True story: After years of lukewarm resistance, I recently joined the social media platform, Instagram.
It’s an interesting place, full of pornographic pictures of fried chicken sandwiches, semi-pornographic pictures of bikini-clad models, short videos of drunk people doing stupid shit, cats, dogs, sunsets, Busy Phillips and friends who look like they’re having a better time, in cooler places, than I am. I’m still an amateur—I haven’t even posted my first Instagram yet, for fear of setting the wrong tone. But amidst the photoshopped blur of highly attractive people, places and things, I’ve become enraptured by one particular trend: the amount of ass eating-related content from the leading media platform for heterosexual white bros who thought it would be “funny” to vote for Trump, the great and powerful Barstool Sports.
Sandwiched between pictures of hot college girls, drunk dudes incurring bodily harm and chill reposts of cute dogs—because bros love cute dogs, too—this ass eating content seems both of a piece on Barstool’s Instagram and noticeably out of place.
Here is a recent post, featuring a bro with an “ASS EATN SZN” hockey jersey. The number is, naturally, “69.”
Here is another, of a girl dressed up for Halloween in a costume that I can best describe as a “tossed salad.”
Here is a yet another, depicting Christmas stockings organized to spell out, you guessed it, “Ass Eatn SZN.”
Search the hashtag “asseatingszn” on Twitter, too, and you’re likely to come up with myriad riffs on the concept—most of which involve bros, and a good portion of which involves Barstool (or Barstool writers or podcasters). UrbanDictionary, the go-to for shit like this (and the number-one internet destination for people who can’t quite remember the name of this site), has an entry, published in October of this year, for the properly spelled “Ass Eating Season,” the definition of which reads: “Known as ‘ass eating season,’ late autumn and winter are considered the perfect time to eat some juicy ass.” (Presumably, the colder months are preferred to summer or spring, for butt-sweat-related reasons.) You can even purchase “Ass Eatin SZN” merch from Barstool’s website, should you decide to profess your undying affection for rimming at your family’s Christmas party.
As someone who’s been bro-adjacent his entire life—befriending bros, having an intimate knowledge of their hearts and minds, but not professing to be one myself, because I read fiction books and don’t like sports and stuff—I was frankly alarmed: Since when was ass eating such a big thing? What was behind this nascent social media movement? How did an historically gay, even taboo sexual act become fodder for countless memes by an alpha male subset of hetero white guys?
Ass eating, or rim jobs, or rimming, or tossing salad, is the act of licking or tonguing your partner’s anus for sexual pleasure (herewith, a handy guide). As some may recall, it underwent something of a renaissance in 2014.
Maureen O’Connor, writing for The Cut in an article entitled “Beware: Rim Jobs Are on The Rise,” noted that, in her experience, women were significantly more open to public discussion of the butt, though, in private, straight men were far more passionate on the topic. She cited a CDC report that found that 44% of straight men had said they’d had anal sex, along with an academic study that found that, of the men who’d had anal, over half had also participated “in oral-anal sex, manual-anal sex, or anal sex toy use.” Proposed her male friend: "'Oral is the new sex, and rim jobs are the new oral.'"
Furthermore, in a Daily Beast article from later that year, Gabriella Pailla declared 2014 the "Golden Age of Buttholes," referencing the Nicki Minaj song, “Anaconda,” from 2011, wherein she rhapsodizes about a lover who “toss my salad like his name Romaine,” as well as Woody Harrelson’s character on True Detective, a true alpha who nonetheless “performs a rimjob on the young secretary who he’s cheating on his wife with.” Esquire asked 500 men, in a 2013 survey, “During foreplay, what’s the one thing you want more of from your current partner?”—to which 12 percent answered “more rimjobs.” Gawker, in appropriately glowing terms, ran an essay called “The Booty-Eating Renaissance.”
Perhaps the most insightful piece from that year on the subject, the writer Tyrone Palmer traces the origin of analingus’s current moment to the rapper Kevin Gates, who proudly declared his love for ass eating. “The recent popularity of ‘eating booty’ among rappers and rap-fans,” Palmer writes, “demonstrates the ways that hip-hop can be a space for progressive, even transgressive discussions about black pleasure, masculinity and sexuality.” Palmer notes that female rappers have been referencing booty-eating for a long time. “Clearly someone was eating it, but doing so was a hidden pleasure, not a public one.”
This is largely because mainstream heteros have historically perceived eating ass (and to a much greater extent, receiving an ass-eating) as inherently gay, or taboo. An influential Playboy article, also published in 2014, cites a 2011 study that found that over a quarter of gay men (from a sample of 25,000) had eaten ass on their most recent sexual encounter. One man surveyed reasoned that it might be more common amongst gay men because “it’s a logical precursor to anal sex.” But it’s also safe to say that the “male American ass is still perceived as a homosexual playground”—and that the sexualized bottom, male or female, has long been prioritized more by hip-hop—and by extension, black—culture. (Writer David Friend, in his sexual history of the ‘90s, traces the resurgence of the sexualized bottom to Experience Unlimited’s 1988 song, “Da Butt.”)
Gay culture, and more recently, hip-hop culture, are responsible for many an underground or progressive trend that has wound its way, slowly but surely, into the fabric of the mainstream—whether it be in the realm of music, fashion or the bedroom. Perhaps it’s only natural, then, that some of those same trends eventually permeate, and find their terminus, in bros—a subset of males who are, very generally speaking, conservative when it comes to sexuality, yet quite liberal when it comes to actually having sex.
While I can’t say for certain, it seems that ass eating first breached bro culture in a big way in 2015, when the personalities of Barstool Sports’s KFC Radio proclaimed it “the year of rim jobs.” Eating ass, one of the hosts said, should be Time’s Person of the Year. “Every porn you throw on these days has a girl licking ass or getting her ass licked. It’s officially ‘in’ to eat butt...It’s what the cool kids do now.”
Despite the fact that its founders and bloggers are largely, according to a recent New York Times profile, “liberal-leaning dudes from breeding grounds of the coastal elite,” Barstool Sports has become a safe space for "angry sports fans who maintain that they do not want to talk about Colin Kaepernick or the National Anthem." Last month, ESPN pulled the plug on “Barstool Van Talk,” a late-night program that would’ve served as an adaptation of the site’s flagship podcast, “Pardon My Take,” after just one episode, citing an inability to “distance our efforts from the Barstool site and its content.” In the aftermath, Barstool has emerged as an enemy of the mainstream media’s political correctness; it is, at times, "aggressively male" and chauvinistic, if not downright sexist. As in Vice’s infamous portrait of the prototypical American bro, these are the type of guys “saying ‘cunt’ or ‘nigger’ or ‘slut’ out loud, then half-apologizing to no one in particular.” From the lengthy Times profile and the site’s content, one might presume that the Barstool founders and a not insignificant portion of their audience are men who do not view themselves as misogynistic, yet nonetheless feel entitled to make jokes or sling slurs that express misogynistic views. These are the kind of dudes who derogatorily call each other fags in private but also have gay friends; they’re the kind of dudes who will brag to their boys about fucking sluts but will also admit that “sexual harassment” isn’t chill. They’re not woke, but maybe they’re aware enough of that fact to pretend to be, as needed.
The bro’s sometimes-liberal views, as it relates to sex, might be one reason for the shifting attitudes towards rimming emblematic in the “Ass Eatin SZN” movement. The more widespread acceptance of gays amongst bros, and straight men in general (one can’t help but think of the rise of the “bromance,” as evinced in any Apatow-related production of the past ten years) is also certainly a factor. Moreover, as O’ Connor writes, “transgressing a nasty boundary is, for some, part of the appeal.” A preoccupation with filth and abjection seems naturally tailored to dudes who get off on drinking as much as they can, or eating as much as they can, or watching their dude friends vomit from eating and drinking as much as they can. Spend enough time talking with a group of straight dudes of a certain age and disposition, as I have, and every conversation, no matter the starting point—like, say, the early films of Terrence Malick—will eventually devolve towards one of two base topics: cum or poo. These preoccupations, too, seem oddly relevant to a sex act that involves licking someone’s butthole. I also don’t think it’s too much of a stretch to say that the desire to have one’s face sat on, another recent trend, at least amongst the chatter of guys I know, has emerged from a similar place. (Interestingly enough, while one might assume that having one’s face sat on is a submissive pose, O’Connor suggests some men actually like it because they feel in control; as with blowjobs, wherein a man puts the most delicate part of his body between the parts of a woman’s, she realizes that “the male psyche is so self-entitling...men can convince themselves they are in charge during absolutely any interaction with a women.”)
But what’s perhaps more interesting than the bro’s acceptance of ass-eating is their boisterous flaunting of ass-eating. Because the reality is, of all the straight guys I know, few have actually eaten ass, much less had their ass eaten. (Full disclosure: I have neither eaten nor been eaten myself.) The phrase “Ass Eatin SZN” itself is somewhat divorced from the act: you can make a joke about it being the season of ass eating without implying you eat ass yourself. Indeed, this is the tenor of many of the tweets you’ll find if you search the hashtag on Twitter—some of which don’t even remotely pertain to ass eating at all.
To borrow again from Vice’s portrait of the American bro, the bro “has existed for as long as there have been gluttonous men dedicating ceremonies to their own existence.” A large part of being a bro is asserting your own bro-ness, a practice manifested in the sort of ritualistic behavior found in fraternities across the country. It manifests itself in language, too: certain words and phrases and nicknames that spread amongst groups of guy friends and are repeated into meaningless oblivion, until they become mere signifiers of one’s membership in the group. Such habits naturally lend themselves to a culture that trades in memes. It might be the case, then, that Ass Eatin SZN has become just that: a meme, estranged from its original meaning, used by bros (or “Stoolies,” as Barstool readers are called) as a badge of their bro-ness.
Surely, the gentrification of ass eating has resulted in a greater acceptance and normalization of this historically taboo behavior, even if it does not necessarily imply a greater acceptance of the more taboo, quote-unquote "gay" behavior of having one's ass eaten. And certainly, there are more men who are willing to eat ass, or communicate openly about wanting to eat ass, because of it. But the movement is also instructive with regards to how the mainstream—in this case, a subset of young, white, straight men—absorbs and regurgitates behaviors from the margins. Once perceived as “dirty,” one could argue ass eating has since been rinsed clean of its associations with gay, or perhaps even hip-hop, culture. Now, for some bros, it’s just part of a phrase they say to each other, tweet at each other and emblazon on sweatshirts they wear to each others’ Christmas parties.