When Partners Disagree About Taboos
Differences and disappointment in sexual partnership.
Posted Oct 06, 2017
Though it’s still taboo for many, there’s been a cultural shift when it comes to heterosexual anal sex. Young women are reporting in therapy that they are increasingly being pressured to have anal sex early on in sexual relationships. And they’re not the only ones—long-married women are hearing this request, too.
Much of this new pressure is due to changes in pornography, which now routinely features anal sex in heterosexual scenes. Many men who watch pornography erroneously believe that women have powerful orgasms through anal sex. Men tell me they believe women resist the act simply because they haven’t tried it and don’t know how much they would enjoy it.
Whatever the myths, here are some basic facts:
- About 2% of women enjoy anal sex.
- A study in the Journal of Sexual Medicine found that as many as 36% of women have tried it once.
- Anal sex pain is due to the stretching of the muscle around the anus (sphincter) and a bend in the female rectum (the last section of the large intestine before the anus).
- Months of slow introduction can often reduce or eliminate pain.
- Orgasm from anal sex is extremely rare.
Do some women enjoy it? Many women enjoy stimulation of their anus even if they do not want penetration. A small percentage of women, after going through a process of stretching their sphincter, do like the feeling of fullness and enjoy repeated anal sex; perhaps her partner’s enthusiastic sexual excitement about the act also adds to the thrill.
Why don’t women want to do it? I believe women know whether or not they want to try it, and whether they might enjoy it. And they have the right to decline it if they are opposed. Here are some of the reasons women don’t want to have anal sex:
- Pain. It hurts and there isn’t enough pleasure to warrant a repeat try even if they have tried it once. In reality, while there are erotically-charged nerve endings around the anus, very few women orgasm through anal sex.
- Mess. Staging in the erotic film industry often includes preparations that make anal sex look less messy than it might be in reality. And indeed, anal sex is not sanitary. Whatever touches or penetrates the anus should not touch the vagina or vulva without being washed with soap and water due. Fecal matter may harbor bacteria that could cause a vaginal or urinary tract infection.
- Taboo. This zone is often taught to children as off-limits because it is the exit place for contaminated feces. Unconsciously, people can carry these strong emotional reactions about their anal region into adulthood, believing that the act of anal sex or anal stimulation is dirty. Some religions also forbid anal sex. While it shouldn’t have to be said, trust would be irreparably broken if a woman’s vulnerability is violated.
Why do men want it?
- Taboo. Anything forbidden culturally or socially can heighten sexual excitement.
- Variety. In general, men like variety in their sexual experiences and anal sex presents another option.
- Tightness. There is often the fantasy that the anus will be tighter than the vagina, thus producing more pleasure for him.
- To please her. Because of the strong influence of the pornographic industry, many men feel they are introducing a woman to great pleasure.
How do we resolve our differences?
Everyone has the right to say no to an act that is unappealing. We also have the right to wish for whatever seems exciting or pleasurable. To manage the differences, I suggest that my patients first ask each other some open-ended questions like:
- “Can you tell me what you think would be exciting about it?”
- “Can you examine your feelings and tell me where your resistance is the strongest about this act?”
- “Would fantasizing about it out loud give you some satisfaction even if we didn’t act on those fantasies?”
These questions can help each partner to feel heard even if your differences do not allow for a compromise. Of course, ultimately, a woman has the absolute right to say no to anal sex, but it’s important that both partners feel respected and heard on the issue.
For more help from Laurie, you can arrange for video consultation regarding sex therapy.
McBride, K. R., & Fortenberry, J. D. (2010). Heterosexual Anal Sexuality and Anal Sex Behaviors: A Review. Journal of Sex Research, 47(2–3), 123–136. https://doi.org/10.1080/00224490903402538