“Are you okay?” asks the acupuncturist, hovering in front of my taint — spread before her like the world’s least appetizing open-face sandwich — needle in hand. “You look tense.”
I can’t help suspecting that this isn’t an uncommon sentiment among patients undergoing the procedure, but it seems rude to say so.
“Can you, um, unclench a little?”
“…honestly, probably not.”
“Okay then, here we go!”
She plunges the needle in, and although it’s probably just in my head, I would swear there’s an audible POP! as it enters.
This, it must be said, is not a relaxing experience.
In fairness, it wasn’t sold as such. Acupuncture of the perineum — the anatomical name for the taint — is a relatively unusual procedure in the West, reserved for the treatment of sexual dysfunction or, in some cases, extreme lethargy. I’ve come here to experience it more because I’m curious as to the function of this mostly forgotten region of the body in general. Does it have some secret, untapped potential for our physical health? Our mental well-being? Our sex lives? Or is it, after all, just a weird bit of stretchy skin with a funny name? In this moment, I’m sure of only one thing: I liked mine better before it had a needle in it.
On a list of physically attractive body parts, it’s unlikely that the taint would crack most people’s top 10. If we’re being honest, it probably wouldn’t even make it into the glossary of a far more comprehensive list, looking, as it does, like a last-minute rush job by a chop-shop welder.
Even beyond its looks, the perineum receives little love in general — physical or otherwise. Situated between two highly popular tourist destinations (the perennially popular genitals to the north, and for more adventurous thrill-seekers, the anus to the south), it’s the flyover state of body parts, continually bypassed in favor of its exciting coastal elite neighbors. Ignored in articles about erogenous zones — or included only when the subject is “secret” zones, despite its being right in the thick of the action — it’s become more of a punchline than anything else, given off-putting nicknames like “taint,” “grundle” or in the U.K. — where I grew up — the strangely descriptive “gooch.” (An even less appealing name comes courtesy of an old friend who refers to it as her “t’weren’t” — because, as she says, “If t’weren’t there, it’d all fall out.”)
But how has a body part literally slap-bang between the genitals and anus been so completely forgotten in the foreplay of most consenting adults?
“I’d say people are reluctant to discuss the perineum because it’s uncomfortable,” says Lanae St.John, a board-certified sexologist and founder of the sex-education blog The Mama Sutra. “Some men have a visceral reaction to a mention of the word — they may hold some fear, however irrational, that any action toward the ass might make them homosexual. I’ll clear that one up right away — the sexual acts you perform are not what define your sexuality.”
“We still live in a period where there’s shame attached to anal eroticism,” agrees Patti Britton, clinical sexologist and cofounder of sexcoachu.com. “The actuality is that some men do find pleasure in being stimulated in that area, but the shame around it may be greater than it should be.”
Beyond the social stigma, it’s also an area that many people just don’t consider to be worth their time — especially when, much like standing outside a Panda Express on a street full of five-star Asian restaurants, there are so many better options close by.
“They don’t call it the taint for nothing — it’s called the taint because t’ain’t your genitals and t’aint your ***hole,” says sex and relationship coach Danielle Harel. “As a society, we’re so focused on body parts that are overtly sexual, many of our key erogenous zones get overlooked.”
The question, then, is this: Is the taint worth your time? Is there more to it than just being the filler track between two hit singles?
“I do believe the perineum is an overlooked source of pleasure,” says Harel. “One of the most exciting and tantalizing aspects of the perineum is that it connects your vagina or testicles to your anus, and licking or stroking between them can bring the sensation that they’re connected, teasing both areas at once.”
It’s of note, too, that the perineum’s role in sex isn’t a recent invention: According to Denise Wiesner, sexologist and founder of Natural Healing Acupuncture, the area is an important part of Taoist philosophy due to its ability to control ejaculation. “A lot of Taoist philosophy is about men not ejaculating,” she explains. “They believe that ejaculate is a precious fluid and that if you lose too much of it, you age faster.” (This, as she points out, runs counter to Western science, which suggests that frequent ejaculation is the key to a healthy prostate.) By pressing firmly on the perineum, she says, it’s possible to delay or even prevent ejaculation, thanks to its proximity to the pubococcygeus or PC muscle (a practice that can even lead, eventually, to the unicorn of sexual experiences: The male multiple orgasm).
The PC muscle isn’t the only upstairs neighbor worth mentioning: There’s also the prostate, an organ regarded as a source of intense pleasure that’s historically gone largely untouched (literally) by straight men, since the only way to access it is through the anus.
“Since the perineum is so close to the prostate, pressing on it would be a way of getting in that general vicinity without doing anal stimulation,” Wiesner says. Or to put it another way, it’s a sort of back door to the prostate, without having to go through the actual back door. “Men don’t realize how perineum stimulation can intensify ejaculation until they’ve received oral sex from a partner who simultaneously massages the perineum,” says Sunny Rodgers, clinical sexologist and brand manager for sexual accessory line JimmyJane. “At that point, they tend to think it was just a great oral experience and don’t put two and two together.”
So how come most men won’t even touch their perineum in the privacy of their own locked bathroom? “Other than penis-specific masturbation, most men don’t take the time to explore their own bodies and what can please them,” says Sunny. “It’s due to a lack of sexual education, as well too much judgment about masturbation in general.”
There’s more to the perineum than being a neglected erogenous zone, of course: It’s also an important part of traditional acupuncture, and one of the defining needling points of Professor J.R. Worsley’s Five-Element Acupuncture, a system that aims to diagnose and treat illnesses by balancing the five fundamental elements of creation — wood, fire, earth, metal and water — within the body.
“The acupuncture point in the perineum is called ren one,” says Wiesner. “It’s used for resuscitation both physically and spiritually.” By resuscitation, she refers, in part, to one of the most classic uses of the point: Alongside treatments for constipation, incontinence and impotence, it also has traditionally been seen as a way of reviving a person from drowning. This invites the question of whether it wouldn’t be more effective to simply help the person out of the water, rather than assaulting their undercarriage with a metal needle, but Wiesner explains that the drowning can also be metaphorical. “If you’re overwhelmed, you would needle this point. It’s used for a lot of sexual dysfunction, but that’s the spiritual aspect of it.”
My curiosity as to how this experience might play out in reality is what prompts my visit to Wiesner’s clinic in Los Angeles, and the resulting needling of my own perineum. While I am settled comfortably in a sensory white noise of sweet incense and softly clanging gongs, Wiesner asks me a few questions about myself, takes my pulse and requests that I stick out my tongue, which I do. She takes a quick look, gasps, “Oh, honey,” and takes my hands in hers. She then proceeds to give me a startlingly accurate description of my mental state.
“You run on stress and anxiety,” she tells me. “It governs your life. You get all your work done ahead of schedule because to do otherwise would just make you unbearably anxious.” There is more, covering my home life and sleep schedule. It’s all accurate. It’s not unlike being given a cold reading by a psychic, and while I’m sure I must be giving more cues than just my apparently neurotic tongue, it’s nevertheless impressive.
Wiesner agrees to let me experience the ren one acupuncture, but cautions that it’s not a technique she’d normally use on a person with my constitution. “It’s more for someone who can’t motivate themselves, people who want to do something but they can’t. It’s emotional resuscitation for people who can’t get it going,” she says. “If someone needs some energy pulled from the Earth to get going, that might be a good awakening point. But you don’t need to wake up — you need to calm down.”
Wiesner leaves the room so I can get undressed and prepare myself. Since grundle is on the menu, I have to strip completely naked and lie on my back on the table, knees up. I then have to “gather myself” in a sheet, pulling up and hiding anything that would otherwise dangle, leaving a clear landing pad for the inbound needle.
I have never had acupuncture before — and am of a skeptical nature — so when Wiesner returns, I enquire how necessary it is that I believe in the treatment for it to work, a question she answers graciously. “It’s not a belief system; it actually works,” she tells me. “They’ve done functional MRIs that show what lights up in the brain when you do acupuncture. Dogs get acupuncture and they feel better — there’s no placebo effect with dogs! This is something physical — it works on the central nervous system.”
Unconvinced but hesitant to argue with a stranger holding sharp objects, I settle back and wait for the stabbing to commence. To my surprise, the needles go in quickly — thwack, thwack, thwack. Before I know it, there are six in me, one in each foot, one just above each inner ankle and one in each shin. I express surprise, having envisioned it as a slow, sensitive process, and she patiently explains that the faster they go in, the less they hurt. Thwack, thwack, thwack, thwack — both hands, the belly and the chest. She lingers over my face, looking at me with motherly concern. “You’re so anxious. I just want to do something to help calm you down, something to really soothe and settle your mind.”
THWACK: She hammers a three-inch metal needle into the middle of my forehead, right between the eyes. “I don’t think that helped very much,” I confess, and then thwack, another needle goes into the top of my skull.
So far, none have been especially painful, but now comes the coup de gooch, and Wiesner tells me to get ready.
I squirm as it enters: It hurts considerably more than the others. Once it’s in, though, the pain quickly subsides — weirdly, the only two that continue to throb throughout the whole experience are the one in my right ankle and the one in my forehead.
Wiesner leaves the room so I can lie in peace for 20 minutes and let the needles work their magic. The first 10 minutes are spent in restless agitation: I have stuff to do! But then I realize that, with a full-time job and two babies at home, I don’t even remember the last time I had 20 minutes to lie down and do nothing, so I close my eyes and do my best to enjoy it.
After around five more minutes, something strange happens. Fifteen years ago, when I was having panic attacks so bad that I didn’t know what to do with myself, I had hypnotherapy (another thing I didn’t really believe in, yet was desperate enough to try). I forget the specifics, but I do remember that when the guy put me under, he was asking me to picture a blue pyramid, and these visions of a sapphire-blue pyramid, twirling slowly in the dark, accompanied me deep into the hypnosis.
It’s a memory I haven’t revisited in well over a decade, yet suddenly, lying there with needles sticking out of my face (and taint), the image springs forcefully back: Vivid, insistent, a revolving, ethereal blue pyramid that expands until it fills up my entire consciousness. Without warning, a tingling, tidal sensation flows quickly from my feet right up to my head, like coming up on some kind of drug, and I open my eyes with a gasp.
Now, it’s entirely possible that I briefly fell asleep and dreamed all of that. Because when I sit up, the pyramid has gone: My taint aches. But either way, when Wiesner comes back in to take out the needles, I’m weirdly relaxed. Wiesner tells me that people refer to it as being “acupuncture-high,” and psychosomatic or not, for the next hour or so, I do feel mildly but delightfully stoned.
All in all, the experience was very pleasant — apart, it must be said, from that one needle in the perineum, which even Wiesner agrees is something I could have done without. I can at least see how it might wake a person up: It would, in fact, be hard to see how it wouldn’t.
With sexologists and medical practitioners alike seeming keen to spread taint awareness, what, then, is the future of this misunderstood body part? Will it become a staple of healing, both of the physical and sexual variety?
“It’s not a go-to point for me, and I’m one of the few people who’ll actually needle that area,” admits Wiesner. “But it can be useful: I had a man who had sexual issues and couldn’t really masturbate, so his prostate got inflamed because he couldn’t drain it. Ren one was the right point for him. I also used it to treat a woman who’d had surgery and lost all sensation in her perineum.”
Back in the bedroom, meanwhile, the perineum has taken on a I-knew-about-this-first vibe, as Britton advises to start experimenting with it before it becomes too popular. “Remember when Ally McBeal popularized the idea that the way to a woman’s orgasm was the back of her knee?” she asks. “The reason the back of the knee is sensitive is that it’s an area of the body that doesn’t receive a lot of contact and touch, and places in the body that are rarely touched can feel arousing once you start touching them.”
With this in mind, she suggests that the untouched nature of the taint is, in fact, a large part of its potential appeal. “The perineum could be very stimulating and arousable, because now we’re entering into a forbidden territory,” she says. “We know that when we deny someone access to pleasure, they want that even more, because it’s forbidden fruit — taboo makes things more desirable. But once someone crosses the divide and they no longer see it as forbidden territory, or a shameful act, it’s going to become normalized.”
As for my own taint, besides being a little tender for a couple of days following the acupuncture, nothing much has changed. The occasional slight twinge when I bend over or shift in my seat reminds me that it exists, but even that soon fades, and it once more becomes an anatomical afterthought. In other words, despite my quest to pull back the veil on the taint, it seems that its defining feature — sexually, at least — really is its mystery.
So get the most out of your perineum now, before it goes mainstream (while it’s still, as it were, underground). Because we all know that if there’s one thing in the world less appealing than taint, it’s basic taint.