In Weird Al Yankovic’s new parody song “Foil,” he sings about the need for tinfoil hats “in case an alien’s inclined / to probe your butt or read your mind.”
Why it is that aliens want to probe our butts; or, more specifically, when exactly did people start claiming that aliens gave them anal probes? I know this is a silly question, but silly questions often end up revealing hidden layers and secrets. And I have not been able to find a satisfactory answer to what should have been a simple question.
Anal probes are now such an established part of the UFO phenomenon that you’d think there’d be a clear answer to that question, but if there is, I can’t find one. Many UFO books refer to it, and many assume that it’s just a given during an abduction, but I can’t find a catalog of anal probing events or a timeline of when they supposedly started. Even the otherwise exhaustive Wikipedia lacks an entry for alien anal probes. There must be something about it somewhere, but since I am not as familiar with modern UFO material, I am not sure where to look for it.
We can probably put a terminus ante quem and terminus pro quem on our search by establishing that the trope was famous enough in 1997 to be the subject of South Park’s pilot episode, “Cartman Gets an Anal Probe.” The probing can’t be part of the abduction experience before there was an abduction experience, so it had to have developed after 1964, when under hypnosis Betty and Barney Hill claimed to have been subjected to surgical examination (Betty claimed a needle entered her naval) during a 1961 alien abduction. Or at least it would have developed after 1962, when claims that Antonio Vilas-Boas had been seduced into sex by an alien following a medical examination on a spaceship in 1957 were first published.
The interesting thing is that Barney Hill actually did claim to be anally probed, but because that claim was not included in The Interrupted Journey (1965), the account by John G. Fuller of the hypnotic regression he performed on the Hills, this claim was not generally known until a 1965 report by NICAP investigator Walter Webb was popularized much later. In that report, Webb stated that during the hypnotic regression, Barney Hill stated that “A cylindrical object was inserted up the rectum, and once again the witness believed something was extracted.” Fuller left this out of the book, along with a claim by Hill that a cup was used to extract sperm.
We can narrow down a bit further when the trope reached the general public. In 1994 John E. Mack’s Abduction described a tube inserted in the rectum as part of alien abduction and reported that under hypnosis an abductee named Peter said he was anally probed and that “These guys don’t know how to touch people … like get some bedside manner.” What a contrast from Betty and Barney Hill! Barney Hill told his hypnotist that “I wish I had gone with them … Oh, what an experience to go to some distant planet. … Maybe this will prove the existence of God.” Abduction had become blasé.
In 1992, David M. Jacobs claimed in Secret Life that aliens conducted rectal examinations with an instrument shaped like a wire whisk. Also in 1992, UFO researcher Karla Turner defined anal probing as one of the key elements of an alien abduction: “genitalia and anal probes are performed, on children as well as adults.” She said “numerous” reports confirmed anal probing.
So let’s go back still further to Whitley Strieber’s Communion (1987), widely considered to be the most influential alien abduction account, even though Strieber did not specifically identify the creatures that abducted him as space aliens. Although he never uses the phrase “anal probing” in recounting what he supposedly “remembered” of his 1985 alien abduction while undergoing hypnotic regression, he does discuss the aliens violating him anally:
Soon I was in more intimate surroundings once again. There were clothes strewn about, and two of the stocky ones drew my legs apart. The next thing I knew I was being shown an enormous and extremely ugly object, gray and scaly, with a sort of network of wires on the end. It was at least a foot long, narrow, and triangular in structure. They inserted this thing into my rectum. It seemed to swarm into me as if it had a life of its own. Apparently its purpose was to take samples, possibly of fecal matter, but at the time I had the impression I was being raped, and for the first time I felt anger.
I was not originally able to find earlier accounts of anal probing than Strieber’s before Robert Shaeffer pointed me to the 1965 report on the Hill incident. This report was not common knowledge until decades later and this is reflected in the lack of anal probing between Hill and Strieber.
Hopkins claims to have spoken with people who say they were anally probed in the 1970s. However these claims were made after Strieber’s, as evidenced from Hopkins’s first UFO book, Missing Time (1981), in which probing was discussed, but not up the ass. Instead, Hopkins told of the hypnotic revelations of Betty Andreasson who claimed to have been abducted in 1967 and was hypnotized in the late 1970s, when she revealed the probing: “Oh! He’s putting that thing in my nose. […] He had that thing up in my head!” Sandy Larson, hypnotized in 1975, similarly reported nasal probing. Virginia Horton, in 1979, claimed under hypnosis to have had a nasal probing. For what it’s worth, Horton’s nasal “probe” (it was “a nice smooth texture,” looked like “a microphone,” and hummed) seems to be the model for the anal probe of later literature. After her nasal probing, Horton was treated to a party with the aliens, complete with electronic music and gossip about dating. What she learned at the party about the aliens’ research program, she said, was “one of those things people like to deal with in science fiction themes.”
I can’t find a published account of anal probes predating 1987. (The Webb report was not published or reported publicly.) That same year saw the famous 1987 MUFON convention at American University that triggered national headlines (including in the Washington Post) when several abductees told their stories of aliens experimenting on them. That claim is common enough; Travis Walton also described a medical examination like those of the Hills and Vilas-Boas. Hopkins—again!—was back in 1987 with Intruders, in which he introduced more hypnosis evidence, this time of gynecological examinations—vaginal probes. It was a big year for probing, but once again, there wasn’t any anal probing except for Strieber.
It seems therefore that Strieber must be the direct source. After his book—and especially after the 1992 film version of Communion, with its famous scene of Christopher Walken receiving a writhing, phallic anal probe—the number of references to anal probing multiply exponentially in the literature, including a rising number of people in the 1990s who claimed to have been so probed. As early as 1990 Mademoiselle magazine reported that Communion had already inspired a “cult” of believers who started reporting similar abductions. The movie, I’d guess, is the most important source for making anal probes a standard part of the abduction experience, at least in its pop culture form, but it’s interesting that the stereotypical anal probe is closer in description to the nasal vibrator of the 1970s than to the scaly penis of Strieber’s version. I’m guessing his throbbing, thrashing probe wasn’t technological enough for true believers.
I think, though, that there must be some contamination from when cattle mutilation claims became associated with aliens, for in those claims, too, the aliens are said to be particularly interested in anuses. As an animal lover, I find the subject distasteful and am not particularly interested in the details of violence against animals (real or perceived). Newspaper accounts from the 1970s asked whether UFOs were responsible for the supposed mutilation of cattle, and according to FBI files from the 1970s, sexual organs were among the most frequently reported subjects of mutilation. The FBI had been asked to investigate cattle mutilations at the request of U.S. Sen. Floyd K. Haskell. The Bureau explained in 1975 that they lacked jurisdiction and that their experts concluded that scavengers simply ate the soft tissues first.
Sen. Haskell wouldn’t take no for an answer and in 1979 gave the FBI jurisdiction over cattle mutilations by helping pass a law to do so. He also seems to have been involved in popularizing the aliens’ taste for cow rectum. In an August 29, 1975 letter to the FBI on official U.S. Senate letterhead, he wrote that as part of the “bizarre mutilations” that the “rectum and sex organs of each animal has (sic) been cut away.” Media accounts from the era also tended to focus on, as OUI magazine put it in 1976, “the anus … cow vulvas and bull dongs.” The chupacabra would take over many of the aspects of the cattle mutilation myth in the 1990s, leading Lynn Picknett to report in the Mammoth Book of UFOs (2001) that the chupacabra not only was witnessed entering passing UFOs (or could be an alien itself) but also was involved in anally probing its victims: “Sometimes the rectal area showed evidence of having been probed.”
The emphasis on sexual organs and the anus in the 1970s immediately attracted claims that sexual perverts (or “weirdos” as OUI put it) were behind the mutilations. Once UFOs were suggested as an explanation for the cattle mutilations, it must have logically followed that aliens were interested in sex organs in general and the anus in particular. If the aliens were removing cow anuses with “surgical precision,” then they must logically want to probe abductees’ asses, too. This association occurred just before the rise of claims that aliens wanted sperm samples or gestational carriers to make hybrid children—claims that Thomas E. Bullard noted first occur in the work of Budd Hopkins and John E. Mack, who built on Hopkins’s work, by his own admission. But, again, this focused on reproductive organs rather than asses.
Dr. R. Leo Sprinkle specifically connected cattle mutilation to the abduction phenomenon, apparently in early 1987 (if Linda Moulton-Howe can be trusted to have reported this accurately), so I guess he is partially to blame for shifting the aliens’ anal interest from animals to abductees. Sprinkle reported that under hypnosis in 1987 a woman named Judy Doraty claimed to have witnessed a cattle mutilation in 1973 while she was a passenger on a UFO, though she described only mutilated sex organs, not an anus. Nevertheless, this appears to be the first connection between animal and human abductions as part of the same “phenomenon.”
But what I suppose is most interesting is that anal probing enters ufology as essentially (male) rape, and that this occurs in the late 1980s at the height of the AIDS crisis when penetrative male on male sexuality was heavily stigmatized as a carrier of disease and therefore something to dread. Notice that Strieber described his probing as essentially a rape and that the penile device was thrusting within him as though it were a living phallus. I’m not the only one to make this connection; several books from the 1990s drew a parallel between alien anal probes and AIDS fears.
Similarly, stories of anal probing don’t seem to become common before the invention of colonoscopies in June 1969. The procedure gradually expanded in use in the 1970s, though generally only after a colon cancer diagnosis, so it was still largely unfamiliar to most Americans of the era. It did not become a procedure widely used for the general public as a preventative measure until after—wait for it—January 1987, when Ronald Reagan famously underwent the procedure to remove polyps from his colon. Shortly after colonoscopies had their moment in the sun, aliens seem to have decided to make use of the same technology. It doesn’t seem like this gives enough time for Strieber to be influenced by it, given the long lead time on books, but it must have helped make it one of the key details from his book that subsequent abductees seized upon.