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The Black Licorice of Sex

Perhaps Maureen O’Connor, columnist for The Cut, puts it best: “[Anal sex] is the black licorice of sex. Those in favor love it, but those against regard it with disgust.” Whichever side you fall on there is one thing that is not debatable: anal sex is on the rise.

Anal sex by the numbers

Anal sex may be a seemingly difficult subject to discuss, but that’s not stopping an increasing number of people from trying it out. A 1992 national sex survey found that 16 percent of women aged 18-24 had tried anal sex. The same study was conducted again in 2010, and this time, 20 percent of women aged 18-19 said they had tried anal sex and 40 percent of women 20-24 had done so. Slate writer William Saletan goes on to note that “in 1992, the highest percentage of women in any age group who admitted to anal sex was 33. In 2002, it was 35. Now it’s 46.”

Diving even further into the data, the 2010 study reveals that not only are more people trying anal sex, they are doing it more frequently. In 1992, 10 percent of women in their 20s or 30s reported having anal sex in the last year. This number grew to 20 percent in 2010 and of those 20 percent, one-third report that they have had anal sex in the last month. Of all women surveyed, nearly 4 percent reported having anal sex in their most recent sexual encounter. As Saletan eloquently states, “That’s a lot of butt sex.”

Why is anal sex on the rise?

So anal sex is on the rise. But why is that? There seems to be a number of varying opinions on the matter. In an article written for Jezebel, gender studies and history professor Hugo Schwyzer implies that anal sex is on the rise, particularly among young people, because of its frequent appearance in heterosexual porn and the mainstream media. Schwyzer notes that many heterosexual men have normalized anal sex and are casting increased pressure upon their female partners to partake in the act. While he admits that there are woman who enjoy anal sex, he questions how pleasurable the act really is and calls the rise of anal sex, “yet another manifestation of the pressure on young women to focus on performance rather than on their own pleasure.”

While there might be some truth to Schwyzer’s hypothesis, there seem to be other factors contributing to the rise in anal sex as well. Sexuality journalist Michael Castleman points to a New York magazine survey about the rise of anal sex in which respondents identified a number of appeals including:

1. Variety. Another way to play. 2. Intimacy. To some, it feels more intimate than other types of sex. 3. Experimentation. We tried it. We liked it. 4. Forbidden fruit. Anal is taboo, therefore, exciting. 5. Domination/submission. It fits well into sexual power games.

Castleman also points out that many surveys indicate anal sex is most prevalent among younger people, signifying that its acceptance may grow even further. “Youthful sexual activities tend to remain in the repertoire through adulthood,” he says, “so over time, as young people grow older, we can expect many to continue engaging in anal play, slowly raising its overall prevalence.”

So should I be having anal sex?

Just because anal sex is on the rise doesn’t mean you have to jump on the bandwagon. Like any form of sexual activity, you should communicate very openly with your partner before engaging in anal sex. For some couples, anal sex or other forms of butt play may already be a normal occurrence. For others, it may help add a layer of intimacy or excitement to their relationship. Yet for others, it might just seem totally disgusting and be completely off the table. The best thing to do is to talk to your spouse honestly and never pressure them into an act in which they don’t feel comfortable engaging.

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