From getting it, to eating it, to having it, welcome to Ass Week, MEL’s weeklong exploration of the body part du jour.
Sam, a 23-year-old barista from Minneapolis, is telling me how the mainstreaming of ass eating has changed her sex life. “As a very sexually active straight woman, over the last six months or so, every single straight guy I’ve had sex with asked to get his ass eaten,” she says, “or was at least open to it.” She adds that she tends to have sex with “very millennial” men who are “all pretty online,” and that they usually return the favor. “The memeification of ass play has greatly increased the amount of ass exploration that is being done in my sex life,” she continues. “Of course, the enjoyment has gone up significantly because of it.”
In 2011, ass eating was still taboo enough that Kevin Hart could embarrass Shaquille O’Neal by suggesting he performed anilingus on his wife. In 2014, dubbed the Year of the Booty, the now-defunct Gawker observed that ass eating was enjoying a renaissance; by 2018, our very own Ian Lecklitner told us that ass eating had “peaked” and Urban Daddy labeled the once-risque sex act “gentrified.” In under a decade, analingus has gone from being an almost unspeakable taboo to a memeable talking point so ubiquitous that, at my own family’s Christmas celebrations in suburban New Zealand last year, one of my very offline older male relatives announced that “kids are all into eating ass now.”
No one can agree on what exactly triggered the trend — the above Gawker article credits rapper Kevin Gates; New York Magazine called a 2013 Playboy article on the topic “canonical and groundbreaking”; and a 2001 Sex and the City episode is often cited as an early conversation starter. But there’s no question we’re all talking about eating ass much more now than we were before.
However, does this mean more of us, especially straight men, are actually taking part in the act?
Determining the prevalence of ass eating is a notoriously difficult pursuit. Statistically significant surveys and academic studies on the amount of analingus taking place in the world are thin on the ground, and the few that do exist tend, unhelpfully, to focus only on penile penetration of the anus or use “anal sex” as a catch-all that lumps analingus in with other forms of butt play. In short, we don’t know how common eating ass used to be, or how common it is now.
In lieu of hard data then, I interviewed about 60 men who sleep with women about how the mainstreaming of eating ass has impacted their willingness to partake in this activity — both giving and receiving. They tended to fall into one of three camps:
- They become more open to eating ass since its mainstreaming in about 2014.
- There has been no change, because they have never and will never eat ass.
- There has been no change, because they ate ass before it was cool.
Most, though, resided in the first camp, including Kazz, a 25-year-old talent manager based in Washington, D.C. “Pre-meme, I had no idea analingus was something so many people seemed to be into, and I’d only had one partner ask [for it],” he tells me. “So after it became a thing, I was like, ‘Okay, I need to step my game up.’”
He says he never used to discuss eating ass with his friends before the proliferation of memes and pop-culture references — “I not once ever heard none of my niggas talk about eating ass” — whereas now he’s observed a 180-degree shift, from analingus being something you would tease a friend for doing to an act he now hears his friends poke fun at each other for not performing. “I’ve definitely overheard ‘Oh, you don’t eat ass?’ jokes between other men,” he says. “It’s almost emasculating to not do it now.”
The idea that it’s emasculating not to eat ass is certainly a cultural shift. Historically, analingus is a sex act that’s been associated most strongly with gay men, and this link has prevented certain straight men from partaking in what they view as a feminized activity — until now. “The memeification of butt stuff definitely gave space for me to explore it,” explains Ben, a 24-year-old tele-support worker in Indiana, “without violating whatever dumb conceptions of masculinity or heterosexuality I had.” He credits Twitter, especially “weird Twitter, queer Twitter and socialist Twitter,” for his newfound open-mindedness.
“I had a very gendered view of it before,” he says, adding that he used to think it was more acceptable to perform analingus “because it was daring,” but that receiving it felt more passive and feminine. Now he gives and receives without a second thought.
Most of the men I talked to, however, are still more reluctant to receive. “I don’t want my partner to get anywhere near my extraordinarily hairy butt with her mouth,” says Jesse, a 29-year-old student from Seattle, echoing a common insecurity. “I’m self-conscious enough about asking her to finger my ass for similar hair and poop-related reasons, and that’s something I really like.”
That said, Alice, a 29-year-old teacher in Kansas City, insists that the taboo around straight men receiving anilingus is weakening, too. “Before the memeification of ass play, it seemed like women or gay male bottoms receiving anal was the only booty option,” she tells me. “I don’t think I would’ve asked my dude if he was down for me to try eating his ass if it wasn’t everywhere.” She adds that it’s now just as common in her sex life as more traditional oral sex.
Whether or not the mainstreaming of eating ass has made men more likely to partake — and it seems from my discussions like it has — almost all of the guys in my survey think it has raised awareness and reduced stigma. “It was something that I never considered before, but now I’m fine with eating ass,” says Bill, a 33-year-old barista from Ohio. “It’s been almost normalized online, and it’s not really shocking or taboo anymore.” Hector, a 27-year-old policy strategist from Mexico City, concurs. “The whole ‘eat it like groceries’ thing made it something my friends and I talk about openly.”
On the flip side, though, for some men who aren’t interesting in partaking in analingus, the mainstreaming of the topic adds unwanted pressure. “It’s made me even more anxious about sex in general, since it makes it seem like an expectation,” explains Kyle, a 32-year-old software engineer from San Jose. He’s definitely in the minority, however. “I’m very glad to see that a lot of the stigma surrounding eating ass has fallen away,” says Mark, a 31-year-old consultant from Texas. “I like that I don’t have to be as secretive now.”
Of course, there have always been fearless, trailblazing men who ate ass and had their asses eaten long before it became a Christmas dinner topic. “I’ve been clocking ass-eating hours since within a couple of years of losing my virginity,” says Aaron, a 28-year-old event manager from Australia. “I feel like my neighborhood is being gentrified by all these casual ass eaters now.”
Men who have always eaten ass tend to talk like this, with the same annoyance as early fans of a band that has become hopelessly popular. “Non-ass-eating straight dudes just want to have a bunch of hypothetical conversations about it now,” says Joseph, a 37-year-old writer from Portland who has always enjoyed analingus. “It’s like when my friend’s mom visited Portland and was drama city about going into a dispensary.”
The weed anecdote strikes him as a useful analogy. “The whole thing does feel like legalizing weed,” he continues, explaining that, as with smoking legally, there’s now less intimacy and trust involved with eating ass. “It was so much more special when it was illicit and underground.”