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Let’s Talk Anal Sex: Who’s Doing It (And Why)

Over a third of American women have engaged in anal sex with a male partner, according to a study published by the International Society for Sexual Medicine (ISSM). Given how much shame and misinformation swirls around this particular type of sex, that might surprise you.

Then again, maybe it won't. Anal sex has thankfully lost a lot of the stigma it once carried, and plenty of people are doing it — and even talking about it openly. Contrary to its misguided reputation, anal sex has been a part of human sexual behavior since the dawn of recorded history. So why are people into it now?

Before we answer that question, it's important to know that, in the absence of existing health issues or anorectal pain, anal sex is safe for most people. If you’re curious about anal sex, and want to understand better if it's right for you, gaining knowledge is essential.

Since we're always willing to smash patriarchal viewpoints (see here, here, and here), normalize healthy sexual behavior (see here and here), and educate about the important pelvic health details, we collaborated with our friends at Women's Health Interactive to bring you more insight into anal sex. Let’s dive in.

How Common Is Anal Sex — And How Often Do People Have It?

Anal sex is not only reserved for those born with a penis. In fact, it is pretty common among heterosexual people born with vaginal anatomy as well — more than one-third of women report engaging in the activity with a male partner at some point in their lifetime, so if you’ve experimented with anal self-stimulation, partnered sex, or are curious about exploring anal play you’re in good company.

This meta-analysis of medical literature examined 20 scientific articles and studies related to anal sex and found that 28.4% of women who have sex with men described their first anal sex experience as being pleasant — and 62.3% “continued to have anal sex” afterward.

Another study that involved more than 3,000 American women found that 40.3% enjoy anal outercourse and 34.6% have experienced pleasure through anal penetration involving a finger, penis, or a sex toy.

As for how often people are having anal sex, the details are less clear. In general, anal sex is a topic with limited scientific research, but one informal survey found that, on average, sexually active American men report engaging in anal sex 3.13 times per month, while American women take part in the activity 1.66 times per month.

Why Do People Like Anal Sex?

People enjoy anal sex for many different reasons which can include the thrill of exploring new sensations, deepening intimacy between partners, fulfilling desires or fantasies, and even breaking perceived societal taboos.

In one study, those with vaginal anatomy who enjoy anal play reported that:

  • The unique sensation is pleasurable (38.9%)
  • Orgasms feel more intense (27.6%)
  • It feels “profoundly intimate and emotional” (18.2%)
  • The pleasure feels fuller compared to other types of sexual pleasure (12.5%)
  • The taboo associated with it is thrilling (11.6%)
  • They can achieve an orgasm from anal touch or stimulation alone (9.2%)

Another study conducted interviews with American women between the ages of 18 of 50 to learn more about their perceptions of anal sex. “I watched pornography where [heterosexual anal intercourse] was the central subject, and I really liked that,” noted one participant. Another said, “I think it is one of those things that, once you kind of are comfortable with it, it’s really rewarding.”

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Stigma Around Anal Sex Is Still a Major Issue

Despite its prevalence, there is still a stigma attached to anal sex, and a certain level of embarrassment and shame that prevents many from exploring their desires. “I definitely think it’s stigmatized,” one study participant explained. “I wouldn’t really talk to my friends, for instance, about it.” Another shared that they feel like “there's just so much shame surrounding it in society. So much...stigma about it, because it is a dirty place, and people don't know how to handle it.”

This stigma also means there is a lack of education and information about anal, despite both being important when it comes to engaging in this mode of sex. For example, it’s important to know about and employ safe sex precautions, maintain communication with your partner, and use plenty of personal lubricant (FYI the best anal lube is silicone-based, which is long-lasting and compatible with condoms).

“When I think about sex education that people might have in high school or younger, or even when you go to see a healthcare provider...it is extraordinarily rare that anal sex is even mentioned as an option for women,” one study participant said. “I think that kind of increases the taboo around it because no one really asks that question.”

Can Pelvic Floor Therapy Help Make Anal Sex Easier (Or Better)?

The pelvic floor muscles are the multi-layered group of muscles at the bottom of your pelvis. They run from your pubic bone, to your tailbone, forming a sling of support that wraps around the bottom of your rectum and helps to close the anal, urethral, and vaginal openings. In addition to supporting your bowel and bladder function, healthy, strong, coordinated, and flexible pelvic floor muscles support your sexual function, no matter how you have sex.

Although kegels are generally thought of as something women do to strengthen their pelvic floor muscles to improve symptoms like stress incontinence, they can also benefit the part of the pelvic floor that extends from your pubic bone and wraps around the rectum — also known as the puborectalis muscle. Anal kegel exercises can not only help to increase sensation and pleasure during anal sex but can also reduce symptoms like fecal incontinence. A pelvic floor physical therapist can help you learn how to properly strengthen this muscle to help enhance sensation if your muscles are weak and underactive.

Pelvic floor physical therapy may also be able to help if you encounter anal pain during sex, as it is commonly an effective treatment for other painful sex conditions including vaginal dyspareunia and/or vaginismus (pain during vaginal penetration) and dysorgasmia (or pain during orgasm). If anal pain is related to tight, overactive pelvic floor muscles, pelvic therapy treatment strategies can be used to help restore muscle flexibility and help ease pain during anal penetration.

If you’d like to learn more about anal kegel techniques, or how pelvic physical therapy could improve flexibility and pain related to your pelvic floor muscle dysfunction, we’re happy to help! Call or schedule a visit with a pelvic floor therapist at Origin today — we want you to feel good in your body in every way that feels right for you.

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