In most respects, the pop-up Anal Sex Through the Ages exhibit at New York City’s Museum of Sex was very much like any other museum display: there was information on ancient cultures, as well as priceless artifacts on display. But in this case, all the displays were centered around one thing: anal sex.
Presented by the butt plug company b-vibe, the exhibition taught us that anal sex has basically been around since time immemorial, starting with the ancient Moche civilization of Peru. But while some cultures have always been on board with butt stuff, Americans have some catching up to do: anal sex is still considered taboo, with only 44 percent of straight men and 38 percent of straight women saying they’ve tried it.
Sure, anal isn’t for everyone, but a brief glimpse at the history of anal sex — as a form of birth control, as a source of artistic inspiration, and as an act favored during giraffe orgies (yup, giraffes have same-sex orgies) — proves that it’s more widespread than you think. Here are 7 things you probably never knew about anal sex from the Museum of Sex Exhibit.
The Moche of ancient Peru, a culture that thrived between the first and the eighth centuries A.D., viewed anal sex not just as a normal way for two consenting adults to get it on, but as a sex act with various health benefits. In fact, Moche pottery depicts anal sex way more than it depicts vaginal sex. Historians believe this is because the Moche used anal sex as a means of birth control, but evidence also suggests that they believed that sperm was a life force that could increase breast milk production. Therefore, after having a child, heterosexual couples would do it in the bum for the sake of their baby.
Anal sex was openly practiced in Greek and Roman culture, but only between an adult man and a boy as a form of “mentorship.” Such relationships were particularly common in the military, where male bisexuality was considered the norm. Anal sex was also common practice for heterosexual couples on their wedding night (also for contraceptive purposes). That said, even though anal sex took place behind closed doors, it was still viewed as taboo. It was only really socially acceptable between a grown man and a boy (usually a slave).
If you've ever had anal sex, you know that lube is crucial, and the Greeks intuitively understood this. Evidence from around 350 BCE suggests that the Greeks used olive oil as a lubricant during butt sex. While they had the right idea, it's important to note that you definitely should not use olive oil for anal sex, or any oil-based lubes, for that matter. Coconut oil, olive oil, or anything made with oil are not compatible with latex condoms, so stick with a water-based or silicone lube. Both are latex-friendly and are great for anal.
Field researchers say that giraffes, dolphins, killer whales, grey whales, and bonobos not only have anal sex, but can even get down with all-male orgies and lesbian sex. One animal that does not have anal sex? The wild Ananteris scorpion, whose anus breaks off with its tail when it tries to escape an attack from a predator. When the wound closes up, the scorpion's belly fills up with poo, and it eventually dies. So if you ever spot one of these scorpions in the wild without a tail, know that they are walking, feces-filled time bombs, poor things.
The term sodomy has historically been used to describe anal and oral sex sex, and it did indeed originate from the Bible: the term, which means "unnatural sexual relationships," comes from Genesis 19, a.k.a. the section about Sodom and Gomorrah. Scholars have implied that residents of Sodom, aka “Sodomites," were out to anally rape angels, which is why sodomy has been thought of as synonymous with anal sex, but butt sex is not explicitly mentioned. That hasn’t stopped lawmakers, however, from using the Bible as an excuse to outlaw both anal and oral sex.
While sodomy laws have historically been used as an excuse to prohibit same-sex behavior, in 2003 the Supreme Court case Lawrence v. Texas ruled that anti-sodomy laws in 14 states were unconstitutional. Of these states, 12 still have sodomy laws on the books even after the Supreme Court ruling. Cheers to Illinois, which became the very first state to remove its sodomy laws in 1961.
In an effort to educate teens about how to have safe anal sex, Teen Vogue published an article in July 2017, which upset many parents (even though statistics show that around one in 10 high schoolers have experimented with anal). This controversy aside, it's important to note that when practiced between two consenting adults, anal sex can be incredibly safe and pleasurable, regardless of your gender or orientation. Just make sure to use a condom and plenty of lube (that’s not olive oil, please).
This article originally appeared on Men's Health