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Thursday, May 6, 2010

Everyday Enemas

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Last week, I received a sample of the new Fleet Naturals Cleansing Enema (yes, these are the kind of unsolicited items that are sent to owners of sex toy stores). Fleet calls this product “the first disposable pre-filled enema dedicated for the purpose of rectal cleansing.” I find this both encouraging and alarming—encouraging because it’s a sign that anal play is moving more into the mainstream every day, and alarming because this product is accompanied by a marketing campaign designed to encourage increased use of a product that may be harmful to people’s health.

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 companies make.

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 [http://thestrippodcast.blogspot.com/2010/04/holy-crap-enemas-in-news.html] 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 use.

Want Laura to answer your questions in SEXpress? Send them to laura@shepex.com. Not all questions received will be answered in the column, and Laura cannot provide personal answers to questions that do not appear here. Questions sent to this address may be reproduced in this column, both in print and online, and may be edited for clarity and content.

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.

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