Why is it important to have safe anal sex?

Condom in Jeans Pocket
Condom in Jeans Pocket. Roderick Chen/ All Canada Photos/ Getty Images

Question: Why is it important to have safe anal sex?

It doesn't matter if you're a man or a woman: If you're having anal sex you need to be having safe anal sex. While anal sex doesn't carry the risk of pregnancy, you must not forget that it does carry significant and potentially serious health risks. These days, it seems as though many young women and men are unaware of those risks.The focus on abstinence and virginity in sexuality education has decreased people's awareness about the spread of STDs and the risks of activities other than vaginal intercourse.

In fact, there is evidence that some people are choosing to have anal sex because they believe that it is safer than vaginal sex. However, that is only true with respect to pregnancy.

Answer: Because anal sex can be incredibly risky

Gay men are bombarded with messages about the importance of practicing safe anal sex, but they are not the only ones who have anal sex*, and they are not the only ones at risk. Growing numbers of heterosexual couples (and lesbians!) are also having anal sex and thus exposing themselves to the same dangers -- only without the benefit of comprehensive sex education that warns them to use condoms for rectal as well as vaginal penetration.

The fact is that unprotected anal sex puts individuals at risk of numerous anal STDs, including:

  1. HIV
  2. gonorrhea
  3. rectal chlamydia
  4. HPV/anal cancer, and
  5. syphilis

Risk for these diseases is, in fact, often substantially greater for unprotected anal sex than it is for unprotected vaginal sex.

This is in part because the tissues of the rectum are more delicate and susceptible to tearing, which can increase the risk of infection for both partners. The rectum also lacks some of the natural protective features of the vagina, such as lubrication.

Because of the high STD risk associated with unprotected anal sex, it is extremely important for anyone who has anal sex to always have safe anal sex, and to talk to their doctor about testing for anal STDs.

Although safe anal sex can not entirely eliminate the risks of contracting an anal STD, it can vastly reduce them. Safe anal sex means using a latex, polyurethane, or polyisoprene condom, along with plenty of condom-compatible lubrication, every time you have anal sex. It is also important to use gloves to cover the fingers and hands when manually penetrating a partner's rectum and to use dental dams for rimming.

*Not all gay men enjoy anal sex, which is something that more doctors and educators need to be aware of.

Sources:
SIECUS Fact Sheet. "What the Research Says… Abstinence-Only-Until-Marriage Programs." Accessed 7/19/15 at http://www.siecus.org/index.cfm?fuseaction=Page.ViewPage&PageID=1195

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