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Why is it important to have safe anal sex?


Updated May 20, 2014

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

Question: Why is it important to have safe anal sex?
It doesn't matter if you're a man or a woman: If you're having anal sex you need to be having safe anal sex. While anal sex doesn't carry the risk of pregnancy, you must not forget that it does carry health risks. These days, it seems as though many young women are unaware of those risks.
Answer: Gay men are bombarded with messages about the importance of practicing safe anal sex, but they are not the only ones at risk. Growing numbers of heterosexual couples are also having anal sex and thus exposing themselves to the same dangers -- only without the benefit of comprehensive sex education that warns them to use condoms for rectal as well as vaginal penetration.

The fact is that unprotected anal sex puts individuals at risk of numerous anal STDs, including:

  1. HIV
  2. gonorrhea
  3. rectal chlamydia
  4. HPV/anal cancer, and
  5. syphilis

Risk for these diseases is, in fact, often substantially greater for unprotected anal sex than it is for unprotected vaginal sex. This is in part because the tissues of the rectum are more delicate and susceptible to tearing, which can increase the risk of infection for both partners. The rectum also lacks some of the natural protective features of the vagina, such as lubrication.

Because of the high STD risk associated with unprotected anal sex, it is extremely important for anyone who has anal sex to always have safe anal sex, and to talk to their doctor about testing for anal STDs. Although safe anal sex can not entirely eliminate the risks of contracting an anal STD, it can vastly reduce them. Safe anal sex means using a latex, polyurethane, or polyisoprene condom, along with plenty of condom-compatible lubrication, every time you have anal sex. It is also important to use gloves to cover the fingers and hands when manually penetrating a partner's rectum and to use dental dams for rimming.

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