Jane, 31, tells me: ‘I’ve been with my boyfriend for a year. We’ve had good sex, tried out different things, but he now wants to try anal sex, and I don’t. It doesn’t appeal, I’m scared it will hurt and I get annoyed when he brings it up. I feel like he thinks I’m a prude, but I just can’t force myself to try it.’
Negotiating new practices is part of every couple’s sexuality. So before you focus on any request, it’s good to start by taking stock of the overall quality of sexual communication between you. Is it open, easy, fluent? Is it a tense power struggle? The first time a partner wants to try something new, how do you talk about it?
I ask Jane if her partner is suggesting, asking, or pressuring? Does she feel able to consider a request freely? Or is she worried what he’ll think – that she’s a prude or whatever – in which case we are talking about bad communication, intimidation, or lack of self-confidence on Jane’s part. Here’s the deal: he’s free to think what he wants and she’s free to say no. She needs to accept he may be upset, and she can acknowledge his disappointment but maintain her integrity at the same time. But I would ask, at a year into the relationship, does she have the trust to know he wouldn’t want to do anything to hurt her? I’ve worked with many men over the years and, I can tell you, seeing a woman disinterested or in pain is a real turn-off.
Now, back to the question. Obviously anal sex can only be done with pleasure in mind, so Jane and her partner could learn how to do it gradually and gently. It may help her to know he would never continue if she said stop. Can she establish that with him? And it’s important to remember when exploring whether or not you like anal sex, you don’t have to start with his penis for penetration.
Having said all that, I’m not trying to talk anyone into something they don’t want to do. But sometimes it’s good to try something out of your comfort zone. And maybe be willing to try more than once as the first time you try anything, you’re observing yourself and how it’s going and you’re not relaxed. I say this because I hear Jane tell herself she doesn’t like something she hasn’t tried. Why does the idea turn her off, I ask? Something she’s heard or read? Perhaps she can allow herself to be curious about why expanding her repertoire in this way is off -limits when she’s already tried a number of things in bed. I ask her – ‘did you experience pain when you first had penetration? Do you remember how you learned to relax?’
But instead of fixating on doing or not doing, more conversation is needed. Could Jane explain to her partner why anal sex is or isn’t something she’d consider, whether she’d approach it at all, whether to gradually to explore and stop if she doesn’t like it? They could explore together what it is he imagines they would or wouldn’t feel if they had anal sex. Alternatively, what does he think would happen if they never brought it into their relationship?
The important thing in any sexual communication is to stay away from pressure, and instead to engage in joint exploration – if yes, if not, why yes, why not – to be open and curious for yourself, as curiosity is the opposite of fear and sexual intimacy follows from there.
Photograph: Christopher Lane