Ask the Doctors: Damage from Anal Sex?

A few years ago Dr. Drew Pinsky said publicly that anal sex was extremely unhealthy and damaging.  He was adamant about not wanting anyone to engage in it because he had seen many older people with damaged rectums from years of anal sex.

I haven’t seen any literature that addresses this except a few articles that stated aids transmission was more likely through tears in the membrane.

So my question is; are there any studies that have looked into the health effects of long-term anal sex?  I know there are many authors out there stating it is perfectly healthy, but I’m more interested in research studies of aged people.  If no such studies exist, are there reliable sources for anecdotal evidence?

While it’s true that some people experience damage from anal sex, there are also people who have been doing it for years without having any problems. What makes the difference is how people do it. I should also mention that anal intercourse and, for that matter, anal penetration, aren’t the only ways to enjoy anal play. The anus has plenty of sensitive nerves and a lot of people enjoy anal stimulation with toys, fingers, or oral sex without any penetration at all.

Even people who are very experienced with anal play can benefit from going slowly at first, warming up, and giving the muscles time to relax. Anal sex isn’t about forcing the pelvic and anal muscles to open- it’s about learning how to relax them. If you go too quickly, you can certainly hurt yourself.

The next issue is whether people are using enough lubricant, and the right kind of lubricant. Since the rectum doesn’t lubricate the way that the vagina does, a good lubricant is important. While many people like the water-based ones, they dry out or soak in after a while. Many people have come to prefer the silicone lubricants since they don’t dry out.

It’s also important for partners to be able to communicate with each other, both before and during anal play. For example, emotions like anger or fear can cause the pelvic floor to tighten, can  make anal penetration more difficult, uncomfortable, or painful. And of course, if you need more lubricant, you need to be able to tell your partner. Unfortunately, many people end up using numbing creams or having a few too many drinks out of fear about anal play hurting, which not only means that they don’t realize when they’re being harmed but also that they might not be able to tell their partner about any discomfort.

As far as I’m aware, there aren’t any studies although there are plenty of claims that aren’t backed up by any real data. But I certainly know plenty of people of all genders and sexual orientations who have been active anal players for years without having any difficulties or health issues as a result.

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Dr. Charlie Glickman

Charlie Glickman is the Education Program Manager at Good Vibrations. He also writes, blogs, teaches workshops and university courses, presents at conferences, and trains sexuality educators. He’s certified by the American Association of Sexuality Educators, Counselors, and Therapists, and loves geeking out about sex, relationships, sex-positivity, love and shame, communities of erotic affiliation, and sexual practices and techniques of all varieties. Follow him online, on Twitter at @charlieglickman, or on Facebook.

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