Why Do People Like Anal?

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In this week's Sex IDK column, Emma McGowan, certified sex educator and writer, answers your questions about why people like anal sex.

Q: Why do people like anal?

I love this question because there’s this current, kind of flippant, cultural attitude that “everyone does anal” — but not everyone does! And that’s totally fine. If you’re not into a sex act, you don’t have to do that sex act. Period, the end. But if you’re not into a sex act yourself, it can also be a little confusing why someone else might be. So let’s talk about it.

First, let's go over what anal feels like for the receptive partner, which is formal way of saying, “the person taking it in the butt.” One of the great things about anal sex is that everyone has a butthole, so it’s a sex act available to people of all genders and sexualities. But people with prostates do experience anal sex differently than people without them do.

For people assigned male at birth (AMAB), the prostate is located about three inches (or approximately two knuckles) inside the rectum. It’s hard and about the size of a walnut. It also kind of feels like a walnut, with ridges around the outside. And while the science is still light as to exactly why, many people with a prostates find that stimulating it during sex results in stronger and more pleasurable orgasms.

You see where we’re going with this, right? Anal sex stimulates the prostate in people who have them. So if you find that kind of stimulation pleasurable, then you’re probably more likely to be into anal sex.

Zackary Drucker/The Gender Spectrum Collection

The prostate is so important to sexual pleasure, in fact, that when a trans woman has gender-affirming surgery to change her penis and scrotum into a vagina, the doctor will often line up the new vaginal canal with the prostate so that she experiences prostate stimulation similar to how a cisgender woman might experience g-spot stimulation. Cool, right?

People who are assigned female at birth (AFAB), however, don’t have a prostate — but that doesn’t mean AFAB people don’t like anal! Anecdotally, there are a few reasons why an AFAB person might enjoy anal sex.

First of all, some people enjoy the “full” feeling that they get from anal sex. Because the anal sphincter (which is a fancy way of saying butthole) is smaller and tighter than the vaginal opening, the feeling of being penetrated there can be more intense experience. Additionally, in AFAB people, the rectum runs right alongside the vagina, with a thin layer of skin between them. That means that anal stimulation can also stimulate the vagina and even the internal parts of the clitoris. Basically, there are a bunch of different nerves down there that can feel really good when stimulated.

Other common reasons people might like anal are psychological. For some people, anal sex is still a “dirty” or “naughty” sex act — and that feeling of transgressing rules or boundaries turns them on. This is a really common sexual response, to the point of being cliché. (Think of the male CEO who visits a dominatrix for a clear representation of how breaking society’s rules can be a turn-on.)

And, finally, an AFAB person might like anal sex because they can’t get pregnant from it. For some people, taking that particular worry off their shoulders can be enough to heighten sexual arousal. (But, of course, anal sex is also the sex act that's most likely to transmit STIs, because of damage to sensitive rectal tissues, so it's still a good idea to wear a condom.)

If you're not into anal, don't do anal

But what about the penetrative partner, aka the person putting it in the other person’s butt? If that person has a biological penis, the sensation of being squeezed tightly can be really pleasurable. If that person is used to having sex with a person with a vagina, having anal sex is a very different sensation than vaginal or oral sex. And the psychological part of it feeling “dirty” definitely also applies to the penetrative partner, whether they’re using a biological penis or a synthetic one.

If the pain factor is one reason you wonder why people like anal sex, rest assured that nope, it doesn't (and probably shouldn't): While anal sex certainly can and often does hurt, it doesn’t have to hurt. If you follow anal sex best practices — use lots of lube, start with toys and work your way up in size, don’t just start thrusting — it really shouldn’t hurt at all. If it is hurting, that's a sign that you're not using enough lube, and you might be at risk for tearing — so don't hesitate to let your partner know if things don't feel right.

So, to sum it up, if you're not into anal, don't do anal. But I hope this exploration of all things butt sex helped you understand why some people might be into it. Because for those people who do like anal, they really like anal — and who knows if you might be among that group, too.

Studies referenced:

Levin, R.J. (2017) Prostate‐induced orgasms: A concise review illustrated with a highly relevant case study. https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1002/ca.23006

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