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How Common Is Heterosexual Anal Sex?

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Updated February 09, 2009

Question: How Common Is Heterosexual Anal Sex?
Answer:

Somewhere around 2004-2005 an over used, initially funny, and hard to attribute quote proclaimed that “anal sex is the new black.” Mostly spread through media accounts of both youth and adults engaging in far more anal sex than ever before, and mostly without any reliable data to back it up, this idea that anal sex is growing in popularity as a sex act, and is a frequently engaged in sex act, seemed ubiquitous.

The confusion may have also been fueled by a growing trend since the late 1990s of anal sex in porn, to the point where what was once the feature of edgy hardcore films was now expected in almost every scene.

But is any of it true? Are we having more anal sex, or more often? Or are we just talking about it more?

Silence Around Heterosexual Anal Sex

In an exhaustive paper on the history of heterosexual anal sex, Bruce Voeller documents how for decades doctors, psychiatrists, and researchers from all disciplines have conspired to keep silent about heterosexual anal sex. Despite a great number of anecdotal resources, and statistics going back as far as Kinsey data from the late 30s, talk of heterosexuals engaging in anal sex is scarce, and reporting on data almost non-existent. Voeller suggests that this is, among other things, tied to taboos about anal sex, and homophobic beliefs that anal sex is only the domain of gay men. For this reason there are not nearly as good data on heterosexual anal sex throughout history as there is on other forms of sexual behavior.

Anal Sex Statistics

Over time, statistics on anal sex indicate a substantial increase in people reporting anal sex, from a low of 9% in the Kinsey data (collected from 1938 to 1963) to a high of 34% of men in a national survey in 2002. But it’s impossible to know if this increase is an actual rise in anal sex, or simply a rise in how often anal sex is asked about and how often subjects respond honestly. Get detailed anal sex statistics.

Is Heterosexual Anal Sex More Popular, or Just More Acceptable?

This is a key question, and one that statistics can never fully answer. Anal sex statistics do indicate that a generational change has occurred, where people born in the 1980s and later may be more comfortable admitting to having anal sex, or more interested in having anal sex.

Surveys done prior to 1980 showed that younger people were more likely to have had anal sex, and as age increased, the likelihood of having had anal sex decreased. This is usually explained as a generational effect, where older research subjects were raised in a time when anal sex was less prevalent (either as a topic or a sexual behavior).

More recent surveys, conducted in the late 1990s and in 2002 show a very different age effect. In these surveys, younger people (under the age of 25) were less likely to have had anal sex, and as research subjects’ ages went up, the likelihood that they had tried anal sex also increased.

While there is no way of knowing for certain, what all this likely points to is a fundamental shift at the very least in the social acceptability of reporting anal sex, if not actually engaging in it.

Sources:

  1. Billy, J.O., Grady, W.R., Klepinger, D.H. "The Sexual Behavior of Men in the United States" Family Planning Perspectives Vol. 25. Issue 2 (1993): 52 -60.
  2. Bolling, D.R. “Prevalence, Goals and Complications of Heterosexual Anal Intercourse in a Gynecologic Population. Journal of Reproductive Medicine Volume 19 (1977): 120-124.
  3. Bolling, D. “Heterosexual Anal Intercourse: A Common Entity, Perceived Rarity, Neglected Patients and Ostrich Syndrome.” Paper presented at the 1987 Kinsey Institute Conference, AIDS and sex: An integrated biomedical and biobehavioral approach, Bloomington, IN, December 5-8, 1987.
  4. Gebhard, P.H. & Johnson, A.B. The Kinsey Data: Marginal Tabulations of the1938-1963 Interviews Conducted by the Institute for Sex Research Philadelphia: W. B. Saunders,1979.
  5. Hunt, M. Sexual Behavior in the 1970s. Chicago: Playboy Press, 1974.
  6. Mosher,W.D., Chandra, A. & Jones J. “Sexual Behavior and Selected Health Measures: Men and Women 15–44 Years of Age, United States, 2002.” Advance Data from Vital and Health Statistics; no 362. Hyattsville, MD: National Center for Health Statistics (2005): <http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/ad/ad362.pdf>
  7. Voeller, B. “AIDS and Heterosexual Anal Intercourse.” Archives of Sexual Behavior Volume 20. Issue 3 (1991): 233-276.

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