Scatology, or scatalogia, refers to a variety of related topics focused on literal or metaphorical defecation; the study of the act of defecation or of feces; an obsession with defecation or feces (also known as coprophilia); literary or artistic discussions of defecation; the use of obscene language or dirty talk. In each of these practices or conditions, defecation figures as a primary factor in human existence. There are numerous terms for the products of defecation, both proper (feces, scat, dung, manure) and slang (shit, poo, crap). Most of the slang terms are considered vulgar to some degree. Variants of these terms take on different connotations: Bullshit is considered a strong statement and usually describes relative untruthfulness, wheras chickenshit (usually a term used to describe a person) is a derogatory.
A scatologist is one who undertakes the academic and scientific study of feces. This has application in many disciplines, chiefly anthropology, zoology, biology, and environmental sciences. In most cases, nonhuman feces are studied to learn about animals and their environments. Anthropologists study human feces if they survive (often in fossilized form or within a body that has been preserved in some fashion), primarily to glean information about the diet or disease history of earlier humans.
In sexual practice, defecation and feces are eroticized in some instances. One type of scatological activity that is considered fairly common is anilingus, or licking the anus of a sexual partner (commonly referred to as rimming). The anus and the rectum both contain a large number of nerve endings, making them particularly sensitive to stimulation. It is most prevalent among individuals (both homosexual and heterosexual) who regularly engage in anal intercourse as a part of their sexual activity, but is also common among those who do not. In most cases of anilingus, there is no desire to come into contact with fecal matter. The receptive partner is generally expected to have thoroughly cleaned the anus and rectum. People who engage in anilingus may have a heightened attraction to the anus, but not to feces or the act of defecation. Others may simply enjoy the physical stimulation without regard to the particular anatomy involved. In popular slang, a "Dirty Sanchez" refers to inserting a finger into the anus of a sexual partner and then wiping the fecal matter from the finger under the nose of the partner to simulate a moustache. Coprophagia (the consumption of feces) is highly uncommon and is a practice with great risk for spreading disease or infection.
Feces contain a large number of bacteria and other infectious agents, which means that any contact with them is considered medically unsafe. Feces are the primary means of elimination of dead blood cells and bile from the body (which are the primary factors leading to their dark coloration), thus making the risk particularly great for blood-borne or liver-based infections. Contact with one's own feces is generally safer than contact with a partner's, but both carry risk. Hepatitis is a particular danger, although many other infections are also possible.
Scatalogical images and films are a small but recognized subset of the overall pornography industry. These can include depictions of people in the act of defecation, or with feces smeared on their bodies. Some also feature animals in the act of defecation. There is a very limited production of pornography involving coprophagia. The health risks involved in coprophagia, as well as the overall cultural taboo associated with it, make it unlikely that any mainstream pornographic actors would engage in the practice. The majority of examples seem to be low-budget or amateur recordings of individuals who practice coprophagia as part of their own sexuality, rather than staged commercial productions. Films that depict the act of defecation, but not the handling of or contact with the feces, are more common in commercial pornography, but still are considered a specialty product. Few public records exist to show the popularity of scatalogical pornography, but it holds a kind of fascination to many, primarily because of its taboo status. Its primacy as a proscribed activity is evidenced by the degree of outrage it can generate, even though it is recognized as an activity practiced by a relatively small group of individuals. In 2005, the George W. Bush administration launched an FBI antipornography program that sought to "gather evidence against 'manufacturers and purveyors' of pornography." Specifically targeted was pornography that "includes bestiality, urination, defecation, as well as sadistic and masochistic behavior" (Gellman 2005, p. A21). Each of these types of pornography is legal for consenting adults in the United States, which makes them an unusual focus of law enforcement.
This campaign shows that the the mainstream psyche considers such acts perverse, obscene, and immoral if not criminal. This attitude stems from the general refusal to accept or understand nonmainstream sexual practices. The activities targeted are fringe practices and are often attractive to participants because of their location outside the mainstream. They are associated with a variety of taboos whose violation can provide sexual pleasure. In sadism-based sexual practice, the humiliation involved in forcing a partner to violate taboos can likewise be pleasurable. The cultural prohibition against taking pleasure in feces and defecation is particularly strong, which potentially magnifies the degree of pleasure that can be found when it is violated.
Dirty talk or the use of obscene language in a sexual context (sometimes called potty mouth or shit-talking) is a common scatological activity. It can vary from mild swearing before or during sex (as a slightly vulgar form of pillow talk) to the use of highly graphic sexual language. The use of impolite language in a sexual setting is considered to be a fairly common practice. The more extreme forms of dirty talk are thought to be less common, although still firmly within mainstream practice. It can range from a prolific use of obscenities during sex to obscene comments or commands directed at the partner. This is both a way of eliciting desired acts from the partner and a means of humiliating him or her.
Using commands (as opposed to requests or suggestions) in a sexual setting is frequently a part of sadomasochistic sexual practice and often figures in bondage and discipline scenarios. The desire for dominance in sexual relations, which can often be accomplished verbally through the use of graphic or obscene commands, is also common even among people who do not consider themselves to be formally interested in BDSM practice. Coprolalia (literally, "talking filth") is a medical condition often associated with Tourette Syndrome, and involves the involuntary use of obscene or sexual language in inappropriate settings. It is popularly misunderstood as based in sexual desire, but is actually a neurological condition characterized by limits on occasional control over one's utterances and a variety of other symptoms. Although the language used may be sexual in nature, sexual gratification is not the aim of individuals with Tourette Syndrome. While apparently similar to the scatological, the two should not be confused.
ARTISTIC AND LITERARY SCATOLOGY
Scatological references are found throughout the visual and literary arts, drama, and other media. Mainstream films that notoriously depict scatological practice include Peter Greenaway's The Cook, The Thief, His Wife and Her Lover (1989) which opens with a scene of a man being beaten, urinated upon, and finally smeared with and forced to eat dog feces. Italian director Pier Paolo Pasolini's 1975 film Salò (adapted from the Marquis De Sade's 120 Days of Sodom) depicts a group of young people taken as sexual captives and forced to eat and wear their own feces. The film also depicts graphic genital torture. In a more comic vein, American director John Waters's 1972 film Pink Flamingos ends with a scene of nonsimulated coprophagia. Divine, the star of the film, is shown eating the feces of a dog immediately after they emerge from the dog's anus. The film is considered definitive of Waters's celebration of bad taste. Literary scatology has a very long tradition, dating at least to Aristophanes' play The Clouds (423 bce). Other famous examples include Dante's Divine Comedy (1314–1321), François Rabelais's Gargantua and Pantagruel (1532–1534), Jonathan Swift's Gulliver's Travels (1726), and Erich Maria Remarque's All Quiet on the Western Front (1928).
In visual arts, bodily waste has been used in a number of works, primarily in an effort to provoke reaction against the juxtaposition of profane material and sacred subject matter. The photographer Andres Serrano caused great controversy with his 1987 image Piss Christ, a photograph of a plastic crucifix submerged in the artist's own urine. The work was partially funded by the National Endowment for the Arts, a U.S. tax-funded arts program. When it was exhibited in 1989, the outrage over the perceived blasphemy of the piece caused a long-term dispute over public funding of the arts in the United States. While not strictly scatological, the work encompasses many of the same attitudes. A similar controversy erupted over the collage of the British artist Chris Ofili, The Holy Virgin Mary (1996), when it was shown in the Brooklyn Art Museum's 1999 exhibition Sensation. The canvas depicts Mary as an African mother figure, mostly composed of glitter and resin. It also incorporates photographs of buttocks taken from pornographic magazines, and most famously, a mound of elephant dung in the approximate location of one of the figure's breasts. New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani threatened to revoke city funding to the museum unless they removed the work from their show, leading to a lawsuit over the freedom of speech of artists. The work was part of the London Saatchi Gallery's permanent collection when it, along with many other works, was destroyed in an accidental fire in 2004.
see also Sadism.
Gellman, Barton. 2005. "Recruits Sought for Porn Squad." The Washington Post. 20 September 2005: A21.
Lee, Jae Num. 1971. Swift and Scatalogical Satire. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press.
Lewin, Ralph A. 1999. Merde: Excursions in Scientific, Cultural, and Sociohistorical Coprology. New York: Random House.
Rollfinke, Dieter and Jacqueline. 1986. The Call of Human Nature: The Role of Scatology in Modern German Literature. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press.
Rothfield, Lawrence. 2001. Unsettling "Sensation": Arts-Policy Lessons from the Brooklyn Museum of Art Controversy. New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press.
Steele, Valerie. 1996. Fetish: Fashion, Sex and Power. New York: Oxford University Press.
Brian D. Holcomb
sca·tol·o·gy / skəˈtäləjē;/ • n. an interest in or preoccupation with excrement and excretion. ∎ obscene literature that is concerned with excrement and excretion. DERIVATIVES: scat·o·log·i·cal / ˈskatlˈäjikəl/ adj.