Review of The Ultimate Guide to Anal Sex for Women


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review by Syrinx

The Ultimate Guide to Anal Sex for Women
by Tristan Taormino
Cleis Press, 1997

This new book by Tristan Taormino (series editor of Best Lesbian Erotica and co-editor of Ritual Sex) is an outstanding example of what I think a modern "sex manual" should be: it covers a topic that the author knows in depth on a personal level, it is factually accurate and conveys all the information the readers might need, it manages to capture the pleasure and passion which the author finds in her chosen subject, it provides guides to more advanced topics for more advanced and/or adventurous readers, and it contains a solid resource guide for folks who wish to learn more. The Ultimate Guide to Anal Sex for Women is also typeset and bound very well, and is nicely interspersed with sidebars and "testimonials" from folks who responded to a survey by the author about anal sex. Aside from being informative, this book is a true pleasure to read.

The Ultimate Guide to Anal Sex for Women starts out with the following sentence: "Yes, I admit it - I love anal sex; the first time someone put a finger in my butt, I almost went crazy from the pleasure." From the point of view of someone nervous about exploring anal play, this is almost a perfect way to start the book; it places the discourse squarely in the realm of pleasure, rather than in technique for the sake of technique or in "doing it" just to please your partner without the expectation of actually enjoying it.

This first chapter then goes on to comment on cultural attitudes and myths surrounding anal play, many of which may be familiar to the reader, before continuing into "10 Myths about Anal Sex." Myth #8 is "Women don't enjoy receiving anal sex; they do it just to please their partners", and I'll come back to this point a little later.

Chapter 2 goes on to basic anatomy, intelligently handled and well-illustrated. I liked the fact that the author emphasized the use of Kegel exercises in enhancing anal pleasure; most folks who are aware of Kegels think they're good just for enhancing vaginal intercourse or for controlling "premature ejaculation." Not true. This chapter also handled the use of latex, lubricants, etc. in a sensitive and articulate manner.

Chapter 3, "Beyond Our Bodies: Emotional and Psychological Aspects of Anal Eroticism", covers Desire, Communication, Fear, Expectations, Patience, etc.; it's one of the better chapters in the book, and will probably be especially valuable for opposite-sex couples caught up in myth #8 (see above).

Chapter 4 goes over sex toys, lubricants, and condoms. Chapter 5 goes over shaving and enemas. I'm quite glad that the author chose to include these topics in her book; there really aren't that many books out there which cover these topics intelligently and sensitively, and it's good to have a book people can refer to for questions. Chapter 6 discusses anal masturbation, chapter 7 discusses analingus (with a nice illustration of how to make dental dams out of condoms and gloves), chapter 8 discusses anal penetration with a partner, chapter 9 discusses anal fisting, chapter 10 discusses S/M and genderplay, and chapter 11 discusses anal health. The back of the book contains a resource guide (more on that later).

Here are a few other things I liked about this book, in no particular order:

  1. The illustrations featured men and women of a variety of shapes and sizes.
  2. The book handled "alternative" topics without negative judgement, and the fact that they were handled at all makes the book that much more desirable as a reference.
  3. The author succeeded in not losing sight of the eroticism and pleasure in anal play, even while responsibly discussing technique; it's easy for sex manuals to seem "boring" or "dry" after a while, which this book managed to avoid. In fact, many of the anecdotes were quite arousing (all publishers who think you have to include a ton of color photographs of emaciated models in sex manuals in order to turn on the reader, please take note!)
  4. The book spent a fair amount of time discussing anal play with men; the anatomy section had illustrations of male anatomy, and discussed the role of the prostate gland in male anal pleasure.

For me, one of the more interesting questions was why this book was titled The Ultimate Guide to Anal Sex for Women. As a male, I read this book all the way through and never felt left out; I learned a lot both about anal play in general (as almost everything about the anus applies equally to men and women), and even learned a bit more about the role of the male prostate gland in anal play. Although this book did devote space in some chapters to topics that the author seems to feel are of special interest to women, the bulk of the book seems to be applicable to both men and women. Even the use of pronouns in the book wasn't uniformly gender-exclusive. In fact, I'd say that this book is of just as much interest to men AND women as Dr. Jack Morin's classic book Anal Pleasure and Health is.

So what gives? Why wasn't this book titled The Ultimate Guide to Anal Sex for Women and Men? I'm still going to recommend this book to men, but I can see myself always having to add the caveat "despite the title, it's not just for women..."

As far as I can tell, it goes back to myth #8 mentioned above (in a roundabout way). Despite what many folks seem to believe, "there is no evidence that any single group defined by sexual orientation has a great deal more anal sex than any other group; in fact, depending on which survey you cite, from 20 to 45 percent of women have anal sex" (p. 17). So, it seems likely that most anal sex in this country is being practiced by opposite-sex couples. Now, coming back to myth #8, it may be that a significant subset of these opposite-sex couples experimenting with anal sex are under the impression that it's something "the woman puts up with to please her partner" (in fact, if you don't know enough to use lube, anal sex is almost bound to be uncomfortable, which makes it a sex-education issue as well as an empowerment issue). Perhaps by titling this book the way she has, Ms. Taormino hopes to grab the attention of these women in particular; for many women, the thought that anal sex could be fun for them might be a little revolutionary.

I'm still going to recommend this book to men AND women, though. Once you get past the title it really is fairly pansexual (not to mention awfully good and up-to-date).

I have only a few complaints:

  1. On page 107, the author discusses options for people who have latex allergies (with regard to latex gloves) and doesn't mention trying nitrile gloves; I first heard about how terrific these gloves were from anal fisting enthusiasts at a Living in Leather conference, so it must be common knowledge at least in that community. They also solve the oil-breakdown issue for gloves, as they're oil-impervious. Blowfish at http://www.blowfish.com has been selling them for years.
  2. The author doesn't mention silicone-based lubes. Next edition, perhaps? I wouldn't have brought this up if different brands and types of lube weren't mentioned and catagorized in some detail in this book, but they were. I-D "Millenium" and Wet "Platinum" are both available locally.
  3. There aren't that many books and videotapes out there on the subject of anal play. The author does mention Trust: The Handballing Book by Bert Hermann, Anal Pleasure and Health by Jack Morin, and Nina Hartley's Guide to Anal Sex (a videotape), but neglects to mention the tapes produced by the Body Electric School (see www.thebodyelectricschool.com). It's true that these videotapes mainly feature men rather than women, but Trust is largely the same way, and as Ms. Taormino admits it isn't as if there's a bazillion good books and tapes on the subject. I would have gone ahead and included them with a little commentary.
  4. There were quite a few errors in the book's web page and e-mail addresses; I'll list these in an errata section at the end of this review. I do recognize that web page addresses change a lot and keeping up-to-date resource guides isn't easy, but most modern computers will allow you to cut and paste addresses directly from your web-browser to your word processor, so it should be possible to cut down on mistakes caused by retyping errors. As we're all aware, if you get one letter of a complicated web address wrong the whole thing is useless or worse than useless (because people might think the organization doesn't have a web page any more rather than looking in a search engine for it).

These complaints are minor, and don't affect the main content or message of the book. On the whole I think in many ways this is a superior book to Anal Pleasure and Health, partly because it has the advantage of 11 years of hindsight between now and the last edition of Anal Pleasure and Health (which is scheduled for a new edition in 1998, by the way). It's clear to me that if for no reason other than the way the books are presented and titled there's more than enough room in the market for both of them, and I'm glad that both are available.

REFERENCE: THE ULTIMATE GUIDE TO ANAL SEX FOR WOMEN RESOURCE GUIDE ERRATA

In reviewing this book I found the following errors in the resource guide section, and thought I'd include the errata here for reference:

  1. On page 135, the e-mail address of the Black Sheets zine is BlackB@queernet.org, the e-mail address of Cuir Underground is cuiru@black-rose.com, the web page address of Paramour is http://www.paramour.com, the e-mail address of Paramour is paramour@paramour.com, and Anything That Moves has a web page at http://www.anythingthatmoves.com [Update in year 2005: None of these publications exist any more.}
  2. On page 136, the web page address of SandMUTopian Guardian is http://www.catalog.com/utopian [Update in year 2005: This publication no longer exists.]
  3. On page 138, it should be noted that Fantasy Unlimited has moved to a new physical address.
  4. On page 139, the web address for Lovecraft no longer works, and I couldn't find one that did.
  5. On page 140, the toll free number for Rubber Tree is 1-888-792-TREE. Also on this page, the address for the Seattle shop "Sin" should be removed as this shop no longer exists. [Update in year 2005: The Rubber Tree no longer has a brick-and-mortar retail store, and their web site hasn't been updated in many, many years.]
  6. On page 141, the web address for CDC National AIDS Clearing House is http://www.cdcnac.org. [Update in year 2005: This web address leads to some kind of site on Irritable Bowel Syndrome, I have no idea what's up with that, but it certainly no longer contains information on AIDS.]
  7. On page 142, the phone number for Society for Human Sexuality has changed, and the web address has changed to the permanent new address http://www.sexuality.org.
  8. On page 143, the web address for American Board of Sexology should be http://www.sexologist.org.
  9. On page 144, the web page for InstaTek no longer appears to exist. The web address for IASHS (which is actually Sexology Netline) should be http://home.netinc.ca/~sexorg/index.htm and the web address for Sex, etc. should be http://www.rci.rutgers.edu/~sxetc. [Update in year 2005: the web page for IASHS has moved to http://www.iashs.edu and the web page for Sex, etc., has moved to http://www.sxetc.org - none of the old addresses work any more.]


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