Anal sex is no longer quite the salacious taboo it once was.
Not only has society steadily become more accepting of sexual relationships between men, but more heterosexual people are trying it and trying it more often than ever before. Recent surveys estimate that 40 percent of women between the ages of 20 to 24 have tried anal sex, and 20 percent of all women have tried it in the last year.
Our greater societal acceptance aside, you may have heard that anal sex can have some dangerous effects on our health, particularly as a leading cause of anal cancer. So let’s take a brief look at some basic facts and myths about anal sex and its connection to cancer.
The myths and facts behind the connection between anal sex and anal cancer.
1. It Can Cause Anal Cancer
The long and short of it is that yes, anal sex is a risk factor for anal cancer.
Anal sex can transmit the human papillomavirus (HPV), and HPV in turn leaves the cells around our rectum more vulnerable to mutating and becoming cancerous. A similar risk exists wherever HPV rears its ugly microscopic head, including the mouth, throat, and cervix. And because anal sex is generally more damaging to the inner lining of the rectrum than the stereotypical notion of heterosexual sex is to the vagina, HPV and other sexually transmitted infections are more easily spread between people who engage in anal sex. Similarly, the greater number of sexual partners, the greater the risk of cancer.
2. But It’s Rare
Close to 90 percent of anal cancer cases can be traced back to HPV. But the cancer itself is relatively rare.
According to The American Society of Colon and Rectal Surgeons, only 8,000 people will be newly diagnosed with anal cancer this year. And though cases have been slowly increasing in recent decades, only one of every 500 people will develop anal cancer in their lifetime, generally between the ages of 55 to 64 — a stark contrast to the one in every 22 people who will develop colorectal cancer.
3. And Preventable
Like other forms of cancer fueled by HPV, the available HPV vaccine can likely cut down the risk of developing anal cancer in both men and women.
While HPV vaccination rates still aren’t anywhere near as high as we’d like them to be, there is already evidence that the vaccine has lowered the risk of later cervical cancer in teen girls. And though we don’t have any concrete evidence that the same decline has occurred for anal cancer just yet, there is some showing the vaccine reduced the risk of cells in the anus becoming precancerous in young men who have sex with men.
Both teen boys and girls are now regularly encouraged to get the HPV vaccine, but when it comes to anal cancer, it may benefit women more — two-thirds of new cases are diagnosed in women.
On 18 May 2011 , the prolific dominatrix-turned-pornstar Asa Akira sent her Twitter followers one brief, but provocative message: “Ass is the new pussy.”
Although Akira was not the first to utter this smutty axiom, the tagline has been pegged to her name. That may have made it easy for many to dismiss the concept as nothing more than a shocking, perhaps self-promotional assertion by a savvy performer sometimes known as porn’s ” Ass Queen .” But the starlet wasn’t just blowing smoke out of her buttocks. She was channeling a growing and convincing body of data on the inexorable rise of heterosexual anal play in America.
We can actually track the rise of heterosexual anal sex over the past quarter century thanks to your tax dollars. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has released a series of studies in which they asked huge groups of people the same nosey questions about their sex lives— including whether men had ever put their penises “in a female’s rectum or butt” and if women had experienced a man putting his penis in their rectums (or butts) . In 1992, 20 percent of women and 26 percent of men aged 18 to 59 had reached fifth base with an opposite sex partner at least once. In 2005, the figure was 35 percent of women and 40 percent of men aged 25 to 44. In 2011, it was 39 percent of women and 44 percent of men aged 15 to 44. In some smaller age subgroups, the prevalence of anal experimentation was even more common.
The CDC didn’t ask whether people had heterosexual anal sex on the reg (probably because it’s hard to measure what “the reg” means), experimented with other forms of anal play, or tried male-recipient butt stuff. The best numbers we get regarding frequency are studies that look at what proportion of people had heterosexual anal sex in the last year, or the last time they had sex, which is a weak proxy at best. But it give us a sense that recurrent hetero butt sex is on the rise as well as one-off experiments.
A 2010 study also suggests that experimentation with wider forms of anal play may be even more common than experimentation with anal sex amongst heterosexual couplings. Among its subjects, 43 percent of women and 51 percent of men surveyed in heterosexual couples copped to testing out anilingus, anal fingering, or anal toy play at least once. A 2008 study suggests that at least some self-identified heterosexual men are receiving anal pleasure as well (mostly fingering, some anilingus). We have no good data to compare that to in terms of trends. But given the taboos against men receiving anal play, any male-receiver experimentation seems, anecdotally at least, like a pretty big sign of the times.
Yet for all that we’ve collectively bickered, raved, and railed about this widely acknowledged trend, almost no one’s investigated what America’s changing anal inclinations have meant for the sex market— namely brothel owners, pornographers, and toy manufacturers . To find out, I reached out to a few makers and shakers in the sex industry to get a quick look at how America’s smut mongers have responded to the rise of hetero anal sex.
Art by Peter Johann Nepomuk Geiger
PORN IN THE HETERO ANAL-ERA
According to Pornhub, the king of dirty search data, the heterosexual anal revolution correlates with exactly the trends you’d imagine. Anal-relatedporn searches still represent less than 10 percent of all queries on their site. However, anal is a more common term among straight content searches than gay ones and its pervasiveness in hetero searches is rising rapidly. Pornhub crunched the numbers for VICE and found that between 2009 and 2015 , anal-related searches increased by 120 percent in America. That’s significantly higher than the 78 percent increase in anal-related searches globally. The increase was steeper among male than female users, but anal-related tags were still the 18th most searched most searched terms among the site’s female clientele.
(As a side note, Pornhub’s investigation found that users aged 18 to 24 are actually 33 percent less likely to look for anal content than users aged 35 to 44, which is unexpected given how often we talk about hetero-anal as a young person’s game. But that 18 to 24-year-old demographic is 290 percent more likely to search for My Little Pony porn than any other age bracket, which is certainly its own can of worms.)
Image by Paul Avril
Yet, despite this clear demand spike, and the excitement a first-time anal scene can generate for a female performer, anal-focused heterosexual videos make up a small portion of the market. A Pornhub investigation last year revealed that just 7 percent of their straight content has an “anal” tag on it. And it doesn’t seem like porn studios are making any notable move to increase the volume of anal-focused content they create.
“I don’t think the overall production has gone up,” says Holly Kingstown, the editor of Fleshbot and a fixture of the adult industry since 1999 who’s held every job possible save actress. “In your talent pool, there are still [only] a certain number of girls who will do [anal]. And how many of that scene can you do with that girl?”
“There are performers who are willing to do it,” possibly due to industry pressures and consumer demand. “But in terms of the quality, when you’re talking about DVD sales…” she adds, before pausing briefly. “You can get a crappy internet scene or two out of a girl, but if she’s not really good at it, you’re not going to get that too many times. And when you’re talking about a girl who does it just to get a scene, it’s usually not going to be a girl who loves it or does it very well. So she’s not going to get that much work.”
Kingstown does believe that there’s more consumption of the anal-focused content that already exists. But the absolute number of anal-focused titles available for consumers is fairly static.
What has changed, says Kingstown, is the tone and packaging of the anal porn that gets made. Towards the early 2000s, when Kingstown was still working at Buttman Magazine, she and a her colleagues realized that more couples, versus angry men looking for painal (grimacing girls , visibly suffering and un-lubed ass-ramming), were exploring their content. Adjusting to this mass market, pornographers shifted to portraying anal as pleasurable and normal versus painful and sick, which had apparently been the norm for the bulk of anal porn content up to that point.
“You still see the stuff where you’ll see a woman called an ‘anal whore.’ But you also see the tone overall to be a bit more… I want to say woman-positive,” says Kingstown. “For example, I’m looking at my desk and I’ve got James Deen Loves Butt here. This isn’t James Deen Loves Sodomizing Little Girls and Making Them Cry . That title would sell too, but to a whole different audience. There’s Anal Warriors, where women are shown as strong and powerful and in control of the sex that they’re having. There’s a whole ton of these kinds of movies where the women who enjoy anal are shown as strong and powerful.”
But even if movies today portray anal sex as pleasurable, they still don’t paint it realistically. They don’t focus on the time and preparation most (s)experts agree good anal requires . They often show a ramrod, angled experience that wouldn’t be pleasant for more than a few women in the world. Of course, a lack of realistic sexuality is a chronic problem in all niches of fantasy-driven porn.
We’re seeing a lot more prolapses. We’re seeing double anal. It used to be five anal scenes, done, not four anal scenes and a double penetration. They can go further, so they do. –Holly Kingstown
This pleasurable-looking anal, says Kingston, is now treated like a run-of-the-mill aspect of porn rather than a specialty act. Whereas in the past, you might stuff all your anal content into one niche film, nowadays directors think nothing of nonchalantly inserting an anal scene into a larger project. The overall amount of anal content remains the same—it’s just not as clustered into niche markets and individual movies. Yet, as anal becomes a normal part of heterosexual porn for a wider audience, a small audience craving painful or extreme porn, for whom anal is now too passé and mainstream, has started demanding more physically taxing and (Kingston believes) potentially dangerous ass play acrobatics from the limited actress pool.
“You see a lot more circus stuff than you used to,” says Kingstown. “We’re seeing a lot more prolapses. We’re seeing double anal. It used to be five anal scenes, done, not four anal scenes and a double penetration. They can go further, so they do. And physically, there’s only so far that you can go with your body [as a performer].”
SEX TOYS IN THE HETERO-ANAL ERA
“Anal sex has always been a frequent topic of conversation with our [mostly heterosexual] customers,” Claire Cavanah, co-founder of Babeland, told VICE when we asked for data on anal-related sex toy sales. The Seattle-based outfit with three outlets in New York is often hailed as one of the most accessible and acclaimed sex toy shops in America—a profile that lends it a large consumer base. “The ‘How to Have Butt Sex’ content on Babeland.com is the number one viewed piece of our [editorial] content. It has almost double the number of eyes on it as the ‘How to Give a Blow Job’ article, which is the second most viewed [item]. We don’t have data before 2009, but it’s always been number one.”
A Babeland survey of 18,412 customer respondents in 2009 (not a reliable sample, due to self-reporting issues, but still one of the better pieces of data you can find on this subject matter) also found that, 60.5 percent of men and 40.1 percent of women had tried using a butt plug, 56.8 percent of men and 31.7 percent of women had tried using an anal dildo, 51.8 percent of men and 29.2 percent of women had tried using an anal vibrator, and 37.4 percent of men and 27.8 percent of women had tried using anal beads.
Yet even with a high baseline of anal interest, Babeland has seen an increase in anal-related sales. Between 2012 and 2015, the genre averaged about 5 percent growth per year. As of 2015, Cavenah estimates that such toys, specifically made with anal in mind, make up about 16 percent of Babeland’s sales.
What’s more significant to Cavenah and company, they say, is how they’ve witnessed the tone and level of openness their customers use when talking to them about purchases and proclivities evolve. The hushed voices and seedy aura customers once took into transactions has faded away. And as people get more open, comfortable, and explicit with their anal sex toy needs, toy makers have responded to their feedback with a deluge of new, specifically anal-targeted sex toys , including smaller models marketed towards anal beginners. Babeland’s also noticed more luxury anal sex toys coming onto the market—products made of metal or glass, substances with higher price points—which suggests the emergence of a fair number of swankier, less bashful customers.
“We’ve definitely seen a shift in more interesting, innovative, and high-qualitybutt toys from some of the leading sex toy companies,” says Cavenah. “Je Joue debuted a remote-controlled vibrating prostate stimulator this spring. Anal toys come with vibrators, apps, and magnetic resistance that creates a pulsating sensation. There are also lubricants, such as Sliquid [Naturals] Sassy , that are marketed specifically for anal use.”
Penises can be problematic. They are powerful, untameable beasts, capable of wielding immense pleasure but also able to cause devastating emotional wounds. And that’s just anal sex
by Liam Murphy
As well as the obvious physical harm that can be inflicted – skinny jeans have cursed a generation to suffer cock-caught-in-fly related trauma – the magnificent meat mallet can also bring mental torment when, like an untrained puppy, it just won’t do as it’s told.
THE HARDER THE BETTER?
Some of the best things are hard: hard-boiled eggs, biscuits, those rhubarb and custard sweets, Tom Hardy and, of course, the penis. However, sometimes they can spring up at the most unexpected and inopportune times, and just won’t go away.
“I call my hard-on issue uncontrollable as such,” says 21-year-old Ian, “let’s say ‘eager’ or ‘keen’. It doesn’t take much and it’s ‘up periscope’ time. I’ve been this way as long as I’ve appreciated the male form. I went through a phase of wearing an over the shoulder bag in my late teens so I could cover the odd bus boner (the vibrations cause a right disturbance). Rather that than poke someone in the eye on the way past, I guess!”
However, impromptu erections can also lead to embarrassing retail situations, as Ian explains. “Recent men’s fashion means that I’ve become accustomed to skinny fit jeans, and for whatever reason, I went commando that day – I’m sure you know where I’m going with this – and I guess it must have been particularly sensitive or whatever. Anyway, I ended up with a lob-on in Tesco. My skinny jeans/tight t-shirt combo meant there was no hiding, so I did what any self-respecting bloke would do. I awkwardly leant over the shopping trolley for the next ten minutes. On the upside, I can also get hard on demand! It’s just a combination of a high sex drive and an involuntary physical reaction, I think.”
For Kieran, 25, his perilously perky penis is just part of his day. “I wouldn’t say it’s an issue – more just a fact of life. Some people sweat a lot, some people yawn a lot… I get boners a lot. Not getting them would be an issue, but getting too many, yeah that’s a ‘problem’ I’m OK with – at least I know it’s all working well. It does pop up at any time. When I was due to be giving a talk, someone gave me a wink and boom… up popped my friend downstairs to take his moment centre stage. I stood behind the lectern desperately thinking of Margaret Thatcher and trying to kill it so I could step out and begin my talk properly. The worst though, is when someone you don’t fancy or don’t want to have sex with tries it on and it just feels like he’s betraying you.”
And how does one manage the curse (or blessing, depending on your perspective) of a perpetual hard-on? “Like everyone else I learned the ‘tuck it behind your belt’ trick, or to hide it behind my belt. Granted, occasionally there have been times when I’ve had to miss my tube stop and stay sitting down while I waited for one to subside.”
Will, 38, didn’t notice the problem cropping up until he was in a relationship. “I was never aware of it until I met my boyfriend and it became apparent early on that I would get erect whenever I was around him. It has settled down a bit now but whenever we kissed in public I would get a twinge. And in bed it still sometimes feels like I have an erection all night. I would generally be embarrassed that I was getting these erections. I felt immature. This is what happens to a teenager, not an adult. I was going through a difficult break-up once – lots of tears – we were cuddling and I was hard. I realised then that my hard-ons were not always about sex – to me they were about love too.”
Erectile dysfunction can happen to a lot of people, in varying degrees and for many reasons, medical or otherwise.
“It happens to me every time I put on a condom,” admits Steven, 34. “I have no problem keeping it up before fucking – wanking and getting sucked off have never been a problem – but when I go to fuck someone and I slide the condom on, I lose the hardness. Not totally, but enough that I can’t properly put it in someone’s arse and enough that the sensation goes for me.”
Steven tried mixing up condom brands. “I’ve used thin, ultra-thin, ribbed, tingle… every version of a condom you could imagine and I still get the same flaccid result. I think it must be a psychological thing, because it’s not like I can’t get hard at all. It’s fine when I bareback with long term boyfriends, but with one nighters I tend to have to bottom now.”
Anxiety can often be a cause of not being able to maintain an erection, as 27-year-old James confirms: “Sex in general makes me anxious. I hate getting naked and I get so nervous when it comes to getting down to it in bed. I was dating a guy I really liked, so much that when he touched me I would physically shake, but when it came to sex I just couldn’t get hard. He thought I didn’t like him! And now I dread having sex. I love the dating side of it but I always know that heading to the bedroom is going to be inevitable.”
What can cause you to have trouble getting or staying hard?
Stress and anxiety.
Smoking, recreational drugs and alcohol.
Some prescribed drugs – like Prozac and Seroxat.
Diabetes, high cholesterol and highblood pressure.
Psychological reasons – the more you worry about your erection, the less likely you are to be able to get one.
What can I do to make myself hard?
If you think the reason is psychological – a distraction helps, so encourage your partner to focus on something other than your cock for a while – kissing or nipple play might help to get you back in action.
Cockrings can also be used to help maintain a hard-on – leather or rubber straps are safer to use.
Drugs like Viagra or Cialis – consult your doctor for these.
Matthew Hodson, CEO of GMFA told us: “Rolling a condom onto a rock-hard penis isn’t a problem but if it’s a bit soft and you start to get anxious then it’s easy to spiral with anxiety to the point where a condom is really tricky to use. The more you’re concerned that you won’t be hard enough to use a condom, the more likely it is to happen. If it’s just an occasional problem it’s probably best not to make a big thing of it and just do something else that turns you on while you wait for it to get hard again. If it’s becoming more of a problem, you might want to experiment with cock-rings or talk with your GP about it – there’s no need to be embarrassed, you won’t be the first person who will have approached them with the same problem. Most erection problems can be addressed so there’s no reason why a temporarily soft dick should be a long-term barrier to you enjoying sex safely.”
Everyone should be able to enjoy a penis (which is my campaign slogan if I ever run for Prime Minister), especially their own. Whether it’s too hard or too soft, it doesn’t mean you and your cock have to suffer alone. Confide in your partner/lover/friend/doctor and discuss what you can do to get you and your lifelong pleasure companion talking again.
Step 1: When your cock is hard, take the condom out of the wrapper carefully using your fingers. Using your teeth to tear the packet could damage the condom. Squeeze the air out of the teat on the tip of the condom (if there is one) and put it over the end of your cock. Don’t stretch it and then pull it over your cock as this will make it more likely to break.
Step 2: Roll it down the length of your cock – the further down it goes the less likely it is to slip off. Put some water-based or silicone-based lubricant over your condom-covered cock. Put plenty of lube around his arse too. Don’t put any lube on your cock before you put the condom on, as this can make it slip off.
Step 3: Check the condom occasionally while fucking to ensure it hasn’t come off or split. If you fuck for a long time you will need to keep adding more lube. When you pull out, hold on to the condom and your cock at the base, so that you don’t leave it behind. Pull out before your cock goes soft.
What lube should I use?
When you don’t use enough lube, or use the wrong kind, the likelihood of condom failure is increased, making transmission of HIV and other STIs possible. Water-based lubes (e.g. K-Y, Wet Stuff and ID Glide) and silicone-based lubes (Eros Bodyglide and Liquid Silk) work well with condoms. Oil-based lubricants like cooking oil, moisturisers, sun lotions, baby oil, butter, Crisco, Elbow Grease, etc. can also cause latex condoms to break.
They can however be used with non-latex condoms, like Durex Avanti, Mates Skyn or Pasante Unique. Don’t use spit as it dries up quickly and increases the chance of your condom tearing.