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Thinking pop culture

Narcos and the Anal Taboo

There was only one blink-and-you’ll-miss-it reason I bothered watching Netflix’s Narcos.

Anal sex.

A semi-regular delight in my inbox is messages from friends, acquaintances - sometimes people I don’t know even a little - who saw something salacious, something depraved, something so incredibly debaucherous that they were left wet/hard/shaken/stirred.

And they thought of me.

I choose to only see this as one incredibly lovely perk of my labours.

Recently the tip was about the anal sex scene in Narcos. Brief - and, unless you speak Spanish, you’ll need to be reading the subtitles and not staring absently into space as you might be inclined - but in episode 2 the opportunistic journalist Valeria (Stephanie Sigman) gives the Robin Hood of Nose Candy, Pablo Escobar (Wagner Moura), the opportunity to “put it in my ass.”

A scene involving the very same orifice was why Kingsman: The Secret Service was recommended to me a couple of months back. The kind of comedy that would normally fly far from my radar, the incarcerated Princess Tilde (Hanna Alström) gives new recruit Eggsy (Taron Egerton) the chance to “do it in the asshole” if he saves the world. (I guess men have gone to war for less).

I won’t separate my academic interests from my prurient personal ones - it all got blurred long ago - but heterosexual anal sex in pop culture has held my attention for a while.

I had a journal article published on the topic earlier this year. In it, I proposed that on those rare occasions when heterosexuals have anal sex in film, on television, the act fits under one of three (appealingly alliterative) frames: pleasure, pain, power.

The Narcos and the Kingsman scenes partly comply and also partly deviate from these frames.

Just prior to Valeria making her arsey offer to Pablo, she was being strangled by that same swarthy prince-among-men: she’d just offended his “honour” by mentioning his wife; offered up a cheeky apology. In Kingsman, Eggsy saves the world and in return the incarcerated princess rolls onto her belly to say thank you.

In both scenes women use their bodies - their arses - to gain some leverage over men. Power is indeed at play; anal sex for men is apparently catnip and thus a powerful tool in negotiations.

It would however, be erroneous to think that the women in these narratives were enduring an anal ordeal that they weren’t interested in themselves.

Anti-sodomy laws, the non-reproductive nature of the act, the inextricable link to male homosexuality and, in more recent years, the fear of AIDS, has shrouded anal sex in taboo. Even in a highly porny world where stigma around a host of sex acts has waned, the nitty gritty of anal means dirtiness remains a factor.

Which hints to an alternate explanation for the erotic exchanges in Narcos and Kingsman.

In my book Part-Time Perverts, I discussed “birthday sex”; a shorthand reference to the sex that often transpires only on special occasions: think Tony in The Sopranos giving Carmela cunnilingus on her birthday; or the velvet hat trick gift in Rules of Engagement.

In such examples, special occasion sex can be a gift and also serve as yet another gendered example of women providing the kind of sex that men want. Another interpretation however, is that special occasions can also provide the giver an excuse to participate in a naughty act under the guise of benevolence. To hand the responsibility over to the recipient.

This is a no less gendered approach, of course: afterall, it’s women who have to go through with this tempered-desires ruse, not men.

The fact that women often still need an excuse to engage in “kinky” sex - God forbid that they might want it of their own accord - highlights that even in a world that’s lost many of its sexual hang-ups, women’s sexual desires still apparently need a reason, an excuse and the ritual of acquiescence.

Bangkok Hilton, Goodfellas, Maria Full of Grace. Truth be told, I haven’t enjoyed most drug-themed films - but those are my three illicit-substance favourites. Crash, Little Children. Storytelling: it’s not like there’s a deluge of mainstream anal, but they’re three great ones which nudge the taboo. To various ends.

Narcos makes neither list - offering up not a lot more than the kill/snort/fuck/spend fare that this genre is, sadly, too renowned for.

Narcos trailer.

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