Toni Collette over background of televisions with emoji peaches on screen

Featureflash Photo Agency/Shutterstock Anton Gvozdikov/Shutterstock (Licensed) remix by Jason Reed

Tongue twister: Experts explore the meteoric rise of eating a** in pop culture (and why you’re seeing more rimming on TV)

'TV—and the media more broadly— keeps pushing the boundaries.'

 

Will Cameron

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Posted on Oct 28, 2022   Updated on Nov 4, 2022, 2:16 pm CDT

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Possibly the last thing any viewer expected to see in The Staircase was Colin Firth chowing down on Toni Collette’s ass. 

Still, that’s exactly what happened in episode three of the 2022 HBO Max show, adapted from Netflix’s true-crime docuseries of the same name. Collette’s doomed Kathleen Peterson is prepping vegetables (ironic given rimming’s nickname, “tossing salad”) when her maybe-murderous hubby Michael, played by Firth, returns home from a gay cruising sesh at Blockbuster. He yanks down his wife’s sweatpants, bends her over the counter, and, erm, amuses his bouche.

The internet lost its collective mind at the sight, with Twitter quickly filling up with comments of shock and disgust. “So grim”, wrote one repulsed viewer after watching the sexy scene with his mom, while another insisted it was a blatant case of “TMI.” But should a cheeky rimjob have surprised the audience? 

Not really, seeing as television is a stranger to analingus no longer. Dr. Justin Lehmiller, research fellow at the Kinsey Institute and host of the Sex and Psychology Podcast, explains that this is because “TV—and the media more broadly—keeps pushing the boundaries when it comes to sex.”

Sex, he says, “has gradually evolved on TV over the years, and as nudity and sexual activity have become more mainstream, we’ve come to see more diversity in portrayals of sexuality and sexual behavior. In the case of anal stimulation, this is something that was almost never discussed or depicted in any way until fairly recently. But once that door opens, so to speak, the boundary moves a little further.” 

Dr. Bryant Paul, an associate professor of media psychology at Indiana University Bloomington, makes a similar case. He clarifies that the diversity Dr. Lehmiller mentions stems from the need to grab viewers’ attention in more and more extreme ways as they become desensitized to wilder content. “Attention is the scarce resource of the information economy. We always notice the thing that stands out, which content creators have really started to seize on in recent years.”

Comparing humans to frogs, which—like our scaly friends over at Jurassic Park—see nothing unless it moves in front of them, Dr. Paul suggests we think of horny scenes like that in The Staircase as “basically sending a fly across the frog’s field of vision.” In keeping with the theme here, this gets the frog to “throw out its tongue and catch the fly.”

Getting back to human tongues, we’ve witnessed rimming on a string of series stretching back to 1999. This is, of course, in reference to that sweaty scene between Stuart and his teen love interest Nathan in the OG British Queer as Folk premiere (“They didn’t tell you about that, did they?”)—recreated a year later by Brian and Justin in Showtime’s U.S. adaptation and reimagined two decades later by Brodie and Mingus in the Peacock version. 

Queer as Folk bravely paved the way for other showrunners to lick their gay sex scenes into shape. First, there was sly boy Connor, who went to town on Oliver’s booty in the 2014 pilot of How to Get Away with Murder, then there was Looking’s Patrick, who, that same year, got a similar treatment courtesy of his new boyf halfway through the show’s first season. And more recently, grumpy hotel manager Armond ate out his employee Dillon’s ass during a drug-fuelled bender late in the debut season of The White Lotus (2021), shortly before Cal got some mystery peach in the second episode of Euphoria’s 2022 season two.  

The explosion of rimming in queer stories makes sense given it was traditionally viewed as something only done in the gay community. Pornstar Lana Reign, known in the industry as the Rimjob Princess, puts this stereotype down to ignorance. “Honestly, people in the vanilla world still think of rimming as something that is gay, even though it’s not. They’re simply uneducated.” 

Queer as Folk also laid the groundwork for showrunners to experiment with rimming in straight sex scenes too. Hot on the series’ heels in 2002 was Sex and the City season four, the sixth episode of which saw Miranda’s running buddy Michael boldly go where no man had gone before—a gesture the sassy lawyer did not care to reciprocate. However, the most talked-about TV rimjob of all time wouldn’t hit the small screen for another 13 years, when the fourth season of Girls kicked off with guitar-strummer Desi enthusiastically munching a more-than-willing Marnie’s butt. 

Has porn also helped to bring ass-eating into the mainstream, especially between straight couples? As far as Lana is concerned, yes. “A lot of porn sites are starting to normalize and put out more boy-girl rimming content, so it’s not as taboo when bringing it to television. Since it’s becoming the norm and TV content creators are realizing how hot it is, they want to open up more people to the idea.” 

Dr. Lehmiller admits that “porn could potentially be playing some role,” also noticing that “there is certainly more anal play in porn now than there was in the past.” Although this seems to “correlate with a rise in anal activities in other media,” he warns that it’s important “to be careful with this because correlation is not causation, and we don’t even know whether a given content creator is a porn consumer —let alone what kind of porn they might consume.” 

So, the jury is out on the impact of porn on the rise of the TV analingus but not on the effect of a changing media ecosystem. The thing is, some viewers will never see the racier content that fills that ecosystem, meaning it should come as no real bombshell that the Collette-Firth rimjob shook some less progressive viewers. Dr. Paul reminds us that “because many now prefer to access content through streaming services rather than cable or broadcast TV, the type of movies and shows they see depends on which services—each with their own rules about what can and can’t be said or shown—they’re subscribed to.”

He adds: “Rimming scenes might not shock one viewer, who has been exposed to them before, but the opposite might happen with another, who hasn’t come across that kind of stuff before. There are whole segments of the population living a more puritanical existence because they’re following interests that algorithms drive them towards and ignoring others they’re being driven away from. For example, if they’re mostly watching Disney+ with the kids, they’ll probably never be recommended The Staircase or Queer as Folk.

For those who are being plugged frog-fly content by recommendation engines, Dr. Lehmiller reckons it won’t be long before the boundaries shift once again. “Rimming may be the next frontier for now, but it will soon be something else.” Dr. Paul is on the same page, but finds the prospect a little scary. “Where do we go from there? What might that ‘something else’ and the ‘something else’ after that look like?” 
Who knows, but for now, rimjobs are here (and not always queer) in both media and reality. Although most hetero folks will do anything but butt, Lana’s advice is to give it a try. “Why not? Open yourself up and you might love it!”

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*First Published: Oct 28, 2022, 3:00 pm CDT