Myth: Heterosexual Couples Don’t Enjoy Anal Sex

This time’s myth is heterosexuals do not participate in penile-anal intercourse. In fact, most people believe that only homosexual men have penile-anal intercourse, and they believe that all homosexual men have penile-anal intercourse, and we will deal with that some other month. This month we’re going to deal with the idea that in fact heterosexuals do not have penile-anal intercourse. Now the historical and ethnographic record – the ethnographic record is what happens in other cultures, and the historical record is of course history – disputes this idea very much – that heterosexual anal intercourse is rare or that it is limited to any one culture. There are Greek ceramics, Roman oil lamps, ancient Peruvian chica pots and Lambayequen pottery, East Indian temple sculptures and miniature paintings, Persian paintings, Chinese and Japanese paintings and prints, African carvings and metal sculptures, French paintings and illustrations, Austrian and German bronzes and porcelains – and this is just to name a few things that show us heterosexuals having penile-anal intercourse. So we know that people have been doing it all over the world, and we know that they’ve been doing it for a very long time because some of these sculptures and paintings go back through centuries, and some of them even before the Christian era. Modern research also supports the view that many heterosexuals have participated in penile-anal intercourse at least one time. In one large magazine survey – and those are not scientific because those surveys are such that they ask people to write in – this was a large women’s magazine, so the women involved were married primarily, and 100,000 married women answered this survey, and out of 100,000 women they randomly picked 10,000 answers and then a group of researchers analyzed those 10,000 randomly chosen answers to the survey. And they found that 43 percent of those that had been chosen had tried anal intercourse at least one time. Of those 43 percent, 22 percent had done it at least once, 19 percent said that they had done it occasionally – that they had anal sex occasionally – and 2 percent said that they did it often. And you’ll see that theme over and over again. Although people have tried it, a considerable number, in this case almost 25 percent – almost one out of four had tried it at least once – only a small group of people find it something that they want to repeat a lot. Some people do it once in a while to add a little spice to life, and then there are a few people who find it particularly exciting and an activity that they want to do on a regular basis. Of the 43 percent that tried it, 40 percent said that they found it somewhat or very enjoyable, 49 percent, of half of them, said they didn’t like it, and 10 percent said they could take it or leave it. So probably they would do it again if their partner enjoyed it. Now although this was not a carefully controlled scientific study, it’s still a useful study because there’s not a lot of data on this subject, and so many people were involved in the survey. But specific percentages aside, these data clearly suggest that a large number of people – married heterosexual couples – have engaged in anal intercourse, and some reasonable number have tried it more than once, and there’s certainly a reasonable number who have enjoyed it.

Now, there’s another, more recent scientific survey that has asked men about this. And it’s not usually asked of men – at least not as often as it’s asked of women. And I think that’s because researchers have always been concerned that they don’t show how many of their male subject are gay, and may be involved in either bisexual or gay anal sex and they feel it would be confused. That’s probably because they often don’t make their questionnaires very well so they’re not sure who they’re talking to. But this was a pretty good sample of 3,298 young men, age 20-39, and it asked about their sex lives in general but also asked about anal sex. 20 percent recorded that they had tried anal sex at least once. They had engaged in anal sex at least once. And of those who reported trying anal sex at least once, 22 percent of them had some college education, 28 percent were formally married, 25 percent were currently cohabitating with somebody, so they were in a relationship of some sort.

Now, another study used telephone interviews, and they surveyed 3545 California men and women. And this survey concentrated on those who were under 44 years of age because the researchers were particularly interested in sexual behaviors that place people at risk for Sexually Transmitted Diseases and HIV. And they felt that people under 44 were more likely to be in that category. And they found that when men and women were asked about this, their participation in heterosexual anal intercourse was in the levels that we have seen up to this point, but they were particularly interested in just talking about the last year. So they asked people “have you participated in anal intercourse in the past year?” and 8 percent of males and 6 percent of females reported that they had had anal intercourse once in the last month. So that was very interesting. And they reported having it at least once per month. Most of these engaged in this activity between once and five time per month. So we’re getting 8 percent and 6 percent. Younger respondents and those not married were more likely to report anal intercourse than older and married individuals. So it’s something that’s a more experimental behavior – which, I think we will agree it is a more experimental behavior.

In two smaller scientific studies which asked the question about regularity of anal intercourse, three percent and nine percent of the women reported that they participated regularly. So we’re seeing that it’s basically under ten percent and ranges from 2-3 percent and 8-9 percent in terms of regularity. Now we also did a study at the Kinsey Institute when I was there on a large random sample of midwestern college students in 1991. And we asked, along with many other behaviors, about anal intercourse and we found that – by the way, these students had only been sexually active, in terms of their intercourse behavior, their first penile-vaginal intercourse was on average only 3.8 years ago, so around 4 years, a little bit less than 4 years they had been active sexually as adults, having had vaginal intercourse less than 4 years ago, so you have to keep that in mind. And what we found was that more than one in six of our college students, young men and young women, had tried anal intercourse at least once. 16.8 percent of the male students and 17.6 of the female students had tried anal intercourse at least once. The average age of first anal intercourse was 20.3 for the males, and 19.1 for the females. So these data support the findings of other studies of college students and the results suggest that men and women are participating in anal intercourse at around the same level. And that is an activity that people try, at least once, and some find that they really like it and continue to participate in it.

A more recent survey of college students supports our findings, so that a study ten years later in 2000, which made sure, by the way, because ours couldn’t do that, that there were large enough numbers of the three biggest minority groups as well as whites, found that 23 percent of males and females had engaged in anal intercourse at least once, very close to our findings, a little bit higher, and that there were no major differences based on race or ethnic group. So – very interesting. Anal intercourse is something that’s being tried by almost a quarter of all college students. This matches a much older study, by the way, in certain ways, of 526 gynecology patients in a clinic in which 25 percent of the women reported experiencing anal intercourse and 8 percent, just like we heard throughout the studies, reported regular participation. And there were no difference found in this study between Mexican-American women, Black-American women, and Anglo-American women – or any differences between women older and younger than 30. So we’re seeing a story of consistency here – that about a quarter of people try it, and that under 10 percent find it something that they would like to continue doing on a regular basis.

Another study, in 2003, of 813 college women, that was done over an 8-year period – so every year for 8 years they asked a new set of women from this college, what their rate was of participating in anal intercourse. And in this case, 32 percent, which was consistent over the 8 years, had tried anal intercourse at least once. Now I thought you might be interested to know what we know about anal intercourse around the world, because America is America – and what’s happening around the world, because I told you that we know about it historically around the world. So, we have some studies from Sweden, and in a study in 2001 they reported pretty similar rates to the United States, 25 percent of Swedish college students had tried anal intercourse. And just to give you a little bit of comparison to other activities – 86 percent had performed oral sex – that’s pretty close to America. We found in our study, by the way, in terms of all sex and pure vaginal intercourse, our American college students had two vaginal intercourses for every one oral sex act that they did. So it’s about two to one when you’re in college. And we don’t know how that happens – I haven’t seen any data yet to see how that happens when you get older. It would probably be different for different groups. The majority of these college students graded oral sex as positive and the majority graded anal sex as negative. And we would guess that – because you remember, if you look at the data, most people don’t continue to participate in anal sex regularly – only less than 10 percent continue to engage in anal sex on a regular basis. In another survey, of 1000 older Swedish women, published in 2003, 47 percent reported engaging in anal intercourse at least once, and in this study age was an important factor. Half of the older women, and only a third of the younger women, had experienced anal sex at least once. And in a third study of 300 Swedish men, 98 percent of them were heterosexual and were asked about anal intercourse, and 72 percent said they had tried it at least once. 70 percent said that they had tried it more than once, and 84 percent said they could imagine doing it again if they had the opportunity.

Now, we have a study for Britain. And the British study was conducted in London in 1988. It had 1025 women in it who were visiting a clinic and they were asked about their sexual behaviors. And overall, looking more like the United States, 20 percent reported some experience with anal intercourse. Experience increased with age, just like we find in most other places. Those who responded that they engaged in anal intercourse occasionally or more were looked at by race, and 9 percent of the white women had tried it at least once, and 8 percent of the black women had tried it at least once.

Finally, we have a study from China – a very recent study of 886 sexually active – but these are rural Chinese men and women, so we always now that people from rural areas tend to be conservative – they may be very sexually active but they tend to be more conservative. China is a very very conservative place. It’s one of the most conservative places in the world right now, even more conservative than us – we’re very conservative sexually. We may have lots of sex around us, but our attitudes really are quite conservative. But anyway, this study revealed that only 2.4 percent of these rural Chinese had tried anal intercourse. And interesting, just to give you an idea about the rest of their sexuality in comparison to us in the West, only 23 percent had had premarital sex. So it’s way below us, because ours is like 90 percent having premarital sex. So you can see that the Chinese – rural Chinese particularly – are very conservative in their sexuality.

Here’s one more interesting piece of cross-cultural differences as relates to penile-anal sex, and relates to American sexuality. One of the things that we as researchers have had to keep our eye on in terms of high-risk sexuality and HIV and so forth these days in the United States. In many Latin American cultures, it’s believed that heterosexual anal intercourse does not technically affect virginity. So that a girl can remain pure, or virginal, if she maintains no activity vaginally. So if she does not have penile-vaginal sex before marriage, she remains a virgin. And what this permits is that with her fiancé she can have penile-anal intercourse, and as long as they don’t have penile-vaginal intercourse she can go to her wedding a virgin, and to her wedding bed a virgin. And also she of course can’t get pregnant before her wedding, because of course she can’t get pregnant by penile-anal intercourse, and I hope you all know that now – I’m not telling you something new. So this is also used in these cultures as sort of a way of marital contraception. So this is a very interesting cross-cultural note, I think, and it is not something that’s part of Anglo-American culture, but is part of some Latino cultures. And so couples from these parts of Latin America can have sexuality prior to marriage that includes a kind of intercourse, and still maintain the virginal nature. And of course that means if a woman is asked is she a virgin, she can honestly say she is, even though she’s had penile-anal intercourse. Of course, this affects her sexual health if you’re a physician or a social worker or whatever, and you’re asking her about her risk of sexually transmitted diseases, and you asked her whether she was a virgin or not or whether she had sex with her partner, she might say no and be being perfectly honest. So these are the kind of things that we in the field have to be concerned about.

Now – if you’re somebody who wants to try anal sex, penile-anal intercourse, with your partner, we can talk a little bit about technique as we end this myth a month. But first let me say, as with all partner sex, it’s very important that it be consensual, just like with any other, it’s not something to be forced or to try to pressure your partner about – this particularly, because it is unusual sex in America, but as with all sex it should never be forced or coerced. You don’t get good sex that way and it’s just a thing that does not add to any of the pleasure of sexuality, and it’s just wrong! So, we don’t use coercion or force. But if you both want to experiment and you’ve talked about it as something new that you want to experiment with, with the understanding that you’ll stop the minute that either of you feels uncomfortable, or that there might be some painfulness, because of course, pain and sex and pleasure don’t go together for the vast majority of people, and you’ve discussed it, which is a great idea with all sex – fully, in advance – then, you have to prepare. Lots of good lubrication – water soluble is good – and with a good condom. I recommend a condom called TheyFit, and that’s because they come in 55 sizes, and you custom fit them to yourself, and they stay on real well because they fit well and they’re very comfortable, and both of these are important for wearing in particularly tight places. You should both be very relaxed and very aroused, because that’s going to make it more likely to be something that you enjoy, and that makes a new experience more enjoyable. It’s a good idea to insert your finger first, with lots of lubricant in advance. And again, whenever you insert anything in the anus it’s very important for the person who’s having that inserted to push out at the same time that whatever is being pushed in is pushed in very gently. It’s important that it be done slowly. Other suggestions for increasing pleasure and reducing discomfort during anal intercourse is experimenting with different positions and making slight adjustments to the angle of entry. So those are two things to think about. Now, the two positions that most people find comfortable are – and the first one I’m going to show you a picture from a Japanese block print from 1840, from a very famous, very well known Japanese wood print artist named Kunisata. This is from 1840, he is a very famous artist from Japan who was very well known for his portraits and his pictures of actors and actresses, but this is one of the positions, and that’s with the woman kneeling on her hands and knees. That’s one position that people find comfortable, and you can see this is a beautiful block print. Just to make you a little bit of an expert on Japanese erotic art – you see these tissues? This was special paper that was made by the Japanese – they like everything to be beautiful, as you can see, they’re wearing beautiful kimonos, they’re in a beautiful room, they’ve got tea there, they’ve got a beautiful screen, and everything is lovely – they want everything to be nice while making love. And one of the conventions in Japanese art is that each one of these tissues represents an orgasm. And these tissues were made of special paper so that it would feel beautiful on the genitals and that it would have a special sound. And the convention in art is, as I said, that each one of the tissues represents an orgasm.

The other position that people find to be comfortable and enhancing of pleasure, is for the woman to lie on her back with her knees pulled all the way up to her chest. So you can try those, and again, slowly, carefully, and with the woman adjusting her position and the man listening very carefully and not getting carried away, and remembering that these tissues in the anus and the rectum are not made for intercourse like the vagina is, and so you have to be gentle, gentle, gentle.

So, I guess that’s the end of our Myth, remembering that unusual behaviors can be very arousing, but you never force somebody, you never try to talk them into anything, and sometimes they’re just fun to think about – and the fantasy of it is very arousing in and of itself.

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