December 19, 2008
Experts say anal sex is becoming more prevalent among US teens and young adults, and they worry that the practice is leading to more STD infections.
In a study of 1,348 at-risk youths ages 15 to 21 in three US cities, Celia M. Lescano of Bradley Hasbro Children's Research Center in Rhode Island and colleagues found that 16 percent of participants reported recent heterosexual anal intercourse.
"Given the subject matter, it is likely that the numbers reported may actually be an underestimate of the prevalence of these behaviors," Lescano said. "There is no doubt that teens lack information about STDs and the safety of different behaviors, and they are engaging in more sexual experimentation."
"It really is shocking how many myths young people have about anal sex," said Judy Kuriansky, a Columbia University professor and author of "Sexuality Education: Past Present and Future." "They don't think you can get a disease from it because you're not having intercourse." More than one-third of new HIV infections in the United States are among persons ages 13-29.
"These findings suggest that the factors associated with anal intercourse among females in the study relate to the context and power balance of sexual relationships," Lescano said. "We must teach teen girls and young women how to be assertive in sexual relationships, such as refusing unwanted sexual acts and negotiating for safer sex, whether it's anal or vaginal."
Researchers cite a number of reasons the practice is becoming more common, including fear of pregnancy, the desire to preserve virginity, and the popularity of anal sex in pornography. A 2005 study based on data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health found that while teens who took virginity pledges had sex later and had fewer partners overall, they were more likely to have oral and anal sex and less likely to use condoms. Rates of STDs among pledging and non-pledging teens were similar.
The study by Lescano and colleagues, "Correlates of Heterosexual Anal Intercourse Among at-Risk Adolescents and Young Adults," was published online ahead of print in the American Journal of Public Health (2008; doi:10.2105/AJPH.2007.123752).