Why Anal Sex Is Pleasurable For Some People — But Not Everyone

photographed by Ashley Armitage.
In a way, anal sex is like cilantro: some people find it scrumptious in moderation, while others tried it once, absolutely hated it, and vowed to avoid it forever. Like cilantro haters-turned-lovers, there's a subset of people who swear you can acquire a taste for anal sex if you do it enough. So, what gives? Why do some people find anal sex pleasurable, while others just don't?
For starters, it's pretty common to find receiving anal sex uncomfortable or painful, at least at first. In a 2013 study on 68 women who have had anal sex, 79.1% said that their first anal sex experience was painful. But most of the people who had a bad first time said that the intensity and duration of the pain went down over time. Those in the study who continued having anal said that it was "very arousing and pleasurable."
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When it comes to actually enjoying anal sex, there seem to be a few components at play: someone's body and anatomical structure, plus their emotions surrounding the act, says Patti Britton, PhD, MPH, a clinical sexologist in Los Angeles. Together, these factors determine whether or not people like anal sex. But, of course, everyone is different.
From a physiological standpoint, we know that people tend to have a tremendous amount of sensation at the opening of the anus, Dr. Britton says, which is why it's often regarded as an erogenous zone. Some people with vaginas are able to orgasm from anal sex, because their anus is so close to the vaginal wall and pelvic floor. But others might not have the same level of sensitivity in their vaginal wall, so anal orgasms aren't guaranteed for everyone. Most people with penises have a pleasure point called the prostate inside the anal canal that can lead to an orgasm when massaged. In other words, pleasure through the back door is possible.
To anal newbies, the mere thought of putting an object inside the anus often seems insurmountable. Technically, the anus, rectum, and large intestines are responsible for absorbing nutrients and eliminating waste. "It's an exit, not an entry," Dr. Britton says. The lining of the rectum is extremely delicate, and can be easily ripped and torn, which can be horribly painful and even dangerous, she says. (That's why it's so important to use copious amounts of lube and wear a condom, she says.)
However, it's entirely possible for large objects — like a fist, dildo, or penis — to fit inside of the rectum, and cause "an exquisitely pleasurable experience," Dr. Britton says. "So, [anal sex is] not so much about accommodating the size of an object being inserted into the rectum," she says. "But it’s probably more about technique, the thinking, and the emotional feelings that surround being penetrated anally and maybe penetrating as well." For anal sex to be enjoyable, you have to get past the anus' biological purpose, and look at receiving anal as something pleasurable, she says.
If you're trying to become a person who likes anal, then Dr. Britton suggests using a lot of a thick, silicone-based lube next time you attempt it. When the penis or object is entering, be sure to breathe deeply and move slowly, she says. Dr. Britton believes that anyone can enjoy anal sex, "if their body says yes." That basically means that you have to go in with an open mind, get rid of any fear or shame, listen to your body, and stop if you're in real pain. "There are some people who are never going to be able to open up," she says. And if that sounds like you, then you don't have to have anal sex.
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