LONDON — Talking about sex with your doctor is probably an awkward experience for many people — even for the physicians themselves! Now, a new study looking at the potential dangers of anal sex argues that doctors need to do more to educate women who engage in this form of intercourse.
Surgeons Tabitha Gana and Lesley Hunt note that anal sex is becoming more common among heterosexual couples and younger people in general. In fact, the National Survey of Sexual Attitudes and Lifestyle in the United Kingdom found that the number of straight couples between 16 and 24 years-old having anal sex has skyrocketed from 12.5 percent to nearly 29 percent in recent decades.
In the United States, researchers report that anal sex is even more popular among heterosexual men and women, with 30 to 44 percent engaging in the practice. Despite many young women doing it with their partners, the team says that when doctors don’t talk about the health risks tied to anal sex, it “exposes women to missed diagnoses, futile treatments, and further harm arising from a lack of medical advice.”
They add that physicians in general practice, gastroenterology, and colorectal surgery, “have a duty to acknowledge changes in society around anal sex in young women, and to meet these changes with open neutral and non-judgmental conversations to ensure that all women have the information they need to make informed choices about sex.”
Young women try anal for the sensation of pleasure, curiosity, and to please their male partners, according to Gana and Hunt. However, nearly one in four women who participated in anal sex say they were pressured into trying it.
What are the risks of engaging in anal sex?
Health officials consider anal intercourse a risky sexual act because of its reported link to drinking, substance abuse, and having sex with multiple partners. However, these aren’t the only concerns doctors have.
The study says anal sex also increases the rate of fecal incontinence and anal sphincter injury among women. These individuals also face a higher risk of incontinence than men who engage in anal intercourse — due to the differences in the female anatomy.
“The pain and bleeding women report after anal sex is indicative of trauma, and risks may be increased if anal sex is coerced,” the team writes in a media release.
To effectively avoid these issues, researchers say women need a greater understanding of the act — and that starts in the doctor’s office. Unfortunately, the study authors claim clinicians may want to avoid the topic altogether because of societal taboos and the fear that patients will actually take offense to their warnings.
“It may not be just avoidance or stigma that prevents health professionals talking to young women about the risks of anal sex. There is genuine concern that the message may be seen as judgmental or even misconstrued as homophobic,” Gana and Hunt say. “However, by avoiding these discussions, we may be failing a generation of young women, who are unaware of the risks.”
With that in mind, the team points out that patient information in the U.K. only talks about sexually transmitted diseases when discussing anal sex. It fails to mention the possibility of anal trauma, incontinence, or the psychological harm of being pressured into sex.
“With better information, women who want anal sex would be able to protect themselves more effectively from possible harm, and those who agree to anal sex reluctantly to meet society’s expectations or please partners, may feel better empowered to say no,” the team concludes.
The study is published in The BMJ.