01/10/2013 06:19 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Probing My Anal Phobia

WARNING: This post contains a NSFW graphic. Please read on at your own discretion.

My fear of all things anal began when I was an early teen. My older brother David took great delight in bursting into our bathroom to startle me, especially if I was on the john, and because I was a pubescent redhead, his sudden visits included a lot of laughing and pointing. I was mortified beyond belief. To this day I must be sure no one is in the house, and then I must close and lock the bedroom and bathroom doors, before I can properly relax. And I live alone.

2013-01-10-ColonArt.JPGBut you can't avoid everything anal if you're growing up gay, not if you want to do the really fun stuff, hence my conundrum as a youth: exploring the pleasures of my tush while fighting the terror that something stinky might be going on down there. And I suspect I am not alone in this particular anxiety.

I discovered soon enough that if someone had serious intentions in regard to my backside, I couldn't simply rely upon a bran muffin and a Hail Mary to be properly prepared. God forbid I would, you know, not be... well, you know. This ongoing fear had a habit of wrecking the mood and the evening. My exclamations during sex were usually panicked calls to turn the lights up so that I could carefully inspect the situation, or a plea to stop altogether. "OK, that's fine... no, wait!" I would cry out. "Am I OK down there? I mean, is it... OK, go ahead... no, hold on! Are you sure I'm...?" I was usually so involved with my protestations that I would hardly notice my date gathering his things to leave.

There are cleansing products meant to address this situation, but they require a certain comfort level with your own body and a little patience, meaning that they were incomprehensible to me. But I tried my best. Drugstore enemas always felt too clinical, like something a nurse should be administering so that you could "move your bowels" (a phrase I hope I never have to hear again, much less type). But never fear. Leave it to gay men to popularize the "shower shot," a long hose that screws into your shower head and ends in a narrow nozzle, just right for sliding up your bum for a thorough internal rinse. However, the modulation of this instrument is of utmost importance -- and I cannot stress this enough. Too little water pressure and you've got a dribble with little cleansing effect, but too much and you've just inserted into your ass a pressure washer that could peel the paint off a building.

I was first introduced to this contraption in my early 20s, when my first-time date invited me to visit the bathroom to "rinse out" while he relaxed in bed and waited. I stepped into the shower and surveyed the dangling metal hose. I turned on the water. I considered how it all might operate, and I made my best guess, standing there for God knows how long, hose inserted and whistling a happy tune. At this point I must say in my defense that no one had ever explained the device to me, much less how to gauge the input versus the output. That poor, unfortunate man. He had really pretty designer sheets, covered with a gorgeous blue-and-white pinstripe blanket that I can still see as clear as day. Such a lovely bedroom -- that is, until a few passionate moments later, when all of it was soaked with a solid gallon of spoiled water that had been percolating in my poop chute, exploding from me in a streaming rush that looked like the wake of an outboard motor hurtling across Lake Erie. The word "apocalyptic" comes to mind.

Only as I matured did I realize that I had options (and I will now introduce cute baseball analogies to illustrate my point). I discovered that I did not, in fact, always have to play catcher, and I stepped onto the pitcher's mound with great enthusiasm. But as much as I enjoyed the view from above, I still worried that maybe I wasn't holding up my end of the bargain. It was only after pitching a near-perfect game one day that my partner in the dugout helped me make a simple decision. "Mark," he said. "Why don't you just stick to what you do well?" And it was this generous assessment that gave me the confidence to hang up the hiney hose forever.

Yes, that's right. I'm now a dedicated top. I'll allow you a few moments of incredulous wonderment. What's even more amazing is my having a boyfriend who is not only loving and adorable but absolutely expert at the exotic mysteries of booty sex preparation. It really is an impressive talent, if you ask me, like walking on your hands or spinning plates on sticks.

This is all to tell you, dear reader, that sometimes you must find solutions to your fears in order to take care of yourself. And sometimes you have to face your damn fears head-on. I was reminded of this recently when, at 52 years old, I had my first colonoscopy. I don't think I have to explain my anxiety level going into this procedure, but everything checked out fine, thanks. I had heard that the anesthesia they give you can produce some odd behavior, but other than proposing to the physician and asking the recovery nurse if they had located my pet hamster, I behaved myself quite admirably. The only side effect of my colonoscopy was a bloated feeling and a case of the gurgles -- well, that and the fact that, a few hours later, I had the longest, most continuous release of gas I have ever experienced in all my days. I'm talking a minute-plus, people. I really wish my older brother David had been here. He loves that kind of thing.


P.S. If I can face my deepest fears, so can you. (Check out this picture of my happy procedure team just prior to my colonoscopy.) Anyone 50 or older should get a colonoscopy, and some protocols suggest that people with HIV start this screening at age 45. Did you know that studies show that people living with HIV have a higher incidence of "colonic neoplasms" (the polyps they are looking for during a colonoscopy), which should be checked out for cancerous cell growth? Please don't delay. Call your doctor!

Artwork courtesy of Andrew's Anus, via LifeLube