Sex Question Friday: Do Women Enjoy Anal Sex?

Every Friday on the blog, I answer people’s questions about sex, love, and relationships. This week’s question comes from reader who wanted to know how many women have experienced anal sex and their perceptions of this activity.

How many women have had anal sex? Is it possible for a woman to enjoy it and even orgasm from it? Or do women just have anal sex because they feel pressure from their partners?


Although anal sex is an activity most commonly associated with gay men, there are people of all genders and sexual identities who practice and enjoy it. So just how many women have tried anal sex? Data from nationally representative U.S. surveys indicate that just over one-third of adult women aged 25-44 report that they have had anal sex with a man at least once before [1], and about one-fifth of women in this age group report having done so during the past year [2]. These numbers have increased significantly over the past few decades. For example, if you look at national survey data from the 1990s, you will see that about one-fifth of women reported having ever had anal sex, and fewer than one-tenth reported having done it in the past year [3].

If so many women are having anal sex, does that mean that they are enjoying it? There seems to be a common perception that women can’t possibly like receiving anal sex. For example, consider this conclusion from a 1987 study of women's sexual attitudes: “anal sex is (like rape) a sexual activity that women sometimes engage in but seldom enjoy” [4]. Whoa. There are a lot of things wrong with that sentence! For one thing, likening consensual anal sex to rape is highly problematic because one of those activities is voluntary and the other isn't—but saying that rape is “seldom enjoyed” is even worse because that’s like saying that women don’t like being raped all of the time, but they do like it sometimes. This is not OK. However, I think this sentence exemplifies a popular view of receptive anal sex: no one in their right mind wants to do it voluntarily, and if they do, they’re certainly not going to like it. 

However, research suggests that many women actually do enjoy anal sex and derive sexual pleasure from the sensations that go along with it [5]. For example, consider the following quotes given by women in a study of their anal sex practices:

“I like it. If I have anal sex, I have orgasms. So it's just like I'm having the regular missionary sex. It's just like that. My body likes it.” [5]
“It feels like vaginal but almost a little better…I like it. It feels like you're in another world somewhere. Ohh! It feels like you're getting massaged. And it feels good.” [5]

Consistent with these findings, consider a recent national survey which found that among women who had anal sex during their most recent sexual event, 93.5% reported having an orgasm [6]. In comparison, 65.9% of those having vaginal sex reported orgasms and 81% of those receiving oral sex reported orgasms. Now, this does not necessarily mean that anal sex itself causes more orgasms, because the women who reported having anal sex in this study also reported engaging in several other sexual activities during that event. So maybe this says more about the effect of having a varied sex life than about anal sex per se.

Of course, it is important to stress that not all women enjoy anal sex. Indeed, some women report that the experience is painful and uncomfortable [5]. Thus, it is not universally pleasurable. However, part of the reason for this may have something to do with the fact that many women who have tried anal sex say that the experience was not planned and many of them reported using no lubrication at all [7]. Unlike the vagina, the anus is not self-lubricating--as a result, attempting anal sex without the assistance of any artificial lubricants is likely to produce discomfort and can potentially result in rectal tears.

As for your last question (i.e., do women have anal sex because of partner pressure?), the answer is yes and no. While there are some women who report having been coerced into having anal sex by their partner, there are other women who enjoy anal sex so much that they request and initiate it themselves [5].

As you can see, anal sex is an increasingly common sexual activity among women; however, there is significant diversity in women’s attitudes toward it and the nature of their previous experiences

For past Sex Question Friday posts, see here. Want to learn more about The Psychology of Human Sexuality? Click here for a complete list of articles or like the Facebook page to get articles delivered to your newsfeed.

[1] Chandra, A., Mosher, W.D., & Copen, C. (2011). Sexual behavior, sexual attraction, and sexual identity in the United States: Data from the 2006-2008 National Survey of Family Growth. National Health Statistics Reports, 36, 1-36.

[2] Herbenick, D., Reece, M., Schick, V., Sanders, S.A., Dodge, B., & Fortenberry, J.D. (2010). Sexual behavior in the United States: Results from a national probability sample of men and women ages 14-94. Journal of Sexual Medicine, 7(Suppl. 5), 255-265.

[3] Laumann, E. O., Gagnon, J., Michael, R., & Michaels, S. (1994). The social organization of sexuality: Sexual practices in the United States. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

[4] Wilson, G. D. (1987). Male-female differences in sexual activity, enjoyment and fantasies. Personality and Individual Differences, 8, 125-127.

[5] Maynard, E., Carballo‐Diéguez, A., Ventuneac, A., Exner, T., & Mayer, K. (2009). Women's experiences with anal sex: motivations and implications for STD prevention. Perspectives on Sexual and Reproductive Health, 41, 142-149.

[6] Herbenick, D., Reece, M., Schick, V., Sanders, S. A., Dodge, B., & Fortenberry, J. D. (2010). An event‐level analysis of the sexual characteristics and composition among adults ages 18 to 59: Results from a national probability sample in the United States. The Journal of Sexual Medicine, 7, 346-361.

[7] Exner, T. M., Correale, J., Carballo-Dieguez, A., Salomon, L., Morrow, K. M., Dolezal, C., & Mayer, K. (2008). Women's anal sex practices: Implications for formulation and promotion of a rectal microbicide. AIDS Education & Prevention, 20, 148-159.

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