ANAL SEX – Hidden Taboo… No More.
Anal sex was once a thing of hidden or shunned mystery indulged by a select few. However, anal sex is no longer quite the dreaded dark hidden taboo it once was.
An estimated 90% of men who have sex with men and as many as 5% to 10% of sexually active women engage in receptive anal intercourse. Not only has society become more accepting of the evolving relationships involving the same sex, but more heterosexual people are trying it and enjoying it more often than ever before. Recent surveys estimate that 40 percent of women between the ages of 20 to 24 have tried anal sex, and 20 percent of all women have tried it in the last year.
However, there are still unclear truths or inaccurate facts (myths) around anal sex, anal cancer and the associated sexual infections. When it comes to anal sex and the topic of anal cancers, HPV; knowing the associated truths can make a difference in knowing the best methods of protection to decrease risks and treatment options.
ANAL SEX MYTHS: Cancer, Infections & Prevention
Basically yes, anal sex is a risk factor for anal cancer.
Anal sex can transmit the human papillomavirus (HPV), and HPV in turn leaves the cells around our rectum more vulnerable to mutating and becoming cancerous. A similar risk exists wherever HPV rears its ugly microscopic head, including the mouth, throat, and cervix. And because anal sex is generally more damaging to the inner lining of the rectum than the stereotypical notion of heterosexual sex is to the vagina, HPV and other sexually transmitted infections are more easily spread between people who engage in anal sex. Similarly, the greater number of sexual partners, the greater the risk of cancer.
Close to 90 percent of anal cancer cases can be traced back to HPV. But the cancer itself is relatively rare.
According to The American Society of Colon and Rectal Surgeons:
- – 8,000 people will be newly diagnosed with anal cancer this year.
- – About 8,080 new cases (5,160 in women and 2,220 in men)
- – About 1,080 deaths (640 in women and 440 in men)
Like other forms of cancer fueled by HPV, the available HPV vaccine can likely cut down the risk of developing anal cancer in both men and women.
While HPV vaccination rates still aren’t anywhere near as high as we’d like them to be, there is already evidence that the vaccine has lowered the risk of later cervical cancer in teen girls.
A growing number of gay physicians and health activists now believe that routine screening, using an anal pap smear, could reduce the incidence of anal cancer as dramatically as it has cervical cancer in women. They recommend that all MSMs, especially those who are HIV+, be tested every 1-3 years depending on their immunological well-being and CD4 count.
In fact, a standardized screening protocol for anal cancer does not yet exist. Most health care providers are not offering anal cancer screening to their patients, either because they are unaware of the risk factors for anal cancer, do not inquire about their patients’ high risk sexual practices, and/or do not know how to perform an anal pap smear.
While only one of these locations is screened routinely (the cervix), there are screening tests that you can request from your doctor for the other locations. For women, a simple pap smear is used to detect these cell changes in the cervix in their early stages.
There seems to be little consensus on the practicality of offering anal pap smears to all clients, despite the fact that the AIDS Institute of New York recommends that HIV positive gay men “and others with history of HPV disease” should be tested annually. In addition, most health insurance policies do not cover anal pap smears.
This is a big myth. Approximately 75% of all sexually active adults acquire HPV, often within the course of early adulthood, and often in the first two years of becoming sexually active and often without any symptoms.
Each year anal cancer is diagnosed in about 2 people out of every 100,000 people in the general population. Current estimates are that HIV negative MSMs are 20 times more likely to be diagnosed with anal cancer. Their rate is about 40 cases per 100,000. HIV-positive MSMs are up to 40 times more likely to diagnosed with the disease, resulting in a rate of 80 anal cancer cases per 100,000 people.
6. ANAL CANCER HAS VISIBLE SYMPTOMS.
Not always true. Although many men have no obvious symptoms, one of the most common manifestations of HPV infection is genital warts which can affect the anus, the penis and/or the peritoneum. Other possible symptoms are abnormal discharge from the anus, bleeding from the rectum and anus, itching of the anus, pain or pressure around the anus, and a sore or sores around the anus that do not heal.
Wrong – HPV is transferable through skin to skin contact. So, yes, you reduce your chances of getting HPV if you practice safer sex and exercise monogamy when it comes to sexual partners.This means using a latex condom during anal and vaginal sex, and using a dental dam or a condom during oral sex. You can protect sex toys with a latex condom, too… and always make sure to change the condom or wash the toy if you switch from the vagina to the anus or the other way around.
However, STIs can be passed along as readily in a loving, long-term relationship as in a one-night stand. Remember, though, that HPV can infect areas that aren’t covered by a condom or dental dam, so safer sex isn’t foolproof.
Preventing Anal Infection & Cancer
The only way to completely avoid anal sex risks is to abstain from anal sex. If you do engage in anal sex, it is always important to use a condom to protect against the spread of infections and diseases.
Sex Tips: Decreasing Anal Sex Risks
- – Avoid inserting a penis into the mouth or vagina after it’s been inserted in the anus until your partner puts on a new condom.
- – Use plenty of lubricant to reduce the risk of tissue tears. With latex condoms, always use a water-based lubricant.
- – Relax prior to insertion of the penis to help reduce the risk of tears. Taking a warm bath before anal sex or lying on your stomach may make insertion easier.
- – Stop if anal sex is painful.
- – If you experience bleeding after anal sex or you notice a sores or lumps around the anus or a discharge coming from it, see your doctor as soon as possible.