Alternate title: “Inside the Buttholes of the Kitsch and Heinous”
Content advisory: Poop. So much poop. And a lot of CAPS LOCK.
I’ve been putting off writing for a little while. Life has been throwing a lot at me, what with my hands dipped in all things sexuality-related, board meetings at Masakhane, eldercare wellness-therapy groups, trying to negotiate new degree tracks at Widener, and now being offered an opportunity to speak on the politics of identity and sex toys for Widener’s CareersCon coming up in September. The semester is approaching, and I am coloring testicles furiously in an Anatomy book while watching “It’s Complicated” with Meryl Streep because that’s apparently what $1,800 costs for a class, though I will admit I am excited to have other classes with Elizabeth Schroeder and in a different class I get to profess my love for Judith Butler. Academia has its upsides and downsides.
Anal August is coming to a close and with it so are the doors of Come As You Are Co Op; life is aligning with the ebbs and flows of sexuality. After hosting a last minute poll as to what the subject nature of this post should be, it seems as though folks were interested in hearing about my horrific history with anal beads. I figured this was appropriate, given the topic of my upcoming workshop about sex toys and Formidable Femme’s most recent amazing blogpost. (Also a huge fan of this blogpost from Lilly in 2015). (And this one from Hey Epiphora!). You get the idea. My relationship with anal beads is paradigmatic of many things I find really fucking wrong with the sex toy industry, and I’m kinda glad I got to experience this learning curve in the way I did.
My first experience with any sort of butt play was at age 16 with an unlubricated attempt at my then boyfriend’s dick partially in my ass. This was followed by the “Oh my god NO, ouch, why did we do that, BAD IDEA BAD IDEA” dance/hop all around the apartment with my hands clasped around my buttcheeks. I had sworn off anal for another two years until college came when someone I started hooking up with introduced me to fingers and lube. THEN a dick. MUCH easier. MUCH more pleasurable. Particularly with a vibrator on my clit. I found that orgasming with a dick in my ass provided an incredibly intense orgasm, and decided butt play was for me.
Winter break came our freshman year and partner and I stopped by a little leather shop on Christopher Street in the village and decided to buy a black large jelly rubber butt plug which we later realized would never in a million years fit inside my ass. I ended up using it vaginally. (I know, what?)
Years went by until I graduated college with much more knowledge in sexuality (heck, even a BA in it), began teaching sex ed for Masakhane, and started working at my local sex shop. For the next six years working at this sex shop, I used my 50% discount with reckless abandon. I bought hundreds of toys, spending each paycheck exploring the best and worst our store had to offer. And looking up at my toy shelf right now, I see all of 10 of those remaining. I’d try a toy and it’d either break, melt, I’d decide it wasn’t for me, it didn’t fit right, whatever. In retrospect, I wish I kept every single one of them because some serious science could have been done. Lilly’s Jar of Horrors? I could have made some sort of art installation! Hindsight…20/20…ableist idiom, but so true.
The first thing I heard about butt toys working at the store is how amazing anal beads were. “You know how good it feels taking a shit? Now imagine having an orgasm while taking a shit. Blumpkin level.” My colleagues were precious. I mean that sincerely. The honesty and crudeness of our conversations was something I still can’t have in a lot of other spheres. Even in the rest of my sexuality fields, I don’t know how comfortable I’d be casually watching porn at 9am while eating a taylor ham, egg, and cheese and commenting on the skill of a performer’s messy blowjob.
Anal beads were one of my first purchases with my newly acquired 50% discount. Not just any anal beads mind you. These. Tiny ones, green (because color was a huge factor in choice for me during my early purchase days, not material), connected with string knots, and a plastic green loop at the end. I used them twice. Once by myself, where they hurt immensely while taking them out, each knot scraping my insides, actually feeling the skin of my rectum catch in between each knot and bead as I pulled the string out of me. I used a ton of lube, but it didn’t matter. I still bled on toilet paper for two days.
The second time I used them was with my partner during sex. I asked him to pull them out of me while I was riding him on top with a bullet on my clit. As I was orgasming and he pulled them out, he yanked them way too fast, and while it felt better than the previous time, what he had hanging in his hand was mirrored by his face of horror. I didn’t need to look at either before the smell had hit me. The strand of beads were completely stained brown, each knot had caught a little bit of feces. I’m not talking a ton of poop here, but enough that by the swinging of the beads, the sweat of sex and the humidity of a Jersey summer, my boyfriend’s outstretched hand wafted the stink of shit from these beads while he looked at me asking “what do I do with these?” That ended our session pretty quickly, as I ran to the sink to scrub them out. Scrub them out. NOT throw them away! I put them in a wad of paper towels, left them in his basement to be forgotten, only so two months later his mom and little brother could find them and ask him about the plastic green bracelet behind his computer desk. Awful.
So I learned the hard way: No string, check. Bacteria, knots, pain, hard to clean, etc. Get beads that are connected, Avery! I fixed my eyes on these really funky looking beads that weren’t bead shaped at all, but rather shaped like little, fat, S‘s connected all with the same material. The same, disgusting smelling material that reeked so bad I could smell it through the packaging. It literally smelled the same as that Cherry scented dildo, minus the fruity notes. Like burnt medicine and shower curtains. All the typical phthalate signs I hadn’t learned about yet. But the texture wasn’t tacky (actually quite bumpy, which added to the disaster later on), and nowhere on the package did it say jelly, so I scooped it up. And then it scooped me up. Yes, these S-shaped nodules were absolutely perfect shit-scoopers. What I thought would stimulate my asshole upon exit and entry ended up provoking the SAME reaction in the SAME position with the SAME partner when I asked him to remove them. This strand of S‘s went even deeper into my butt, scooped out generous portions of feces per bead, and once removed I couldn’t tell what smelled more, the original material or this newer, poop-enhanced version. Not to mention the bumpy texture was a complete lube-eater, so we had a nice slathering of Santorum going on with this item as well.
You’d think I’d learn. Ok, so maybe I just need ROUND anal beads. But maybe I should get graduated ones, where they get really tiny at the tip and wider at the bottom. And maybe we can make them vibrate this time! Because why not add a new variable into the mix of something already really uncertain and discouraging? But I’ll be really good about it, I’ll make sure they’re silicone this time, because when a reputable company like TOPCO says it’s silicone, it HAS to be silicone, right? The insertable bullet transmitted zero vibration throughout the beads. The handle ripped and I almost lost the entire toy inside of me. We ended up grabbing the beads by the bullet when the bullet, in all its lubed glory, popped out of the toy. So after sticking a finger in the hole where the bullet USED to be and slowly negotiating this toy out of my rectum by holding one end of the ripped handle and keeping one finger in the bullet-hole, I was able to decide that “MAYBE I DON’T FUCKING LIKE ANAL BEADS.”
I know there are some good ones out there. Tantus makes some impressive Vibrating Progressive Beads. Fun Factory will always be famous for their Flexi Felix. But something about that sensation of shitting tiny turds I thought would feel so pleasurable a decade ago has absolutely zero appeal to me now. Don’t get me wrong. I love textured plugs. The Tantus Ripple feels absolutely amazing. I adore the Aneros Helix, even if it isn’t my current partner’s favorite. I can even handle the beaded end of the Fun Wand if I’m gentle enough. It’s just something about a loooong chain of bumps that my body can’t handle.
So there you have it. Anal bead mistakes were made. By a so-called “sexpert.” Which is why, with all the good toys out there, there are twice as many terrible ones. With even the most informed educators, we have the capacity for human error and need the space to learn and share those learning experiences (no matter how grotesquely crappy they can get). Sex-positive or not, whatever sex-positive means to you, we do stupid shit to our bodies all the time. We’re not always going to make the best decisions in life, and wisdom isn’t always a forward trajectory.
I’d like to think that my anal bead blunders are over, but I’m sure there will be a day down the road where I reflect on other practices in my sexual self-care that need improvement. I know there were moments working at the store in my later years where I had flickers of judginess at the customers who bought that string of green anal beads. I desperately tried getting my boss to take it off the shelves, but “It kept selling,” so we kept stocking it. Some days I’d do my best to offer a safer alternative. Some days I’d remember back to the moment I bought those beads. Would I really have listened if someone told me to pick something else? Probably not. My stubborn ways would have said, “No, this is cheaper, it’s my favorite color, and I don’t even know if I’m going to like it. I’m going with these.” You pick your battles and hope for the best. But that’s another story.