Yes, Virginia, teens are having anal sex. British researchers conducted a longitudinal study (a study that follows people over time) that asked U.K. teens about their expectations, experiences and attitudes around anal sex. The findings were published in the British Medical Journal. The study paid particular attention to the pressures that teenage girls feel to practice anal sex. After interviewing 130 teens who were 16 to 18 years old, and from diverse backgrounds, the researchers found that heterosexual anal sex among teens very rarely involved mutual exploration and sexual pleasure. Instead, the researchers identified four key reasons for anal sex among teens.
Reasons for Anal Sex
1) Competition Between Men
One of the main reasons for anal sex, according to the study, was not heterosexual preference, but homosocial pressure. Male participants revealed the attitude of "every hole's a goal" regarding women, and that men would often tell their friends that they had had anal sex and considered it "something [they] do for a competition." Both men and women pointed out that, while performing anal sex was a badge of pride for the men involved, women often risked their reputation for having anal sex.
2) Both Men and Women Think That if Women Do It, "They Must Like It"
Despite both genders asserting that anal sex is painful for women, and despite not usually linking pain to sexual pleasure, both the men and women interviewed felt that women must only do it if they like it. Men who spoke about women who experienced pain often painted them as naive or flawed. Said one participant:
"The girl is scared and thinks it's weird, and then they try it because the boyfriend wants them to. They normally don't enjoy it because they're scared and I, I know that like with anal, if you're not willing, you don't relax, like if you have, you have control over two of the muscles that are closest to the outside and then inside it's like involuntary and if you're scared or you haven't eased them off like they stay tight and you can rip 'em if you try and force anal sex."
The participant casually discusses women being scared or unwilling, indicating that this is often the case, but it seems as if men might push women to have anal sex anyway -- perhaps due to pressure to outperform their peers.
3) Coercion and "Accidental" Penetration Are the Norm
Because the male participants often felt that women may not want to perform anal sex, many adopted a coercive attitude toward the act from the get-go -- without fair, balanced discussion with their female sexual partners. Even in what researchers deemed "caring, communicative" relationships, men seemed to push anal sex on a partner despite believing it will hurt her. Women often mentioned "repeated, emphatic requests" from men.
Because coercion around anal sex is the norm, "accidental penetration" has become a normal routine among men who want anal sex, as well. Men described a "try it and see" approach where they would try anal penetration with their fingers or penis and hope that their female sexual partner would not stop them. One participant said that if a woman said "no" after he put his finger in, he would keep trying. "I can be very persuasive … Like sometimes you just keep going … till they just get fed up and let you do it anyway." Many women expressed that a verbal "no" from women did not necessarily stop penetration attempts.
Both men and women brought up instances of accidental "slips" during vaginal intercourse that would end up with anal penetration, and researchers pointed out that "owing to the nature of the data -- we rely on reports at interview -- it is difficult to assess the extent to which events described as 'slips' were genuinely unintentional."
4) Porn Isn't All It's Cracked Up to Be
While many men indicated that they wanted anal sex because of what they saw in pornography, many also said because "it's tighter." The implication, of course, that "tighter" was better for men, even though women were expected to find anal sex painful, especially the first time.
The Teens Didn't Really Enjoy Anal All That Much
Only a handful of men and only one woman among the cohort described physical pleasure in their interviews. The one female participant who described finding anal sex pleasurable had similar stories to other interviewees -- her boyfriend continually coerced her, he had once just "slipped in" -- but she was different in that she had expressed that she "was curious about it" and described how she subsequently came to enjoy anal sex, suggesting that her and her partner found a mutually satisfactory way to engage in the sex act. This participant -- identified as Alicia -- was the only woman researchers interviewed who described experiencing pleasure, including orgasm, from anal sex. She said:
Yeah. I quite like it because I think I quite like the feeling of him against my bum, like against the meat of your bum, like it's kind of cushiony. So yeah, I think that's what I like about it, I'm not sure.
Alicia also self-described her sexual drive much differently from other female participants, self-identifying as very sexually driven. "I'm not saying that I'm like wanting sex [all practices, not only anal sex] all the time, but I'd say I go for it more. I'd initiate it more."
Anal Sex and Condoms Don't Usually Go Hand in Hand
From the young people's interviews, it seems that condoms are usually an afterthought when it comes to anal sex. Some interviewees incorrectly stated that sexually transmitted infections (STIs) via anal sex was impossible, or less likely than with vaginal intercourse. When condoms were used, it was for basic hygiene, not STI prevention; "so you don't get shit on your dick," as one participant noted. The researchers called for more sexual education not only around anal sex, but STI prevention education, as well.
In this study, the young men wanted anal sex because they want to impress other young men, very few young men and women actually ended up liking it and both young men and young women expected women to hate it. Have you experienced any of these feelings around anal sex? How can we make sexual exploration and sexual pleasure the norm, rather than coercion and deception?
Mathew Rodriguez is the editorial project manager for TheBody.com and TheBodyPRO.com.
Follow Mathew on Twitter: @mathewrodriguez.