Anal sex is a sexual activity that is frequently reported by both men and women in America. For instance, a recent CDC survey reported that 44% of men and 36% of women in the U.S. have had anal sex at least once before in their lives. Despite the prevalence of this sexual activity, relatively little research has explored people’s motivations for trying it or what the experience is like, especially among heterosexual women. A new study in the Archives of Sexual Behavior offers a rare look into some of the reasons women report for having anal sex and their perceptions of the activity itself.
In this study, 32 women participated in focus groups regarding their experiences with anal sex. These women were 37 years old on average and represented a diverse group with respect to race (31% White, 41% Black, 28% Latina). All women reported previous experience having anal intercourse with a man.
Before describing the results, it is important to note that all participants were recruited through a drug treatment and community-based HIV testing program, so we are not dealing with a representative sample of women by any stretch of the imagination. The researchers focused on women with a past history of drug abuse because these women are the most at risk for HIV through unprotected anal sex.
Results revealed six distinct reasons for trying anal sex. Most commonly (for 62.5% of the women), it was because they were high, which isn’t surprising given the past history of drug use in this sample. For some women, being high simply increased their sexual desire, for others it lowered their inhibitions, and for some it served as a way to make anal sex less painful.
The other reasons reported for anal sex included (A) coercion, or not wanting anal sex but feeling as though they were unable to refuse, (B) personally desiring this sexual activity, (C) trading it for something else, such as money or drugs, (D) wanting to please a male partner, and (E) trying to avoid vaginal sex during one’s period (this was the least common reason, reported by 9% of the women).
Although there were a wide range of reasons reported for having anal sex, it is important to note that the majority of anal sex acts described in this study were initiated by men.
With regard to their perceptions of anal sex itself, 31% of the women reported that they found it enjoyable. For instance, as one participant described:
“Personally, I like it; I wanted the ultimate workout and he gave it to me; I do like to have my salad tossed.”
However, 47% of the women reported that they found the experience to be emotionally and/or physically uncomfortable. For instance, as one participant described:
“To me, I not only felt sore, but it was demoralizing. It didn’t feel like a normal sexual activity. It felt like I did something wrong. It felt wrong.”
Among those who reported enjoyment of anal sex, most reported that they preferred vaginal sex and that for anal sex to be enjoyable, it required a specific context (e.g., drug/alcohol use, an experienced male partner, use of lubrication).
Again, this study did not consist of a representative sample of women, so the experiences described here are certainly not reflective of all women who have had anal sex. However, what they do reveal is that, in a sample of women at high risk for HIV, there are a wide range of reasons for having anal sex, as well as substantial variability in perceptions of the act itself.
To learn more about women’s views of anal sex, check out this article.
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To read more about this research, see: Reynolds, G. L., Fisher, D. G., & Rogala, B. (in press). Why women engage in anal intercourse: Results from a qualitative study. Archives of Sexual Behavior.
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