Friday, May 18, 2012

A little light culture: That anal sex question

We have a mini-scandal going here in Canada about a sex exhibit at the Museum of Science and Technology. Yes, I know, which category does sex fit under? Science or technology? It's aimed at teens and apparently features animated clips showing boys and girls how to masturbate along with much other info. The age of admission was originally twelve and up later raised to 16 and up in response to public outcry.

There is a lot that could be said but what really jumped out at me was this detail:
There are listening stations with pre-written questions and push button audio answers.

Next to a printed question asking, 'Why do many boys always want to have anal sex?' sexologist Jamy Ryan responds that not all boys want to do it, but: "If you are comfortable trying that activity, go ahead and do it. It could be fun for you, but if you are not, you don't really have to do it."
That isn't a real question but one the creators of the exhibit chose. I'm sure some girls really ask why some boy in their life wants anal sex. ("Sexology", ah science!) But where do we get the claim that "many" boys "always" want it? Is the implication here that teenaged girls have already had so many partners that they know that "many" boys want this. Or is it that the desire to have anal sex is so universal that most girls' boyfriends would have asked for it?

We'll get to some actual numbers in a moment and you will see that neither of those possibilities is very likely. Meantime, I ask you to consider that possibility that the question and answer are intended to normalize anal sex. The question tells girls that many boys want it and then the answer tells them, first, that "some" don't and, second, that you should go ahead and try it "if you are comfortable with it". Well, that doesn't put any pressure of peer sensitive teens now does it?

Think how different the tone would have been had the question been asked the other way around:
Why do so many girls refuse anal sex?
That would change things a bit.  It would also be accurate. If we look at the numbers from the latest US National Survey of Sexual Health and Sexual Behavior (I don't have any good Canadian sources on this) for example, we see that
  • 4 percent of girls 14 to 15 reported having anal sex at least once in the last year
  • 5 percent of girls 16 to 17 reported having anal sex at least once in the last year
  • 18 percent of girls 18 to 19 reported having anal sex at least once in the last year
  • 23 percent of girls 20 to 24 reported having anal sex at least once in the last year
 That last group is the highest percentage of any age group, after age twenty four fewer and fewer women do this. Any anal-craving boy reading that would quickly conclude that the odds of his getting to try this before university are slim to none and even then a long shot. And note how low the bar is here, "at least once in the last year". That would include all the girls who did it once because their boyfriend pressured them but they didn't like and never did it again. If we are interested in giving teens an accurate picture of what sex is like, we would tell them that.

Putting the question the other way would also have opened up other subjects such as, to pick one crazy option, that a girl should be allowed to say no to anything she doesn't feel comfortable with and doesn't need to justify herself when she refuses sex. Our helpful sexologist's phrasing kinda works the other way here: "you don't really have to do it". He doesn'y say "you don't have to do it" but rather "you don't really have to do it" which suggests that she sorta does have to do it or, at the very least, that she is being a bit of a stick in the mud by saying no. (I know, "stick in the mud" conjures up an unfortunate image here.)

And it's not like unwanted sex is an issue for girls right? We don't have to worry about girls being pressured into doing things they don't feel comfortable with 'cause that would never happen.

And notice that our sexologist never answers the actual question, "Why do boys want this?" Well, no, the whole point of the question was to normalize anal sex. But suppose you were a teenage girl being pushed to agree to anal sex, you might wonder why, given three other easy options to have his penis stimulated, he is so keen to insert himself into her anus—a variation that requires purchase of lubricants, takes a long time to get started and requires him to stop frequently during the act. Why would he want to do that all of a sudden?

I know, I know, because he has seen it in porn, which, incidentally, usually presents anal sex as achieved easily without lubricant or any stop and start—on screen all you see is the guy plunging in. Try that in real life and you will really, really hurt the girl. (Again, if we really want to make sure teens have good information about sex, correcting the false impressions they will get from watching porn on line would be useful thing to do.)

But that is only part of the answer. Another part is that boys like to push girls, to see how far they can get them to go. And that oftentimes pushing her past her comfort zone just might turn him on.

Plus he wants to try this so he can feel competent and experienced, an important thing for boys. Of course, that is only true to the extent that anal sex has been normalized, which, I remind you, is a phenomenon this exhibit is encouraging. Feed guys the information that most guys want anal sex and most will start thinking they should want it too. Always on the "giving" end of course.

Speaking of which, I know you are just dying to learn how many boys succeeded at making their anal sex fantasies come true.
  • 3 percent of boys 14 to 15 reported having anal sex at least once in the last year
  • 6 percent of boys 16 to 17 reported having anal sex at least once in the last year
  • 9 percent of boys 18 to 19 reported having anal sex at least once in the last year
  • 11 percent of boys 20 to 24 reported having anal sex at least once in the last year
There is a gap between the guys on the giving end and the girls on the receiving end wouldn't you say? And some of those guys on the giving end of anal sex have to gay. One obvious hypothesis, of course, is that the girls on the receiving end are getting it from older guys but for that to be true the guys have to be quite a bit older. Another possibility is that a few aggressive guys are getting a lot. The most likely possibility is that young women between the ages of 20 and 24 feel a lot of pressure to be liberal in their attitudes about sex and therefore lied to the pollsters and claimed to have had more experience with anal sex than they have actually had.

But the inescapable conclusion is that most guys never get and most girls never give anal sex at this age or any other age. The exhibit doesn't quite lie to girls on this point but it does mislead them.

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