Sex Question Friday: How Popular Is Anal Sex In America?

Every Friday on the blog, I answer people’s questions about sex, love, and relationships. This week’s question comes from a reader who wanted to know the following:

“How many Americans are having anal sex?”

Good question! Anal sex appears to be quite popular in the USA. And although this activity is most commonly associated with gay men, there are a large number of heterosexuals who practice it.

Let’s take a look at some numbers. First, let’s consider the National Survey of Sexual Health and Behavior (NSSHB), a nationally representative sex survey conducted in the United States and published in 2010 [1]. In this study, anal sex was most common among men and women in their late 20s and 30s (however, it is important to note that this behavior was reported by at least some participants in every age group, including those age 70+). Specifically, 27% of guys aged 25-29 and 24% of guys aged 30-39 reported having insertive anal intercourse (i.e., “topping”) in the last year. For receptive anal intercourse (i.e., “bottoming”), the numbers were 4% and 3%, respectively.

Among women, 21% of those aged 25-29 and 22% of those aged 30-39 reported receptive anal intercourse in the last year. Women were not asked about experiences with insertive anal intercourse, although we do know that there are at least some women who practice “pegging,” which involves anally penetrating a partner (male or female) while wearing a strap-on dildo.

In the NSSHB, the sample predominately identified as heterosexual (92.2% of men and 93.2% of women). This tells us that the vast majority of the people who reported experiences with anal sex were straight.

If we take a look at lifetime prevalence rates for anal sex, the numbers are even higher. For instance, a recent survey by the Centers for Disease Control revealed that 44% of men and 36% of women reported having had anal sex at least once in their lives [2]. Like the NSSHB, this sample was also predominately heterosexual (94%).

As you can see, anal sex is a quite popular activity among both men and women in America and it would appear that most Americans who have had anal sex are heterosexual.

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[1] 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.

[2] 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.

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