Most people have some
idea of what enemas are; they have been available in drugstores for years, and
their stated purpose is to relieve constipation. Enemas, also known as rectal
douches, consist of a bottle or bag attached to a nozzle. The bottle or bag is
filled with liquid, the nozzle is inserted into the anus, and the content of
the bottle or bag is gently squeezed or poured into the rectum. The nozzle is
removed, and the person receiving the enema releases the liquid, along with the
contents of the rectum, into the toilet. There are many types of reusable
enemas available, in addition to the disposable enemas that Fleet and other
Until now, the liquid in
Fleet enemas contained a laxative, and they were designed for therapeutic or
medical use. The new Fleet Naturals are designed for “elective rectal
cleansing”—for hygiene purposes rather than because of a health problem.
Medicated Fleet enemas have been used for quite some time for this purpose, and
sexuality educators who teach about anal sex recommend dumping out the
medicated liquid in the original Fleet enemas and replacing it with water for
this use. According to Fleet’s research, about 4% of the general adult
population and 21% of gay men currently use enemas for hygienic cleansing.
Among those who use enemas in this fashion, 38% of the general population and
87% of gay men say that they use them before or after anal sex.
So, for Fleet, this
group of “elective” enema users represents an untapped market segment that,
with the right advertising, could be increased. The company is supporting their
new product with a marketing campaign aimed primarily at men who have sex with
men that encourages them to keep their cabooses, buns, and asses clean (a blog
on this topic shows images of all the ads).
In some ways, this is
good news. Apparently, we’ve finally reached the point in our society where
large pharmaceutical companies are conducting research on people’s anal sex
habits and humorously referring to butt cleanliness in their ads. Since anal
sex is still a taboo topic for many people, bringing it out into the open this
way can encourage less shame and more communication about sex.
In other ways, this is
cause for concern. First, these ads play on the myth that anal sex is
inherently “dirty.” When we hold classes on anal sex at the store, concerns
about hygiene are often the first things that people bring up. However, for a
person who eats a healthy diet with an adequate amount of fiber, there are
usually only trace amounts of fecal matter in the rectum, and a good wash
outside and immediately inside of the anus with soap and water may be all that
is necessary for cleanliness prior to anal play. Enemas are not necessary, but
if Fleet markets them as if they are, they’ll make more money.
Second, overuse of
enemas can cause physical harm. I’m alarmed that Fleet states on their
packaging and in their ads that their new product is “safe for daily use.”
While some people may choose to use enemas daily, most health professionals
would not recommend this. Over time, this may interfere with digestion and
negatively impact the body’s ability to eliminate waste naturally. In addition,
anal douching removes a layer of protective mucus from the rectum that can help
prevent tearing, bleeding and the transmission of STIs during anal sex. If
someone uses enemas too regularly, they may actually be causing physical harm
to their bodies and may, ironically, be more likely to contract a disease.
Anyone who uses an enema before anal play should wait two hours before having
any sexual contact to give the mucosal lining a chance to regenerate itself.
In short, don’t believe
everything that giant corporations try to sell you. While Fleet’s new product
is convenient for people who prefer using enemas for cleanliness, there’s no
reason for you to start using them if you don’t already or to increase your
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Laura Anne Stuart has a master’s degree in public health and has worked as a sexuality educator for more than a decade. She owns the Tool Shed, an erotic boutique on Milwaukee’s East Side.