Anal sex or anal intercourse is human sexual behaviour involving the anus and rectum, especially, but not limited to, the insertion of the erect penis into the anus. The use of sex toys and other activities involving the anus and rectum can be considered anal sex as well.
Anal sex remains taboo in some cultures and is illegal in some jurisdictions.
The terms sodomy and buggery are imprecise, but are often used as synonyms for anal sex, particularly in older works. (The term sodomy refers to the Biblical city of Sodom, where allegedly the practice was common.) While they are sometimes used as synonyms for anal sex, they often also refer to various other sexual activities. For instance, depending upon the jurisdiction, the legal definition of sodomy may include any non-coitus act, including oral sex and zoophilia.
Anal sex has been taboo in many Western countries since the Middle Ages, when heretical movements were sometimes slandered by rumors that their members practiced anal sex among themselves. At that time the mainstream Christian clergy was not celibate, and the highest orders of some heretical sects were, leading to rumors that their celibacy was a sign of their attraction to members of the same sex. The term buggery originated in medieval Europe as an insult used to describe the rumoured same-sex sexual practices of the heretics from the Buggre sect. This sect originated in medieval Bulgaria, where its followers were called bogomils, but when they spread out of the country they were called buggres (from the ethnonym Bulgars).
Although it is also practiced by heterosexuals, anal sex is often popularly associated with homosexual men. However, like persons of other sexual orientations, some gay men enjoy sexual activities of this kind while others do not.
Anal sex among heterosexuals
Edward O. Laumann's The Social Organization of Sexuality: Sexual Practices in the United States found that about 20% of heterosexuals have engaged in anal sex, and sex researcher Alfred Kinsey found that number to be closer to 40%. In several cultures (such as the Mediterranean area and Latin America) and countries (such as Brazil, where almost 50% of the population practices anal sex ), female receptive anal intercourse is widely accepted amongst heterosexuals, not only for the pleasures involved, but also as a method of contraception and as a way of preserving female virginity (or at least preserving an intact hymen until marriage). As a method of birth control anal intercourse should probably be considered a fairly reliable but not foolproof method, as it is still possible for semen to enter the vagina and result in pregnancy. One appeal of hetrosexual anal sex is the fact that the anus is tighter than the vagina. This is often considered to lead to a more pleasurable experience for the man.
Male receptive anal sex among heterosexuals
Although male receptive anal sex has often been thought of as the exclusive province of gay men, some heterosexual men also find receptive anal sex to be a source of sexual pleasure. Stimulation of the prostate gland within the anus can produce pleasant sensations. This gland has been called the male g-spot. A woman may penetrate her male partner using her fingers or an object such as a dildo or butt plug; harnesses can be used so that a woman can wear a dildo (referred to as a "strap-on"). This often forms part of BDSM as practiced by dominatrices. This practice is called pegging.
Anal sex among homosexuals
Anal sex is popularly associated with gay men, and according to some studies (Lauman, for example) about 80% of gay men in the United States have engaged in anal sex. However, not all gay men regularly engage in anal sex or find it pleasurable: in fact some gay men try anal sex once or a few times and then rarely if ever engage in the practice, and there are others who simply never try it at all. Among gay men who do practice anal sex, some reserve it only for committed relationships.
While some gay male couples comprise an "active" partner and a "receptive" partner (a top and a bottom) this is not true of all gay couples who practice anal sex: though some relationships are structured this way, many gay men who have anal sex both "top" and "bottom" at different times and are called "versatile."
In some cultures, a man who tops other men is not considered homosexual, whereas a man who bottoms is. Gay Anglo-American culture does not make this distinction; both tops and bottoms who sleep exclusively with men are considered gay. In some contexts anal sex between men, particularly when one or both partners identify as heterosexual, is associated with dominance, disregard for the receptive partner, or rape.
Several slang terms are generally reserved for anal sex between two males, such as "barebacking," which refers specifically to when a condom is not used.
While anal sex between lesbians is generally considered less prevalent, some lesbian couples are known to practice anal sex.
Anal sex can be pleasurable for both the insertive partner and the receptive partner. Lubricants, great care, patience, and communication are all very important to avoid pain during the act.
The anus contains many of the same kinds of nerves as the penis or clitoris, and stimulating the anus can produce sexual pleasure. The presence of the prostate gland near the rectal wall is generally seen as a source of pleasure for men who enjoy receiving anal sex. For women, pleasure derived from anal intercourse can be related to the rectum sharing a wall with the vagina (the sexual nerves are actually closer on that side, making the sensation different and sometimes actually stronger) as well as the nerve endings of the anus and the G-spot.
Unprotected anal sex is an effective means of transmitting most sexually transmitted diseases. In particular, it is the sexual activity which most effectively transmits HIV, which can later cause AIDS. According to health care professionals, condoms should always be used for anal intercourse, but they should by no means be considered an absolute safeguard. The best safeguard is to avoid anal sex with anyone known to have a sexually transmissible disease, and indeed with anyone whose disease-negative status has not been determined (though this advice applies to all sexual activity).
Anal sex does carry some risks to health and comfort even in the absence of a risk of sexually transmitted disease. The vagina secretes its own lubrication, whereas the anus and rectum do not. The tissues in this area are particularly delicate and susceptible to tearing, thus, artificial lubrication is highly recommended for anal sex (oil-based lubricants like Vaseline destroy latex condoms, and the two should not be used together). Complications or infections from this are unlikely, however, as the normal person sometimes passes a particularly hard and dry stool with no harm. The anorectal muscles are largely under involuntary control, making slow, gentle, and responsive insertion necessary to avoid pain. Additionally, nothing which has been placed in or at the anus, including fingers, should ever contact the vulva, vagina, or mouth without being thoroughly washed with soap or a similar disinfectant, to avoid infection caused by the transmission of inappropriate bacteria to this area. Condoms can be placed over sex toys (they should be used once and discarded) and latex gloves can be worn to protect the hands and fingers.
It is also very important to be careful when inserting objects into the anus. Objects with edges or points can cause severe injury. Moreover, objects could get lodged in the rectum, resulting in a trip to the emergency room (for this reason, most dildos nowadays are made with flared bases.) Additionally, nothing longer than eight inches (20 cm) -- be it a penis, a vibrator, or anything else -- should be inserted into the rectum. Objects exceeding eight inches risk colliding with the sigmoid colon, the lining of which is probably not much stronger than a wet paper towel, and trauma can result in internal bleeding with potentially fatal results. Objects inserted in the anus should be washed carefully after every use. It is dangerous to share sex toys; if a dildo is used on more than one person, it should be covered with a condom which is changed after each use. Silicone and glass dildos may be sterilized via boiling instead. (See masturbation for more information on the use of sex toys.) Deeply penetrative heterosexual anal sex must be attempted with care, because the female upper rectum actually passes adjacent to the uterus, which can thus experience physical trauma in cases of vigorous intercourse.
In all forms of anal sex, it is very important that the person being penetrated know their limits and insist that the penetrator slow down, stop, and/or withdraw if they are in pain. Like any form of sex, anal sex is rendered much more dangerous under the influence of alcohol or drugs, which reduce responses, judgment, and ability to pay attention to one's own needs.
- Taormino, Tristan Ultimate Guide to Anal Sex for Women, Cleis Press, 1997.
- Morin, Jack Anal Pleasure & Health: A Guide for Men and Women, Down There Press, 1998.
- Bentley, Toni The Surrender: An Erotic Memoir, Regan Books, 2004.