Backsides get a bum rap.
People can get pretty hung up about bums and sex. Mostly I think it stems from histroic (and ongoing) condemnation of homos but experiencing pleasure from anal play has nothing to do with sexual orientation. So that means some people do it, and some don’t. The rigid association between sex, the bum and gay men is wholey out of line. Research tells us that gay men are not regularly engaging in anal sex even among those that are down with that activity.
But even if we can get beyond the gay association, I get where hang ups might come from- linking pleasure with bodily waste might be a reasonable turn off for many people. On the other hand, the anus is just another part of the body that responds to sensation and touch and it seems perfectly fair to me that experiencing sensation on and in the area might feel very good indeed.
Julia Sweeney (of Saturday Night Live fame) gave an funny TED talk about ‘the talk’ and referenced the bum as a ‘waste treatment plant right next to an amusement park’. Julia considers that ‘bad zoning’ but in addition to waste treatment, the anus also has built-in amusement park functionality so shame free and sex positive parenting would include not messaging that traffic around the anus is a violation.
The prostate is a walnut-sized gland that works along with the seminal vesicles to produce most of the fluid that makes up semen. For male bodied people, stimulation of the prostate can feel really good and is achieved through anal penetration since it can only be felt though the wall of the rectum.
Additionally, the anus and rectum offer a tight passageway (tighter than the vagina), and so the pressure on a penis can make anal penetration very pleasurable for the person with the penetrating penis. Lucky them.
For both men and women, there are many nerve endings around the anus which means it’s very sensitive. For female bodied people, the wall of tissue between the rectum and vagina is very thin, so where vaginal penetration can feel great even if it alone does not make way for female orgasm, the same can be true for anal penetration.
So, there you have it. Available to all, enjoyed by some. Straight people enjoy it. Gay men enjoy it. Women who have sex with other women, they enjoy it too.
Talk to my Kids about Anal!?!
I’m not suggesting that as parents we recommend anal play or penetration. I actually think its wise to message to teens that anal sex is not a great sexual activity for young people (and other sexually active novices) because it requires a lot of patience and excellent communication skills. Just the same, I think we can communicate that in ways that don’t actively dismiss or put down anal sex.
For young kids, it’s like talking about genitals with out shame. We can reference the anus without shame.
- Don’t talk about the anus as some kind of nasty part of the body. It’s awesome and important just like the rest of our bodies.
- Scratching an itchy anus will likely transfer bacteria onto a persons finger. That’s because feces are full of bacteria and some of that bacteria sticks around after a bowel movement. Bums do get itchy though so instead of saying ‘don’t!’, make sure to say ‘after you touch your anus it’s important to wash your hands because there is usually bacteria around there from your poop’. Also good to find out about the itch to be sure we help where we can. Also, if a person is just out of the bath, their anus is pretty clean. So, we can teach that too.
Sphincters are worthy of some awe. They are cylindrical muscles that maintain constriction of a bodily passage and relax when required to make the body work. That’s pretty cool since other muscles are in a relaxed state until we need them. They are part of human and many non-human bodies. Humans have over 60 types. There are sphincters in the eye, in the esophagus, either end of the stomach, one end of the urethra and the anus. Don’t even get me started on the cool factor of precapillary sphincters!
Finally, as proof that sphincters are awesome, think blowholes.
As kids mature slightly (perhaps 9-12 year olds), you can ensure that the anus is not disregarded when you reference sexual pleasure:
- Emphasize that the entire body is capable of pleasure and that each person needs to find what works for them.
- As part of a small body science lesson, talk about the prostate as not just a body part that is associated with cancer but as a pleasure centre, and also mention the nerve ending that are all around our genitals, including the anus.
Since you are having loads of conversations with your teen about healthy sexuality, there doesn’t need to be a special ‘anus talk’. All of the points below can be integrated into broader conversations about healthy and mutually satisfiying sex.
You can’t really talk about healthy anal sex without referencing porn. This is not because porn does an upstanding job at educating us about healthy anal but because there is a lot of anal sex depicted in contemporary porn as an everyday sexual event. And most often, viewable anal sex leaves out so much. It’s anal sex
- without talking about it
- without lube
- without condoms
- without moderating size, speed, or depth
- without feces
Busting the Myths
It’s a reality that many (most? all?) teens will see anal sex depicted in porn.
- Talking about anal sex and ensuring consent is (always) critical and coercion of any kind (for any act) is not right. Our teens need to be reminded over and over to respect that people can change their mind. Also important is to talk about mutuality of pleasure. This is not an activity to be engaged in if it only feels good to one person.
- Talk about lube and contrast the bum with the vagina which often produces a lot of lubricant when it is sexually aroused. While the rectum produces rectal fluid which helps keep things from being too dry, it shouldn’t be confused with naturally occurring lube. Bottom line: lube is fabulous for every penatrative act so have some on hand and use liberally.
- Explain that STI transmission is a real risk with unprotected anal intercourse because the anal and rectal tissue is quite fragile (it’s mucous membrane like the tissue in the mouth and vagina) and little micro tears (fissures) are (not in themselves dangerous but are) common and leave a pathway for things like HIV and Hepatitis. Condoms are key!! CATIE offers reliable information about STI risk.
- Talk about going slowly. Start with things with a small circumference. Make sure everyone is comfortable. Sometimes a finger is perfect so only build from there where there is interest to do so.
- Also explain that when you play with the bum, safe sex includes being cognizant of the bacteria that is around the anus. You might encounter some poop so use a dental dam (or cut open an unlubed condom) for rimming so the bacteria doesn’t get in your mouth. Also, if things (penises, dildos, fingers) go into an anus, make sure the ‘thing’ is washed with soap and water before that same thing goes into a vagina or mouth. Introducing feces into the vagina can cause infections and lots of discomfort and when people ingest it (even small amount) it can make you sick.
Finally, you (or your teen) can have a look at how Scarleteen answers a teens question about anal sex. It’s sex positive and reinforces everything that is important.