"It smells like blood. And it tastes like raw flesh. It's not something you've ever been exposed to. But it strikes a chord somewhere deep inside." That's how Michelle Lhooq opens her article on Rosebudding, a new trend in the world of hardcore anal pornography. And if you're faint of heart or weak of stomach, you may want to stop reading now, because the act is literally ripping out actresses' rectums through their anus.
Rosebuds are often seen as nice, delicate things. In popular culture, Rosebud often brings back memories of Citizen Kane. It's a nice, even cozy, euphemism for the kind of movies Sheena Shaw, the actress quoted in the Vice article on the trend makes. In reality, the act is much worse than anything I've seen in legal pornography before. Worse than eating shit; worse than people engaging in sex with traffic cones and putting double fists into every orifice. When I shared the video included with the Vice story with a friend — a video of two women dressed as bumblebees doing everything one could to a collapsed asshole — her response was that if porn had a Faces of Death (that didn't include any actual snuff), this might be it. Because this isn't really, sexy — it's just strange.
The medical term for Rosebudding — anal prolapse — is actually much more dangerous and bizarre than the titles on the DVD boxes may lead you to believe. In short, a prolapse occurs when one's rectum collapses and slip-slides its way out of the anus. In general, an individual is immediately rushed to the emergency room when such an event happens. In Shaw's world, the cameras keep turning as the prolapse is looked at, touched, licked, and prodded until the director believes that the viewer will have enough to satiate them. Sometimes honey is poured all over it. It's a visual that appears to dare the viewer to get off despite what they're seeing, not because of it.
The act of rosebudding is, of course, something that has been around for a long time. I first became aware of it when I was 21 years old, alone at home and excited to try out my insanely fast new internet connection. I downloaded everything I could get my hands on from the torrents databases I visited (regardless of whether I was interested, I just wanted porn) and was perplexed to find one video entitled something like Bud.avi. In it, gentlemen from some eastern European country did things to each other that made me sweat in fear and want to call emergency services immediately. Three minutes into the video, I shut it off and silently wondered whether the actors were okay, swearing off porn forever (two hours, it turned out) as I hyperventilated. For four years, I managed a video store and while I was the one who curated the small adult film section —which I called The Super Tiki Adult Room to make it more friendly — I never once saw this type of act mentioned on the hundreds of boxes we carried. Now, it is becoming more and more mainstream.
There are two reasons that rosebudding is taking the world by slow and bloody force. First, the internet has made pornography a much tougher business. With the advent of sites like PornHub, RedTube and Xvideos, viewers are less likely to shell out money for site memberships or digital downloads. Companies try to get their videos taken down, but they reappear as fast as they're removed, new bunches of clips (really taking this flower metaphor to its limit) popping up daily, never letting the companies catch up. Due to this, pornographic actors, directors, and producers have to find novel ways to get the viewer to part with their hard-earned cash, which means that they have to come up with edgy and sometimes risky new settings, positions, and acts.
The ennui that comes with watching the same kind of scenes over and over might eventually force the viewer to pay to see something they've never seen before, even if it is potentially gruesome or disgusting. Then, as Vice points out, there is the reality that watching amateur porn might be fine, but if you want high quality production or actresses that can perform rosebuds well, producing sights and sounds — rainbows you can taste — on command you're going to have to shell out for your solo bone sesh. And the industry has no choice but to deliver.
Second, the actresses who star in the films — and this currently appears to be more aimed at heterosexual audiences — need to find a way to distinguish themselves. Sheena Shaw is one of the queens of rosebudding. This is her calling card. Like it or not — and it sounds from her quote that Shaw has at least some conflicted feelings — this is what keeps the money coming.
Mike South, a blogger who is referred to by Vice as the king of porn gossip, believes that turning towards extremism is not the way the industry needs to go, that by doing so it loses touch with the core values of pornography:
"At first it was relatively benign—gang bangs, anal, that kind of thing," he recalls. "Then it was dressing girls up like preteens and picking them up on swing sets in schoolyards, forced oral until they threw up, forced anal… The more uncomfortable the girl looked, the more the industry would give it awards.
"Companies in porn are like blackbirds on a phone wire," he continues. "When one takes off they all follow. I think, in this case, they all followed into the side of a glass building."
But the trend is only getting more popular.
Porn's appeal has long been the holding up of a light, or a magnifying glass, to the inner workings of human pleasure. Rosebudding continues to play on that theme, literally turning a medical oddity — something second year medical students might discuss with a hand gently stroking their chins — into something amorphously sexual.
Ali Davis, in her excellent book True Porn Clerk Stories , discusses something she calls porn drift. In her book Davis recounts how customers at the store she worked at would go from one section of the store to another, dipping into pornography that they might have not chosen before when they'd seen too much of their preferred combination of acts and actors. When I worked at a video store, I was always delighted when someone who had only rented straight gang bangs would bring up a bi video or delve into the world of porn that featured actors who were transgender. It was great to see people exploring their sexuality but this new trend raises the question of how far the rabbit hole goes and whether pornography can continue satisfying the needs of viewers while keeping the actors and actresses who are doing the work safe.
Repeated prolapses — I'm sorry, rosebuds — are risky. The actual prolapse doesn't just happen and actresses have to train to get the bud to occur when they want. To be able to rosebud effectively, actresses need to have prolonged sessions with multiple massive objects so that their rectal walls become loose and easy to push right out. Training might also include sleeping with toys in the anus the night before a shoot. The feeling, Shaw says, is similar to that of pushing out a baby. And there are side effects.
Repeated prolapses can cause severe bowel problems and anal leakage. While some can take time off, the only way to really heal everything is with rectal surgery which carries risks (such as infections) of its own. And the risks are not often discussed with the actresses who star in these types of movies. In fact, the safety of the performer is not really of concern to the directors and the producers, who play the health risks off with a nonchalant "they can take breaks." But taking breaks means losing money, or becoming less in demand.
There's no safety net in porn. Shaw, a veteran of the business and someone who commands a higher price for her anal scenes — something that's not true of all the women who perform this act — says that she's heard of women tearing their anuses or developing fissures. And there's no worker's comp on the set. The industry demands more and more of its performers without medical help. When asked about what she could do in the event of an injury, Shaw said this to Vice: "No one ever talks about that. They make you sign waivers before you do these scenes. You're absolutely not going to get workers' comp."
Rosebudding in itself isn't the core problem. Sure, it's disturbing, but it also speaks to how bored we become with sexual images and how quickly we become desensitized to them, always looking for another peak when we plateau at a favorite scene. The fact that this trend exists could suggest that rosebudding is a symptom of a much broader concern: The fact that as more and more pornographic images become readily available, it takes much more to scratch one's sexual itch. And sometimes, that leads to the necessity for extremism. Even when it comes at the expense of the performers. Based on the risks and dangers involved, then, perhaps it would be best for all cinematic genres if Rosebud remained a sled.
Image via Shutterstock.