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You Can't Even Say "Butt" In A Whole Lot Of Daily Newspapers
My column runs, not just in alt weeklies (my main market) but in dailies that want younger readers, and are willing to field a few little old lady complaints instead of automatically firing me (Ithaca Journal and the St. Cloud Times both gave my column the ax a while back for "Sex isn't special. Monkeys do it, and not because somebody gave them flowers or expensive jewelry").

I'm always shocked by the stuff dailies are squeamish about (all the while professing to be desperate, just desperate to draw younger readers). What they really want, more than anything, are docile readers. This week, because I made a joke about middle-aged ladies paying doctors to inject their butts into their faces, my editor had me include a substitution for dailies: "thighs" in this case -- although I wrote a little note with it, "only if you must" (use a substitution). No wonder nobody under 72 wants to read the newspaper. You're not even allowed to write the way real people talk.

Neither, in many cases, are you allowed to write about what real people are actually doing. Now, I'll first offer a caveat: self-reported sex statistics are not the most reliable form of data, to say the least. But William Saletan has a very interesting piece up on Slate about how many dailies (one!) mentioned that teens are not just having oral sex, but taking it up the ass. And here's Saletan chastising the prudie editors for holding back on the back door:

"For males, the proportion who have had anal sex with a female increases from 4.6 percent at age 15 to 34 percent at ages 22–24; for females, the proportion who have had anal sex with a male increases from 2.4 percent at age 15 to 32 percent at age 22–24." One in three women admits to having had anal sex by age 24. By ages 25 to 44, the percentages rise to 40 for men and 35 for women. And that's not counting the 3.7 percent of men aged 15 to 44 who've had anal sex with other men.

The last time major national surveys asked about this practice, in the early 1990s, only 20 percent of men aged 20 to 39 said they'd had anal sex with a woman in the preceding 10 years. Only 26 percent of men aged 18 to 59 said they'd ever done so. In the first survey, the 10-year limit excluded half the sexual career of half the sample, but that isn't enough to explain a doubling in the percentage saying yes. In the second survey, according to the current report, the inclusion of men aged 46 to 59 might have diluted the sample with "cohorts that were less likely to have had anal sex." But that's the point: Newer cohorts are more likely to have tried it.

Why does this matter? Because anal sex is far more dangerous than oral sex. According to data released earlier this year by the Centers for Disease Control, the probability of HIV acquisition by the receptive partner in unprotected oral sex with an HIV carrier is one per 10,000 acts. In vaginal sex, it's 10 per 10,000 acts. In anal sex, it's 50 per 10,000 acts. Do the math. Oral sex is 10 times safer than vaginal sex. Anal sex is five times more dangerous than vaginal sex and 50 times more dangerous than oral sex. Presumably, oral sex is far more frequent than anal sex. But are you confident it's 50 times more frequent?

A CDC fact sheet explains the risks of anal sex. First, "the lining of the rectum is thin and may allow the [HIV] virus to enter the body." Second, "condoms are more likely to break during anal sex than during vaginal sex." These risks don't just apply to HIV. According to the new survey report, the risk of transmission of other sexually transmitted diseases is likewise "higher for anal than for oral sex," and the risk "from oral sex is also believed to be lower than for vaginal intercourse."

If you live in Bergen County, N.J., congratulations. You get the only newspaper in the world that mentioned heterosexual anal sex, albeit briefly, in its write-up of the survey. Two other papers buried it in lines of statistics below their articles; the rest completely ignored it. Evidently anal sex is too icky to mention in print. But not too icky to have been tried by 35 percent of young women and 40 to 44 percent of young men—or to have killed some of them.

PS Speaking of what can and can't be read in daily papers, the Dallas Morning News just killed their features section, and they're starting little new daily features sections. They dumped my column (along with a number of others) when they killed the old section, but they might be compelled to bring it back if there's enough reader outcry. If you read my column in Dallas, and you'll miss me, please write to and let them know, or call their hotline at 214-977-7225. While I appreciate people who'd want to write who don't read me in Dallas, it's important to keep the letters honest, so please - only if you read me there and will miss me. Otherwise it will backfire and they'll never bring me back!

Posted by aalkon at September 26, 2005 9:43 AM

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I'm wondering how much the increase in oral and anal sex among teenagers is a result of "abstinence only" education? Since "abstinence" is usually presented as "no penile/vaginal contact". I'm just grateful to have grown up in a time when sex education still included birth control and STD prevention methods other than "don't do it".

Posted by: deja pseu at September 26, 2005 7:13 AM

Speaking purely from observation, you'd be surprised at the number of young people (mostly christians, to generalize) on college campuses who do not consider anal sex to be intercourse.

Not that any of this is surprising given that the religious politics of sex has always been about finding loopholes.

Choose your holy orifice! Be creative! Fool Jesus!

Posted by: Jake at September 26, 2005 9:06 AM

Not for nothing is anal sex known as "The Italian Solution".....

Posted by: Stu "El Inglés" Harris at September 26, 2005 9:25 AM

I like the Bill Maher quote I heard a while back...something about the only way we had anal sex when we were growing up was if we "missed."

Posted by: Amy Alkon at September 26, 2005 9:30 AM

I'm wondering how much the increase in oral sex and anal sex is related to the proliferation of porn on the internet (and dvd and pay-per-view)...especially the anal sex...and the easy access for teens (if parents aren't doing their job).
When I was in high school, sex was categorized as first base, second, third, and homerun, none of which ever included oral or anal sex. Do you remember kids talking about either of these activities back in high school Amy? Back then, at my school, having vaginal sex was a huge deal.
And the idea of abstinence - or waiting - was very common...these "alternatives" weren't. (Or maybe I was just too much of a nerd and was unaware of such activities being the norm.)

Posted by: Claire at September 26, 2005 10:39 AM

Having regular sex was a big deal, and a lot of people didn't rush into it as teens. Then again, you prohibit something and that's the first thing anybody wants to do. Just look at levels of teen promiscuity here, in Puritanland, versus those in Europe, where seeing titties on TV is no big deal. In fact, I just read about a nudist movement in Germany that's going down the tubes, because nudity is no longer the least bit shocking there. Yes, on TV here, you can machete off somebody's hand, but put it down somebody else's pants, and it's curtains for you and your show.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at September 26, 2005 11:07 AM

The Dallas Morning News is killing its features section? Or just changing it?

God, it's hard for me to even read about newspapers anymore, much less read the papers themselves. It's like watching an old friend kill herself with drugs -- wasting away, losing her sparkle, whoring for spare change on streetcorners.

Posted by: Nance at September 26, 2005 1:59 PM

It was in E&P...they're changing it into daily sections or something. But they killed a bunch of syndicated stuff. And I know my column is popular there -- get a lot of letters.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at September 26, 2005 2:16 PM

The answer is not to teach anal sex is bad, but instead find other orfices. My friend just had a tummy-tuck and let me tell you I can't wait to have some fun.

Posted by: jonesn' at September 26, 2005 3:13 PM

About the increase in anal sex...

I read that at least part of the reason is the push for
virginity. Know how some schools pressure the students
to sign vows of celibacy? Anal sex doesn't count as sex.

This isn't where I first read it, but here's a cite:

Posted by: Ron at September 27, 2005 8:52 AM

Weird, the things other people do. Anal sex? Why would anyone want to do that - giving or receiving? Not that I would seek to prevent consenting adults etc. Just puzzled.

Posted by: A bit shy at September 27, 2005 1:54 PM

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