE when we asked for data on anal-related sex toy sales. The Seattle-based outfit with three outlets in New York is often hailed as one of the most accessible and acclaimed sex toy shops in America—a profile that lends it a large consumer base. "The 'How to Have Butt Sex' content on Babeland.com is the number one viewed piece of our [editorial] content. It has almost double the number of eyes on it as the 'How to Give a Blow Job' article, which is the second most viewed [item]. We don't have data before 2009, but it's always been number one."
A Babeland survey of 18,412 customer respondents in 2009 (not a reliable sample, due to self-reporting issues, but still one of the better pieces of data you can find on this subject matter) also found that, 60.5 percent of men and 40.1 percent of women had tried using a butt plug, 56.8 percent of men and 31.7 percent of women had tried using an anal dildo, 51.8 percent of men and 29.2 percent of women had tried using an anal vibrator, and 37.4 percent of men and 27.8 percent of women had tried using anal beads.
Yet even with a high baseline of anal interest, Babeland has seen an increase in anal-related sales. Between 2012 and 2015, the genre averaged about 5 percent growth per year. As of 2015, Cavenah estimates that such toys, specifically made with anal in mind, make up about 16 percent of Babeland's sales.
What's more significant to Cavenah and company, they say, is how they've witnessed the tone and level of openness their customers use when talking to them about purchases and proclivities evolve. The hushed voices and seedy aura customers once took into transactions has faded away. And as people get more open, comfortable, and explicit with their anal sex toy needs, toy makers have responded to their feedback with a deluge of new, specifically anal-targeted sex toys , including smaller models marketed towards anal beginners. Babeland's also noticed more luxury anal sex toys coming onto the market—products made of metal or glass, substances with higher price points—which suggests the emergence of a fair number of swankier, less bashful customers.
"We've definitely seen a shift in more interesting, innovative, and high-quality butt toys from some of the leading sex toy companies," says Cavenah. "Je Joue debuted a remote-controlled vibrating prostate stimulator this spring. Anal toys come with vibrators, apps, and magnetic resistance that creates a pulsating sensation. There are also lubricants, such as Sliquid [Naturals] Sassy , that are marketed specifically for anal use."
Although researchers have not done much study on the growth of male interest in receiving anal play, Babeland apparently sees newfound curiosity reflected in the growth of male-targeted anal toys, some designed with heterosexual couples in mind. They're actually among the fastest evolving and growing varieties of sex toys on the market today, according to Cavenah.
"Pegging has become more popular for sure," adds Cavenah. "Strap-ons for straight couples have been on the rise for years now. The notable statistics lie in the increase in prostate toys . Whereas seven years ago, only four of the toys we could offer were specifically designed for prostate stimulation, now 45 percent of the anal toys have prostate stimulating capabilities. Good news for anyone with a prostate!"
As in the sex toy industry, heterosexual anal play has long been a feature of the sex work world. Dennis Hof , the notorious client-turned-owner of Nevada's 60-year-old legal Moonlite Bunny Ranch bordello, believes that the traffic in anal at his establishment is often an extension of men wanting to try something new or do something the women in their lives wouldn't embrace. Although anal has always been on the menu, Hof and the women at the Bunny Ranch say they too have seen a marked spike in the demand for butt sex over the past couple of years. The rise has come in the form of men who want to fuck girls in the ass, men who want the ladies there to lightly stimulate or rail them in their own asses, and men who want both.
"Anal business in the last couple of years has tripled," says Hof. "We stock all kinds of butt plugs now. We have all these anal toys—lots of silicon lubes. We buy strap-ons by the gross because the girls are always using strap-ons on the guys."
"It's just as popular as a BJ now," adds Caressa Kisses, whom Hof calls one of his most popular girls (who will do anal fingering or fuck a guy with a strap-on, but doesn't do anal sex herself). "A lot of guys, they want anal. Both [giving and receiving]. Just anal play in general. It's up."
Perhaps surprisingly, Kisses says that the rise in men asking for ladies to anally stimulate them has been much more stark than the rise in men seeking women amenable to anal themselves.
"I'd say every sixth email I get is for me to do anal on them," she says. "And every 15th to 20th is for me. [That used to] be an anomaly. There'd be that one guy who just wanted to get freaky. But now it's really common... They want it performed on them more so than on me."
Kisses has been getting a ton of requests for pony plugs, small butt plugs with horse tails coming out the back, both for her and for men to wear during sex.
These clients ask for anything from a woman putting a finger up their asses to stimulate their prostates during sex to the use of vibrators (and especially vibrating eggs) in play and sex to strap-on adventures. Kisses actually notes that she's been getting a ton of requests for pony plugs, small butt plugs with horse tails coming out the back, both for her and for men to wear during sex. These demands came out of the blue, but she now gets four or five a month, which you can't help but think might tie back to Pornhub's rise in brony porn searches.
Men don't tend to tell Kisses or her fellow sex workers why it is they've suddenly decided to explore anal stimulation themselves. Kisses notes that men who ask for anal these days tend to be a bit older—40 to 60 years old—so she thinks they may just want to try something different that they've started to hear about more and that they might not know how to talk to their partners about, or may not want to do with their spouses or girlfriends. Whatever the reason, this rise in interest tracks fairly well with the rise in male-focused anal toys Babeland's seen in recent years. And Kisses, for one, seems happy to meet this demand with a stiff, strap-on dick.
The rise of heterosexual anal sex in American life is the product of a host of factors, from evolving social norms to the media we consume and the products sold to us. It's hard to say exactly how much of an impact the sex market, as just one zesty ingredient in that cultural stew, has on our collective and idiosyncratic bumpings and grindings. But it's somewhere in the interplay between what's offered in this market and what people actually do in their bedrooms that makes up our culture of sex. As we've begun to open our asses to new toys and different types of play, businesses have responded with even more offerings, which in turn are making it even easier for more people to start talking about and exploring anal sex. If you're one of those folks preparing to take their first ride down the poop chute, just remember not to take all your cues from porn; lube up nice and good.