There are a number of ways to go viral on Instagram. You can post a selfie with the cast of Friends. You can do yoga while breastfeeding a 4-year-old (preferably, not your own). Or you can have an elaborate gender reveal party that gives multiple people head injuries. But perhaps the most surefire way – the one totally unimpeachable, failproof method – is to post about the benefits of sunbathing your asshole.
An aspiring influencer with the handle MetaphysicalMeagan proved this when she posted earlier this month about the benefits of the “ancient Taoist practice” of “perineal sunning.” “My experience with perineum sunning has been profound. I have been practicing this for a few months now,” she wrote in the post. “I start my day with 5 minutes of perineum sunning & feel energized for hours.” Meagan added that she no longer has to drink coffee “because I am getting my energy from the sun,” as if her body were an iPhone and her butthole was a charger jack.
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Her caption also pointed to a number of other ostensible benefits, including hormone regulation, libido strengthening, and “increas[ing] your personal magnetism and amplif[ying] the auric field.” Naturally, her photo featured a censored image of herself on her back, blissfully spread-eagle, exposing her brown eye to the sun.
The post contained virtually every element of instantaneous virality: pseudo-scientific, goofy wellness jargon, egregious cultural appropriation, and a photo of a lady with her clothes off. But in the increasingly competitive social media economy, even the most obvious of wellness stunts aren’t guaranteed to attract eyeballs, and the post didn’t quite go viral until a Twitter user named @sisterofonline posted a screengrab of it, with the caption: “People out here butt-chugging sunlight.” A similar Instagram posted by health influencer Troy Casey last month, which also advocated for the practice, led to media outlets classifying anal tanning as a bona fide wellness trend. It also served as a perfect opportunity to skewer the (admittedly mockery-worthy) wellness industry, with the New York Post referring to it as the “latest insanity wellness influencers swear by.”
It does beg the question, though: is this something anyone other than a few engagement-thirsty wellness influencers are actually doing? And does it actually have any basis in traditional Chinese medicine practice, as (white) wellness influencers would have you believe?
The claim that perineum tanning has therapeutic benefits appears to stem from a 1986 book by Qi Institute founder Dr. Stephen T. Chang called The Tao of Sexology. One of the influencers cited in Meagan’s post, @ra_of_earth, posted a screengrab from the book, which advocates for doing a “Sun Worship Exercise”: “Sunlight has excellent germicidal qualities , and exposure to the sun will help keep the anal and vaginal areas healthy and free of germs. It is also excellent for the treatment of hemorrhoids,” the book claims, complete with a cartoon silhouette of someone bending over and showin’ off dem cheeks.
While Chang and the Qi Institute did not immediately respond to requests for comment, there certainly isn’t much by way of peer-reviewed research to support the practice. Mary Jane Minkin, MD, a practicing gynecologist and instructor at the Yale School of Medicine, says that while the anal area has billions of bacteria, “no amount of sunlight will kill them (nor do we necessarily want them killed), since most of us live in very good harmony with our microbiome.” In fact, she adds, sunlight exposure in that area could potentially be risky. “That tissue in the body is about the most delicate tissue there is,” she tells Rolling Stone. “So why do anything to which one could have an allergic reaction?”
And of the half dozen or so traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) providers contacted by Rolling Stone, none had ever heard about the therapeutic benefits of perineum tanning. “I guess it’s possible, but I can’t comment on it either way,” says Mona Yuan, director of the New York College of Traditional Chinese Medicine. A representative for the Traditional Chinese Medicine World Foundation summed it up as, “We don’t talk about it, we don’t practice it. Why would you write about it?” before hanging up.
The answer to that question is the same as any other topic in the digital information economy: because other people are talking about it. And in truth, that’s the only real reason why perineal tanning, a practice cited from a page in a more than 30-year-old book, has generated any mainstream interest at all: in a world where vagina-tightening jade eggs and anti-aging blood infusions are actually available to the very wealthy and the very silly, spreading your ass cheeks for the gods in heaven and your next-door neighbors to witness seems both plausible and worthy of discussion. But in truth, such trends are rarely driven by anyone other than a few individuals who know there is attention to be gained from mining the widespread scorn toward the wellness industry for all it’s worth.
“I can’t imagine why anyone would want to do that,” says Dante Fitzpatrick, head of operations at Beach Bum tanning salons. “Is this an L.A. thing? It sounds like a West Coast thing.”
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