Getting to the bottom of the last great taboo
Rear entry. It's more common than ever - but is it safe and is it satisfying?
Why are we so backwards about the back-door?
Earlier this year, a study from La Trobe University based on a national survey of 845 gay Australian men found a strong link between age at first anal sex and HIV/STI vulnerability: The younger you were, the more likely you were to be infected.
The study concluded with a call for better sex education for young people. And while it is right to put the argument that sex education in Australia – currently patchy at best - ought to move away from the traditional, heteronormative model and encompass homosexuality, I might suggest that there's a danger inherent in this thinking. That danger is that there's a definitive difference in the way gay and straight people conduct their sexual relationships - that one way is right, and the other is wrong. This, of course, is simply not true. For one, sex with love is a lovely thing. For another, everyone is doing it every which way these days.
Including, and especially, anal sex.
But is it safe, and is it satisfying?
Let’s address the safety first. Latest data confirms a rise in STI notification rates across the country. The jump includes infections such as syphilis and HIV. It's worth mentioning that the reason for rise is unclear. Does the swell run tandem with an increase in infection rates, or does it simply reflect an upswing in the number of people being tested? Perhaps it's both. We need more work from the academy in this area. But we also need to talk about it as a community - as the community ultimately responsible for these figures. We need to examine our sexual habits and ask ourselves; 'How are we shagging, and do we really know what we are doing?'
It must be noted that the how now may not be that different from centuries ago. People have always been freaky, missionaries didn't invent the style, and anal sex is nothing new. The important difference here relates to advances in technology and medicine. Technological leaps see us sharing information with greater speed and ease, so ideas about how to have sex – or what kinds of sex may be had – are swiftly propagated, and brought to bloom. Meanwhile, medical advances have enabled us with the power to cope with the consequences of our heavily fertile minds; we can now treat the beastly outcomes of badly communicated sex ideas. To wit, people who've heard about anoreceptive intercourse, and do it, but don't get it right (here's why you ought to get it right, and how).
And there are a lot of people doing it. Men and women.
Two years ago, an American study found 20 per cent of women aged 18 to 19 were engaging in anal sex, but women aged 20 to 24 were twice as likely. This compares to vastly lower numbers in 1992, when just 16 per cent all of women aged 18 to 24 reported anal experiences. Interestingly, the age group reporting the most anal sex has grown older over the years. Twenty years ago, women aged 33 reported the highest rates, while in 2002 it was 35, and now, in United States, 46-year-old women are most likely to report anal. But how does Australia compare?
There is scant comparative information locally available that concerns women and anal sex. Much of the literature focuses on the male experience. And this is right insofar as, historically, anal sex among men was taboo and sodomites were damned, so a correction needed to occur. That correction is playing out across science, culture, politics, and, in some cases, religion, and gradually homosexuality being demystified. This is good, because related issues may be addressed with the common sense that befits a reasonable society. So it is good that there are studies involved with advancing the idea of safe anal sex amongst men. And we need to apply the same common sense when considering sex in general. Including, and especially, anal sex amongst everyone else; gay men, straight men – and women.
Because when you look at the guff about backdoors and babes in men’s mags, dude-blogs and porn forums, the extent of straight male interest in the subject is clear. What is less apparent is how straight women feel. Just as boys have negotiated anal sex with boys for centuries, boys and girls are figuring it out as well, possibly less effectively because the notion is less familiar. Do women enjoy anal sex? Does it feel nice? Perhaps, more importantly, is anal sex even a nice idea?
The last question is important because, for many women, and men, this particular form of sexual intercourse is flatly thought of as nothing more than very nasty business. This doesn't necessarily suggest prudishness – many people will enjoy a bit of kink or 'dirty' behaviour and still regard anal as a line-crosser – but it does prompt us to question why anal sex remains an awkward subject (that it has been so closely associated with homosexuality is one reason – witness Queensland's consent laws, for example, which still distinguish between 'carnal knowledge' and 'sodomy' and require men to be at least 18 before having anal sex – apparently men and women don't engage in it at all?) (Of course they do.)
But to the other, relevant question; is anal sex satisfying?
I'll let you speak to that in the comments below. But I will mention the results of another, not widely-reported study (again from America) that sought to explore one of the most common concerns associated with the subject – does anal sex hurt? (And if it does, that's good enough reason not to do it.) The answer, according the research, is yes – for many women, anal sex is a painful, unpleasant experience. Several factors contribute to this such as inability to relax, lack of lube, lack of sexual assertiveness. The baffling but not unimportant condition anodyspareunia was also taken into account. However, just like the La Trobe study, the authors concluded by calling for greater sexual education and more comprehensive investigation.
A call I'd heartily like to echo. Hence, this post.
I believe it's time we brought this sexual practice out of the shadows – out of the closet, if you like – and began talking about it in a manner that goes beyond cheap porn chat and some way to addressing the two big aspects of sex that really matter, these days: is it safe, and is it satisfying.
So I put it to you: have you tried it? Did you like it? Why/why not?