Sexual Health Q&A

Q&A
Female Sexual Health Male Sexual Health
Is anal sex common? Is it dangerous?

Anal sex is considered taboo by many, so it is difficult to know just how common it is worldwide. However, some American studies have shed light on anal sex practices in the United States.

For example, a 2015 Journal of Sexual Medicine study of over 10,000 heterosexual American women found that almost 36% had had anal sex at some point in their lives. Around 13% had had anal sex in the past year.

In 2010, research conducted by the Kinsey Institute revealed that roughly a quarter of men between the ages of 25 and 49 had inserted their penis into their partner’s anus.

The National Survey of Family Growth (NSFG) suggests that anal sex is becoming more popular. In 2002, 34% of men and 30% of women between the ages of 15 and 44 said they had ever had anal sex with an opposite-sex partner. During the 2011-2013 study period, these figures rose to 39% for men and 33% for women.

For men who have sex with men, the NSFG combines anal and oral sex data. Between 2006 and 2010, 5.1% of men between the ages of 15 and 44 reported having either anal or oral sex with another man. For the 2011-2013 time period, 5.7% percent reported these activities.

Some experts believe that anal sex is becoming more popular because pornography has become more accessible, especially on the Internet. Couples who watch anal sex in erotic films may feel more inclined try it in their own bedrooms.

Couples having anal sex should do so carefully. The tissue that lines the anus is thinner and less lubricated than the vagina, so it tears easily. 

As a result, anal sex raises one’s risk for sexually-transmitted infections (STIs), including HPV, HIV, chlamydia, gonorrhea, and genital herpes. Other bacteria and viruses, like E. coli and hepatitis A can be transmitted through anal sex, too.

Tears in the anal lining can make +receptive partners more susceptible to infections from their own bowel movements as well.

Anal sex may also aggravate hemorrhoids and injure the bowel, although these situations are not common.

To have anal sex safely, keep these tips in mind:

  • Always use a condom. A new condom should be used for every new sex act. Couples should never use the same condom for vaginal and anal sex. Those who engage in analingus – oral stimulation of the anus – should use dental dams or another type of barrier so that the mouth and tongue are not in direct contact.
  • Use a lubricant. This can decrease friction in the anus and decrease the risk of tears. Keep in mind that a water soluble (water-based) lubricant should be used with a condom.
  • Relax beforehand. Being relaxed can make anal penetration more comfortable. Contracting and relaxing muscles of the anus a few times before penetration may help.

Anal sex does not appeal to all partners. If one partner is not willing – or if the activity hurts – couples should try another form of intimacy.

Partners who experience severe pain, bleeding, sores, or discharges from the anus should see their doctor as soon as possible.

In cases of painful anal sex or inability to enable anal penetration (anysmus), consulting an expert in sex therapy is recommended.

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