Cosmopolitan Magazine March 2015 – quotes by Sienna Sinclaire
Before we plunge in, I’d like to be completely clear on one thing: I am a big believer that we should all do whatever we want to do in bed. Have your threesome. Hell, have your twelvesome. Wear that mask that your boyfriend bought you as a “joke.” Don that giant Care Bear costume and get busy. I’ll die for your right to do your thing. (Well, I’ll march on Washington or something. Death seems extreme for this.”
But I’ll be honest. When I read the statistics on the rise in anal sex, I was taken aback. Women are suddenly having gobs of it: 40 percent of us, ages 20 to 24, have tried anal sex, up from 16 percent in 1992, found a survey published in The Journal of Sexual Medicine in 2010. The number of women ages 20 to 39 who say they’ve done anal in the past year doubled to 20 percent. And 20 percent of women in relationships have had anal sex in the last three months. Now, you should probably adjust for the fact that people might be more forthcoming in this age of internet confession than they were back in the early ’90s — perhaps more people were having anal sex back then than were willing to admit it. Still, that’s a huge jump.
Anal sex was happening, and it was happening everywhere. It’s in all that porn, of course. In a 2010 study, researchers watched the 50 most popular porn movies and found 356 depictions, in 55 percent of the scenes, of men and women having anal. But here also was the feminist Naomi Wolf talking about how anal fissures — a tear in your rectal tissue — comprised the single biggest problem seen at campus health services on college campuses she visited. There was that scene on Girls where Adam tries to sneak in some anal, followed by one on The Mindy Project where Danny “slipped,” followed by a cameo on The Affair. And my friends were starting to talk about their experiences…and not in undertones.
As I opened my eyes and looked around, I saw this was no longer a fringe topic. Had I missed the anal revolution?
“Can I put it in your butt?” asked the gentleman suitor of a young woman I’ll call Ilene. That was during her senior year of high school, when they first started dating. She’d been a virgin, but he’d already done “everything,” so his expectations were high. During the first month of their relationship, they had vaginal sex. Soon after that, oral. Then came the question.
“I was never interested,” says Ilene. “I didn’t want to do it, and I didn’t want to talk about it. But during sex, he would say ‘Can I put it in your butt’…every time.”
It seemed really important to this guy, so Ilene finally agreed to do it. Her friends told her to have a few drinks to get her inhibitions down and so it would hurt less. She did, and well…
“It was not enjoyable at all,” she says. “We used lube and a condom, and he tried foreplay. But I could hold on for only two or three minutes before I said, ‘I can’t do it!'”
Prince Charming finished up with some vaginal sex that night, and Ilene spoke loudly and often about how awful it had been for her. “But he kept on asking.” Eventually, he cheated on her a few times, citing her unwillingness to have anal as one of the reasons. Would it shock you to know that they broke up?
Then there’s Danielle (of course not her real name), a recent college graduate. It used to be she could go to a party, see how things went, then hook up with a guy. Now, she’ll be getting intimate, when suddenly “guys will just go for it, and then try to pretend it was an accident,” she says. “The times that they’ve done it without my consent…it’s very painful. You hear horror stories of — this sounds so gross but — accidentally pooping. The whole concept in general kind of turns me off.”
These young women were students in the human sexuality class of Debby Herbenick, PhD, codirector of the Center for Sexual Health Promotion at Indiana University at Bloomington. In recent years, anal sex is a topic that comes up frequently in the class. Herbenick says that some of her female students are curious and want to try it. But more often, it’s a subject of distress. “Many of my female students feel pressured to do it,” says Herbenick. “I had one student who wrote, ‘I laugh my way through anal sex so I don’t cry.'”
A culture of coercion surrounds anal sex between men and women, according to a 2014 study of British teenagers. “Even in otherwise seemingly communicative and caring partnerships, some men seemed to push to have anal sex with their reluctant partner despite believing it is likely to hurt her,” the authors wrote. The “try it and see” approach was popular. Couples then labeled what happened as “slips,” the authors theorized, “to gloss over the possibility that penetration was deliberate and nonconsensual.”
Make no mistake. We may be talking about anal sex, but these guys, the ones who pressure women into doing things they don’t want to do or who test the waters by “accidentally” sticking a penis where it doesn’t have permission to go, are the true assholes in this story.
Remember the vagina? When did the vagina stop being the holy land? When I was growing up (I’m 39), the vagina was treasure to be guarded, saved, used for special occasions with special people. At my high school, we were forced to take a health class on safe sex mandated by the Board of Education. The 1,000-year-old woman who taught the class when she wasn’t overseeing the school’s attendance made sure to pause the mandatory videos to remind us that nice girls don’t have sex before marriage and to please stop writing down words like condoms, because we wouldn’t be needing them.
That may be a clue as to why we’re suddenly anal-crazy. We live in a pretty puritanical society, and many people are raised to prize maintaining their virginity until marriage. But with women marrying later, if at all, it can be a pretty long road to happily ever after these days, and you gotta do something, so.…
“Anal was my ‘everything but,'” a religious friend of mine confided.
It’s not merely religious concerns at play — there’s also a misguided sense that anal sex is safer than vaginal sex. More than one interviewee in the British study believed it was impossible to get an STI from anal sex. Use of condoms was rare.
While the risk of pregnancy isn’t a big worry, a lot other things can still go wrong. “The rectal epithelial tissue is thinner, especially in comparison with vaginal tissue,” says Kimberly McBride, PhD, assistant professor of Public Health at the University of Toledo. “If you’re not careful about how you perform, and especially if you don’t use lube, there could be local trauma.” Those are the fissures Naomi Wolf was talking about.
Fissures also create an entry point for sexually transmitted infections. “We see research that suggests HPV transmissions,” says McBride, “and HPV is linked to anal cancers.” Not to mention any other STI that just needs a small slice of open skin to enter: HIV, gonorrhea, herpes, hepatitis.
You can prevent some tearing with lube, but really, use a condom. And if you’re going from anal to vaginal, change the condom. You don’t want the bacteria in your anus getting into your vagina.
The good news is that all the rumors are not true: Rectal incontinence is not an issue. According to McBride, “The research literature does not suggest that anal intercourse results in incontinence.”
No shortage of women whispered to me, might a man be really into anal sex because he’s gay? That question got a lot of polite-ish “Are you an idiot?” looks from the researchers I spoke with. As Sienna Sinclaire, a sex coach and adult-industry mainstay, puts it: “Guys like to put their penis anywhere. I don’t mean that in a negative way. If I had a penis, I’d put it anywhere too.”
Asked why they thought young people wanted anal, subjects in the British study often cited the desire to copy pornography. But that explanationis “partial at best,”argues study coauthor CicelyMarston, PhD, senior lecturerat the London School ofHygiene and Tropical Medicine.”The fact that porn is the general explanation given by many both within and outside this study for the rise in anal sex reinforces the idea that men decide what todo sexually and women are passive.”
Her interviews suggested some men tried it out of a sense of competition (as one charmingly put it, “every hole’s a goal”). Both men and women needed to “relax” more, to “get used to it.” In truth, nobody seemed to be having much fun. The men rarely mentioned physical pleasure. The woman mostly reported pain…and not in a sexy way.
And yet, there are women who like it.
Take my friend Rachel ($5 that’s not her real name), who is in her 30s and married with kids. Over scones in my kitchen, I told her what I was working on, and she said, “We love doing it.” It turns out, she and her husband do it fairly often. They call it going to Brown Town. As in, “Hey, are you up for a visit to Brown Town?” Rachel likes it because she likes to please her husband but also because it feels good to her. She likes being entered from behind and finds there’s something very intimate about how gentle he has to be in order for it to happen. (Her husband likes it because the anus is smaller and tighter than the vagina, and well, that’s the dream, right?)
And then there are the group of women I’ll call anal enthusiasts, who are set on educating the world in the finer points of backdoor sex.
Sinclaire is one of them. The first time she had anal sex, at 21, it hurt. She bled every time she had a bowel movement for months. Now, she loves anal and even sees advantages to it over vaginal sex. “The great thing about the ass is that it’s not a vagina,” she says. “There’s no cervix, so if his cock is 10 inches, it can still fit.”
Take a minute if you need one.
“The ass is really an erogenous zone,” says sex educator Tristan Taormino, author of The Ultimate Guide to Anal Sex for Women. “It’s rich in nerve endings at the opening.” (McBride, of the University of Toledo, confirms this.) So the rectum responds to stimulation and penetration, which is why butt plugs exist. And are purchased by people.
Taormino says the reason a lot of women experience pain is because the opening of the anus is a ring of muscle and it has to be unclenched for this to work. It involves the field of anal foreplay, which includes lube, massage, testing the waters with a pinkie, and maybe reminding yourself that you consented to this. “Your ass is more delicate than your vagina and less resilient,” she says. “You can hurt someone if you do it wrong. So all that sensitive tissue is kind of a blessing and a curse.”
So anal sex is either very painful or really great. It’s either safe or dangerous. It’s unyielding pleasure or a huge pain in the ass. Apparently, it’s just like everything. Years ago, oral sex was considered deviant. This isn’t that different. Taormino told me about letters she gets from women who tell her about their fantasies, anal and otherwise, and want to know if they’re normal.
“I would like that stuff to go away,” she says of the shame she encounters. “I would like to see anal sex destigmatized, with no hierarchy within the bounds of normal relationships. I don’t want that system, and we all subscribe to it in one way or another, consciously or unconsciously. I’d like there to be a menu with all the stuff in the same fonts. You order from the menu.”
And here is where we get to my most profound discovery on the subject of anal sex: That whereas there are emotional implications to any kind of sex we have, anal sex is a true test of trust because it could go so badly wrong. The women I spoke to who were in relationships and mutually decided with their partner to have anal sex talked about it being a profound experience. The ones who just got a “can we?” and a poke in the butt felt horrible pain. Maybe anal sex is more than I considered it could be — a chance to come together in a new way, to feel new heights of trust, a zenith of emotional bonding.
As I finished up the reporting for this story, I received a text from my friend Rachel. “Just finished watching some PBS and thinking of taking a trip to Browntown Abbey. Thought you’d like to know.”
This article was originally published as “Is Everyone Having Anal Without Me?” in the March 2015 issue of Cosmopolitan.