Recently there’s been a lot of focus in the media about the impact of porn on young people. Some of this has included talk about anal sex. Devastatingly there’s an increasing number of young women presenting to GPs with injuries sustained from anal sex. The reality is that teenage girls are under more sexual pressure than ever before, so it’s time to stop judging and start helping them.
Oh yes. The bar has been raised on what parents and educators now need to ensure young people are well-informed about. This is the world influenced by hard-core graphic porn. This is the world where the uncomfortable reality must be faced: adults ‘freedom of choice’ is and will continue to have a massive negative impact on children and young people. This is a world where so much more than just education is needed, but we have to start somewhere because BY GOSH, the elephant in the room is not going away. Please don’t read past this point if you are easily offended or don’t want to be confronted with some of the facts about what’s readily available online.
So what do teens need to know about heterosexual anal sex?
1. Anal sex is rife in porn.
Whilst it’s virtually impossible to know how much anal sex there is on the web, worldwide searches on Pornhub took a downward trend for anal porn in 2014 by 9 places. This however, doesn’t include search terms such as ‘big ass’, ‘booty’, ‘ass play’, ‘butt f…’ or similar. ‘Anal’ was the 5th most commonly searched term by men and 8th for women, although data such as this doesn’t tell us the differing reasons behind why each gender is searching. If you listen to the hype sprouted by porn-influenced bloggers, you may be convinced that all women are into anal, but when you consider point 3 below, it’s easy to understand why those who try it, often only do so once.
In researching this and selecting ‘Anal Fissure Pain’, it’s pretty disturbing that within the genre ‘Cruel Anal Pain’ with 4,945,268 views, 79% hit the like button; and the ‘Painful Anal Sex’ genre had 1,414,363 views with 80% giving it the thumbs up (and this was just on the Pornhub site). One of the most disturbing trends includes the rose-budding. Almost too horrific to describe, rose-budding is caused by an anal prolapse – a medical condition in which the inner walls of the rectum collapse and slip out the anus, resembling a budded rose. The repercussions of this is that women suffer tears, fissures and bowel problems that require surgery and the resulting harms are often irreversible.
Our young people need to know that porn anal sex is not normal. It is not remotely healthy. Even just the landing pages of porn sites show a form of sex that is objectifying and degrading. And despite the appearance of pleasure on the screen, it is not something that the majority of women enjoy. Women in porn often get paid more to do anal scenes, and with that payment is the expectation they will fake pleasure to gain viewers. According to Pornland: How Porn Has Highjacked our Sexuality by Gail Dines, others are cajoled and manipulated by their pimp-agents, anally raped, bullied, coerced and drugged. This has devastating consequences for women’s physical, emotional and psychological health – there is nothing ‘healthy’ about porn anal sex. Women regularly involved in these scenes are often plagued by physical trauma resulting in leaky poos and other irreversible outcomes.
2. Anal sex is becoming more common.
Often studies cite pornography as a strong influence as to why anal sex is increasing. A study in 2014 of 130 sexually active young men and women aged 16-18 found that almost 1 in 5 (19% of men and 17% of women) have engaged in anal sex. When the age cohort expands, in 2010 another study of women aged 18 – 30 found that just over 60% have experienced receptive anal intercourse (although it’s unlikely this cohort is an accurate representation of numbers represented in the general public).
In the study of 16-18 year olds, none of the respondents described anal sex as a way to preserve virginity or avoid pregnancy. Whilst copying porn was the top reason for engaging in anal sex, there were other factors involved (which incidentally, are all linked to pornography):
1. Men want to copy what they see in pornography, and that ‘ it’ s tighter’. For some young men, mutuality and consent for anal sex were not always a priority for them and ‘accidental ’ penetration reported by some interviewees, were ambiguous in terms of whether or not they would be classed as rape.
2. Competition between men – just so they can tell their mates. ‘Every hole is a goal’ attitudes – women being badgered for anal sex appears to be considered normal.
3. People must like it if they do it. An underlying myth exists that women who experience pain are somehow naive or flawed and that they just need to ‘relax’ more, to ‘get used to it’. These assumptions help support the erroneous idea that a man pushing for anal sex is simply ‘ persuading’ his partner to do something that ‘most girls would like’.
4. Normalisation of coercion and ‘accidental penetration’. Even though there was an assumption that it would hurt, it’s a common occurrence for young men to repeatedly ‘persuade’ their partner in order to wear them down; and if all else fails, deliberate and non-consensual ‘slips’ are common (otherwise known as rape).
5. Anal sex and pleasure. Despite expected pleasure, in this particular study, many men did not express concern about possible pain for women, viewing it as inevitable. Few of the men and only one woman among this young age group referred to physical pleasure in their accounts.
Young people need to know that only around 50% of young people have had sex by the end of year 12, and 4 out of 5 sexually active teens aren’t having anal sex. Those who are, have been significantly influenced by a portrayal of sex that is objectifying and degrading. Guys who try it non-consensually could find themselves navigating rape charges (if their partner understands her right to safety and agency). And when it’s all over, guys usually find it doesn’t result in the pleasure their porn-induced fantasies tells them it will. Young women who experience anal sex usually do so with an intense amount of pain and displeasure. The question has to be asked – is any of this going to result in a healthy relationship?
3. Anal sex is often painful.
Pain during anal sex has been termed as a ‘condition’ known as anodyspareunia. In the fore-mentioned 2010 study, a substantial proportion of women reported pain at first and subsequent anoreceptive intercourse. Almost one half of participants (49%) reported that their first anal intercourse was too painful to continue. Although they also felt pain or discomfort, an additional 17.3% of women did not stop their partner. A substantial minority of participants (28.4%) described their first anal sex experience as pleasant and pain or discomfort appears to diminish over time as they (and their partner) become more experienced. Less than two thirds of participants (62.3%) continued to practice anal intercourse. Of those who continued anal sex, only 7.7% reported that they never felt any pain or discomfort. Given that many of those who experienced pain did not return for more anal sex, only a small percentage of women were actually classified anodyspareunic (about 9%). It comes as no surprise that sexually assertive women who experience an unacceptable level of pain are more likely to communicate to their partners that they are unwilling to repeat the experience.
Young people who are thinking of trying out anal sex need to know that mutual consent, total trust, open discussion, a relaxed and prepared state of mind and emotions and loads of lubrication are the only circumstances when anal sex should ever be attempted. Outside that, they will very likely end up with anal fissures or tears – much like what occurs if a really big poo tries to painfully eject, except with the force going the other way. Sorry to be explicit, but the alternative to not having this conversation is leaving young people ignorant of the realities.
4. Anal sex can have significantly higher negative physical outcomes.
Available data suggests that condoms are used less frequently during heterosexual anal intercourse than during vaginal intercourse.In addition, rates of condom breakage and slippage tend to be higher during anal intercourse. The tissues of the anus are more susceptible to infection and this puts participants of anal sex at higher risk of contracting sexually transmitted infections, particularly HIV. Anal fissures are on the rise and more and more young teens are experiencing significant harms due to this activity.
Young people need to know that they have rights for themselves… and responsibilities towards others. They have the right to autonomy and bodily integrity; the right to be free from torture and cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment; and the right to be free from all forms of violence and coercion. And they have the responsibility to ensure that those who they are engaging in sexual activity with do not feel violated in any of these areas. They need to know that if they are choosing to engage in any sexual activity, condoms must be used at all times, and if swapping between activities (oral, anal, vaginal), condoms must be changed.
5. Anal sex requires consent.
When talking about anal sex, it’s essential to keep in mind that it’s an activity of choice for some mature consenting couples. CONSENT is the key word here. The absence of a no does not mean yes so it’s important that young people understand that each activity they engage in must include a willing and active ‘yes’ from both partners (consent).
Young people have the right to not consent and to articulate clearly what they are and are not prepared to do; and they have the responsibility to understand exactly what consent is – a willing and active ‘yes’ from both partners. It may be a case that assertive young women who are being badgered to have anal sex may wittingly suggest that an ‘only if you go first’ conversation may be a good way to navigate this pressure (mature-aged viewers may like to watch Frenchy’s video mentioned below). For a sexual relationship to be healthy it needs both sexual consent and sexual assertiveness – the respectful expression of sexual beliefs and desires directly and honestly. Sexual assertiveness has a lot to do with sexual confidence and a positive self-esteem and body image. It is about respecting yourself and your body by validating your feelings, desires and core values. When a young person’s decisions conflict with their core values, it can lead to a range of overwhelming and unbearable feelings, so knowing in advance what they are and are not prepared to do and being assertive enough to express this will help keep them on track emotionally.
So how do we have this conversation with our teens? The tricky part is to not screw up your nose, make derogatory comments and demoralise anyone who engages in anal sex – this is not helpful. In fact, it adds to stigmatisation and myths, particularly related to gay men. Reportedly for men, anal sex can be enjoyable due to the prostate; however this is very much dependant on mutual consent, open discussion, a relaxed and prepared state of mind and emotions, and loads of lubrication. Despite this, up to 14% experience anodyspareunia AND not all gay men engage in anal sex as part of their repertoire, instead incorporating other activities. So whilst gay anal sex is not the focus of this discussion, it’s important to point out why the tone and context of speaking about anal sex is so important. And although women don’t have a prostate, as mentioned above it is also reported to be enjoyable for a small percentage of of those who choose to engage. Once again, this only occurs in a space of mutual consent, open discussion, a relaxed and prepared state of mind and emotions, and loads of lubrication.
For young women under 18, it seems that most experiences are unannounced, unprepared, unwanted, extremely painful and horribly damaging. Non-consensual ‘oops I slipped’ excuses from young men are otherwise known as rape. Unfortunately, young mens perceptions are that ‘this is what young women want’; and as researcher Maree Crabbe has found, there’s a trend towards sex that is rough, aggressive, and idealises acts women don’t enjoy in real life – gag-inducing fellatio, heterosexual anal sex, physical and verbal aggression.
Then there’s the legal issues surrounding sex under the age of 16 which will vary from state to state so it’s important you have the right understanding for your area. For instance in Victoria, if you are under 12, a person can’t have sex with you or touch you sexually or perform a sexual act in front of you, even if you agree. From 12 to 15 years old a person can’t have sex with you, touch you sexually or perform a sexual act in front of you if they are more than two years older than you, even if you agree. However, it is not an offence if the person honestly believed that you were 16 or if there was less than a two-year age difference between you. This is exactly two years. For example, if a person is 17 and has sex with someone who is 15, it is not a crime. But if the person was 18, it is a crime unless the person believed the person was 16.
And sadly, as the article Lost innocence: why girls are having rough sex at 12 indicates, we need to be having these conversations younger and younger. Unwanted sex – and that includes sex under pressure, or sex while drunk, or simply sexual activity or acts they regret – can leave scars. Adolescents who have had unwanted sex are more likely to consider suicide, to have poor relationships, and to have more lifetime sexual partners. Studies have also linked it with anxiety disorders, post-traumatic stress and alcohol and other drug use. Girls who report unwanted sex also report less condom use, exposing them to sexually transmitted diseases such as HIV, Herpes and Chlamydia, which have life-long consequences.
So after you’ve taken a deep breath, if the whole topic of anal sex still makes you feel a little overwhelmed, make sure you check out Kitty Flanagan’s segment on The Project. Time for some (sort of) serious Sex Re-Education, people adds much needed humour and could be the very thing that helps break the ice and gets your conversation with your teen pointed in the right direction. And if you have older teens, you may want to show them this NSFW video by Frenchy. This satire offers humorous insight into the drastically different conversations that transpire between Frenchy’s girlfriend versus his mates, and the very uncomfortable reality of what happens when the expectations are reversed.