This week is my annual winter college lecture tour with TV star Sue Johanson. Valentine’s Day is when schools often hold Safer Sex programs, so we’re lecturing to huge groups of college students in upstate New York, Green Bay, and Columbia, Missouri.
As always, there’s enormous interest in anal sex: how do you do it? How do you make it less painful? Is it dangerous? How do you talk someone into it?
I always answer this set of questions in two ways. First, I share information: the importance of lube, the use of breathing, going verrrrrrry slowly, and why condoms are important.
But there’s more to it than that. If it hurts so much, if it’s confusing or scary, why do so many kids do it? The answer obviously isn’t pleasure; too many people have to be talked into it, and too many people wonder how to do it. So only a few people pursue anal sex because it feels good.
Some people do it to avoid pregnancy—they get to be “technical virgins” despite having sex, which is especially important when you’re hammered about being “abstinent” year after year. Some people want it because anal sex has become a staple of porn. With the right lighting, acting, and editing, anal looks glamorous, easy, and tremendously (and unrealistically) satisfying.
Then there are the emotional payoffs. Anal sex is still taboo, and so it can feel nasty and sexy. Some people ask for or demand it as proof “that you love me.” It can have a subtle (or not-so-subtle) theme of power and control, of dominance and submission. It can be a way of experimenting when intercourse and oral sex seem, well, too normal. My clinical colleague Vena Blanchard suggests that anal is the “extreme sports” of sex, that it appeals to the testosterone-driven, almost-reckless ‘tude of young men.
Of course, it can feel intimate, a special bond that a couple save for or share with each other. But that would require that people treat it as special. They’d have to communicate, breathe together, experience the small pleasures of each moment.
Sadly, many of the students in our college audiences just aren’t that conscious during sex. They’re anxious about performance, they’re embarrassed about their bodies, they’re hoping they’re as entertaining as their partner’s previous partner. Some of them propose anal because they think they should. Others agree to it because they think they should.
There are things to enjoy about anal sex, but many men and women who pay attention and speak their minds say it’s not really worth the hassle. For a lot of people it’s more attractive as an idea than as a reality—like sex on the beach (ouch, sand!) or standing in the shower (stop—cramp in leg!).
The last thing I tell students about anal sex is that because of the complex logistics, you have to watch what you’re doing, and talk to each other while you’re doing it.
This makes a lot of them squirm or yell out “ew, gross!”. To which I reply, “Can’t talk while you’re having anal sex? Can’t do it with the lights on? Then you’re not ready to have anal sex.”
“Fortunately,” I add, “there are plenty of easier alternatives.”
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