Sex Ed

Does Anal Sex “Count” As Sex?

March 16, 2017 by Justin Lehmiller

What actually counts as “having sex?” Well, it depends who you ask. Different people have different definitions. A recent study published in the Journal of Sex Research highlights just how much variability there is when it comes to whether certain forms of anal stimulation count in the eyes of heterosexual adults.

In this study, researchers examined the survey responses of 3,214 heterosexual male and female adults (average age of 35). All participants reported having had anal sex experience before, but only with partners of the opposite sex.

Participants were asked whether the following behaviors counted as having had sex: penile-anal intercourse, fingering (i.e., having your anus stimulated by hand, or stimulating someone else’s anus by hand), and rimming (i.e., having your anus orally stimulated, or orally stimulating someone else’s anus). The table below shows the percentage of participants who agreed that each behavior represents a form of sex.

As you can see, men and women largely agreed that penile-anal intercourse counts as sex; however, about 1 in 10 said that it does not. By contrast, a majority of men and women said that manual and oral stimulation of the anus are not sex—although men were significantly more likely than women to count both of these activities.

In addition to this gender difference, there was also an association with age, such that older adults were more likely to count a given anal behavior as sex than were younger adults.

One limitation of this study is that only heterosexuals were included. It’s likely that whether these behaviors are viewed as a form of sex would differ for persons who identify as gay or bisexual.

Bottom line (pun intended): these findings provide additional support for the idea that the way people define sex varies widely and that, in particular, there is a lot of disagreement among heterosexuals regarding whether various forms of anal stimulation count.

Want to learn more about Sex and Psychology? Click here for previous articles or follow the blog on Facebook (, Twitter (@JustinLehmiller), or Reddit ( to receive updates.

To learn more about this research, see: McBride, K. R., Sanders, S. A., Hill, B. J., & Reinisch, J. M. (2017). Heterosexual Women’s and Men’s Labeling of Anal Behaviors as Having “Had Sex”. The Journal of Sex Research.

Image Credit: 123RF/Nipon Temsakun

You Might Also Like:

Post Featured Image
Written by
Dr. Justin Lehmiller
Founder & Owner of Sex and Psychology

Dr. Justin Lehmiller is a social psychologist and Research Fellow at The Kinsey Institute. He runs the Sex and Psychology blog and podcast and is author of the popular book Tell Me What You Want. Dr. Lehmiller is an award-winning educator, and a prolific researcher who has published more than 50 academic works.

Read full bio >