Q&A: How Common Is Anal Sex Among Heterosexual Couples?

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QUESTION: What percentage of heterosexual couples have anal sex?

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Even though anal sex is commonly depicted in sexually explicit films, very few research studies have examined issues related to anal sex among heterosexual – or male-female – couples.

Little Research

The little research that has been conducted suggests that about one-fourth of heterosexual-identified women and men have had anal sex, but that doesn’t mean that one-fourth of heterosexual couples have anal sex regularly. In fact, research suggests that only about 10% of women and men have had anal sex in the past year.

Reasons For Having Anal Sex

There are, of course, many reasons why people might want to engage in heterosexual anal sex. Some women try anal sex because they want to experience intercourse, and yet they want to maintain what they consider to be their vaginal virginity – in other words, abstaining from vaginal intercourse.

Other times, couples use anal sex as a way of being sexual together without the risk of pregnancy – that is, assuming that a man’s ejaculate doesn’t seep out from the anal opening and get near the vaginal entrance, in which case a woman could potentially become pregnant.

Couples also try anal sex for reasons of pleasure or novelty, or because it is something that they have heard about from a friend or a partner, or have seen in a movie. While some couples try anal sex and find it to be uncomfortable, painful or not particularly exciting, others find that anal sex is quite pleasurable, enjoyable or even orgasmic.

Anal Sex Does Not Have To Hurt

Although some myths suggest that anal sex is painful, the truth is that – like vaginal sex – anal sex does not have to hurt. If it hurts, a couple should stop.

Because anal sex is a high risk sexual activity, in the sense that it poses a high risk of infection in one or both partners has a sexually transmissible infection (or STI), couples who are interested in having anal sex should take steps to reduce their STI risk.

For example, they can limit their number of partners, use a condom from the beginning to the end of sex, change condoms if they are switching between vaginal and anal sex, and use a water-based lubricant to reduce the risk of tearing.

Recommended Reading

To learn more about safe and pleasurable anal sex, check out Anal Pleasure & Health: A Guide for Men and Women.

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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