Why is sex hurtful for some animals but pleasurable for others?

Why is sex hurtful for some animals but pleasurable for others?

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Sex seems to be pretty hurtful for feline for example. On the other hand sex is pleasurable for humans. Why is sex pleasurable for some and not for others? How do these things evolve?

There are various selection pressures that may lead to sex being more or less harmful. I don't think there is an easy way to summarize these selection pressures other than just going through load of examples. Here is an attempt to give you some notions of why can sex be pleasurable and/or painful. Note that I do not consider myself particularly knowledgeable in this field.

Why could it be pleasurable

We tend to seek for positive experiences. If we like sex, we have more sex. If we have more sex, we are more likely to have more offspring. Hence, the trait "liking having sex" is positively correlated with "fitness".

Why could it be harmful

Dick pics

In many species, the penis has spikes and stuff and is most definitely hurting the females. Here is a Drosophila penis

And here are penises of two dragonfly species

Here is a feline penis

By the way, according to wikipedia (could not find peer reviewed paper on the subject so take this with a grain of salt), some humans still have on remnants of those barbs you can still see on many feline penises left from our ancestor. They are called hirsuties coronae glandis. Here is a perfectly healthy (but I would tend to consider quite extreme) example of hirsuties coronae glandis

Some theory

There is a lot to say here and I only want to say a few words and hopefully you will go get more information by yourself.

So why do these species evolve these fancy and scary "armed" penises. In many species, it is a small investment for a male to make a baby (just mate and the job is done) but a big investment for the female (producing the egg, eventually even parental care,… ). Because the sex-ratio is always (assuming no group selection) pushed toward 0.5 (see this post and Fisher's principle), it happens that males end up with lots of free time looking for females (see Why are female not competitive for reproduction like males? and Bateman's principle). You might also want to read about sexual conflict.

Why would such penis evolve?

The reason vary among species. Here is a non-exclusive, non-exhaustive list of reasons:

  • In some species (e.g. nudibranch, damselflies)The goal is to remove the sperm from an eventual previous male so as to reduce sperm competition (Cordero-Riviera, 2016).

  • In some species, the goal is to damage the female reproductive track so that she will not subsequently mate with other males hence reducing sperm competition ().

  • In some species, the male can even leave toxic products in the female (Chapman et al., 1995).

  • In some species, females get severly harrassed by males for mating and rape is not unusual (e.g Drosophila). Some penile barbs and spikes can be used to get the female stuck in place. To avoid that the female can escape before the sperm has been delivered ()! That being said, in some circumstance such use of spiky penis might be beneficial to the female too. This non-peer reviewed article may bring some light.

  • In some species, the male can pierce through the female abdomen to deliver its sperm. This is called traumatic insemination.

In a classical experiment, Rice 1996 shows that there is an arm race between males and females. Race in which males increases their negative impact on female's reproductive organs and females protect themselves from it. The paper is free, is short, easy to read and has a pretty amazing experimental design. It is worth having a look at it.

Feeding the babies via the mother

I just want to point with other examples that sex does not have to be romantic in many species. In some species, the female eats the male after sex or even while having sex. To what I have heard (; please be cautious with this information), in some mantis prey, the male does not even release his sperm before the female has cut the male's head off. Why would the male do that?

A male that let himself get eaten by the females ensures that the female has lots of energy for taking care of her babies. Hence a male may increase his fitness by sacrificing himself to his partner.

8 Animals That Show Their Love in Painful Ways

For humans and for certain other animals recreational sex can be highly enjoyable. Even procreative sex among primates and some mammals is thought to provide pleasure for the participants. But for many animal species that's just not the case. And yet, sex doesn't need to be fun — or even pain-free — to fulfill its biological purpose. As long as fertilization happens, nature considers the sexual behaviors and appendages in question to be successful, even if the act itself generates physical harm or turns out to be fatal. But these species probably already know that.

Here, a female Mantis religiosa enjoys a post-coital snack — her former mate's head.

Dolphins’ complex clitorises are the key to understanding their sex lives

There’s an oft-cited factoid that dolphins are, along with humans, one of the few animals that have sex for pleasure. It’s based on scientific observations of dolphins copulating year-round even though females are only fertile for a few months of the year. But of course, because of the pesky animal-human language barrier, no one’s ever been able to actually ask a dolphin about sexual pleasure.

The structure of female dolphin reproductive anatomy, though, can speak for itself.

At the Experimental Biology conference held April 6-7 in Orlando, Florida, marine mammal researcher Dara Orbach presented preliminary findings from one of the first studies to examine bottlenose dolphin clitorises. Orbach and her co-author, Patricia Brennan, both from Mount Holyoke College in Massachusetts, were surprised to find dolphin clitorises have several bundles of nerves, similar to human clitorises. Because the clitoris is accessible during any kind of position a male would take during copulation, says Orbach, it’s highly likely it plays a role in pleasure.

Orbach and Brennan examined clitorises from 11 dolphins that had died of natural causes and washed ashore. The sample size is relatively small, but crucially, it included dolphins of all ages, from calves to adults. They looked at the clitoris anatomy as a whole, and then conducted other experiments to identify each type of tissue present in the structure. Across all ages, dolphin clitorises had erectile tissue, blood vessels, muscles, and nerve bundles. They also contained a hard, cartilage-like tissue called elastin, which Orbach says help keeps the blood flow concentrated in the erectile tissue.

Although these preliminary findings don’t definitively prove that dolphin reproduction can also be for pleasure, they do add evidence to the argument that for dolphins, sex isn’t entirely about reproduction. Sex can serve several different functions, like social learning or establishing dominant hierarchies, says Orbach. Male calves frequently mate with their mothers, and “a lot of the [dolphin] mating we see in the wild is homosexual mating,” she says. “It could be males establishing who’s the leader in the group.”

Before Orbach and Brennan submit the study to a peer-reviewed journal, they’re waiting to find a few more dolphins that died of natural causes to add to their sample size. Examining dolphins shortly after death could confirm that the cells they observed are, in fact, nerve bundles. The 11 dolphin clitorises examined so far are part of a collection of over 300 reproductive tracts of dolphins, whales, and porpoises that reside in the Mount Holyoke College necropsy facilities. These animals had beached across the US, and then been found and collected by local stranding groups and shipped to the lab.

Historically, female reproductive anatomy in animals has been widely understudied. Most animal reproduction research has been focused on the variations among penis morphology, at least partly because the penis, as an external organ, is easier to access. As scientists have started studying vaginal morphology in the past 10 years or so, it’s become clear that vaginas are equally diverse. For example, unlike human vaginas, whale, dolphin, and porpoise vaginas all have extra folding in the reproductive tract, making them unique among members of different species. Why this folding would take place is a mystery, but Orbach believes it’s not arbitrary. “If you have such diversity in structure, you’d expect it to have a function,” says Orbach.

There several different reasons why some people abuse animals. Research conducted by various animal protection agencies and interest groups places abusers into one of three categories:

  • Unwitting abusers don’t set out to harm animals. They simply don’t realize that some of the things they do are cruel. They might keep a pet dog on a short chain not realizing that the dog needs time and space to move more freely. Or, they may have heard that swatting a pet on the snout with a newspaper is a way to discipline, not realizing that there are far more effective and humane ways.
  • Immature abusers actually set out to hurt animals but lack the mental and emotional maturity to realized the nature and extent of harm they are doing — not only to the animal but also to their own character development. A young child throwing rocks at a frog in a pond or deliberately scaring a cat to watch its typical reaction might fall into this category.
  • Serious intentional abusers actually derive satisfaction from hurting animals. From a psychological perspective, the reason is mainly about power. For the most part, animals, especially smaller or domesticated animals, can’t easily defend themselves and are vulnerable in the face of someone who can inflict great pain on them. This makes the abuser feel powerful. Some abusers feel a lack of power in other areas of their lives and try to make up for it by wielding ruthless power over the weak. Others simply enjoy the feeling of dominance so much that they’re always looking for an opportunity to exercise it. Still others have such a feeling of superiority and entitlement that they view the animal’s only purpose as being to serve their needs. Such is often the case when animals are used for fighting contests (e.g., dog fights, cock fights, etc.) as a way to make money for and gain notoriety for the owners and handlers.

Animal abuse is a serious and fairly widespread problem. It is seen across many cultures, age groups, and sexes. If you know someone who is engaged in the serious, intentional abuse of an animal, the chances are that they need psychological help. What’s more, the reason many animals continue to endure abuse is because good people don’t take action. There are many organizations dedicated to the humane treatment of animals. Groups such as the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) and the Humane Society work tirelessly to promote the passing of laws to prevent animal abuse and to aid their enforcement. Most of these groups have telephone hotlines that you can call to report an instance of animal abuse.

The Neurobiology of BDSM Sexual Practice

By now, everyone’s got an opinion about 50 Shades of Grey: It's trash it’s fun fantasy-fodder it’s misogynist it’s empowering for women it’s silly. While the 50 Shades media saturation has grown tiresome, one must admit that it’s compelled a societal discussion of sexual practices involving bondage, discipline, sadism, and masochism (BDSM) that are otherwise not broadly considered. Leaders of the BDSM community are quick to point out that 50 Shades is not an accurate representation of BDSM sexual practice where “safe, sane, and consensual” are the watchwords and that the term “BDSM” is broad, like the term “sports.” It includes people with highly divergent sexual desires and personae. Just because you like to be flogged doesn’t mean that you necessarily like to be humiliated as well.

For those outside of this group, a failure to understand the appeal of BDSM practice usually comes down to this: How can one experience pain, either the physical pain of a smack on the tush or the emotional pain of humiliation, as pleasurable? Aren’t pain and pleasure diametrically opposed?

You don’t have to be a masochistic sex enthusiast to know that pleasure and pain can be felt simultaneously: think of the pleasures of a delicious meal laden with spicy chili peppers or the blissful ache following a long-distance run. In the lexicon of cognitive neuroscience, both pleasure and pain indicate salience, that is, experience that is potentially important and thereby deserving of attention. Emotion is the currency of salience and both positive emotions like euphoria and love and negative emotions like fear and disgust signal events that we must not ignore.

How is salience built into neural pathways? We have an evolutionarily ancient and highly interconnected pleasure circuit in our brains. When neurons in a brain region called the ventral tegmental area become electrically active, thereby triggering the release of dopamine in a structure called the nucleus accumbens, this evokes the feeling of pleasure from both our vices (eating food when hungry, having an orgasm, drinking alcohol) and our virtues (meditation, learning, giving to charity).

Here are the key findings that help to explain the pleasure-pain connection. When subjects in a brain scanner received in injection into the jaw muscles that produced a protracted aching type of pain, this triggered dopamine release in the nucleus accumbens and the greatest release was seen in those subjects who rated the pain as most unpleasant. In rats, one can examine this phenomenon in greater detail. Electrical recordings from single dopamine neurons of the ventral tegmental area revealed that all of these neurons responded to the presentation of a tasty sugar-droplet, yet some of these neurons responded to a brief painful footshock with a decrease in their ongoing rate of activity while others responded with an increase. In other words, these latter dopamine-using neurons were salience detectors, releasing dopamine in response to either pleasure or pain. We also know, from different experiments, that protracted physical pain and protracted emotional pain (resulting from social rejection) can cause the release of endorphins, the brain’s own morphine-like molecules and that these endorphins can activate dopamine neurons in the ventral tegmental area. The end result is that there is an innate rewarding component to both pleasurable and painful experiences.

How then, can we account for individual differences? Why do surveys reveal that only 5 to 10 percent of people enjoy receiving pain in a sexual context? The short answer is that we don’t entirely know. Understanding how sexual kinks develop has not been a funding priority for government agencies and biomedical research charities. There are variant forms of dopamine receptor genes that attenuate the experience of pleasure and increase risk-taking and novelty-seeking behavior. However, it’s not clear that these gene variants or any others (such as those related to endorphin signaling or pain perception) are linked to the practice of sexual masochism.

Perhaps the best hypothesis for sexual masochism comes by analogy from studies of another painful practice: chili pepper consumption. If you grow up in a community where chili peppers are readily eaten, you will reject them as an infant, but by about age 5, you will almost certainly develop a taste for these painful foods. Rats and mice, by comparison, cannot be trained to choose chili peppers in their food no matter how their upbringing is manipulated by scientists. It is likely that there is a human predisposition to learn to find certain forms of pain to be rewarding. This seems to be the case when pain is survivable and doesn’t lead to permanent damage as in both masochistic sexual practice and chili pepper eating. However, it is only when that human predisposition is combined with aspects of one’s particular life experience (as influenced by cultural and religious ideas) that the brain’s neural salience circuits are modified to forge the pleasure-pain connection in a sexual context.

Why is sex pleasurable?

Although the genitals are a key part of sex, its pleasurable sensations involve many parts of the body. Pleasurable sex heavily depends on the brain, which releases hormones that support sexual pleasure and interpret stimulation as pleasurable.

One 2016 study suggests that the brain could be the most important sexual organ. The author found that orgasm is a heightened state of sensory awareness that can trigger a trance-like state in the brain.

In this article, we examine the effects that sex has on the body and the brain, as well as how these effects make sex feel good. We also take a look at why sex might not feel good.

In the 1960s, sex researchers William Masters and Virginia Johnson identified four distinct phases of sexual arousal, each with unique effects on the body.

Their research has led to the common use of these four categories to explain sexual response:

1. Desire or excitement

Share on Pinterest The pleasurable sensations a person feels during sex come from many different parts of the body.

During the desire phase, the tissue in the penis, vagina, pelvis, vulva, and clitoris fill with blood. This increases the sensitivity of nerves in these areas of the body.

This blood flow also creates a fluid called transudate, which lubricates the vagina.

Muscles throughout the body begin contracting. Some people breathe more rapidly or develop flushed skin due to the increased blood flow.

2. Plateau

During the plateau stage, a person’s arousal continues to intensify. The vagina, penis, and clitoris become more sensitive.

A person may experience variations in sensitivity and arousal during this period. Arousal and interest may decrease, intensify, then decrease again.

3. Orgasm

With the right stimulation and the right mental state, a person may have an orgasm.

For most females, clitoral stimulation is the fastest, most effective path to orgasm. For some, it is the only path to orgasm. Males may need prolonged stimulation of the shaft or head of the penis.

Most males ejaculate during orgasm, but it is possible to have an orgasm without ejaculating. Some females also ejaculate during orgasm, though the content of this fluid remains the subject of scientific discussion.

Both males and females experience intense muscle contractions during orgasm.

Males experience these contractions in the rectum, penis, and pelvis, while females experience them in the vagina, uterus, and rectum. Some people experience contractions throughout the entire body.

4. Resolution

After orgasm, the muscles relax, and the body slowly returns to its pre-arousal state.

This process is different for males and females. Although most males cannot have an orgasm immediately after ejaculating, many females can.

During the resolution stage, most males and many females experience a refractory period. During this time, the person will not respond to sexual stimulation.

Other models

Some researchers have proposed alternative models for resolution.

Karen Brash-McGreer and Beverly Whipple’s circular model suggests that a satisfying sexual experience for a female can promptly lead to another such experience.

Rosemary Basson proposes a nonlinear model of female sexual response. Her model emphasizes that females have sex for many reasons, and that their sexual response may not proceed according to predictable stages.

The clitoris is, for most females, the point of origination for sexual pleasure. It has thousands of nerve endings , making it highly sensitive. Portions of the clitoris extend deep into the vagina, allowing some women to get indirect clitoral stimulation through vaginal stimulation.

For men, the head of the penis is similar to the clitoris in that it is often the most sensitive area.

For sex to feel pleasurable, the brain has to interpret sexual sensations as pleasurable.

Nerves in sexual areas of the body send specific signals to the brain, and the brain uses those signals to create various sexual sensations.

Neurotransmitters are chemical messengers that help the brain communicate with other areas of the body. Several neurotransmitters have a role in sexual pleasure:

  • Prolactin levels rise immediately following orgasm. This hormone might be related to reduced sexual response, which may explain the refractory period.
  • Dopamine is a hormone linked with motivation and reward. It increases sexual arousal, and the body secretes it during the desire stage.
  • Oxytocin, also known as the love or bonding hormone, promotes feelings of intimacy and closeness. The body releases it after orgasm.
  • The body releases serotonin, which supports feelings of well-being and happiness, during the arousal phase.
  • Norepinephrine dilates and constricts blood vessels, making the genitals more sensitive. The body releases this during sexual stimulation.

Sex is not pleasurable for everyone. In fact, some people feel pain during sex. This is much more prevalent in females.

Around 75% of females report experiencing pain during sex at some point during their lives.

Around 10–20% females in the United States experience regular sexual pain, or dyspareunia.

Some common reasons for sexual pain in females include:

    , a chronic condition that causes itching, as well as burning pain during and after sex
  • vaginal infections such as yeast infections
  • muscle injuries or dysfunction, especially pelvic floor injuries after childbirth
  • hormonal changes, which may cause vaginal dryness and pain

Males can also experience pain during sex. Some common causes include:

  • structural abnormalities in the penis, such as phimosis
  • infections
  • problems with the prostate, such as prostatitis

People who identify as asexual may not desire sex or experience pleasure from it.

People who identify as demisexual may only experience sexual pleasure in limited contexts, such as when they feel in love with a partner.

Some other factors that can affect sexual pleasure across all genders and sexual orientations include:

  • insufficient lubrication, which can cause sex to be painful
  • a history of trauma or abuse, which can make sex feel threatening or painful
  • lack of arousal
  • boredom with sex or one’s partner
  • sexual interactions that do not conform to a person’s specific sexual desires or interests

See a doctor about sexual pain or displeasure if:

  • the pain persists over time or gets worse
  • management strategies, such as using more lubrication or changing positions, do not work
  • pain occurs with other symptoms, such as pain when urinating or unusual vaginal bleeding
  • pain follows an injury, childbirth, or a medical procedure

Some people, especially females , report that doctors dismiss sexual pain or tell them that it is all in their heads. People who do not get sensitive, responsive care from a healthcare provider should switch providers or seek a second opinion.

Sex does not have to hurt, and there is almost always a solution. A knowledgeable and compassionate provider should be committed to diagnosing and treating the issue.

Clear communication with a trusted partner can make sex more pleasurable by helping the partners discuss their needs openly.

A 2018 study that found a significant orgasm gap between males and females also identified strategies linked with more orgasms — and potentially more pleasurable sex — for females. These strategies include:

  • oral sex and manual genital stimulation, such as fingering
  • sex that lasts longer
  • relationship satisfaction
  • discussing fantasies and sexual desires
  • expressing love during sex

Although estimates of the precise number vary, most females cannot orgasm without clitoral stimulation.

For some females, indirect stimulation from certain sexual positions, such as being on top, is enough. Others need direct, prolonged stimulation during or separate from intercourse. This is normal and typical, and females should not feel ashamed of needing or asking for clitoral stimulation.

Males may enjoy sex when it lasts longer, both because this allows pleasure to build over time and because it increases the odds that female partners will have time to orgasm. Deep breathing may help a male delay ejaculation, as can slowing down when the sensations become too intense.

For people who find it difficult to get or maintain an erection, exercise may increase blood flow, improving an erection and sexual performance. Erectile dysfunction medications such as sildenafil (Viagra) may also be helpful.

People may find that using a sexual lubricant decreases friction, improving sex. Lubricants are available to buy in many stores and online.

Pelvic floor exercises strengthen the muscles that play a role in orgasm, potentially helping both males and females have stronger orgasms and better control over the timing of orgasm.

To exercise the pelvic floor, try tightening the muscles that stop the stream of urine. Some people practice this by stopping and starting again when using the bathroom. Gradually build up to holding the position for 10 seconds or longer, and repeat it throughout the day.

Some people may need to meet with a physical therapist, who can give them tips and advice on how to improve and fully enjoy sex.

The Riddle of the Sphincter

Last week, I tried to figure out why more women are having anal sex and why it correlates so highly with orgasms. Since 1992, the percentage of women aged 20-24 who say they’ve tried anal sex has doubled to 40 percent. The percentage of women aged 20-39 who say they’ve done it in the past year has doubled to more than 20 percent. And 94 percent of women who received anal sex in their last encounter said they reached orgasm—a higher rate of orgasm than was reported by women who had vaginal intercourse or received oral sex.

Why? For obvious reasons—anatomical, evolutionary, and aesthetic—anal sex should, on average, be less attractive and satisfying than vaginal or oral sex. In last week’s column, based on new survey data, I inferred that female orgasms caused anal sex rather than the other way around. The other acts reported by women who engaged in anal sex—vaginal intercourse, cunnilingus, partnered masturbation—delivered the orgasms. In turn, these women indulged their male partners’ requests for anal sex.

Well, shame on me. Not for talking about sodomy—that taboo seems to be fading fast—but for doubting that women love it. These women are now coming forward to affirm that they’re into it for their own pleasure, thank you very much. And they aren’t alone. Bloggers, blog readers, and Slate commenters are offering lots of other theories to explain the orgasm data.

I should start with a confession: I understated the mainstreaming of anal sex. I relied on data tables that reported how many women had done it at least once (around 40 percent), in the last year (around 20 percent), or in the last month (around 7 percent). I missed a different table (Table 4, page 284) that isolated women who were “partnered” and asked about their activities over a 90-day period. Among partnered women aged 18-24, 20 percent said they’d had anal sex in the preceding three months. Among those aged 30-39, 16 percent had done it. Among women aged 30-39 who were cohabiting but unmarried, 30 percent had done it. So we’re talking about something that a significant minority of partnered women does at least several times a year.

Why do they do it? And why do those who do it most often (women who reported anal intercourse in their last encounter) get the most orgasms? Here are some theories proposed by readers and bloggers.

1. Anal sex causes orgasms. At least 10 women have posted comments in Slate to say that they like anal sex. Five of them say they get orgasms from it. These women aren’t porn artifacts, nor are they trolling for sex. Many are explicitly partnered most are using full names. Others who enjoy sodomy are raising their hands here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here, with additional secondhand reports here and here. (All of these posts are from women I’m setting aside the 20 or 30 secondhand reports I’ve seen from men.) I won’t try to convey their enthusiasm—you can read the testimonials yourself. Let’s just say that Tristan Taormino and Toni Bentley aren’t alone. And if you think is just male-imposed false consciousness, try reading a few lesbians on this subject.

Lots of women don’t like, want, or do anal sex (examples here, here, here, and here), and the data still suggest these women are the majority. But when I said female orgasms were causing anal sex, I shouldn’t have implied that the reverse wasn’t true. Sex is complicated. People vary. No single theory will explain the whole correlation.

2. Orgasms increase women’s willingness to try anal sex. Originally, I speculated that this effect was reciprocal: Women who got what they wanted were more likely to indulge their partners’ wishes. Some readers think my analysis was too transactional—women aren’t doing it just to please men—but they agree that the orgasm precedes the act. “I’ve had anal sex with multiple girlfriends but I don’t think it’s ever happened before she has orgasmed first,” says one man. “When we’ve been having a marathon session with serious orgasms, that’s when my wife is interested in exploring her adventurous side,” says another. These are just anecdotes, but the survey data back them up: Nearly all women who reported anal intercourse in their last encounter said they engaged in other sex acts, too.

3. Orgasms increase women’s willingness to try anal sex, which in turn causes orgasms. Theories 1 and 2 aren’t mutually exclusive. Some women cite both factors. Example:

4. Orgasms cause relaxation, which facilitates anal sex. “Anal sex with a woman does seem, um … easier following her orgasm … or any other kind of deep relaxation, like a massage or hot bath or bourbon,” one man reports. (See this lesbian testimonial on the same theme.) This theory is psychological but also physical: If you haven’t had an orgasm, you’re less likely to be relaxed, so you can’t do anal sex. So when women are surveyed about their last sexual experience, the only women who say they had anal sex are the ones who had orgasms.

5. Adventurousness causes orgasms and anal sex. A male commenter puts it this way:

That’s an intuitively appealing theory. It fits the survey findings (“greater behavior diversity is related to ease of orgasm“) and the specific data on anal sex. While nearly all women who had anal intercourse in their last encounter reported other sex acts as well, nearly half the women who had vaginal intercourse reported no other sex acts.

But is this really a matter of adventurousness? Maybe vaginal sex is simply more satisfying, so women are less likely to need an additional act. A female Slate commenter proposes a way to test the hypothesis: “My guess would be that female orgasms are also highly correlated with bondage, role play, more varied sexual positions overall, and whatever other ‘kinks’ you can think of.” Perhaps the next survey will sort this out.

6. Women who orgasm easily are more likely to try anal sex. This turns the adventurousness theory upside down. The idea here is that a woman’s relative ease of orgasm (which could be largely anatomical) is a cause, not an effect, of trying new kinks. Orgasmic women are more willing to dabble in unconventional things, including anal sex, because compared with other women, sex is more fun for them, or orgasmic payoff is more likely.

7. Self-assurance causes orgasms and anal sex. Short version: “Women comfortable enough to enjoy anal sex are pretty much relaxed enough to orgasm. They’re women who get what they want.” Longer version:

Another good hypothesis. The paradox to be explained is why an act widely considered icky or deviant correlates with orgasms. The self-assurance theory uses the ick factor to explain this. To overcome the ick and deviance, you have to be the kind of woman who’s good at getting satisfaction. To that extent, anal sex doesn’t create orgasmic women. It selects them.

8. Anal sex requires affirmative interest. This is a more direct version of the self-assurance theory. A commenter explains:

Again, anal sets a higher bar. Women who don’t much feel like having vaginal sex often do it anyway. Women who don’t much feel like having anal sex don’t do it. So disinterested women dilute the orgasm rate for vaginal but not anal sex. The same could be said of orgasms: Women who don’t get orgasms from vaginal sex keep doing it, but women who don’t get orgasms from anal sex stop, thereby reducing the anal-sex population to women who really get off on it.

9. Love and trust cause orgasms and anal sex. One woman writes:

This is the most uplifting theory. It implies that the sample of women who report regular anal sex is heavily biased toward intimate relationships. The data (Table 4, page 284) strongly support this. Compared with women who are single and dating, women in a relationship are only about 50 percent more likely, at best, to report vaginal sex in the last 90 days. But they’re two to three times more likely to report anal sex. And women who live with their boyfriends are more likely to report anal sex—but not more likely to report vaginal sex—than women who don’t. Anal sex, more so than vaginal sex, seems to correlate with intimacy and commitment. (Did I mention you should use a condom especially if you don’t know your partner well? Use a condom.)

10. Male assertiveness causes orgasms and anal sex. This is a macho inversion of the love theory. A commenter at a misogynous Web site puts it this way:

11. Anal includes manual. Several commenters at Slate and other venues report that in their experience, women got orgasms only with a bit of simultaneous Christine O’Donnell. One man writes:

The survey backs this up: Of women who had anal sex in their last encounter, 31 percent said they also had “partnered masturbation” (Table 4, pages 355-6). To the extent that this factor explains the happy endings, the anal orgasm data are inflated.

12. Anal sex requires more foreplay and patience, which increases the odds of orgasm. One commenter observes that anal sex is “a more drawn out experience, what with prep work.” This is more complex than the manual-stimulation theory. The best way to understand it is to look at the data in negative terms: While only 6.5 percent of women who had anal sex in their last encounter didn’t report an orgasm, 30 percent of women who had vaginal sex didn’t report an orgasm. Maybe that’s because nature makes it easier to have vaginal sex even when the man is hasty and self-absorbed. Anal sex requires more attention to the woman’s mind and body.

13. Internet porn is spreading the idea. According to a male commenter,

On its face, this theory would explain only the prevalence, not the orgasms. But prevalence could increase the rate of reported orgasms by boosting the number of couples who discover they like anal sex, thereby increasing the odds that a woman who had anal sex in her last encounter (i.e., the sample of women who provided the orgasm data) did so because she likes it, not just because her partner asked.

These are just a few of the answers people have come up with. I’m excluding the vicarious pleasure theory (which doesn’t explain why anal sex outscores vaginal sex and fellatio at delivering female orgasms) and the virginity preservation theory (which, given the ulterior motive, would predict a lower, not higher, orgasm rate). I also found a few amusing disputes between women and gay men over how to do anal sex and whether women can directly get orgasms from it. And I took some criticism from the pegging community for ignoring straight men who like to be penetrated. Sorry, gents. Some other time.

The most interesting thing I learned from reading dozens of testimonials is that many sodomy enthusiasts have a slight anal superiority complex. They don’t mean to boast. It’s just that they’re more adventurous, enlightened, and fulfilled than other folks are. They’re less uptight and more comfortable with themselves. They’re better lovers, or their lovers are better. And this attitude is starting to irk some anal virgins. “There are plenty of women who are in tune with their bodies and not sexually repressed and still don’t like anal sex,” protests one woman. She notes that in her Reddit community,

Why is sex hurtful for some animals but pleasurable for others? - Biology

Sex, we are told, is pleasurable. Yet you probably wouldn’t think that if you waded through the scientific literature. That's because most scientific accounts of sexual behaviour rest upon evolutionary explanations rather than the more immediately relevant mental and emotional experiences. To say that we have sex because it helps us to preserve our genetic legacies would be entirely accurate, but the more fleeting, experiential, pleasurable aspects of that most basic of social urges would be missing. It would be like staring at a painting with half the colour spectrum removed from it.

One thing we have been curious about, though, is whether we are the only species that experiences sexual pleasure. The question of whether non-human animals enjoy it too is a perennial – and scientifically legitimate – question to ask.

In the last 10 to 15 years, scientific evidence has begun to accumulate that animals do experience a general sensation of pleasure – as anybody who has stroked a cat will know. In 2001, for example, psychologists Jeffrey Burgdorf and Jaak Panskepp discovered that laboratory rats enjoyed being tickled, emitting a sort of chirpy laugh outside the range of human hearing. And not only that, they would actively seek out the feeling.

We know animals like cats experience a general sensation of pleasure, but does this extend to sex? (Thinkstock)

But does that include carnal pleasure too? One way to find out is to study instances of sex that can't possibly result in procreation – for instance, among two or more males, or females where one or more individual is sexually immature, or sex that occurs outside of the breeding season.

Bonobos, for example, the so-called "hippie apes," are known for same-sex interactions, and for interactions between mature individuals and sub-adults or juveniles. But you don't need to be a bonobo to enjoy "non-conceptive" sex, white-faced capuchin monkeys do it too. In both species, primatologists Joseph Manson, Susan Perry, and Amy Parish, found that that females' solicitation of males was decoupled from their fertility. In other words, they had plenty of sex even when pregnancy was impossible – such as when they were already pregnant, or while lactating just following birth. In addition, interactions among mature and immature individuals were just as common as interactions between two adults, for both species.

If animals indulge in more sex than is strictly necessary for conception, that too might hint at a pleasure-driven motivation to do the deed. A female lion may mate 100 times per day over a period of about a week, and with multiple partners, each time she ovulates. It only takes one eager sperm to begin the road from conception to birth, but the lioness doesn't seem to mind. Could it be that she enjoys it? Similarly high rates of encounters have been observed among cougars and leopards, too.

Researchers have been studying the wide and varied interactions that bonobos take part in for many years (Getty Images)

Another way you might learn whether non-human animals derive pleasure is whether they have orgasms. That's especially true for females, since conception does not rely on their ability to experience one. Italian researchers Alfonso Troisi and Monica Carosi spent 238 hours watching Japanese macaques, and witnessed 240 individual copulations between males and females. In a third of those copulations, they observed what they called female orgasmic responses: "the female turns her head to look back at her partner, reaches back with one hand, and grasps the male."

While it's impossible to ask a female macaque to interrogate her feelings, it is reasonable to infer that this behaviour is similar to that experienced by human women, at least in some ways. That's in part because this macaque behaviour is sometimes accompanied by the type of physiological changes seen in humans, such as increases in heart rate and vaginal spasms. Interestingly, the female macaques were more likely to experience a response when copulating with a male who lived higher-up in their monkey dominance hierarchy, suggesting that there is a social, not just physiological, component to this, not simply a reflexive responses to sexual stimulation.

Oral sex also occurs with some frequency throughout the animal kingdom. It's been observed in primates, spotted hyenas, goats and sheep. Female cheetahs and lions lick and rub the males' genitals as a part of their courtship ritual. Oral sex is also well known among short-nosed fruit bats, for whom it is thought to prolong copulation, thereby increasing the likelihood of fertilisation.

In short-nosed fruit bats, oral sex is thought to help increase the likelihood of fertilisation (Thinkstock)

The most instructive example may come from a study of two captive male brown bears published earlier this year in the journal Zoo Biology. Over the course of six years, researchers amassed 116 hours of behavioural observations, which included 28 acts of oral sex between the two bears, who lived together in an enclosure at a sanctuary in Croatia.

The researchers, led by Agnieszka Sergiel of the Polish Academy of Sciences Department of Wildlife Conservation, suspect that the behaviour began as a result of early deprivation of suckling behaviour, since both bears were brought to the sanctuary as orphans, before they were fully weaned from their absentee mothers. It persisted for years, even after the bears aged out of cub-hood, perhaps because it remained pleasurable and satisfying.

In most cases, researchers rely on evolutionary mechanisms to explain such animal behaviour, to resist the pull of anthropomorphosis. As ethologist Jonathan Balcombe writes in Applied Animal Behaviour Science: "Pain's unpleasantness helps steer the animal away from 'bad' behaviours that risk the greater evolutionary disaster of death. Similarly, pleasure encourages animals to behave in 'good' ways, such as feeding, mating, and…staying warm or cool."

Could the urge in animals and humans to vary things in diet be because there's an in-built desire to try new things? (Thinkstock)

Yet Balcombe proposes that scientists shouldn’t only view behaviour through the lens of evolution. He goes on to explain that rats prefer unfamiliar foods after three days in which they're only given a single type of food to eat. The simplest explanations for that pattern suggest that the rats' behaviour is adaptive because a diversity of foods allows them to ingest a wider range of nutrients, or maybe because it allows them to avoid overdependence on a possibly limited food source. But is that too narrow a view, when it's equally plausible that the rats just became bored with their food and wanted to try something new? To spice things up a bit? Both explanations are probably true, depending on whether you take an expansive, zoomed-out perspective, or a more immediate, zoomed-in perspective.

Likewise, sexual behaviour can be wholly enjoyable while also emerging from a deeper developmental or evolutionary origin. It is precisely because reproduction is so important to the survival of a species that evolution made it so pleasurable that animals – both human and non-human – are motivated to seek it out even when conception is undesirable or impossible. The urge to seek out that sort of pleasure, writes Balcombe, "is a combination of instinct on the one hand, and a powerful desire to attain reward on the other." If so, it's clear why these powerful feelings of pleasure aren't only restricted to us humans.

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"Wrap your mouth gently but somewhat tightly around two of your fingers. Slide the fingers in and out. Now, pay attention to how that feels to your mouth, but imagine that your mouth is not only warm and wet but also filled with high-pleasure nerve endings. And that's still probably not even close. It's amazing." &mdashwinterwoods

"Deep pressure and a pleasurable electrical jolt. If the guy is long enough to hit deep anatomy there's also another sensation, like a sparkling glittering radiation feeling. " &mdashUnteryn

How Butt Play Went Mainstream

Everyone does the finger in the butt move now, but not that long ago, it was strictly taboo.

Just over 15 years ago, the idea of a man fingering a woman&rsquos ass as sexual play was fairly foreign to many Americans. Literally. The 2002 edition of The Joy of Sex, the late Alex Comfort&rsquos seminal 1972 illustrated guide to everything sexual, refers to the act as postillionage, a distinctly French (read: bizarre European libertine) tradition, with which a New York Times reviewer was, circa 2003, completely unfamiliar. It was the provenance of kink or tantric sex&mdashwild and outré.

Yet today, man-on-woman anal fingering is functionally mainstream. It is hard to find solid data on how many people know of or experience it most researchers don&rsquot see the act as a sexual health priority worth studying. But anecdotes from forums across the digital world suggest it is a now common practice. Many men find anal fingering so desirable, or so routine, that for the past few years it has seemingly become common for guys to try to slip a finger up their partners&rsquo rectums, sometimes without any prior notice or discussion, even on a first date or hookup. As Sheena Sharma wrote in 2015, &ldquothe unwelcome finger is a plague upon bedrooms across America.&rdquo

So what changed? How and when did anal fingering go from an apparently niche act to a ho-hum part of many men&rsquos sexual repertoires? And what about it do men find appealing? Given how little we talk about sex as a culture, much less document major shifts in our sexual practices, it is hard to say for sure. But sex experts do have a basic sense of how we normalized the finger up her butt.

It is worth establishing that, no matter how unusual it may have seemed to many Americans just a couple decades ago, anal fingering has likely been around as long as our species. Humans are both experimental and pleasure-seeking beings we explore our bodies, especially in the fumbling heat of sex, discovering every possible erogenous zone that we can. And the anus can be, explains sex educator Eric Garrison, an erogenous zone for any gender thanks to the tons of sensory nerves within it. It is even possible for women some women to orgasm through anal fingering, or other forms of anal play including full-on anal sex, that wind up stimulating their g-spots. (Men, of course, can also orgasm from anal fingering thanks to prostate stimulation.) So some women have likely always worked anal fingering into their masturbatory habits. And some couples have likely always worked it into their sex lives, either as a warm-up for anal sex or a stimulating end in itself.

However, the commonality of anal play of all sorts has shifted throughout history, depending on the sexual mores of a given culture or era. And America has long been hostile to anal sexuality. Religious traditions, and religiously-derived laws, frowning on sodomy long kept not only anal play but oral sex and more both taboo and, technically, illegal in much of the nation. Such taboo acts didn&rsquot even show up often in stag films, proto-pornos of the early 20 th century that indulged in seemingly modern tableaus like threesomes and quips about bestiality fairly freely.

Americans also long viewed &ldquoany type of anal sexual behavior as happening explicitly among gay men,&rdquo says sex researcher Kimberly McBride, Ph.D.. Gays as a group have long been stigmatized in this nation by religious and non-religious folk alike. (In truth, not all men who have sex with men actually enjoy or engage in anal play of any kind, and not all who do enjoy anal do it every time they get physically intimate.) On top of these cultural and moral taboos, adds McBride, Americans have long had trouble getting over the idea that the anus is irredeemably, existentially dirtier than any other part of our bodies.

However, American taboos against anal play never actually shut off anal fingering, licking, sex, or any other form of stimulation, stresses sexologist Carol Queen, Ph.D. In a sense, they may have added a new level of eroticism to it for some. Crossing lines and doing something one sees as new and daring can be, Garrison explains, a deep source of psychological stimulation. But they did send it underground, making it harder to hear about anal fingering, think about exploring one&rsquos own butt, stumble upon anal stimulation and accept any pleasure one finds in it, or feel justified exploring it with a partner.

New cultural forces started to chip away at these taboos and draw stigmatized sexual practices out of the shadows, though during the latter half of the 20 th century. There is not much information on how much the sexual revolution of the &lsquo60s involved a counter-culture reevaluation of the ass. But by the &lsquo70s, many of the first mainstream porn directors started to feature anal fingering or sex in their films. &ldquoAnything directed by Zachary Strong in the early &lsquo80s usually features digital-anal penetration,&rdquo notes porn historian Charles Devlin, and Harry Reems put his thumb in a few asses in his early films. Rapidly, references to anal sexuality started to leak into mainstream films as well&mdashlike Last Tango in Paris, a notorious Bernardo Burtolucci film from 1972 in which Marlon Brando&rsquos American character anally rapes a French woman played by Maria Schneider using butter for lube. (Don&rsquot watch it. Burtolucci sprung the scene on Schneider without notice so, while there was no actual penetration, it is actually a recorded sexual assault.)

As porn started to get more accessible moving into the &lsquo80s, Queen adds, sex-positive education that explored pleasure, not just the nuts and bolts of procreation, started to proliferate in parts of America as well, dissecting anal taboos and teaching people about the joys of all manner of anal play. By the mid-&lsquo90s, the proliferation of the internet made it much easier for people across the country to discretely peruse porn, seek out diverse sexual information, and talk to each other about their experiences. As a bonus, in 2003 a milestone Supreme Court decision, Lawrence v. Texas, toppled America&rsquos remaining anti-sodomy laws. And during the George W. Bush presidency, a series of attempts to bust porn producers on obscenity charges for depicting non-normative sex acts, like extreme anal play, fell flat. Suddenly, anal sexuality felt less legally, officially dangerous as well.

All of these forces seemingly led to increased awareness of anal sexuality by the late &lsquo80s, when people like Garrison remember seeing the &ldquoshocker&rdquo hand gesture, in which men mime putting their index and middle fingers in a woman&rsquos vagina and using their pinky to rub or penetrate her ass, used blithely by high school and college students. And by the mid-&lsquo90s, people started to engage with anal play more actively. Preliminary research in the early 20 th century suggested that maybe 10 percent of woman had tried anal sex once in their lives. By the 1990s, a fifth of all women and a quarter of all men had tried anal sex at least once, according to the research by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The rate of people trying anal at least once, or working it into their regular sex lives, has only risen since then. Today, says McBride, strong survey data suggests that 40 to 45 percent of all American men and women will try anal sex at least once in their lives.

It is hard to know for sure, points out sex educator and anal expert Charlie Glickman, how much these figures capture an actual increase in the prevalence of anal play, and how much they just capture an increased openness to talking about pre-existing anal practices. People lie on sex surveys all the time, even when they are totally anonymous, thanks to ingrained taboos.

But by the end of the aughts, hetero anal play was common enough that sexual health researchers truly started to take note of it. By the dawn of the teens, it was normalized enough in the American sexual landscape that the prolific porn star Asa Akira could declare on Twitter &ldquoass is the new pussy,&rdquo and people (and mainstream media outlets) largely nodded and said, that sounds right. And by the mid-teens, social scientists were reporting that young men and women both increasingly saw anal play as just one more common feature of or milestone in sex&mdasha box they believed they had to tick to do all the things, be good at sex, or be suitably chill and sexual and thus be cool.

Granted, none of this tells us exactly when anal fingering got to be so common, given the focus of so many studies and cultural analyses on penile penetrative anal sex. &ldquoOne of my frustrations with sexual science,&rdquo grips McBride, &ldquohas been the lack of attention given to anal sexuality among heterosexuals &hellip and the idea of emphasizing intercourse without recognizing that there is a whole repertoire of anal sex practices that people participate in,&rdquo including but not limited to fingering.

But chances are, most of the experts I&rsquove spoken to agree, that anal fingering rode the same general wave of normalization that anal sex did. And one recent, limited study suggests that anal fingering has probably grown more common than anal sex, analingus, or other forms of anal play.

That makes sense. While a shocking number of men do try to jump straight into anal sex with no warm up, likely misguided by porn, which hides the prep stars go through for an anal scene. Many use anal fingering to stretch out and arouse a partner before consensual and well planned anal sex. Many couples also use fingering alone to build up to broader anal play later in a relationship. After all, notes Alicia Sinclair, founder of anal sex toy maker b-Vibe, many people find a penis or toy intimidating, but a finger is a good size for experimentation, and allows for solid control.

But many men also seem to use anal fingering to test the waters for further anal play. If a woman lets a man get away with putting a finger up her ass, Garrison explains, that man may feel he has a chance of having anal sex later. Men often do this in lieu of talking to a partner about their feelings on anal play. They seem to have developed a complete strategy, McBride says, likely spread via word of mouth or digital connections, of pretending that their finger or penis slipped into a female partner&rsquos asshole&mdashthat way, if she doesn&rsquot like it, they can say it was just a mistake. (Most people, McBride argues, do not seem to actually accidentally stumble into anal stimulation with a partner.) Needless to say, this testing the waters approach doesn&rsquot seem that successful on its own, so many men and women wind up with anal fingering as their only, almost routine, anal play experience.

Some men may not want anal sex, but still finger their partners&rsquo assholes. They may get a kick out of the taboo-breaking element of anal contact. (Interest in anal fingering alone as a minor kink actually seems relatively common.) Or they may enjoy the pleasure their partners tell them they get out of anal stimulation. Although pop culture often talks about anal as something men push for unilaterally, McBride stresses that many women &ldquoare actually introducing the idea to their male partners&rdquo of anal fingering as an end in itself, or of fingering as a lead up wider anal play.

Or they may just believe, whether or not they like anal play, based on feedback from past partners who like anal play or bad guidance from cultural figures like Russell Brand&rsquos character in 2008&rsquos Forgetting Sarah Marshall, that all women like anal stimulation. In this case, they may try to get a finger up a woman&rsquos ass, often without asking, just to feel like they ticked all the good sex boxes.

Some men may even finger their partners&rsquo asses because they want their own asses fingered or fucked, points out couples counselor Israel Helfand. Heterosexual male interest in prostate and other forms of anal stimulation has exploded in the last decade, Sinclair points out. (It really really hit the mainstream when media personality Amber Rose Tweeted about how her ex, Kanye West, allegedly liked her to play with his asshole.) The forces behind that emerging anal trend are myriad and complex they deserve their own piece. But suffice it to say that, as Helfand explains it, most American men have a hard enough time talking about sex and their desires openly, so they try to make subtle hints about what they&rsquod like by doing it to their partners. Or, acknowledges Garrison, they may think that because they like the stimulation of anal fingering, their female partners will too.

Until fairly recently, argue McBride and Sinclair, anal play was something couples only started to explore after being together for some time. But the increasing mainstreaming of anal sexuality writ large over the past decade pushed that from an advanced sexual activity to explore later on in a relationship to a seemingly mundane activity to try even in a hookup or on a first date. Sinclair acknowledges that early and un-discussed anal fingering could have been common even before this, but just underreported thanks to continuing taboos around sexual dialogue and the reticence of many women, pre-MeToo era, to talk about non-consensual sexual experiences like getting a finger up their ass without talking about it beforehand

No matter why a man might be interested in anal fingering, though, or at what point in a sexual relationship he decides to introduce it, it is never okay to do so (as many men seem to) without discussing anal play with a partner first. Sure, acknowledges Glickman, it may seem incredibly hard to talk about sex for many people, especially with a hookup or new partner, and easier to just try something. Past experiences in which women wound up liking that unannounced finger, or didn&rsquot react negatively to it, may make it seem okay. But it is, in fact, an assault. Even women who don&rsquot react negatively to this unexpected intrusion may still not like the experience they may just go along with it because they feel like it&rsquos what&rsquos expected of them in the modern sexual world.

Although the anus is an erogenous zone, some women just do not like butt stuff&mdashthe same way some men just don&rsquot like nipple play, despite the erotic potential of our nipples. It can be mentally or physically uncomfortable. Anal stimulation may also be attached to negative memories and emotions for many. These women will likely never appreciate a surprise finger up their assholes.

Even women who do enjoy anal play in general might not want it at a given moment, from a given person, or without any notice. So, &ldquoas a general rule, something like that should be discussed prior to the act,&rdquo says Helfand, ideally &ldquoduring a time separate from &lsquoplay time.&rsquo&rdquo And, of course, it is worth remembering that even if you get consent to finger, that&rsquos not consent for anal sex.

Unfortunately, notes Glickman, some men do want to finger their female partners&rsquo asses because they suspect they won&rsquot like it. They like, he explains, &ldquogetting a woman to comply with a sexual demand&rdquo no matter how she feels about it, or getting away with doing something unwanted. &ldquoFor a long time period,&rdquo notes Sinclair, hetero anal play &ldquowas really about a man conquering a woman.&rdquo

Acting on this desire or impulse to conquer a partner and do things she doesn&rsquot want, outside of a well informed, discussed, and consensual kink power exchange dynamic, is rape. Plain and simple.

It is also worth considering, for men who treat anal fingering as an unconsidered and un-discussed part of their sexual scripts, that this is actually a great way to make sure that a woman never wants any more anal play with you, or possibly with anyone else. Recent studies suggest that, while many women are interested in exploring anal play on their own, or willing to do so to please a male partner, quite a few of them wind up feeling pain and discomfort after, and subsequently losing interest in, it. This is in part because, as Glickman points out, jamming in a finger without lube (as men often see done in porn) is painful for most people. It can even lead to anal tearing and, if your hands are not clean, risk an infection. The surprise and violation of inserting that finger without discussing anal play with a partner first often just increases un-lubed discomfort or damage&mdashthe latter especially because a woman may tighten up in response to this shocking physical intrusion.

To avoid this, Glickman stresses, make sure you get consent. And make sure to know what you&rsquore doing. Read up on how to slowly stimulate an anus. Use plenty of lube&mdashactual lube, not just your spit. Make sure your nails are trimmed and your hands are clean. And let your female partner set the pace for exploration, &ldquoeven if that means &lsquonever gonna happen,&rsquo&rdquo Glickman explains.

This is all good advice to keep in mind moving into the future, because anal play will likely only grow more culturally accepted in the &lsquo20s and beyond. There are still plenty of stigmas against anal sexuality in America. Many people still think anal sex is for people with loose morals, or that it is just plain dirty. The same cultural forces that have spearheaded the mainstreaming of anal sexuality over the past three decades are still at work, chipping away at those taboos. And as they do, more and more people will feel more and more cultural pressure to explore anal&mdashespecially by fingering a female partner&rsquos ass. Hopefully, keeping the modern history of anal fingering in mind, they can respond to that pressure with open conversation with their sexual partners, even during a hookup. And if both parties are interested in a little digital-anal stimulation, then hopefully they will be willing to take the time, discussion, and lubing up to make it great rather than just ticking off a sexual box without thought to the quality of the act.