Q&A: Is Anal Sex Safe?

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QUESTION: Is Anal Sex Safe?

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Is Anal Sex Safe?

Photo: Jon Philips

Is Anal Sex Safe?

In theory, yes.

Anal sex can absolutely be a safe way to experience sex, just as vaginal intercourse can be a safe way to experience sex.

With any type of sex, however, there are ways to make it more or less safe.


Research shows that heterosexual women and men tend to use condoms less often during anal sex as compared to vaginal sex. Considering that anal sex carries a greater risk of passing sexually transmissible infections, or STIs, this is not a good idea!

More men and women should be using condoms if and when they have anal intercourse. STIs including chlamydia, gonorrhea, HPV, and HIV can all be passed through anal intercourse, so if you plan to have anal sex, it would be a wise idea to use condoms.


Because the anus doesn’t lubricate as the vagina does, using a lubricant can help make anal sex feel more comfortable, more pleasurable, and reduce the risk of anal tearing. Minor rectal bleeding from small anal cuts or tears is relatively common following anal sex.


This is not necessarily a serious problem but if you have questions about your anal health, or about anal tearing, ask your healthcare provider. Keep in mind that as many as about 40% of Americans have tried anal sex at least once in their lives, and more people would do well to ask their healthcare provider about their genital and anal health, including safer sex. Asking about your health is nothing to be embarrassed about!

Anal Pain

Data from our recent 2012 National Survey of Sexual Health and Behavior shows that anal sex can be painful for many people, and perhaps especially for women. About 70% of women who engaged in anal sex during the most recent time they had sex reported that it was painful.

In some groups, 100% of the women who reported having anal sex said that it was painful. Quite often, the pain was rated as moderate or severe. The good news is that, compared with vaginal sex, women and men who experienced pain during anal sex were more likely to tell their sexual partners that they were in pain.

Although some people enjoy pain as part of their sexual experiences, many people do not like sex to feel painful. If you feel pain and don’t like it, remember that you can stop or avoid any sexual behavior you don’t want to engage in.

You can also try to adjust the way you have sex to make it less painful, or more comfortable.

It Is Up To You

When it comes to anal sex, using a condom, using lubricant, and choosing partners with whom you feel comfortable and relaxed can be key to having more pleasurable – and safer – anal sex.

To learn more about safer and pleasurable anal sex, check out The Good in Bed Guide to Anal Pleasuring. You can learn more about this book and others on our website.

Dr. Debby Herbenick (M.P.H., Ph.D.)

is a sexual health educator at The Kinsey Institute, Associate Director of the Center for Sexual Health Promotion at Indiana University and author of several books including Sex Made Easy and Because It Feels Good: A Woman's Guide to Sexual Pleasure and Satisfaction.
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