Sexual health

Anal Through the Ages

Published: NOVEMBER 3, 2017 | Updated: APRIL 28, 2020
A swanky event devoted to anal sex education shows just how much perceptions are shifting.

In the very front room of the Museum of Sex, Anal Through the Ages was set up on full display. Sponsored by b-Vibe, a new vibrating butt plug and anal sexual health company founded by Alicia Sinclair, the event included a series of tables displaying different eras in anal sex history. From ancient times, to our more modern, enlightened view (at least in liberal hubs like NYC), each noteworthy benchmark of anal sex was on view.


It was a lot like World’s Fair Day at a middle school - only instead of showcasing nations, this one has anal sex on offer. And, while the Museum of Sex is a tiny museum, it's packed with cool artifacts in its mission to inform and normalize sex in a sex-positive - yet glamorous - setting.

There were fact-packed displays made of cardboard, replicas of bison having sex, pottery displaying orgies, and a slew of butt plugs of all sizes, lined up like a set of Russian dolls. On the small glass coffee tables sat clusters of peaches, a testament to the newfound status of the peach emoji.

At one point, I had my girlfriends hold out our peaches like “The Real Housewives of LA” and we declared ourselves “The Real Housewives of Anal.”


It was a swanky event, though. The Museum of Sex’s party room is disco-themed, complete with a full bar, disco balls, and music from the 1970s. But here's what really struck me: Here we all were at a casual yet glamorous event devoted to butt stuff. It was incredibly liberating - and educational, even for me. (I sometimes I think I know everything there is to know about anal, and I still learned a ton!)

Here we all were at a casual yet glamorous event devoted to butt stuff. It was incredibly liberating.

Anal Play Hasn't Always Been Taboo

Cool fact: It's easy to assume that anal play has always been taboo. Not so.

In fact, anal sex perception has ridden a bit of a bell curve. It first appeared in human history as a normal part of sexual expression. Anal sex is found in ancient peruvian Moche Culture. It was depicted in a variety of pottery. In ancient Greece and Rome, men were believed to be attracted to men and women, sleeping with both. The concept of homosexuality and heterosexuality did not even exist. Everyone was essentially bisexual. (On a different note, can I please go back to ancient Rome because that sounds dope).


Anal Through the Ages
Ancient pottery featuring anal sex.

Anal became taboo with the rise of Christianity. (Is it just me or does organized religion take the fun out of everything? )When most anti-anal thumpers preach about the evil, ungodly nature of anal sex, they often point to Genesis 19;:14-25. In this passage, the Lord burned Sodom and Gomorrah to the ground, supposedly because everyone in Sodom loved to do it in the ass.

Sodomy laws popped up all over, criminalizing anal sex. Punishment varied, but you could face imprisonment or fines depending on the state you lived in. That’s right.


Anal Through the Ages
On display at Anal Through the Ages at the Museum of Sex.
Photo by Gigi Engle

Prison mate: What are you in for, Jerry?

New Roommate: I liked doing butt stuff. The coppers threw me in the clink.


It seems weird now, but it wasn’t long ago that this was actually happening. The judicial consequences for anal didn’t even begin shifting until the 1960s. It wasn’t until Lawrence v. Texas 2003 that sodomy laws in the Texas were removed, making sex between members of the same sex legal in every U.S. territory. Seriously, 2003.

Anal In the Spotlight

It wasn’t until recent years that anal became somewhat of a media darling; the year 2014 was declared the “Year of the Booty.” What was once so highly taboo had made its way into popular culture. Anal has moved into a place of relative normalcy, rather than a fringe practice. This, of course, brings up more questions about consent and safe anal practices. In response, we are also seeing more education and open discussion.

The event’s last two tables were devoted to how to we think of anal now, and where our attitudes are headed in the future. A multiplicity of cutouts from magazines showed how the mainstream media has taken to glorifying anal sex. Every magazine from Glamour to Cosmo had a piece on anal.


This table also poignantly showed some of the outdated views on anal sex that still run rampant through our society. They even included an article I wrote for Teen Vogue, outlining the basics on anal sex in a scientific, biological and inclusive manner. When I wrote the piece I (and my wonderful editors at TV) aim to provide accurate information to teens. Teens, we believed, needed real, clinical facts about anal sex, a type of sex at least 10% report having had.

As it turned out, my piece received intense public backlash. It was proof that people still harbor intense homophobic and sex-negative attitudes. It was truly shocking to see the word “sodomy” used in not only emails, comments and tweets, but on Fox News, a major network.

“Looking back at how anal play/anal sex have been perceived throughout history really calls attention to how stigmas and taboos are similar to trends in that they come and go, but ultimately have very little to do with actual facts," Sinclair told Kinkly.

"By taking a look at nature as well, we were really able to call attention to the fact that there is no 'natural' or 'normal' - nature, in fact, boasts nearly every sexual feat you could imagine. I think showcases like these - that delve into the origins and evolution of various sexual acts - help dispel modern myths by showing just how fleeting social perceptions towards sex can be,” Sinclair said.

Anal Through the Ages
As it turns out, humans aren't the only animals that enjoy a little backdoor action.

Regardless, Anal Through the Ages was an example of how far we've come in our feelings and acceptance around “alternative” sex practices. Fierce women and men, out in the open, holding a little New York party all about the butt.

Gigi Engle

Gigi Engle is an award-winning author, certified sex educator, psychosexual therapist in training, and author of "All The F*cking Mistakes: A Guide to Sex, Love, and Life." Known as The Bisexual’s Therapist, she is a speaker, LGBTQIA+ activist, and sex expert.She currently works as the resident sex expert for Lifestyle Condoms and as a volunteer psychosexual therapist at 56 Dean Street, London’s foremost LGBTQIA+ clinic. She is also a...

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