It's possible that you're more familiar with the Internet rumor that actress Lara Flynn Boyle bleached her anus at the behest of then-boyfriend Jack Nicholson than you are with the lawyer show she was on for years.
True or not, what most of us can agree with is that bleaching your asshole sounds like a weird thing to do. But if the many companies hawking creams to bleach the butthole are to be believed, anal bleaching isn't just for self-obsessed, rich celebrities anymore.
Much like how the Brazilian bikini wax ubiquitous in adult films planted the idea into the female psyche that pubic hair is something to be tamed and waxed into a thin, decorative strip, the theory is that the porno ideal of a pristinely pale pink anus has seeped into the general consciousness.
And supposedly, Joe and Joanna Schmo are now so self-conscious about any brownish tint to their anuses (buttholes tend to darken with age and sexual experience) that they're willing to pay $100 a pop to have them lightened to a more pleasing baby pink.
But is this really a "thing," or just a media concoction? Who has the time and money to burn on anal bleaching? Has the human tendency toward navel-gazing really traveled so far south that men and women not involved in the sex industry are contorting themselves in front of the mirror, butt cheeks splayed, scrutinizing their sphincters and concluding, "Hmm, not quite pale enough. I think this calls for a chemical bath in known carcinogens..."?
"The only people I've ever heard of doing this are strippers," says comedian Dave Attell, host of Dave's Old Porn on Showtime and host of the 2012 AVN Awards. "Like, people who do it for their jobs."
Some experts say that more people are having anal sex than ever before; at any rate, anal sex in porn is certainly more prevalent. And with the advent of HD digital cameras in adult films, the once humble, mostly kept-under-wraps butthole is garnering unprecedented interest and attention.
Although naysayers say it's silly to think that people end up imitating what they see in porno movies, adult films do appear to influence clients' decisions to lighten their anuses, says Liz Mesa, owner of the Liz Skincare salon in Miami.
"Most of my clients (both men and women) refer to porn as to why they want to have this done," she says. "They want the same perfect, pink look."
Interestingly, however, a porn actress I asked about anal bleaching has never done it nor has heard of anyone else doing this either.
"I think the people that invented these creams say that us porn people do it, but really, we don't," says Kristina Rose. "If you had three kino [lights] pointed at your no-no spot in HD, your asshole would look like it was glowing, too. In my experience, most men are so happy that you're even letting them see your asshole that they couldn't care less how dark or pink it is."
Porn precedent or not, adult boutique Good Vibrations staff sexologist Carol Queen, Ph.D., says that if anal bleaching makes someone feel more confident sexually, then great.
However, she adds:
"There's a concerted effort associated with marketing these products to make people feel ashamed or embarrassed. I suspect that many people wouldn't have for a minute considered that their anuses might be embarrassing until they read some of the PR of these companies."
Adds Jean Kilbourne, Ed.D, author of Can't Buy My Love: How Advertising Changes the Way We Think and Feel :
"Anal bleaching -- and cosmetic surgery of the labia and the trend for women to remove all or almost all of their pubic hair -- all reflect the mainstreaming of pornography, the incredible extent to which the language and images of porn have become normalized. There's more pressure than ever for women to conform to an impossible -- and increasingly pornographic -- ideal. The mainstreaming of porn also affects sexual behavior and expectations, and never in a good way for women."
But let's just say for the sake of argument that you're an emotionally secure person with high self-esteem who just happens to want to spend the money and time to achieve a lighter-toned anus (or a lighter labia: You can bleach that, too). Should you have health and safety concerns?
"Anal bleaching in spas can be dangerous enough if the aesthetician doesn't really know what she's doing, or if the spa isn't hygienic enough," says Carole Lieberman, M.D., Beverly Hills, Calif., psychiatrist and author of Bad Girls: Why Men
Love Them & How Good Girls Can Learn Their Secrets. "Continuing the bleaching with an at-home kit is even more risky, since you can't see what you're doing back there unless you're a contortionist."
Many anal bleaching creams used in salons and sold online for home use contain hydroquoinine, a treatment for hyperpigmentation and a known carcinogen banned in many countries. But even if a lightening product is made with plant-based ingredients, such as the cream used at Liz Skincare, some experts are concerned that the process could be harmful.
"The anus is just a few millimeters away from mucosal tissue, which is not only more delicate than our regular epidermis, it's also highly absorptive," Queen says. "I can pretty much guarantee you that no one has tested these materials in the anus. I'm sure that the cream purveyors emphasize their products are 'for external use only,' but around the genital region, mucosal tissues are always very close. I'd call this a definite potential hazard."
The bottom line? No one I spoke to for this story had ever heard of anyone who expressed a distaste for the hue of a partner's butthole. So perhaps you shouldn't waste your money. Because no one cares.
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But of course, people who make their bodies eternal self-improvement projects might find the pull of a perfect butthole, no matter what the chemical cost, too alluring to pass up.
"Intimate anxieties are not at all difficult to instill in many people," Queen says. "The notion that our genitals are ugly, deficient or don't work well enough is pretty common."
Someone pondering blowing a bill on anal bleaching might consider Queen's words and those of Los Angeles musician Janet Housden, who in response to a Facebook query I posted on the trend, summed it up thusly: "Those people need to get a fucking life."