Readers of the Journal may have come across the recent study into teenage attitudes towards anal sex in heterosexual couples by the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, published last month via their Online First initiative already, but if you’ve not, it makes interesting reading for anyone working in young people’s sexual health.
Existing data suggests that anal sex between heterosexual couples is on the rise, and often increased access to pornographic materials in the digital age is cited as the reason behind this; although the evidence to suggest this is limited. Recent data, according to this study, suggests that 1 in 5 young people has tried anal sex.
The study took place in three centres in England, surveying 130 young people in total with various levels of interviews. Questions involved their perceptions of their own experiences, their partner’s experience and their reasons for trying anal intercourse. The answers seem to confirm some of the previous hypotheses, but with pornographic material being a small factor in why young people explored the idea of anal intercourse; although the belief that anal intercourse would be more pleasurable for the male partner due to a linked believe that “tightness” was integral to male sexual pleasure during penetrative intercourse, and encouragement from peers to try anal intercourse as part of a sexual conquest, were also prevalent attitudes amongst male interviewees.
Perhaps what’s most worrying is the evidence that some men felt that they had a right to coerce partners into trying anal intercourse, despite holding the belief that female partners would find anal sex painful. To those of us interested in the wider climate of sexual equality and sexual behaviour, this isn’t a shocking finding. The idea that some men feel entitled to sexual favours from women, and how this defines their behaviour and attitudes towards them, has been a centrepoint of modern feminist debate in recent years.
The study is of value to those working in sexual health, particularly with young people. It highlights that young people are unaware of the risks to their sexual health with regard to anal intercourse, and suggests that targeted interventions to improve condom use and safe anal intercourse is needed in this group. It also suggests that the worrying disparity between male and female experiences of anal intercourse needs to be addressed, perhaps through initiatives that empower young women to control their own sexual experience, and perhaps through initiatives that educate young men on how to achieve sexual pleasure for their partner as well as themselves.