In 2005, the R&B group Pretty Ricky’s single “Grind on Me” ushered in a new era as their tour demonstrated a remarkable aptitude for grinding on the stage. Their single then unleashed a viral sensation in 2007 when a group of young guys calling themselves Peer Pressure, a.k.a. Ottoman Humpers, listened to the song while passionately humping ottomans on-camera. Their notoriety inspired a rival air-humping group, Fantasy Boiz, who went viral with a video of themselves humping the floor and the air (but no ottomans). As one member, Artavia “Da Prince” Jameson, told MTV at the time, “Girls, they look at [our videos] like we’re making love in the air, but there’s really a passion we put in it. You gotta have emotion and smoothness to make these moves look a certain way.”

A few years later, Peer Pressure was asked to perform at the Air Sex Championships Tour, a comedic event in which people compete in screwing the air. Host Chris Trew says Peer Pressure got on stage and “fucked an ottoman,” before he raffled off the ottoman. Trew has hosted the tour since 2009 and watched approximately 10,000 total hours of air humping, which makes him “the Malcum Gladwell of this prestigious sporting event,” he points out. People are drawn to Air Sex as “a safe way to satisfy your curiosity to watch people fuck,” he explains. “It’s often goofy or so silly and that makes it okay for people to participate in watching. It’s like ‘no, I wasn’t actually turned on or thinking about real sex are you kidding, they were JOKING.’ People do this all the time with jokes.”

In the 2010s, stage-humping was dominated by the Magic Mike franchise. First, there was the 2012 Steven Soderbergh film Magic Mike (Channing Tatum artfully humps the stage), then the 2015 sequel Magic Mike XXL (Tatum humps a table), and finally the 2017 premiere of the live show in Las Vegas. (Tatum did not respond to a request for comment. Nor did his TikTok lookalike, Will Parfitt, who performs in the unaffiliated Magic Men Australia show. I tried all the angles.) I can say from my personal experience watching Magic Mike Live that the show’s humpage is not the comedic specter of “ghost sex” or an ottoman orgy, but sex-like movements folded into a well-choreographed dance routine.

Alison Faulk, who co-choreographed the live show, as well as the films, says the stage hump is best used as, well, a climactic moment. “The thing for us in the live show is that we don’t want to be one-note, we kind of like to sprinkle it throughout the show,” she said. “If you lead up to that, it resonates a lot more than just all of it all at once. It brings you on a little bit of a journey.” When the live show’s dancers do breakout that move, the audience inevitably goes wild. “I think they’re waiting for that,” she said. “They tend to be really excited about that part of the show, the fantasy or the idea of those men. It feels so physical and so real.”

Faulk says that Tatum—or “Chan,” as she calls him—put floor-humping on the map when he danced to Ginuwine’s “Pony” in the first Magic Mike film. “That was a pretty big moment, culturally,” she said. In that scene, he does the knee-pumping hump that was adapted for the live show. Another signature Magic Mike move is the “dolphin dive,” a move pulled from breaking in which a man slowly goes into something like a handstand combined with a hump. Since then, the dolphin dive has become a trademark of some K-pop performances, especially with the band BTS. The singer Lee Tae-min does enough floor humping to inspire fan compilation videos. The dolphin isn’t rabbit-like thrusting, or even repeated snaking of the torso, but a single, isolated, slo-mo hump. Faulk says that this kind of athleticism combined with the floor hump is a one-two choreographic punch.

But Sapakie points out that the 2010s era of floor-humping was not limited to men: In Nicki Minaj’s 2014 video for “Anaconda,” she and her women backup dancers thrust their pelvises against the floor in a style reminiscent of Jackson’s “P.Y.T.” That video, says Sapakie, paved the way for the current period of stage-humping, which belongs to women. There was Megan Thee Stallion’s mesmerizing 2020 video for “Body,” which features dance routines alongside a few moments of her grinding against the floor in a see-through bodysuit. Her video with Cardi B for “WAP” similarly highlighted hip-thrusting floor moves; and, of course, their Grammy performance featured an oversize bed that functioned as stage.

Regardless of who is doing the humping within a choreographed dance, says Sapakie, it’s an expression of power. “If you’re the person doing that action, you’re the person in control,” says, Sapakie, who choreographed Jennifer Lopez’s pole dance routine in Hustlers, which features stage-humping in the splits. “There’s something very dominating and powerful and forward about that move. You’re not being passive with your sexuality. You’re saying, ‘This is me, I’m owning what I feel.’” Viewers might identify with or aspire to that powerful position, or they might imagine themselves on the receiving end of it, she says.

Mostly, the aim of humping choreography is to elicit a reaction—sometimes, any kind of reaction. It could be arousal or it could be shock. “That movement can be really polarizing,” she says. “We want you to feel something.” Stage humping will always do the trick.

A previous version of this piece mistakenly referenced Michael Jackson’s “P.Y.T.” It has been corrected.