Letter: a reply to anal-fisting

By Alastair Pollock

Editor, the Gauntlet,

I read through Remi Watts’s article [“Anal-fisting,” Sept. 15] a number of times, and wanted to share my reaction. I found the piece undeniably bold, and I am pleased to see the Gauntlet continuing to publish edgy material (and with a great illustration to boot), but I have some particular points of contention with what Mr. Watts wrote.

In calling anal-fisting the ‘fullest manifestation of the sexual act,’ Watts not just implicitly, but overtly suggests that anyone not practicing anal fisting in their sex lives is doing something wrong. Sex (and pleasure in general) is such a personal affair that I can’t accept the idea that a lone sexual act has claim to greater enjoyment, deeper expression and even stronger or more plentiful orgasms for all people than other acts. Watts is very clear on this point, writing:

“Anal-fisting is the culmination not of just unquantifiable personal sexual orgasmic experiences, which commonly limits discussions of sexual pleasure, but rather it is the fullest manifestation of the sexual act as it relates to sexual ability, limits, pleasure, expression and symbolic relations and power.”

What confuses me in particular about this is that he acknowledges orgasmic pleasure to be ‘unquantifiable’, but then dismisses this variable of personal preference as a limitation to discussion. On the contrary, I would argue that the non-arbitrary nature of pleasure and enjoyment is what creates discourse in the first place — as they pertain to all manner of subjects. I enjoy the music of Chromeo more than Metric, and I enjoy the sensation of a handjob more than having my nipples played with. These experiences — these opinions — are conversation starters, not silencers.

Watts (and Žižek) also make the argument that anal fisting has an ethical leg-up on other sexual acts. He notes that anal-fisting is not bound to particular groupings of biology, gender or sexual orientation, but neither is kissing or erotic touch of many kinds. Anal-fisting certainly does subvert standards of heteronormativity, but I don’t think ‘subversive’ should be conflated with ‘universally better.’ My doing the dishes at my girlfriend’s house is more subversive to traditional gender roles than unclogging her shower, but I don’t think that this alone should determine how chores are done.

Finally, I find the idea that the difficulty of anal-fisting should somehow determine its worth to be puzzling. Skill level as a measure of an activity’s merit is dubious to me overall, but even still, ‘passively recieved’ anal fisting hardly comes out atop the difficulty roster when compared with many of the grand-scale sex acts on display at Kink.com. In these terms, I can’t see how the challenge of anal-fisting finds it superior to all other sex acts.

The crux of this first contention is that I simply don’t believe there is cause or argument to call one sex act better or more of a culmination of anything than another — and I worry that doing so leads to people being made to feel inadequate or guilty about the way they experience pleasure. I hope everyone who enjoys anal pleasure of all kinds engages proudly in it, but I also think a guy should be able to blow a load all over his partner’s face — provided they both consent and take pleasure from it — without feeling guilty for perpetuating patriarchal norms. Similarly, a woman who enjoys all manner of vaginal and clitoral stimulation, but finds anal-fisting does nothing for her should not feel like her desires are subservient to others. This brings me to one last point.

Watts writes that anal-fisting has the ability to disrupt patterns of patriarchal dominance, but to my mind, ranking sexual pleasure and deciding on a ‘best’ sexual act is, in itself, very patriarchal. Doing so has the effect of ‘flattening’ sexuality — everything can be measured by the same standards (ability, limits, pleasure) — and personal experience yields to universal decree. Proclaiming a single sexual behaviour to be the ‘fullest manifestation of the sex act’ is to tell one group of people that the sex they are having is objectively inferior to the sex that another group enjoys. At the very least, this strikes me as pretty authoritarian. I don’t think that enjoying or advocating for anal-fisting should involve the diminishment of sexual interests, agency or pleasure in those who choose not to partake.

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