The ability to experience pleasurable sexual activity is important for human health. Receptive anal intercourse (RAI) is a common, though frequently stigmatized, pleasurable sexual activity. Little is known about how diseases of the colon, rectum, and anus and their treatments affect RAI. Engaging in RAI with gastrointestinal disease can be difficult due to the unpredictability of symptoms and treatment-related toxic effects. Patients might experience sphincter hypertonicity, gastrointestinal symptom-specific anxiety, altered pelvic blood flow from structural disorders, decreased sensation from cancer-directed therapies or body image issues from stoma creation. These can result in problematic RAI — encompassing anodyspareunia (painful RAI), arousal dysfunction, orgasm dysfunction and decreased sexual desire. Therapeutic strategies for problematic RAI in patients living with gastrointestinal diseases and/or treatment-related dysfunction include pelvic floor muscle strengthening and stretching, psychological interventions, and restorative devices. Providing health-care professionals with a framework to discuss pleasurable RAI and diagnose problematic RAI can help improve patient outcomes. Normalizing RAI, affirming pleasure from RAI and acknowledging that the gastrointestinal system is involved in sexual pleasure, sexual function and sexual health will help transform the scientific paradigm of sexual health to one that is more just and equitable.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)377-405
Number of pages29
JournalNature Reviews Gastroenterology and Hepatology
Issue number6
StatePublished - Jun 2024


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