Expert Answers Factual Answers to Your Sexual Health Questions

Anonymous on August 15, 2011

Are there any health risks associated with anal sex for women?

I’m a woman, and I’m wondering if there are any health risks related to anal intercourse?

answered by
Linda Lesondak, PhD on August 15, 2011

Thanks for your important question about anal sex. While many people enjoy anal sex, there are a few precautions to keep in mind so you can have a safer and more enjoyable experience.

First, keep in mind that the anus is a very sensitive area...it also contains bacteria. That’s why using a condom during anal sex is a good idea...even if you’re in a mutually monogamous relationship. Remember to use plenty of water-based lubricant during anal sex to help protect the sensitive skin and to help prevent the condom from breaking (which is more likely during anal sex)

Second, just like vaginal or oral sex, it is possible to catch an STD through anal sex. However, in some cases STD risks increase with anal sex. Because the anus is sensitive and is vulnerable to tears, anal sex can make you and your partner(s) more susceptible to sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). For example, a study by the American Journal of Epidemiology showed that HIV spread more readily to females during receptive anal intercourse, compared to vaginal intercourse.

Anal sex can also increase risks for anal cancer. A study by the Department of Epidemiology Science Center and published in The New England Journal of Medicine concludes that women who have receptive anal intercourse before age 30 and by more than one partner were at higher risk for anal cancer. Why? Most anal cancers are caused by human papillomavirus (HPV), an STD. The virus can be spread through anal sex, as well as vaginal and oral sex, and genital-to-genital contact.

The good news is, if you have anal sex, you can get screened for anal cancer with an anal Pap test to spot any problems before they become serious. A study conducted by the Department of Laboratory Medicine at the University of California in San Francisco, recommends HPV screenings (much like cervical screenings) for people who have anal sex to help prevent anal cancer. (This study also found that people who have anal sex are more likely to develop anal cancer.)

One more thing...women should be careful about what goes in her vagina after anal sex. Bacteria from the anus can infect the vagina and cause some health issues...so any body part or sex toy that has been inserted in the anus should either be cleaned with soap and water, or the condom should be changed, before it is inserted in the vagina.

Bottom line? Anal sex can put women at a greater risk for some STDs and health complications. But using condoms and lubrication, staying clean and getting regular anal Pap tests can help reduce that risk.

For more information about HIV, HPV, STD risk factors and STD prevention, you may want to browse our Expert Guides.

I wish you good health and thanks for your question.  

Related info:

Linda Lesondak, PhD

Dr. Lesondak is a Community Psychologist with the Chicago Department of Public Health. Her areas of expertise include STDs, HIV, preventive care, public health and community planning, as well as human sexuality and women’s health. Dr. Lesondak was educated at Georgia University in Atlanta.

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