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The 'Most Selfless Sexual Act': Anal Sex, Teenagers, Pegging and Literature

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WARNING: This blog contains adult content

Of late, there have been a number of news stories about anal sex and in particular how it is becoming more common. You might wonder how private sexual acts are newsworthy, but there are a few reasons here.

One is the rather obvious point that not all sexually active people are aware of which STIs they can get from which sexual acts. If more people are having anal sex but are not using proper protection, we could see an increase in the percentage of people with some sort of STI. Thus, this becomes a health issue, potentially an international one.

Another reason is that anal sex is apparently becoming more common in porn, which means that young men, who seem to learn a lot about sex from porn, are starting to expect it as just a matter-of-course sexual act. Young women are thereby feeling pressured to give men access via the back door, something not everyone is comfortable with or finds pleasurable, although there certainly are many who do. So an issue here is whether women have the confidence to speak up and say what they actually want or don't want in bed.

Of course, this affects others as well: there may be some heterosexual men or lesbians who feel pressured to be pegged by their girlfriends, or gay men who feel that in order to be "real" gays, they have to have anal sex. All this means that we need to teach about anal sex in sex education courses and also to discuss ways of talking about desire. Young people need help with this, so they have the strength to only agree to acts that they really want to do.

So naturally, since anal sex isn't a common topic in sex ed, I've turned to young adult literature to see what teenaged readers might learn about the topic from fiction. Interestingly, I've found almost no explicit mentions of it, especially in books with heterosexual or lesbian couples.

I wondered if young adult novels that featured gay males might be more likely to refer to anal sex, even though it is obviously only one of many things that gay male couples (or, indeed, any couple) might do in bed. But even those books are surprisingly shy. Characters might have sex, but there isn't much detail and there's very little reference to anal matters.

In Robin Reardon's Thinking Straight, the main protagonist has to describe having sex with his boyfriend to his reverend as a way of "purging" the feelings. Here, what he describes is oral sex. The bottom is scarcely touched.

In Alex Sanchez's Rainbow trilogy, which follows three male teenagers (two gay and one bisexual) through their high school years, the characters have plenty of sex (or "make love", as they are more liable to put it). However, the sex might be described as "entering one another" (as in Rainbow Road), with no explanation of which body part is entering which other body part. There are many possibilities for a reader to imagine.

Perhaps since anal sex has traditionally been linked to gay men, a reader might imagine that act. But would that tell a reader anything about how anal sex feels, how people engage in it, or what its aftermath might be?

Naturally, fiction need not necessarily reflect what really goes on in the world. But considering that it's a major source for young people in particular to get information, one might think that authors would try to include some beneficial details.

Sanchez, for example, often refers to HIV and the importance of using condoms. So why not talk about what anal sex actually feels like or what would happen if a young gay male wasn't interested in it?

Similarly, authors writing sex scenes featuring other types of couplings in young adult novels might want to start including anal sex. If it is in fact becoming a new form of 'vanilla' sex and if more young people expect to get it from their partners and/or are expected to provide it for their partners, then those young people should get some information about it. And literature is a wonderful way of allowing readers to learn about and experience new things.

In an article in Jezebel, Hugo Schwyzer, a professor at Pasadena City College, calls anal sex "the most selfless of common sexual acts", because it is intimate and can be very painful. He writes, "more than any other sex act, anal simultaneously symbolises both the capacity to push through suffering and the willingness to please. For a generation uniquely acclimated to pressure, anxiety, and pain, It's little wonder that this once taboo act has become so celebrated, so popular, so expected."

If anal sex really is so "expected" and "popular" for the younger generation, adults need to be the "selfless" ones and to give young people information about it. Literature is one of the best ways to talk to people about the pleasures and the pains of the butt, so it's time for authors to enter the conversation about the rear.

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