The science of anal pleasure is in (but not completely)

Have you ever heard of “braiding”? How about “surfacing”? A recently published study found that these are some of the most popular ways women enjoy anal play and have nothing to do with full anal penetration as popular culture knows it.

The researchers – Dr. Christiana von Hippel, scientific advisor at the sex research company For Goodness Sake, and Dr. Devon J. Hensel, a professor at the Indiana University School of Medicine, published the study Wednesday in the peer-reviewed journal PLoS One. For Gods Sake also sells OMGYESa sex education resource that includes online classes and, at its highest level, also sex toys.

According to the study, which based its results on a quantitative, nationally representative survey of 3,017 women aged 18 to 93, many women enjoy butt work, but it depends a lot on how they do it.

To be able to talk openly and specifically about what women want from the anus, the researchers created names and definitions for three sexual acts: “Anal surface,” where only the outside of the anus is touched; “Anal shallow” where only the tip of the finger can go inside; and “Anal pairing” where one of the above is performed simultaneously with other stimulation such as clitoral touching or vaginal penetration.

Anal pairing: Sexual touching on or inside the anus that occurs simultaneously with other types of sexual touching, such as vaginal penetration or clitoral touching

Forty percent of the women surveyed liked the “anal bulge,” while 35 percent found the “shallow” pleasurable. Forty percent also enjoyed “pairing.” The study delves deeper into the specifics of each act, asking women who enjoy penetration about the depth and what they like about each type of stimulation. Almost 30 percent said anal stimulation made orgasms more intense; 18 percent said anal play “feels deeply intimate and emotional.”

Media messages around anal sex are often presented as an all-or-nothing binary: either something comes in through the front door, so to speak, or it’s completely off the table. Most of the previous published research on anal sex has focused on the risks of sexually transmitted diseases, while some studies have reviewed how women navigate and negotiate anal sex with male partners, the ways the mainstream media portrays anal sexual intercourse of women or reasons why women engage in anal contact with men first.

The researchers of this new study say it’s the first time scientific research has asked women what specifically they find pleasurable when it comes to anal touch — and specifically named those techniques.

In individual interviews, the researchers asked the participants to talk in more detail about their experiences. Several mentioned that when they started thinking differently about their rear holes in the bedroom—one-dimensional or multi-dimensional, as they wanted—their relationship with them changed. “I only discovered pleasure there when I started treating my butt not as a place to put things in, but more like another flat erogenous zone,” said one participant. “Kind of like my nipple is a flat erogenous zone.”

Another said they never thought they were into anal because of bad past experiences. “A couple of times partners tried to come in and it hurt, which just made me safer,” they said. “So I was really surprised in my 30s when I realized how much pleasure it could be for me.”

Others describe the unique physical sensation combined with the mind-fuck of being considered ‘taboo’ in society: ‘It’s a tingling, electric, focused pleasure. And it has a kind of forbidden quality that makes it feel really intimate and kind of primal.

Naming what one wants in one’s sex life can help normalize and destigmatize pleasure, even if “shallow” and “surfacing” may seem a bit clinical for something we’re used to chuckling at in pop culture. “Language for knowing how and what types of anal touch to request from a partner may be particularly important because most of the predominant forms of touch reported as pleasurable by women are performed by the partner’s finger or penis,” the researchers wrote in the survey. The wide age range, they write, indicates that many people continue to explore their sexuality throughout their lives. “Thus, there is a wider anal sexual repertoire that women enjoy in everyday life than is mentioned in the scientific literature or that is often discussed openly in society.”

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