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Anal sex: we talk about it, we read about it, we see it in porn—but what’s it actually like?

Different people enjoy different things about anal sex. Some find it more intimate than other forms of sex and enjoy the connection it creates between them and their partner. Some find it taboo and a little bit naughty, which can make it feel super hot. Some don’t like it at all, and others consider it their bread and butter—they couldn’t imagine a world without it!

However you feel about anal sex, we’ve created a guide to help you explore it. Whether you’re a first-timer, someone who’s tried it a couple of times and wants to enjoy it more, or someone who does it every other day, this guide is for you.

First things first—why anal?

The anus is packed with nerve endings that respond to touch, temperature, friction, tension, and pressure. Basically, our bums are hyper-sensitive and easily-stimulated, and for some people, the feeling of fullness and pressure that comes from anal sex can feel really good. The prostate can add to these feelings of pleasure in male bodies. The prostate is a gland that assists with penile ejaculation and urination, and stimulating it with a finger, device, or penis can feel extremely pleasurable for some people. 

“When the prostate is stimulated it can feel like an overwhelming and transformational experience of pleasure. Some may orgasm without having an erection or even ejaculating,” says author and sex coach, Georgia Grace. “But what many people don’t realise is that people with vulvas can also come from anal stimulation.

“There is a network of erectile tissue in the perineal sponge, which is between the anus and the vagina, and it engorges when aroused. With the desired stimulation—internal or external—people with vulvas also have the mechanics to climax from anal sex.”

Anal play can involve many things. You might use your finger or fingers to stimulate the outside or the inside of the anus, you might use a toy inside the anus alone or while stimulating your genitals, or you might have penetrative anal sex with a penis, dildo, or strap-on. You might also try rimming—licking, sucking, or kissing someone’s anus.

Is it safe?

Like any other form of sex, we can worry if anal sex is safe. It’s not inherently dangerous, but there are a few things you can do to make sure anal sex is as safe and as fun as possible for you and your partner.

Can I get STIs from anal sex?

Anal sex can transmit STIs, just like any other sex act. Men who have unprotected anal sex with other men are at higher risk of contracting STIs, but regardless of your gender and sexuality it’s important to be aware of your sexual health status and use protection where possible. We recommend getting regular sexual health check-ups, especially if you’re seeing multiple partners, are beginning a new relationship, or notice any unusual symptoms around your genitals or anus (our Guide to STIs explains more about what to look for).

Using a condom during anal sex can reduce the chance of transmitting or contracting an STI. It can also prevent bacteria from the anus from coming in contact with the penis, fingers, toy, or anything else you may use for penetration.  Using a condom over a toy can be a great idea, even if you’re the only one using the toy—and cleaning the toy afterwards is very important to prevent bacteria from growing on it.

Even if neither you nor your partner have an STI, you can still choose to use a condom for anal to reduce bacteria. Dental dams can be an option for those who enjoy rimming. Essentially a sheet of thin material that can be placed over a partner’s genitals, dental dams can help prevent bacteria and STIs from being transmitted between partners.

If you don’t always use a condom during anal sex, or if you’re planning on having sex with a partner who is living with HIV, you might consider PrEP. PrEP is a medication that can be very effective at preventing HIV infection, and we recommend speaking to your doctor for more information on it and to find out if it’s right for you. PrEP doesn’t prevent against the transmission of other STIs, though—so even if you’re using PrEP you may still want to use a condom or dental dam for anal play.

Can I get pregnant?

Technically, no—you can’t get pregnant from anal sex alone because there is no connection between the anus and the reproductive system. However, if semen gets into the vagina during anal sex (if it drips or is present on a partner’s finger or penis that is the put into the vagina) then pregnancy can occur. Some people find anal sex to be a nice alternative to vaginal penetration, but anal sex shouldn’t be thought of as a way to prevent pregnancy. Condoms and birth control should always be used to prevent STI transmission and pregnancy.

Can I injure myself during anal sex?

We don’t want to cause alarm, but yes—anal sex can cause injuries. It’s relatively uncommon and most are unlikely to cause permanent long-term damage, but you should know that sharp objects, friction, and rough treatment can hurt and injure the anus. We always recommend using plenty of lube for anal sex, starting very slowly with a small object like a finger or a toy, and penetrating gradually until you feel completely comfortable. If you feel any pain or resistance during anal play, it’s worth stopping and trying again later even if it means trying again in a week or so. It’s also crucial to listen to your partner and be aware of their comfort level. If your partner tells you to stop or slow down, make sure you do so—not only is it the right thing to do, but it’s also sexual assault to continue having sex with your partner if they’ve told you to stop.

One other way you can injure yourself during anal sex is by using a toy that isn’t made to be used in the anus. Unlike the vagina, which comes to a natural ‘end’ when it meets the cervix, the anus doesn’t have an end point—it continues up to our colon and our intestines. A toy that goes up inside your anus can travel further into your body unless it has a flared base, a ring-pull, a wire attached, or another easy way of retrieving it. If you do use a toy for anal play and you can’t easily remove it, we recommend seeking medical advice immediately. Trying to remove it yourself can cause damage to your body.

Am I clean enough for anal sex?

Some people can be hesitant to try rimming and anal sex because they’re worried about how ‘clean’ they’ll be. Basically, farts, poop, and butt smells happen to everyone, but most of us are hoping they don’t happen in the middle of our first anal sex session.

Contrary to popular belief, the anus isn’t naturally dirty—at least no more so than any other part of our bodies. While it does contain a fair bit of bacteria, it’s the kind of bacteria that helps keep our digestive system healthy and in working order. Some people recommend using a douche or an enema to help prepare for anal sex, and while we won’t totally forbid it, we will warn you that regular douching can strip the bacteria away from your anus and damage the lining. Even regular soap can do this! We think it’s enough to have a shower as normal, wash with water, and use the bathroom before sex if you need to. 

Ultimately, when it comes to ‘accidents’ during anal play, all we can say is that shit happens—sometimes literally! If poop does appear during anal, all you can do is laugh it off, clean up, and (if it’s your partner who has pooped) reassure them that you still think they’re great regardless.

How do I suggest anal to my partner?

Sometimes the most nerve-wracking part of trying something new in bed is actually verbalising that we want to do it. If you’re keen to experiment with anal sex but you’re not sure how your partner will feel about it, there’s only one thing to do: ask them. We’re big fans of the direct approach, so we think the easiest way to do it would be to say to your partner, “Hey, have you ever been interested in trying anal? Because I’d really like to…”. Choose the right moment, of course—in line at the shopping centre may not be ideal, but when you’re in bed together feeling intimate is the perfect time.

If you’re feeling a little shyer, you could strategically mention it in relation to a film you’ve seen, a magazine you’ve read, or some porn or erotica you’ve watched. “I was reading this article about anal sex—it seemed pretty exciting…” is a great start. A word of warning, though: some people may suggest the best way to initiate anal sex is to ‘surprise’ your partner by putting your finger, penis, or toy into their butt without asking first. We are very much against this. Consent is crucial for anal, and trying to ‘surprise’ someone with a sex act is not respecting their consent.

How should I prepare?

One of the best things you can do to prepare for anal sex is to have a thorough conversation with your partner about what you’d like to happen. Are you going to use a toy, a finger, or a penis? Will you be the one receiving or being penetrated (otherwise known as bottoming) or the one penetrating (otherwise known as topping)? Will you use a safe word or a special signal if you need to stop and take a break, or will you feel comfortable asking to stop? All of these are questions only you and your partner can answer, but you should be on the same page about everything before you begin.

You can also do a bit of practical preparation by making sure you have enough lube, condoms, dental dams, and towels at hand. Nobody wants to have to stop in the middle of the action to grab an extra condom or find a towel—set it all up by the side of the bed in advance. (Our Guide to Setting the Mood has a few extra tips if you want to make the night extra special.)

How much lube do I need?

We’re big fans of lube in general, and especially so during anal sex. As the anus isn’t self-lubricating like the vagina, it doesn’t get wet or moist—you have to help it out by adding lube. Lube will make it easier for your anus to stretch and accommodate a toy, finger, or penis, and it can also help reduce friction and prevent condoms from breaking or tearing. 

As to how much lube you should use: “Lots, and then more!” Georgia says. “You must use a lot of lube, and keep it close by. And when you’re investing in a lube it is essential that the ingredients are body safe. Lube is there to make all your sexual experiences even better.”

Safe, fun, and pain-free penetration

Especially if it’s your first time trying anal play, you shouldn’t just ‘stick it in’ and hope for the best. No matter the object you’re using for penetration—whether it’s a toy, finger, penis, or anything else—we recommend using heaps of lube and going very, very slowly at first. As you begin to feel more comfortable with the feeling of something inside the anus, you might want to experiment with different speeds—but until you’re totally comfortable, slower is better. You might also ease yourself and your partner into it by massaging the butt cheeks and around the anus, or rimming and fingering the anus until you feel relaxed and ready.

“Anal sex is so much more than penetration alone,” says Georgia. “I find that people are often wary of anal sex because they think it involves being penetrated by a penis or a strap-on, which some people will love; but for others this can be quite intimidating - especially if they’re only used to things coming out their anus.

“There are wonderful benefits to anal stimulation stimulation. It is a great way to down regulate the nervous system when you’re feeling stressed, anxious or ‘up tight’, it can build arousal in your whole body, and it can feel really good.”

It’s important to know that it might take you a few tries to get totally comfortable with anal sex. It might happen the first time you do it, or it might never happen. That’s completely fine! Everyone’s body is different, and everyone’s response to anal sex is different. The only comfort levels you need to be aware of are yours and your partner’s—there’s no right or wrong way to enjoy anal.