A qualitative exploration of perceptions of anal sex: implications for sex education and sexual health services in England

Julia Hirst, James Pickles, Megan Kenny, Ruth Beresford, Chloe Froggatt

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Existing research into anal sex has centred on androcentric, medicalised parameters that focus on risk and health implications, leading to a lack of focus on women's experiences. Research that has focused on women’s experiences has centred on concern around young women’s anal sex practices, with little exploration of why people participate in anal sex and neglect of its relational and pleasure-based dimensions. The present study sought to explore these concerns via data gathered using focus groups and individual interviews with a range of individuals including sexual health practitioners and young people. Data were thematically coded, with results centred on three themes: anal sex as deviance, anal sex as phallocentric, and anal sex as agentic. Results suggest a pattern of perceptions and narratives that has potential to undermine honest education, advice-giving and safer sex if they are not addressed and questioned in safe spaces, prior to work with young people. The implications of these findings for sexual health education are discussed.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)241-255
Number of pages15
JournalCulture Health & Sexuality
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 15 Feb 2022

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We extend our appreciation to Rachel Wood whose contribution to this work enabled it to reach its full fruition. Modest funding was received from Sheffield Hallam University to assist with transcription and researchers' travel expenses to focus group venues.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2022 The Author(s). Published by Informa UK Limited, trading as Taylor & Francis Group.


  • Anal sex
  • sex education
  • sexual health
  • young women
  • pleasure
  • homophobia
  • Heteronormativity
  • Health (social science)
  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health
  • heteronormativity


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