For many people, anal sex can be a major cause of anxiety. Is it safe? Does it hurt? With very few representations in the media and in sex education, many people know little about anal sex. This lack of knowledge and the unfortunate societal taboo associated with anal sex can lead to unpleasant experiences that may affect the way you feel about sex. However, by knowing more about anal sex, you can make an informed choice about it and reduce the anxiety that comes from a lack of knowledge. It can become an important and enjoyable part of your sex life if you have some background knowledge and are willing to give it a try. This article is designed to give you scientific knowledge as well as practical advice to help you have a pleasurable anal sex experience.
Anal sex is a sexual activity in which a person penetrates their partner's anus by inserting a penis (or other object, such as a dildo) into the rectum. Anal sex is not as widely practiced as penile/vaginal sex due to its taboo nature and various health risks. Nevertheless, many couples (both heterosexual and homosexual) have tried it and currently engage in it. It is important to remember that anal sex is a very risky sexual behavior that can lead to the contraction of STI's, including HIV/AIDS. Therefore, it is important to be properly educated about how to engage in anal sex safely.
In order to have safe, enjoyable anal sex, it is important to understand the anatomy of the anus. The anus is the external opening of the rectum, and is controlled by two rings of muscles known as the external and internal sphincters. Control of the external sphincter is generally voluntary while the internal sphincter is involuntary, meaning you are unable to control it. Difficulties with anal sex can arise if the two sphincters are too tense, which can make it difficult (and sometimes painful) for an object such as a penis to enter. Behind the two sphincters lies the anal passage, and then the rectum. Both the anus and rectum have the ability to expand and stretch, although they must be stretched slowly so that they do not tear.
Like the penis, the anus is full of sensitive nerve endings, which can make anal sexual activity very enjoyable for both males and females. Unlike a vagina, the anus does not expand during arousal (because it is not a sex organ), and thus the sensations of anal sex can be very intense. These sensations can be pleasurable if anal sex is engaged in carefully and safely.
In males, the prostate gland, a walnut-sized gland located between the bladder and the penis, can be stimulated which many males find extremely pleasurable. The prostate gland is oftentimes referred to as the male G-spot, and is believed to lead to or enhance orgasm when stimulated.
The Increased Risk of Anal Sex
Anal sex is one of the riskiest forms of sexual activity. It is important to remember that the anus is very different from the vagina, and therefore anal intercourse should be practiced differently from vaginal intercourse. Unlike the vagina, the anus has no ability to produce a natural lubricant. Inserting the penis (as well as a finger or sex toy) into the anus without using generous amounts of lubrication can easily cause small tears or fissures in the anal tissue as well as considerable pain to the receiving partner.
The small tears in the delicate anal tissue are open pathways for the transmission of STI’s and viruses, including HIV. HIV is the virus that causes the life-threatening disease AIDS (Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome). Even if lubrication is used, these small tears in the anal tissue can still occur, which is why it is very important to always wear a condom when engaging in anal intercourse. The risks that anal sex poses to one's health are very serious, which makes maintaining sexual safety important.
How Does Anal Sex Feel?
For many, the first few times receiving anal sex can be painful. When your partner first inserts their penis or sex toy into your anus, ask them to go slowly. An initial burning sensation is normal, but should not be overtly uncomfortable. If you feel pain at any point, ask them to stop and be still while their penis or sex toy is inside of you, and once you feel comfortable, ask them to try moving again. Some pain is natural, but if you are in too much pain, communicate with your partner and ask them to stop; you are the bottom (a term for the receiving partner, usually used when talking about gay sex), and you have the power.
Though often associated with passiveness, the receiving partner can dominate the sexual experience. In gay relationships, some bottoms are known as “power bottoms,” and enjoy taking control over the top partner and the penetration. There are many sex positions that you can enjoy with your partner that can have both dominant and passive roles. Do what feels right to you, and do not be afraid to switch it up. Engaging in a variety of sex positions can greatly enhance your anal sex experience.
Exploring Your Anus
To have pleasurable anal sex, many find it important to first become comfortable with their own anus. Becoming more comfortable with one’s own anal anatomy and pleasure can help them to better communicate their needs and desires to their partners. Here are some tips to explore your anus:
Start by lying on your back, on a bed, or even in a warm bath. Once you are comfortable, start by gently massaging the area around your anus, including the perineum (the bit of skin between the vagina and anus, or the scrotum and anus). As you become more relaxed, add a lot of lubrication to your finger, and gently press against the surface of your anus. Repeat this several times, and increase the pressure slightly each time. When you become comfortable enough to insert your finger into your anus, keep things slow and gentle, taking time to relax your external sphincter. Males may be able to find their prostate, which can be identifiable as a small, walnut-sized bump located approximately two inches inside the anus.
Once you feel comfortable with the insertion of your finger, you can experiment with different sex toys such as dildos or anal beads. It is important to remember to take your time until you are comfortable and enjoy the sensations you feel. Becoming comfortable with your anus is a personal and ongoing process. Use plenty of lube and take it slow, there is no rush!
How to Have Safe and Enjoyable Anal Sex
One of the most common fears of anal sex is the possibility of having an unwanted accident involving fecal matter. Having an accident while having anal sex, whether it an unwanted leak or smell, can be embarrassing for the receiving partner. It is important to remember that everyone has bowel movements, and that accidents can happen to anyone. However, there are preparations that can be done in order to have a clean anal sexual experience and minimize any unwanted incidents.
Be Clean. Prior to engaging in any form of anal sexual activity, it is a good idea for the receiving partner to clean their anal region. Fecal matter is most concentrated in the rectum prior to a bowel movement. Therefore, going to the bathroom prior to anal sex reduces the amount of feces in the rectum. Nevertheless, there are always some traces of feces and bacteria left behind. Some people may choose to clean their anus by carefully inserting a wet, soapy finger up their rectum or using a hypoallergenic, fragrance-free wet-wipe to clean just inside the anus. By lightly and carefully cleaning the general area, the receiving partner can reduce the risk of transmitting bacteria and diseases. In addition, an enema can be used to better clean out the rectum. An enema is a device which is used to inject fluid (usually room-temperature water) into the rectum in order to wash away its contents.
Though the process of cleaning out your anus may seem embarrassing at first, it is important to talk to your partner if it is something you are worried about. Even in a spontaneous sexual situation, communication is important in ensuring both parties have a clear understanding of any preparations made beforehand, and can help prepare for a potential accident if it occurs. In addition, it is important to wash any object that has been inside the rectum to avoid the spread of bacteria. After a finger, penis, or sex toy has been inside the rectum, never insert it into the vagina or mouth without using proper sanitation methods to clean if first. If the bacteria from the rectum are introduced into any other orifice, they can cause serious infections.
Use Protection! Due to the many bacterial and viral diseases that can be contracted from anal activities, it is extremely important to use barrier forms of protection. If a penis or sex toy is entering the rectum, a condom should be worn over the penis or toy. Wearing a condom while having anal sex can protect a person from transmitting or contracting HIV/AIDS. Also, a condom shields the penis or sex toy from coming into contact with the fecal bacteria in the rectum. If a finger or fingers are entering the anus, latex gloves can be worn, ensuring that the hands are germ-free. If latex gloves are not used, then make sure the fingers are clean and the fingernails trimmed short. Dental dams should be used as a barrier if the mouth and/or tongue is being used to stimulate the anus. This act is called anilingus or "rimming," and can lead to the spread of STI’s and other infections if performed without barrier protection. Using a barrier method is vital to one's safety and health when engaging in any form of anal play.
Go Slowly and Communicate. In order to safely and comfortably insert the penis, finger, or sex toy into the anus, it must be done very slowly and gently-- along with generous amounts extra lubrication -- for a number of reasons. If insertion is rushed and if the partners fail to communicate with each other and give feedback, anal sex can cause the receiver pain and potentially tear the lining of their anus and rectum. It is generally a good idea to agree beforehand on what each partner is comfortable with during anal sex, and to continue that level of communication throughout the experience. It is crucial that the partner who is penetrating check in often with the partner receiving to ensure that they are comfortable with whatever sexual act is happening.
Use Lube! It is extremely important to use a lot of lubrication. Be sure to apply plenty of it to the penis, toy, or finger as well as the anus. It may be necessary to continually reapply more lubrication over time. Water-based lubricants, such as KY-Jelly and Astroglide work best, especially with a condom. Using copious amounts of lubrication can ease insertion and help avoid creating any fissures or tears in the anal tissue.
Work Your Way Up! To avoid tearing anal tissue or causing discomfort to the receiver, it is a good idea to start slow with any anal sexual activities. In other words, start with smaller objects (such as a finger) before attempting to insert a penis or sex toy. Being relaxed is essential. Though you have some control over your external sphincter, it is important that your internal sphincter is relaxed or penetration will be difficult. By starting out small, one can gradually adjust and build up the size of the insertion. If a finger or two has been successfully inserted without causing pain, larger insertions can be attempted if both partners feel comfortable. It is never a good idea to force insertion; it must be done gently. If you are having difficulty, use more lubrication, and have your partner lead their penis or toy with a finger during insertion. This can sometimes help your anus relax, and facilitate the entrance. Talking to your partner throughout this process is the best way to foster mutual trust, respect, and comfort.
Unprotected Anal Sex
Alhough the importance of condoms cannot be stressed enough, situations do arise in which condoms are not used or may break. If you are with a consistent monogamous partner and you have both been tested, it is perfectly fine to have unprotected anal sex. However, if you are not with a consistent partner and still insist on not using condoms, please take note of the following information:
- It is safer to use oil based lube when not using a condom. Be sure to apply a sufficent amount in order to avoid tears of the anus.
- Do not use an enema. Cleaning out your anal cavity may also cause tearing and increase your risk of contracting an STI.
- Do not let your partner be too rough! Rough sex can cause anal tearing
- Consider the benefits of asking your partner to ejaculate outside of you. Though you are already in a high risk situation, having your partner finish outside the anal cavity is slightly safer than having him finish inside of you.
Views on Anal Sex
Anal sex is a relatively taboo topic that people seldom discuss in our society. There are many cultural and societal interpretations of anal sex that have perpetuated its forbidden nature. Issues with cleanliness, health, sexuality, and morality surround this controversial activity.
Although anal sex has traditionally been viewed as a strictly homosexual activity between two males, this is not true. Heterosexual couples often incorporate this behavior into their sex lives as well. Because of the homosexual connotations of anal sex, some heterosexual couples might feel that it is "unnatural" for them to engage in this behavior. Moreover, when people think about heterosexual anal intercourse, they may think that only the woman should be the receiving partner. This is, however, an incorrect assumption, as some heterosexual men find that they enjoy anal stimulation, too.
In addition, some people's religious, cultural, and moral beliefs may cause them to avoid anal sex. For example, some religions dictate that penile/vaginal intercourse is the only proper form of sexual activity because it is the only form that may involve reproduction. Many views on the morality of anal sex have shaped our society's attitudes toward the activity. Since some people do not engage in anal intercourse for moral reasons, it is important to remember that each person's individual level of comfort with the topic of anal sex may vary considerably.
Furthermore, people may choose to refrain from engaging in anal sex because it is thought of as dirty and unsanitary. Because the anus and rectum are sites through which fecal matter passes, this type of sexual activity may be a "turn-off" to some. Many people believe that things should only exit the anus, not enter it, because of hygienic reasons. This can be a valid concern. Both the anus and rectum do contain bacteria and fecal matter, which can spread diseases and infections. However, for those people who want to experience anal sex while maintaining proper hygiene, there are precautions one can take in order to have a safe and enjoyable experience. Though anal sex has more associated risks, it can be a meaningful and pleasurable addition to a sexual relationship.
The most important thing to remember is that anal sex is not mandatory. Many people (including gay men) abstain from anal sex and have very happy and fulfilling sex lives without it. You should never feel pressured into having anal sex if it is not something you are comfortable with. However, should you continue doing it, it is something that you will most likely improve at and enjoy more with experience over a period of time. You will discover what works for you and what does not, and that anal sex is a unique experience for each individual. Relax, explore, have fun, and learn what feels right for you.
- Morin, J. (1998). Anal pleasure and health: A guide for men and women. San Francisco: Down There Press.
- The Anus” WebMD. 2014. Web. 7 May 2015.
- “The Prostate” WebMD. 2014. Web. 7 May 2015.
- “The Happy Bottom: Tips for Hotter and Safer Anal Sex” Mamba Online. 24 April 2013. Web. 7 May 2015.
- “Beginner’s Guide to Anal Douche and Enema” HerbalLove. Web. 7 May 2015.
- “CDC Fact Sheet: What Gay, Bisexual and Other Men Who Have Sex with Men Need to Know About Sexually Transmitted Diseases” CDC Online. Web. 7 May 20
Last updated 2 June 2016.