We Need to Talk About Butt Stuff


I was shocked to realise that I have been writing about sexual health for 11 years now. Since 2013! I’ve had the privilege of dispensing a lot of medically reviewed advice and information over the years. Content that I hope has informed, improved and perhaps even saved the lives of members of the LGBTQ+ community.

I’ve delved into many topics that are considered controversial including unprotected sex (barebacking), promiscuity, Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP), sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and chemsex, also known as Party and Play (using drugs to enhance sexual activity).

In all this time, the topic that I have found to be most “delicate”, the one I believe to be the most stigmatised and taboo, yet also one of the most important subjects to explore regarding sexual health for men who have sex with men (MSM) is anal sex.

A Point of Entry

I’m not ashamed to admit that I am passionate about exploring the topic of anal sex. In fact, I am so fascinated with it that I have written the basic outline for a one-man comedy show that deep dives into the complexities around this subject matter. The history of the practice, the psychology and the phobias that surrounds it. Hopefully, I’ll be able to put it on one day.

I believe it’s important to educate everyone about anal, whether they practice it or not. Medical experts say that anal sex may have a higher risk of spreading STIs and other infections compared to other sexual activities due to the lining of the anus being thinner and more susceptible to damage than the vagina during intercourse. 

This has likely contributed to high rates of HIV transmission amongst vulnerable key populations groups like MSM, trans women and sex workers.

I think there are also many other interesting things to learn about this ancient way of body bonding.

Despite being relegated to the shadows and routinely omitted from discussion both publicly and privately, this has not prevented anal sex from being a common pastime for thousands of years.

Paradoxically, it’s a sexual practice that many people privately love but publicly love to hate. We’ve BEEN doing it, which primordial cave paintings and graphic Ancient Greek crockery illustrations can attest to. Anal appears to be ancestral.

Throwing Shade Where the Sun Don’t Shine

Shame and homophobia are still common as muck in the MSM community (both internalised and external), which the stigma and myths around anal sex have not helped.

Historically derogatory terms like ‘sodomy’ and ‘buggery’ and the criminalisation, incarceration, capital punishment and executions meted out to those caught or suspected of doing it – for hundreds of years – must have created a prevailing psychic wound.

According to a research article on the relationship between internalised homophobia, shame and self-esteem in gay men, published in the Journal of Homosexuality – Allen, D. J., & Oleson, T. (1999), self-consciousness and shame variables include judgements like ”perverted, effeminate, weak, sick/defective, passive, engage in anal sex, and dirty.” Finding that “All of these variables except dirty were significantly correlated with shame. These results suggest that shame may be the principle pathogenic factor in internalised homophobia.”

It’s Actually Not a ‘Gay Thing’

Anal sex is often referred to as ‘gay sex’, but this is inaccurate for several reasons. Many gay men choose not to engage in anal sex. Indeed, there are so many gay men with this preference that quite a number have adopted the term ‘side’ to differentiate themselves from those who are partial to anal play.

Many of the homophobic jokes and slurs I was exposed to growing up made mention of or alluded to anal sex in the worst possible way. Yet, historians and researchers have quietly revealed that it is one of the oldest forms of birth control practiced by heterosexual couples through the ages. Gay men don’t have the franchise on anal, hence the phrase “up the bum, no babies”.

“Anal sex is also increasingly prevalent among heterosexual young people. A national British survey found that almost one in five 16-24 year olds reported having had anal sex in the past 12 months (Mercer et al, 2013). Studies in the USA suggest more than 75% of adolescents and adults have had male-female penile-anal intercourse (Habel et al, 2018),” states an article by Dr Joy Townsend for Learning Consent, a sexuality and consent education program.

It’s all the rage. According to statistics, heterosexual anal sex seems to be on the rise. “In Britain, [another] National Survey of Sexual Attitudes research found the number of 16-to 24-year-olds engaging in heterosexual anal sex has risen from 12.5% to 28.5% over the past few decades,” writes Zoe Madden-Smith for Renews.co.nz (Re:)

I suspect that it’s always been prevalent but that heterosexuals are now becoming more comfortable with divulging their sexual endeavours.

Why we need to talk about bum stuff

A lot of people argue that anal sex is unnatural, but nature begs to differ. Anal sex is reportedly quite common among many species including several primates, and even dolphins, according to an article by Jessica Hamzelou for New Scientist. (So maybe there’s a truth to dolphins just being gay sharks!)

Stigma and taboo causes ignorance and a lack of awareness, and in the absence of education we are less prepared to safeguard our sexual health and develop healthy attitudes towards sexuality. We need to shed the shame and share this knowledge. As they say, knowledge is power and not just for power bottoms in this case.

Put it (in) this way

I can’t remember it verbatim, but I’d like to paraphrase/take poetic license with an opinion a friend once shared with me about the topic that I found quite profound.

Many people see it as the dirtiest and darkest parts of themselves. The worst part of their body. The part we hide and are most ashamed of. So, if you want someone to know that there is nothing wrong with them, or that you love them unconditionally, there’s no better place to start.

I wish you sexual health and an abundance of intimacy and pleasure.

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