Does anal sex cause incontinence?

A reader wonders whether his friend's doctor is right to warn against too much anal sex

Topics: Am I Normal?,

The following question came by way of a Gchat message from an acquaintance:

I have a question from a conversation I had with a bunch of gay men. There were six of us, and a friend said that he had a doctor who’d warned him that continued anal sex (as the bottom) over time could permanently “wear out” his sphincter and create all sorts of incontinence problems for him as he grew older. Half of us thought it was crazed right-wing propaganda (I was in that camp). The others had heard similar things!


There haven’t been any large-scale, long-term incontinence studies done on gay men who bottom. (It’s hard enough to get funding for studies generally relating to sex, let alone gay sex — so just imagine the challenge of adding in that favorite topic of toddlers everywhere: poop.) I can tell you, however, that the consensus among sex educators is that anal sex does not carry a high risk of fecal incontinence. In other words: Your friend’s doctor is full of crap.

That isn’t to say that such problems never result from anal sex: It certainly can if severe damage is done to the internal sphincter. That can happen “if someone doesn’t use enough lube or doesn’t warm up enough to relax the muscles,” says Charlie Glickman, Good Vibrations’ education program manager. Other liabilities are numbing creams, alcohol and drugs, he says, “since they can make you not feel as much, even though damage is still occurring.” The takeaway: “If you’re more or less sober, adequately lubed, and never going wider than your body can comfortably accommodate, you can bottom regularly for years and not have any damage.” Glickman adds, “Muscles don’t wear out because you use them. If stretching muscles necessarily caused them to tear, long-term yoga practitioners would be in trouble. Just like any other muscle, relaxing and stretching the anus doesn’t cause damage if you listen to your body and don’t force it.”

You Might Also Like

Similarly, in “The Ultimate Guide to Anal Sex for Men,” Bill Brent writes, “Stretching the sphincter and rectal tissue safely over time tends to strengthen rather than loosen the muscles associated with anal sex, as people who practice fisting and using large toys can attest.” That’s a gem of counterintuitive wisdom to share with your friends over Sunday brunch — just maybe wait until the second round of mimosas.

So, whence did this myth arise? There have been two studies to report a marginal risk of incontinence from repeated anal sex — but one included passing gas in its definition of incontinence, and the other used subjects who had experienced serious anal trauma (either through assault or unsafe sex of the sort that Glickman mentioned earlier). More reliably, a 1997 study found no higher incidence of fecal incontinence in gay men who bottom and nonreceptive hetero dudes (a control group — what a concept!). Of course, there are also plenty of examples of homophobic right-wing propaganda on the topic (see here) that are not even remotely based in medical fact. It’s hard to say which is to blame for that doctor’s misinformation, but, regardless, it might be time for your friend to find a new one.

Tracy Clark-Flory
Tracy Clark-Flory is a staff writer at Salon. Follow @tracyclarkflory on Twitter and Facebook.

More Related Stories

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 8
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails

    7 ways Americans have defiled the hot dog

    Sonic's Bacon Double Cheddar Croissant Dog

    Sonic calls this a "gourmet twist" on a classic. I am not so, so fancy, but I know that sprinkling bacon and cheddar cheese onto a tube of pork is not gourmet, even if you have made a bun out of something that is theoretically French.

    Krispy Kreme

    7 ways Americans have defiled the hot dog

    Krispy Kreme's Doughnut Dog

    This stupid thing is a hotdog in a glazed doughnut bun, topped with bacon and raspberry jelly. It is only available at Delaware's Frawley Stadium, thank god.


    7 ways Americans have defiled the hot dog

    KFC's Double Down Dog

    This creation is notable for its fried chicken bun and ability to hastily kill your dreams.

    Pizza Hut

    7 ways Americans have defiled the hot dog

    Pizza Hut's Hot Dog Bites Pizza

    Pizza Hut basically just glued pigs-in-blankets to the crust of its normal pizza. This actually sounds good, and I blame America for brainwashing me into feeling that.

    Carl's Jr.

    7 ways Americans have defiled the hot dog

    Carl's Jr. Most American Thick Burger

    This is a burger stuffed with potato chips and hot dogs. Choose a meat, America! How hard is it to just choose a meat?!

    Tokyo Dog

    7 ways Americans have defiled the hot dog

    Tokyo Dog's Juuni Ban

    A food truck in Seattle called Tokyo Dog created this thing, which is notable for its distinction as the Guinness Book of World Records' most expensive hot dog at $169. It is a smoked cheese bratwurst, covered in butter Teriyaki grilled onions, Maitake mushrooms, Wagyu beef, foie gras, black truffles, caviar and Japanese mayo in a brioche bun. Just calm down, Tokyo Dog. Calm down.


    7 ways Americans have defiled the hot dog

    Limp Bizkit's "Chocolate Starfish and the Hot Dog Flavored Water"

    This album art should be illegal.

  • Recent Slide Shows



Comment Preview

Your name will appear as username ( settings | log out )

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href=""> <b> <em> <strong> <i> <blockquote>