This afternoon I read a long piece on Scarleteen.com that provided guidelines for women who are unsure of whether, when and how to say no to a partner's sexual expectations. Because the subject matter deserves a wider audience, and because it does not apply only to teens, I am re-posting it here. In recent years, I have noticed that more women seem inclined to engage in sexual activities that please their partner but not necessarily themselves. In fact, women sometimes engage in acts that they find uncomfortable or even painful. (I will not even get into the expectations that early and frequent exposure to porn has created in some men.)
The scarleteen piece rang a bell, sounding like a lot of women we talk to. The author gave a very complete answer to the teen who asked about her partner's demand for anal sex, but it could have been anything that the woman doesn't want. If you think that her answer might help a friend, pass it on, link it. You do have the right to speak about what you do and do not want to do, even if it is scary. Here it is!
Get Real! Blaming the Wrong Butthole
By Heather Corinna, Scarleteen.com
January 14, 2011 - 8:32am
This article is published in partnership with Scarleteen.com.
I used to be able to have anal sex with my boyfriend. We're in college, we've been together for over three years and have been having anal for the entire time. I never enjoyed it at all, it always also hurt but I let him do it because he liked it. Ever since last summer, I haven't been able to allow him to do it. It just hurts so much more than it used to! I've always been really sensitive, but usually if he was gentle it would be okay. It's not anymore. Even though we use a lot of lube (we don't use condoms, I'm on birth control) it just burns from the second he puts it in. (I don't think it's the lube because it doesn't bother me otherwise.) It feels like it's sore in there, that it's ripping or tearing something.
He's really upset because he wants anal. He says he feels cheated because he used to get it and now I won't let him. He understands that it hurts, but doesn't get why it's so bad all of a sudden. I don't get it either! The only explanation I have is that I don't get to see him as often now (I'm at college so sometimes it's only once a month) so maybe it just gets all tight in there. I've noticed this with regular sex too, but to a much lesser degree and it's still okay for me. So I feel like that might not be it. I don't know if my butt is sick somehow but it's been going on for such a long time there must be something going on! What could this be? It really upsets him, and it kind of bothers me, too. I don't get why it hurts so bad all of a sudden! Is something wrong up there? What can I do?
Heather Corinna replies:
I want to first make some short, essential statements. What I'd like you to do is read each of them, maybe more than once, and just sit with them. Try and really absorb them. Understand that when it comes to what those of us who work in these fields know about healthy relationships and healthysexual dynamics -- and also those of us who have experienced wonderful, healthy sexual relationships everyone in them enjoys and feels good about -- these are pretty absolute truths. Feel them as truths.
Just like the United States' Declaration of Independence says that all men being created equal, that all are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights, including life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness are truths held to be self-evident (even though they're not exactly often honored, a civics discussion for another day), I'd say these are sexual truths, sexual declarations of independence we should all hold -- and have partners hold -- as self-evident.
Have a seat. Take a long, deep breath and let it out slowly. Open your mind a bit. Here we go:
- No one is entitled to any kind of sex with anyone, or to access anyone else's body part, just because they want it or because they have had it or accessed it in the past.
- No one should have to know or explain why they don't want to do something or why something is painful rather than pleasurable in order to have someone else accept either or both of those things as givens.
- No one should ever feel they have to engage in any kind of sex they don't enjoy or want in their own right to satisfy or mollify someone else.
- If someone wants a certain kind of sex to be in their sex life, it's on them to find and choose partners who share that desire, not on their partners to try and conform when they don't.
If there's any of them or anything in them that doesn't feel deeply true and real to you, I think it'd be a good idea to think about why not, and to also think about how not holding those things as true for yourself and your sexual partners really serves you, someone else or your sex life. If you held these things as true, and insisted your partner did, too, would you be likely to get what you really want and need? How about if you didn't? Since it sounds like you haven't been, think about how well that has -- or hasn't -- been working for you.
No matter what, if YOU are bothered by the pain and discomfort you are having with anal sex of any kind, you can always start in your sexualhealthcare provider's office and ask them to look into it. Since you've been having anal sex unprotected, that's a good idea anyway. Whether or not you decide you want to engage in anal sex again, with this partner or any other, if you have an infection or other health condition that's causing some pain, you're going to want to have it treated for your health. If you were telling me you were having anal discomfort or pain in other situations, too -- like when having a bowel movement or when sitting -- I'd even more strongly advise you seek out care.
You can also make sure that if and when you want to have receptive anal sex, that you're having it in a way that's likely to feel good, not crappy. You've already got the lube part, but being really aroused beforehand (which isn't likely if you know you just don't want something), having other sexual activities about other parts of your body you know enjoy and that rev your engine before, during and/or after that kind of sex, a partner moving his body with yours in a way that's about both of you feeling good, not just what feels good for him are some things that tend to be why anal sex can feel good for receptive partners, rather than being a nonstop ow-a-thon.
But even if there is a physical reason for the increased pain you're having, and even if there's a quick and easy medical solution that decreases that pain, I don't think that would actually solve the bigger problem here. I also strongly suspect the pain you're having isn't because anything is wrong with your body or your health, even though I think getting checked out just in case is smart.
What I suspect are the biggest reasons this doesn't feel good are that it's either just not something you like or not something you like and want, for yourself, at this time in your life or with this particular partner and that your partner has been jerky about this, and perhaps other kinds of sex, too. I also suspect that since it sounds like you've kept trying to have a kind of sex for a pretty outrageous amount of time that a) you have never really enjoyed or wanted for yourself and b) doesn't feel good, your pain is getting worse, which is pretty typical in that kind of dynamic. Sometimes our bodies insist on making us deal with the truths of things we're denying in our hearts and minds. Our bodies are smart.
To be really blunt, with the attitudes your partner seems to be expressing around this, I'd be amazed if any kind of sex is all that great with him because he sounds like... well, he sounds like a lousy sexual partner, and not someone you'd be likely to have a great sex life with no matter the activity. Since the best thing you have to say about any of the kinds of sex you have together is that it's "okay," -- not awesome, not delightful, not exactly what you want -- my sense is that this isn't a good sexual partnership or match overall. I also don't know about you, but I know very few people who get turned on by whining. I think it's safe to say that for most people, the way he's acting about this would be a pretty massive turnoff, even if someone wanted to have the kind of sex he did.
In other words, while you can always check with a doctor to be sure, I don't think this is a problem with your bottom, but with your boyfriend. I think this is about your boyfriend being an ass, not about your ass.
In long-term relationships, it's not uncommon for people to engage in a given kind of sex, or to have sex in certain ways, that feel good and are wanted at one point in the relationship, but then later, to have something change. Sometimes what changes is an injury, trauma, disability or illness that causes one person's body or sexuality to not work the same way it used to. Sometimes what changes is that someone just gets bored with something, or finds that something isn't satisfying to them anymore. Sometimes what changes are the interpersonal dynamics of doing a given thing, or doing a given thing a given way, where the dynamic used to be good, but then changed into something that isn't good and doesn't feel at all good. Maybe your boyfriend doesn't know that about people, relationships and sexuality, so maybe you need to fill him in on that. But even if he doesn't know that in general, he knows this is the case with you and he's refusing to accept it, let it go and leave you in peace, enjoying the kinds of sex that aren't painful for you and that you do really (I hope) want to be having.
I do want to make sure to address something, particularly given those primary basic statements I asked you to read up there. Sometimes we, or some folks, deeply enjoy serving someone else, want to do that, and that is part of a person's sexuality. In other words, even if what someone doing in and of itself itself isn't their favorite thing or doesn't feel all that physically good, the context of doing sexual things in service to someone does get that person off and is something they want to do and very much enjoy doing. I can't know if that's something that's part of your sexuality or not, and I'm inclined not to think so since you seem to be talking about not enjoying any of this deeply on any level, but I wanted to make sure not to overlook that or render that possibility and kind of sexuality invisible. However, to engage in those kinds of dynamics in a healthy way, that all needs to be carefully negotiated and managed, and being in pain when you don't want to be or just doing something else for someone so they'll shut up about it already or won't nag you isn't part of that picture. Same goes for the case when it's part of someone's sexuality to like to be served or to dominate or direct someone else: this isn't how that goes or what that looks like when it's done in a healthy way.
Have you ever told him that you never really liked or wanted to have anal sex in the first place?
If you have not, that's way past due. Ideally, after trying this one or two times and finding out it's just not your bag, you wouldn't have kept doing it just because it's what your boyfriend wanted for himself or because he threw a hissyfit when you didn't want to do it. You would have told him this kind of sex just isn't something you like or want, and ideally he would have accepted that without making a giant fuss or talking about you robbing him in some way. If you already have voiced that to him and he's kept pushing for you to do this, that's simply unhealthy (no matter what the sexual activity, not just because it's anal sex), and I'll talk about that more in a minute.
Few people want or enjoy absolutely EVERYTHING we can do sexually. While some folks are, I think it's more common for people to be a select menu -- be it large or small, rotating or fixed -- when it comes to sex, rather than an all-you-can-eat buffet. Your boyfriend is probably no exception. There may be things you'd want or enjoy that he wouldn't, things you'd just accept as not being what he wanted and not make a big deal out of.
Sometimes, though, we or anyone else wants something sexually very badly because it's a kind of sex we like a whole lot, and/or which feels very essential to our sexuality and our sex life. It's okay for anyone to have those things, and most of us probably do have at least a few of those things. But what we need to do around that, when that's the case, is to look for partners who share those same desires and enjoy those same things: with whom we are compatible. What we should NOT be doing is identifying and sticking with partners who do NOT want those same things and who do NOT enjoy them and then trying and make those people conform to what we want. That's not okay, big time.
It sounds to me like you've both made some fouls. He keeps going on about something he wants that he knows isn't right for you, and unless you're an excellent faker or he has been paying no attention to you whatsoever, which he probably also has known you aren't that into even if you haven't said so outright. Big foul. You, on the other hand, knew something wasn't working for you and didn't feel good, but instead of drawing a limit and opting out, you did something for a long time you never liked and that even hurt you just to appease him, or maybe even just to get him to stop kvetching about it. That's not sound, either.
Obviously, that's all in the past, though. So, where can you go from here?
NOW you set that limit. I would strongly encourage you to do that ASAP. It's obviously not going to be an easy conversation, especially if you've never set sexual limits with him, and especially if this conversation has been avoided for the whole of your relationship. But I think you need to make crystal clear, if you have not already, that you never really wanted to do this for yourself in the first place, that it never felt good for you, and that now it earnestly hurts, and between the pain and the fact that you just don't like or want this, you're not going to be having this kind of sex with him anymore unless your feelings radically change, and he just needs to deal with that. Without dramatics.
If this is your ONLY big issue, and the only place where this guy is being crummy, this may be able to be remedied. If you set that limit, share that honesty, and he changes his attitude and the way he's behaving around this massively, this relationship and your shared sex life may turn out okay. Basically, that means he'd accept that pain or no pain, you really don't want to do this anyway, so he need to let it the heck go and only do things with you that you also really want to do without pushing for anything you don't. But if this kind of dynamic is going on in other areas of the relationship, or if you have already had this discussion a gazillion times and he is still carrying on about how much his life sucks because he can't have this one kind of sex with you, I'd implore you to consider that this business with the anal sex is a symptom of a much larger problem, one that will likely only be fixed by no longer choosing this person as a sexual partner and potentially as a romantic partner. Given how he behaves when he doesn't get sex that he wants, you're probably going to have to axe both relationships, because I don't see him handling you saying that he can get NO sex from you anymore very well.
Only you can know which way to take this, because only you know the whole context of your relationship and its history. I have no idea if you've talked about this before, what you've talked about, and how those talks have gone. But you do, so I'm sure you probably have a pretty good sense of what the best next move for you in this is. I trust your judgment, and I hope that you can trust it, too.
There are partners for everyone out there who want the same things we want, or enough of the same things that any one thing or more than one thing someone can't do or doesn't want to do is no big whoop. This is true for both you and your current boyfriend (though if he acts like this a lot, his options are going to be way more limited than yours). We just don't always find them right away: most typically, we have to do some shopping around first and try on a few partnerships before we find those that are a good fit, sexually and otherwise. I often notice that one thing young people I talk with seem unprepared for in sexual and romantic relationships is the fact that any of us getting lucky with a great match right at the gate is so rare. I know that right now, some people feel like they have to kind of pick from either committing deeply to a relationship from date one or a parade of casual hookups, but I assure you, those two poles are NOT the only options. There is a whole big spectrum in between them, you just have to stand up for what you want and find a pace in the middle that's sound. Given how long you've been together and how young you are, I also want to make sure you know that the way this guy is acting is NOT how everyone else will behave.
I think you deserve a partner who doesn't act the way he has been acting with this, who treats you with more consideration. I think you deserve a partner with whom you're well-matched, including sexually, and with whom you feel you can easily ONLY do what feels great to you and what you BOTH really want to do, not just one of you, and who you know would only WANT you to do what you want and would find anything else really unappealing because they want sex that's really about both people, not just one.
I do think we are all entitled to those things. I also think that if and when we don't have those basic things as the foundation of our sexual relationships, and the kinds of things I talked about up at the top of this page, that we're pretty darn likely to be pretty darn miserable and are also likely to miss out on the possibility of actually finding and enjoying the good stuff.
One last check-in I'd suggest you have with yourself is about making sure that you are in a space in your head and your life where you truly feel able to be assertive sexually with a partner. That includes things like setting limits and insisting they be respected, not doing things sexually you don't want to or that hurt just to appease someone else, and being secure enough in yourself that if someone comes to the conclusion that they want something bad that doesn't work for you, that you two just aren't a good sexual fit and so should not be in a sexual relationship, that you can deal with that and find your own more compatible partners rather than trying to change who you are so someone else will stick around.
We won't always feel that assertive. For sure, sometimes it's not about us, it's about another person not making any room for us, in a real way, as our own people. But the assertiveness piece there is seeing that's messed up and moving on as soon as we know that. But sometimes it isn't about someone else, it's about us. We might need more time to discover and explore our sexuality alone or outside serious partnerships. Maybe our assertiveness blows right now because we just got out of a relationship where we got cut down a lot. We might need more time to become solid enough in our own sexuality and our own sexy that getting approval isn't something we're dependent on. We might need to take more time to get more sure in who we are and what we want, and feel strongly that's ace, so we won't try and conform to someone else's ideas of who we should be and what we should want. Sometimes not feeling assertive enough yet to have healthy sexual relationships or interchanges with others is just about needing to learn to be more assertive overall, in our whole selves and lives.
I don't know where you're at with that, but it's worth thinking about. If you're really not there yet, it's probably not the right time in your life yet to be sexual with partners, or to be sexual in ways where you don't feel very able to assert yourself. If you're nowhere near that yet, you having really great sexual relationships isn't very likely, and winding up with guys acting like this is, unfortunately, very likely. So, check in, and if you feel like you do need to work on this, it'd be a really good place to put your energy and time, and to do so when NOT in a relationship. And in the meanwhile, you'll also have extra time and space to explore your sexuality yourself. After three years of having sex that at worst, you didn't even really want and hurt, and at best, was "okay," I think a lot of time having great sex with yourself (masturbating) -- however you want to do that, and based ONLY on your real desires -- is probably just what the doctor ordered.
I'm going to leave you with a few links that I think may help you out with all of this and my very best wishes:
- An Immodest Proposal
- With Pleasure: A View of Whole Sexual Anatomy for Every Body
- Does Your Relationship Need a Checkup?
- Be a Blabbermouth! The Whats, Whys and Hows of Talking About Sex With a Partner
- Let's Get Metaphysical: The Etiquette of Entry
- 10 of the Best Things You Can Do for Your Sexual Self (at Any Age)