Unfortunately anal sex remains taboo among gay and bi men and other members of the population: it is frequently associated with shame, secrecy and fear.
So, do only gay men have anal sex and what other myths and facts are there about “topping” and “bottoming”?
1. Anal sex is a gay thing.
False! While most gay men have or have had anal sex, not all engage in anal sex. And many straight couples also enjoy and engage in it. According to a 2011 US study, 44% of men said they’d had anal sex with a woman. As there are far more heterosexual than homosexual people in the world, this suggests that many more straight couples actually have anal sex than gay couples do.
2. I have to have anal sex if I am gay, bisexual or like other men
False. There are many ways to have sex, and anal sex is just one of them. You have the freedom to enjoy your sex life however you like it. No one should force you to do anything you don’t want to do in bed. It’s your butt so you get to control what you do with it!
3. I have to be a top or bottom
“Topping” refers to insertive anal sex, while “bottoming” is receptive anal sex. Again, there are no rules about how consensual adults have sex. Do what works for you. Some men may enjoy or prefer being either a top or a bottom but many others are also “versatile” (they may alternate between being top or bottom).
4. Anal sex is always painful
False! Yes, being topped can be painful if not done right, but if you do it properly it certainly doesn’t have to be. See our tips below.
5. Anal sex is shameful or unnatural
False. The way we perceive anal sex is more based on cultural or societal taboos than reality. Anal sex can be clean, safe and enjoyable and we should not be ashamed of how we choose to enjoy consensual adult sex.
6. Anal sex causes anal cancer
Not really, but… The thing is it’s not anal sex itself that “causes” anal cancer but having anal sex can indeed increase the risk of getting the human papillomavirus (HPV), which can cause anal cancer. But remember, HPV can lead to all kinds of other cancers and can also be transmitted via vaginal and oral sex. HPV infections and anal cancer (which is relatively rare) are more likely to present in people who have had many sex partners and these disorders are more common in people living with HIV.
7. Only the top can enjoy anal sex
False! Anal sex can be very pleasurable for the bottom. The anus is full of sensitive nerve endings which can make anal sex a very sensual and hot experience. Also, when you are penetrated, your prostate gland (located near your bladder) is stimulated by the penis, which is very pleasurable for many men.
8. Anal sex is risky when it comes to HIV
True. In terms of risk of HIV infection, anal sex is considered more risky than vaginal sex, especially if you are bottoming. That’s because the lining of the anus is very thin and may more easily allow HIV to pass through into your body.
Anal sex tips
• Make friends with your anus. Before anyone else gets in there, get comfortable with your own butt. Using a finger or sex toy, learn what works for you. Use plenty of lube and take it slow. Learn what feels good and what doesn’t.
• Remember that everybody poops and that accidents can happen to anyone. Ideally go to the bathroom a while before having anal sex and have a shower or a bath.
• You may also want to check in the bathroom beforehand with a finger if you feel any remnants of poop inside you. If you do, you can clean yourself out with your fingers and then wash and clean up thoroughly.
• Some guys like to use an enema (a device used to push liquid into your anus and rectum to clean them out. You then eject the liquid out again.) You can buy an enema kit at your chemist (no prescription needed) and follow the instructions. Overuse of enemas is not recommended.
• When having anal sex, take your time and stop whenever you want to. You may want to start with some foreplay, such as letting your partner finger you (using plenty of water-based lube) until you relax.
• Always use plenty of water-based lube – you can smear some inside your anus and also apply it liberally to your partner’s penis. When the penis starts being inserted into your anus, ask your partner to go slowly – especially at first.
• If you feel pain at any point, ask him to stop and be still for a little while he’s inside of you, and then let him try move again. Be gentle and build up to a faster pace.
• When you’re having sex, you may feel like you want to go to the toilet. This is natural. In time your body will learn to know the difference between having anal sex and needing to go to the loo.
• Make sure that the top uses condoms (such as Max condoms) and water-based lube. These protect you from HIV and STIs (sexually transmitted infections).
• As added protection, try get yourself on PrEP; the easy daily pill that protects you from HIV. (While PrEP stops you from becoming infected with HIV, only condoms and lube can help you avoid STIs – so consider using both options). If you do choose to bareback (not use a condom) then PrEP is a must have!
For man-to-man friendly info on getting free PrEP, condoms and lube, and testing and treatment, contact the Ivan Toms Centre for Men’s Health in Cape Town (021 447 2844), Health4Men at Yeoville clinic in Johannesburg (011 648 7979 or 072 654 0816) or OUT’s TEN81 clinic in Pretoria (012 430 3272). For more information on healthy lifestyles, visit the PHILA website.