Australasian Science: Australia's authority on science since 1938

The Curious Story of the Human Backside

Credit: Wikimedia Commons

The human backside has been celebrated in art for its beauty and as a sign of fertility in women for centuries, as shown by this painting entitled Love Whispers by the 19th century German painter Heinrich Lossow. Credit: Wikimedia Commons

By Darren Curnoe

The human posterior is rather peculiar compared with the backsides of our close primate cousins. Its unusual form tells the story of our evolution like no other part of the human body.

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.

Few parts of the body elicit such a mixed reaction as the human backside. We have an uneasy relationship with this most fundamental of human structures, as is clear from the many colourful terms we have for it in the English language: words like bottom, bum, rear end, fundamentum, posterior, buttocks and arse. In many cultures, taboos about it preclude us from exposing this part of our anatomy in public unless it is thinly veiled beneath swimwear or, for the more daring, divided up the middle by a thong. Only in the privacy of our homes, a gymnasium change room or at a nudest beach can we dare to expose that reviled and most mocked of all human features, the gluteal cleft, also known as the bum crack.

We are attracted to it and yet also repelled by it. The shape of our bum distinguishes us as male or female, and has historically been an object of sexual desire used to manipulate the opposite sex. We compare its shape to fruit – as in a woman’s peaches – and talk about men as having no bum at all. We even use it as a term to describe someone who is a useless layabout or, worse still, somebody who treats people rather badly.

At the same time it provides the opening for our gastro-intestinal tract, for the removal of solid and gaseous body waste, and is perilously close to our genitals, barely hiding them from behind. The more talented among us can even play...

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.