THE COMPLEAT ASSHOLE
A Review of Anal Pleasure & Health: A Guide for Men and Women, Third Edition
by Jack Morin
San Francisco: Down There Press
Review Copyright © 1998 by William A. Henkin
Originally published in Spectator
In the late 1970s Andy, my Rolfer, pointed out to me that it was nearly impossible to be relaxed with a tight asshole, and nearly impossible to be tense with a relaxed one. His insight showed me how I could use my body as a biofeedback device that not only let me know how I was feeling in literally any situation, but also helped me to change my state of mind by loosening or tightening up my body if I wanted to. Later, when I worked with Joseph Heller, the surprisingly poetic founder of Hellerwork, he observed that one reason people take such offense at being called assholes in our society is that we are generally unaware of ourselves we don't know our asses from holes in the ground, so to speak and we are tight-assed as a consequence.
What Joseph's and Andy's comments had in common was that they both concerned consciousness achieved through the body. Both men had explored and thought enough about the body theirs and other peoples' to include within their purview those parts that most of us forget about, disregard, or try our best to ignore. But Rolfers and Hellerworkers do very deep tissue bodywork, and to release the corpus from old patterns and unconscious habits they may sometimes even go inside the ears, the mouth, the nose, and the eye sockets as well as the usual muscles of the shoulders, back, legs, and groin. Since they treat the body as an integrated system it is no surprise they don't disdain the anus.
Have you thought about your anus lately? Probably not, unless you have hemorrhoids or you're into anal fisting, also known as handballing. And if you're one of the vast majority of people who hasn't thought about hir anus at all, chances are you're almost completely unaware of how it feels, looks, and works, how to take care of it properly, how it can be a source of pleasure to you if you learn about it, and how it can be a well, a real pain in the ass if you don't, like so many other things we try to keep out of sight and out of mind.
So, out of sight and out of mind, what is that that that thing down there, tucked away where the sun don't shine? Why should you get familiar with it? And how exactly would you do that if you wanted to? That's where Jack Morin comes in, and there's not a proctologist in the land who could fail to benefit from reading this first, almost only, and still definitive book about your own special tender button.
For the most part people really don't want to know about their anuses, which is why you probably haven't had a good look at or feel of yours. When Down There Press published the first edition of Anal Pleasure & Health back in 1981 various printers wouldn't print the book, binders wouldn't bind it, bookstores wouldn't carry it, and one clerk who couldn't even allow himself to hear the title from a customer ordered something from the publisher called Ain't No Pleasure in Health.
Yet, like water, knowledge often carves its own way through difficult terrain, and the book was successful enough to enjoy a somewhat revised edition in 1986. By that time AIDS was fully upon us and unprotected anal intercourse was understood to be the prime route for infection other than sharing needles, so Morin expanded his health information and his chapter on anal intercourse while urging his readers to explore other forms of anal sensuality. But sensuality isn't the be-all and end-all of the anus: pain is the other side of pleasure, and if you've ever suffered from constipation, severe diarrhea, fissures, fistulas, irritable bowel syndrome, or hemorrhoids you will quickly understand the value of keeping this whole region of your body in good working order. The side benefit, as Morin was at pains to point out, is that those experiences and practices that help us maintain anal health are exactly the ones that allow us to enjoy anal pleasure.
Now, more than a decade after the second edition of Anal Pleasure & Health was published, Morin is back with a new version of his book. Little of the basic information is completely new assholes haven't changed much in the past twelve years and, with some exceptions, this edition is organized pretty much the way the previous editions were. But some disease information is new, and Morin has updated information where relevant. In addition, he has expanded, revised, and rewritten every chapter and added a couple of new ones. Moreover, time has been kind to Morin in an unexpected way: we might anticipate that recent clients in his therapy practice would have given him more material from which to derive refinements for his work, but he has also become an increasingly delightful writer, easy with himself and his readers on a topic that would ordinarily embarrass too many people into sniggers, giggles, and the unfortunate blush of ignorance. To convey he points he is willing and able to tell entertaining stories including a few about himself, and though he says it was never his intention to become "Dr. Anal," it's hard to imagine a better guide to this all-too taboo topic.
At the outset Morin asserts,
The widespread belief that one must choose between anal pleasure or anal health couldn't possibly be more off the mark. In reality, a person who desires maximum anal enjoyment should follow virtually the same steps as anyone who seeks optimal anal wellness, because both require:
* deepening awareness of the anal area and its functioning
* total elimination of anal pain
* reduction of muscular tension
* replacing negative feelings and attitudes toward the anus and rectum with positive one.
If this sounds like a classic self-help or how-to book of the sort that was extremely popular in the 1970s and early 80s, it is. And it's a good one, too. The values it espouses are important to physical, emotional, and sexual health, and it's wonderful to have an informed, gracious, and unembarrassed therapist-author to teach them.
The first 80 pages of Anal Pleasure & Health explore the social taboo against knowing your asshole, and take you on a sort of self-guided tour of the terrain: what it looks like, what it feels like, what it's capable of, how it works, why it might not work as well as you'd like, how to make it work better, and how it feels to you to be learning about this subject in the first place. Once he's provided the map for you to learn about your anus and its surrounding components, Morin expands the map by providing 65 pages of guidance to anal pleasure, from masturbating to fisting to rimming, leading to a single chapter on anal intercourse: man-to-man, woman-to-woman, man-to-woman, woman-to-man. Finally, after a discussion of erotics and power, there's a thorough, rather therapist-like chapter about consolidating what you've learned, and two extensive appendixes, the first documenting all the usual ills that might befall your anus and rectum, the second discussing Morin's research for the book.
Research? Yes. Originally, 164 people began, and 143 completed, short-term therapy with Morin to reduce anal spasm and enhance their capacities for anal pleasure. To a rather conspicuous degree, statistically speaking, they were cured. How does this affect you? The most important overall implication, Morin says,
is that both anal tension and the capacity for the enjoyment of anal pleasure are profoundly influenced by experience and learning. Many people troubled by anal tension and blocked from anal pleasure can, in a relatively short period of time, learn to release anal tension, even of long duration, and rediscover or enhance the capacity for anal pleasure.
In other words, you, too, can improve your relationship with your anus, and while you'll probably feel better and have more fun as a consequence, you may also become a better person. If you're out of touch with such an important and intimate part of yourself, who knows what else you've blocked yourself from? It's nice to know you can open up, because it's hard to be nice when you're a hard-ass.
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Other books of interest on this topic include Trust: A Guide to the Sensual and Spiritual Art of Handballing, by Bert Herrman (San Francisco: Alamo Square Press), and The Ultimate Guide to Anal Sex for Women, by Tristan Taormino (San Francisco: Cleis Press).
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