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04 April 2011

Part 1: The anal taboo

In the first of the series: Know your anus, Glenn de Swardt discusses the taboos surrounding the anus.

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We’re introduced to the anal taboo as infants, when we’re taught to associate that area of our bodies with shame – when we soil a nappy, people’s facial expressions change, we’re removed from the group and we’re exposed to the cold when the nappy is changed. Throughout childhood we’re told “don’t touch there!” and “dirty!” and we soon learn never to mention our anus in public. We learn that being called “an arsehole!” is an insult and, with time, we’re taught that the anus is a powerful symbol of all that is unclean and disgusting about our bodies and ourselves.

The anal taboo and analphobia are reinforced throughout our socialisation and become a major construct of homoprejudice and homophobia – most people, consciously or unconsciously, associate gay men with anal sex. Of course we all know that many people in Straightville engage in anal sex, but this doesn’t evoke the second level of the anal taboo; it is socially acceptable for women to be penetrated anally but in a patriarchal society such as ours, which professes that men have the potential to penetrate but shouldn’t be penetrated, male-to-male anal sex is associated with feminisation.

Although Freud described an anal phase in our development, the anal taboo manifests in both psychology and medicine. Even proctology, the field of medicine that specialises in the anus and rectum, generally fails to acknowledge that these organs are of major sexual significance.

Shame

It is not surprising that some gay men experience a degree of shame around anal sex. We need to successfully negotiate a process of redefining our anuses, from ‘dirty’ (associated with shame and anger) to ‘erotic’ (associated with pleasure and sex), in order to fully enjoy anal sex and overcome our internalised shame about being gay.

Our anus is often the one part of our bodies we’ve never seen. For many of us it is a part of our bodies we’re not conscious of unless we’re toileting or engaging in anal stimulation or sex. The anus is often excluded from our ongoing awareness of ourselves, relegated to ‘numbness’ and remaining ‘hidden’ both from ourselves and from others.

In the next article in this series we’ll look at ways in which you can become better acquainted with your anus through increased awareness and by reducing your anal tension. - Glenn de Swardt.

This article first appeared in Source Magazine.

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