“Yo man, this pizza tastes like ass!”
“Ugh, this locker room smells like ass!”
“You see the new Rambo movie? It was total ass.”
Ass, ass, ass. It’s never good to taste or smell like it, yet, we Americans love ass like never before — we’re becoming a fully ass-centric culture, in fact. People are eating more ass, and according to the pretty remarkable data that Pornhub has gathered, America is now more of an ass-loving country than it is a boob-loving country.
So given our affinity for asses, why is something being “like ass” bad? To get to the bottom of this, it might help to examine when things first began to be described as being “like ass.” While the earliest example I could find dates back to a racist rant in a 1969 issue of Esquire, according to Google’s Ngram viewer — which tracks words and phrases through the last 200 years of literature — something “smelling like ass” clearly started to pop up in the 1980s and 1990s, then exploded after the year 2000.
While he wasn’t the first to say it, some of the credit for the popularization of this phrase likely goes to America’s favorite fatass at the time: Eric Cartman. In characteristically offensive fashion, the foul-mouthed South Park character remarked that Costa Rica “smelled like ass” back in 1999 and regularly compared things to “ass” after that.
Love for ass, meanwhile, wouldn’t really become mainstream until about a decade or so later. It would occur for a multitude of reasons, one of which was the now widespread proliferation of internet porn. “Anal play has become a lot more common in porn and — lacking accurate sex information — a lot of people either copy porn or use porn to try to learn about their sexuality,” explains Charlie Glickman, somatic sex coach and the author of The Ultimate Guide to Prostate Pleasure: Erotic Exploration for Men and Their Partners. With porn being everywhere in the new millennium thanks to the internet, far more people were exposed to anal sex than had been in the days when boys were hiding boob-filled Playboys in the woods.
Demographic shifts may also have played a part in our newfound love of ass. Sexuality educator Paul Nelson, of Maze Men’s Health, theorizes that due to the country’s increasing Latino and black populations, the sexual preferences of those cultures have also been embraced more widely. This makes sense when you look back at Pornhub’s map above, where it’s pretty clear that South America and Africa are, generally, more into butts, while Europe and Asia are more into boobs. Nelson also feels that there may be an element of cultural appropriation here too, adding, “There’s that old saying that rich white men didn’t invent anything, and for generations, black culture has often been adopted by white culture — black fashion, black music, you name it — so it’s only natural that sexual tastes would be reflected as well.”
This, he continues, has only been further perpetuated by the fame of people like the Kardashians, Jennifer Lopez and Nicki Minaj, as lusted-after, big-assed women who contradict the “skinny white woman” image of beauty from a generation ago.
Glickman says too that there’s always an element of taboo that factors into sex, and over time, our attention shifts from one body part to another: “During my parent’s generation, breasts were taboo, as ‘getting to second base’ was a big thing, but now you can see breasts everywhere.” So naturally, things navigated downward to somewhere more taboo.
Conversely, the lifting of a certain taboo has also made the ass more palatable in quite a literal sense. With less of a stigma around homosexuality, straight men have been more open to ass play and ass-eating, both of their partners and of themselves. “I certainly think it’s helpful when we get away from the idea that anal sex is something only gay men engage in,” explains sexuality educator Al Vernacchio, adding that, “Plenty of gay men don’t have anal sex as part of their sexual lives and plenty of straight-identified men do.” While Vernacchio stresses that we are by no means past the persecution of homosexuality, an increased openness and acceptance has made assplay more acceptable to straight males. Glickman has also seen this reflected in his practice, as many older men he’s treated feel that any sort of anal play might mean they’re gay, whereas younger straight men he’s treated often don’t have the same hangups.
Additionally, Glickman explains that anal sex has recently become more comfortable to engage in. “Twenty years ago, most lubes that were available were made from a glycerin, which, although it can work well for vaginal sex, for anal sex it gets sticky really quickly. When they started manufacturing silicone lubricants about 15 or 20 years ago, they lasted much longer and were much better suited for anal.”
All of this stuff, though, is relatively new. It was just 2014 when Gawker declared that there was now a “booty-eating renaissance,” and in 2017, Marie Claire asserted, “it’s no question that all things ass-related have taken on a mainstream edge.” So it seems that when it comes to stuff being “like ass,” “tasting like ass” or “smelling like ass,” they’re phrases that have been around for over 20 years — in other words, we’re waiting for our language to catch up with our new fondness for the fanny.
Still, even if people are now seemingly obsessed with butts, it’s not like the most ardent of boob-worshipers ever disliked them either. So why was the ass regarded as bad to begin with? Despite the taboo, Vernacchio explains that anal sex has been around since human beings have been around. “It’s not a recent invention, or an invention of the LGBTQ community,” he says. So how did it become the object of such derision? The answer is fairly obvious: “Poop,” Nelson says simply. “Asses are dirty. That’s all it is.”
Glickman agrees, adding, “Indoor plumbing is a relatively recent thing. We didn’t have toilet paper for a very long time, we’d use leaves or corn cobs. So when people say things like, ‘That smells like ass,’ what they’re really saying is, that smells like shit.”
In short, for most of human existence, our asses have smelled and tasted, well, like ass, so it’s no wonder that people would say as much. Perhaps though, in this ass renaissance we’re experiencing, the saying will eventually fade away. And to ensure that happens, we Americans should probably learn to clean our asses properly first.