Anal sex or anal intercourse is human sexual behavior 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 can be pleasurable for both the insertive partner and the receptive partner. The anus contains many of the same kinds of nerves as the penis or clitoris. For females, pleasure derived from anal intercourse is also thought to be related to the shared wall between the rectum and the vagina as well as the G-spot. For males, the tightness of the anus is often said to be a source of pleasure in penetrative anal sex, while the presence of the prostate gland near the rectal wall is generally seen as a source of pleasure during receptive anal intercourse.
Anal sex remains taboo in some cultures and is illegal in some jurisdictions (see Sodomy law).
The terms "sodomy" and "buggery" are imprecise, but are often used as synonyms for anal sex, particularly in older works. 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. More specific modern slang terms include "ass sex" and "buttsex".
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).
Some medieval woodcuts portray persons kissing the anus of a goat-like figure representing the Devil.
As of 2004, several jurisdictions in the United States had statutory prohibitions making anal sex and other forms of sodomy a crime. Many of these statutes purported to prohibit anal sex by same-sex partners. In 2003, John Lawrence and Tyron Garner brought a landmark suit that challenged as unconstitutional Texas's anti-sodomy law before the Supreme Court. Lawrence and Garner had previously been apprehended in Lawrence's home in the act of anal sex, after a neighbor had made a false noise complaint to the local police. The Supreme Court struck down the Texas law by a 6–3 vote. Five of the justices joined the deciding opinion, which also overturned the Court's previous ruling on sodomy in Bowers v. Hardwick. The Court overturned the law on the grounds that the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution prohibited the state from regulating private behaviors between adults without furthering a legitimate state interest. The government purpose behind the law, a moral objection to homosexuality, was held to not be a legitimate interest. (See Lawrence v. Texas.)
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%. Among heterosexuals, both women and men engage in penetrative and receptive anal intercourse.
In several cultures (such as the Mediterranean area and Latin America) and countries female receptive anal intercourse in a heterosexual context is widely accepted, especially as there is less risk of unwanted pregnancy via unprotected anal than unprotected vaginal intercourse. Anal sex is sometimes seen as 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 heterosexual 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.
In many cultures, even those where female receptive anal intercourse is considered normative, male receptive anal intercourse, even in a heterosexual context, is seen as taboo, or as less common. In some cultures anal sex is so commonly linked with homosexuality that any male who engages in receptive anal intercourse is considered homosexual, even if he is penetrated by a female partner or by himself during masturbation. In some cultures, only males who are penetrated by other males are considered homosexual, while males who penetrate other males are not.
In certain contexts male-male anal intercourse among males who otherwise identify as heterosexual is seen as a temporary behaviour to which they resort when confined in single-sex environments, such as prisons.
Anal sex among gay men and lesbians
Historically, several cultures, such as mediaeval Japan and others are known to have been normative practitioners of male-male anal intercourse, often in the context of a mentor-student relationship between an adolescent male and an adult man (see pederasty). The males who participated in such relationships cannot properly be called gay or homosexual, however, since in classical cultures such distinctions did not exist, and since participation in these male-male relationships did not preclude sex with women.
The practice is thought to have been so common in Ancient Greece that the term "Greek love" was used to refer to the practice, and in modern times, "Greek" is sometimes used as gay slang for anal sex. Some have argued, however, that in Greece, rather than anal sex male-male couples actually engaged in non-penetrative interfemoral intercourse, but this view is widely disputed. In other cultures, notably Japan, records leave no question that male-male couples did engage in penetrative anal intercourse.
In modern times, 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 others never try it at all. Among gay men who do practice anal sex, some, though not all, reserve it only for committed relationships. No reliable information is available on the number of gay men (or indeed, heterosexual men) who regularly engage in anal intercourse.
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" or "switch."
Gay cultures generally do not make a distinction between the penetrative and the receptive partner: both tops and bottoms who have sex exclusively with men are considered gay.
Several slang terms are generally reserved for anal sex between two males, such as barebacking which refers to unprotected anal intercourse.
Like some gay men, some lesbians also practice anal sex, but as there is very little information available it is not known how prevalent the practice is among lesbians. Like heterosexuals and gay men, those lesbians who enjoy it practice all forms of anal sex, including penetration.
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.
For females, pleasure derived from anal intercourse is also thought to be related to the shared wall between the rectum and the vagina as well as the G-spot.
For males, the tightness of the anus is often said to be a source of pleasure in penetrative anal sex, while the presence of the prostate gland near the rectal wall is generally seen as a source of pleasure during receptive anal intercourse. This gland has been called the male G-spot.
Unprotected anal sex is an effective means of transmitting most sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). In particular, it is the sexual activity which most effectively transmits HIV, which can lead to AIDS. According to health care professionals, condoms should always be used for anal intercourse, but they should not be considered an absolute safeguard. In principle, anal sex with anyone known to have a sexually transmissible disease, and indeed with anyone whose disease-negative status has not been determined, should be avoided. This advice applies to all sexual activity.
Anal sex does carry some risks to health and comfort even in the absence of STDs. For example, while the vagina secretes its own lubrication, the anus and rectum do not. The tissues in the rectal area are particularly delicate and susceptible to tearing, thus, artificial lubrication should always be used for anal intercourse. Oil-based lubricants like Vaseline, however, destroy latex condoms, and the two should not be used together.
In addition, since the rectal tissues are so easily damaged, and since the anorectal muscles are largely under involuntary control, slow, gentle, and responsive insertion is necessary to avoid pain and tearing.
Nothing that 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 bacteria. Condoms can be placed over sex toys and latex gloves can be worn to protect the hands and fingers. These should be used once and then discarded.
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, requiring medical intervention. For this reason, most dildos nowadays are made with flared bases. Additionally, nothing longer than eight inches (20 cm) 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.)
In females, deeply penetrative anal sex must be attempted with care, because the female upper rectum passes adjacent to the uterus, which can experience physical trauma in cases of vigorous intercourse.
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.