Courtesy of Tushy

How Butt-Con packaged sex positivity for a social media generation

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The first song I heard pulsing through the speakers at Butt-Con was Big Sean’s “Ass,” which feels like an obvious choice. But as I quickly learned, there would be nothing subtle about Tushy’s Butt-Con, which took place last night in a fourth-floor event space in Chelsea. The venue was brimming with porcelain thrones, anal beads, and bidets. A ten-foot baby pink inflatable ass with “BUTT-CON” printed on it greeted guests as they walked in. It was custom made for the event.

As I surveyed the space, it became clear that Butt-Con was designed to be Instagrammed. Aside from the giant inflatable ass, there was a room designated as a photo booth, named the Hole-y Cathedral. Neon signs in the shape of poop illuminated walls, toilets were reconfigured as seats, there was an art installation designed to look like graffiti-covered bathroom stalls, complete with anal beads and dildos affixed to the walls. I encountered a woman wearing only nude panties and nipple pasties sitting atop a table, her entire backside was painted yellow — the words "Butt-Con" snaked down her back.

The sex and body positivity are only an effective, highly 'grammable vehicle to introduce us to an enterprising millennial bidet company. Tushy, which makes a bidet attachment for toilets, had spent the weeks leading up to the event promoting it on social media, drawing baffled reactions from seemingly everyone in New York media. The event's goal was simple: to raise the profile of Tushy's products.

As one attendee, Brant MacDuff, 35, said, "It's hard to believe that I paid for an event where people are selling me things, even if it was just $12."

But, as was the case for many of the guests I talked to, he was drawn in by the butts. "There wasn't anything specific bringing me here other than pure morbid curiosity," MacDuff continued. "Certainly everyone is pretty concerned about their butt, and wanting to stay clean and healthy, especially down there."

I made my way to a woman wearing a flesh-toned bodysuit with a large cushion surrounding her head. She was sitting at an "ass-kissing booth," which is exactly what you’re envisioning. It took a few moments to process that the large pillows flapping on either side of her face were supposed to be an asshole. She was dressed up as an asshole.

Later, in a bathroom stall, an 83-year-old sexpert, who goes by Hattie, explained why she was at Butt-Con.

"Well, I mean they paid me to be here," she said. "A lot of people don't think in terms of the anus, the asshole, the physical entry point. They think of it as the shit-hole. So part of what this is about is taking that shit-hole, which it is, and making it an erotic zone by cleaning it and allowing it to be another entry point into the body."

To millenials, who are generally more open about butt stuff than previous generations, what Hattie told me isn't entirely revolutionary. Ass eating, anal sex, and buttholes generally weren’t always a part of mainstream lexicon, but they’ve been on the rise in the last ten years or so. Data from Pornhub shows that between 2009 and 2015, the search term “anal” rose in popularity by 120 percent. It would explain the packed house for the night's slate of talks. Topics included "How to have the perfect poop," "The inner workings of butt sex," "Booty business," and "Butt plug playground."

Courtesy of Tushy
Courtesy of Tushy
Photo by Joe Chong

After several hours at Butt-Con, it became clear that the care and keeping of your asshole could end up costing quite a lot of money. There were so many ass-centric products to buy. Booty creams from Dr. Rita Linker, a dermatologist and cosmetic butt surgeon. Pills that promised to perfect your poop, from a company called Pure. A chair that sent orgasmic magnetic waves through the body, and promised to deliver the equivalent of 12,000 Kegels in 28 minutes. There were colonics and enema packages from colonist to the stars, Tracy Piper. Appointments with anal surgeon Dr. Evan Goldstein. And an entire table dedicated to the Tushy bidet itself, nestled under a bright neon sign shaped like the poop emoji.

Everything is a branded experience these days, and Butt-Con, for all of its educational value, was still effectively an advertisement for a wide range of butt-centric products. Still, the night felt less cynical that I’d anticipated. Anal sex, healthy poops, ass lifts, anal reconstruction — those aren’t the easiest conversations to have. But as I walked from room to room, I encountered both guests and experts who were willing and eager to talk about it. The sincerity and enthusiasm was disarming. Everyone just seemed really excited about butts.

In a talk called "Booty Business," cam girl and cake sitter Lindsay Dye sat down to talk with a performer named Jacq the Stripper. Cake sitting, for those unfamiliar, is when a person performs the act of literally sitting on a cake — it’s a specific fetish that is made erotic by the performer. It was billed as a conversation about how Dye monetized her ass, and while that topic was certainly covered, the conversation also included more meaningful insights on sex work. More than once, Jacq pointed out that the work they did was a job like any other explaining, "We've all got bills to pay."

For a moment, as the two women discussed their work with clarity and honesty, you almost wished that the seating for panelists weren't ceramic toilets.

After the panel, Dye explained that her decision to cam and cake sit was empowering for her, a way to gain control of the objectification and sexualization of her body. "I knew that my livelihood would be related to my body," Dye said. "If I was going to experience sexualization and objectification, I wanted an environment that was safe to profit off of it."

In a room where anal beads hung on fake bathroom stalls, porn star Asa Akira shared insights on how to have great anal sex. The room was packed, with dozens of adults sitting crisscrossed apple sauce, gazing up at Akira as she explained that one great way to prep your asshole for anal sex is to apply grapeseed oil down there a few hours beforehand.

"It's like a rubberband, you know?" she explained. The room laughed. Throughout her talk, she is diligent in hedging her tips. "This is not from a doctor, this is not even Google-based information; it’s just a feeling that I have," she said. When she finished her step-by-step guide to having safe, enjoyable anal sex, she opened up the room to questions. Several hands shot up.

"How do you deal with tearing?"

"What if it just keeps hurting?"

"Which lube do you prefer?"

Akira answered each question thoughtfully. Even at an event curated for people who had expressed interest in asses, plenty of people were eager for a type of sex-ed they'd likely never received elsewhere. Bella Zinca, 28, explained that even growing up in a home with a "European father who was very open," she was learning new things at Butt-Con, and enjoying the ass-positive atmosphere.

"I feel like I'm very fortunate that we're in a time when we're putting the ass on a pedestal," Zinca said. "Growing up it was all about the teeny-tiny butts and the hip bones. I was really insecure about my body and now we celebrate all bodies and big butts are coveted the way small butts were."

The butt is the gateway to the soul.

Attendees had plenty of different motivations for going to Butt-Con — some people wanted to learn, some people wanted to be in a sex-positive space, and some people were motivated by their pure love of ass.

"I am at Butt-Con because it has the word 'butt' in it," Vanniall, 22, explains. "And I love conventions. So, I love butts and conventions. The butt is the gateway to the soul."

Talking with Akira at the end of the night, she explained that Butt-Con was unlike any of the porn conventions she previously attended.

"I've never done anything like Butt-Con, where it brings every aspect of the ass to one place," Akira said. "More and more, there's less shame around the ass in general — or maybe that's just me. I think it's really important to have things that open up conversations about sex in general and the ass. The reason we know so little about it is that we're all so scared to talk about it."

And that's what Butt-Con provided, through the most optimistic lens: a low-cost event where people interested in their own assholes or others' could gather and ask the questions most of us would normally Google in incognito mode. Sure, it was a social-media friendly proposal for products we may or may not need to achieve total ass-zen. But we live in a world where everything has a pitch and a price — even our asses.