How Do You Prepare For Anal?

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In this week's Sex IDK column, Emma McGowan, certified sex educator and writer, answers your questions about why people need to prepare for anal sex.

Q: How do you prepare for anal?

Anal sex is the sex act that probably takes the most preparation, so a lot of people have questions about it. If you’ve never had anal sex before, it can seem really confusing. How do you make sure it doesn’t hurt? What are the best products to use? And, of course, what about the poop? (Really, everyone wants to know about the poop.)

The very first thing you need to do if you’re preparing for anal sex is talk about it. This is not a sex act you should just spring on your partner without having a conversation about it! (Really, no sex acts should be sprung on a partner without asking for consent first.) If you’re interested in having anal sex, then you have to have a conversation about it first. Is your partner interested in anal as well? What are their concerns? Are you going to use toys? What lube and what condoms are you going to need to get?

Like I said, there are a lot of logistics. So it’s super important to work those out before you start putting stuff in each other’s butts.

One thing I like to recommend for bringing up a new sex thing is classic advice from sex advice columnist and podcaster Dan Savage, who tells people to act like it’s a gift they’re giving their partner — not some horrible news. He means you should go into the conversation excited about this awesome thing you want to do with your partner, rather than scared that they’ll be grossed out by it. Just using that tone can change the whole vibe of the conversation.

Once you’ve had that convo, here are five things you can do to prepare for anal sex.

1. Start With Toys

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When you’re preparing for anal sex, a great way to get used to sensations down there is by integrating toys — or even just a finger or two! — into sex. Both the penetrative partner (i.e., the person putting it in someone’s butt) and the penetrated partner (the one getting it in the butt) can try being penetrated, so that both people know what it feels like.

When you’re buying anal toys in preparation for anal sex, start with something small and work your way up. Anal sex toys should always have a flared base as well, because the sphincter (which are the muscles around your butt hole) will want to suck the toy in. The flared base, also called a flange, keeps it from going all the way into a person’s body.

You can also work anal toys into your masturbation sessions, so you know what feels good for you. Even if you’re the penetrating partner, masturbating with anal penetration can give you a better idea of what might feel good for your partner.

2. Get Great Lube

Perhaps the most essential part of preparing for anal sex is getting a great, butt-friendly lube. Here’s a fun fact: Your anal canal is really absorbent. (That’s part of what your intestines do — they absorb water out of your waste products.) And unlike a vagina, your butt is not self-lubricating, so you absolutely need to use lube when you're having anal sex to avoid tearing, which can increase risk for STI transmission. As a result, you need to be thoughtful about which lube you use for anal sex.

But how do you know which lube to get? There are three main general types of lube.

  • Water-based lube has some advantages. It’s easy to clean up and it can be used with silicone toys and latex condoms. But remember how the butt is super absorbent? It’s going to suck that water-based lube right up. So just know that if you’re using a water-based lube, you’re going to have reapply more frequently or risk discomfort or even tearing.
  • Silicone lube has a silky feeling and lasts the longest of all the options. It’s best for your butt — but you can’t use it with silicone toys, because it will break down the toys and make them breeding grounds for bacteria. (Not something you want for an object you’re putting inside your body!) But you can use silicone lube with latex condoms, so you can put a latex condom on a silicone toy and solve that problem.
  • Oil-based lube won’t get absorbed into your butt and provides an nice slippery feel. The downside is it can’t be used with latex condoms, because it will degrade them. It's OK to use with silicone toys, though!

3. Do A Quick Clean

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And here is really the heart of question of “How do you prepare for anal?” I have a feeling that the real question here is “What about the poop???” Totally legitimate! Poop comes out of your butt and most people aren’t interested in touching, smelling, or having much to do with poop at all, especially during a sex act. Luckily, you generally don’t have to deal with poop when it comes to anal sex.

First, let’s talk about where in your body poop is actually located. When you’re having a bowel movement — and just before — your poop is in your anal canal, which is where a penis or toy or finger will be during anal play. But any other time, your poop is way up in the upper bowels, which no biological penis and very few synthetic ones can reach. (And if you’re using a toy that’s large enough to get up there, then 1. Please be careful, and 2. You probably don’t need the advice in this column!)

If you’re having regular, firm bowel movements, then there shouldn’t be any poop hanging out in your anal canal. You can also make fiber a more regular part of your diet if you want to have anal sex more regularly. Fiber helps bind your fecal matter so that it comes out firmly. You might want to try pooping about an hour before anal sex, if you’re worried about it, but most people can’t poop on command, so don’t stress if you can’t.

However, if your bowel movements are watery or loose, you might have some poop that gets stuck on the walls of the anal canal. In that case, you might want to consider doing an enema to clean out your anal canal a few hours before anal sex. An enema is a way to empty the bowels, usually with water. You should can buy an enema at the pharmacy and do it at home, but make sure you're using sterile ones every time. You can also do an enema if it just makes you feel better about the whole thing! The best sex that doesn’t include worrying about things like poop or messes or smells, so if you need an enema to get there, do you. (If you have hemorrhoids or other health issues in your anus, talk to your doctor before doing an at-home enema.)

But in general, a wipe down with an unscented wipe that’s specifically for the genitals should be enough to get everything nice and clean. You can also take a shower, if that’s an option and makes you feel better, but really a good wipe or two should do it.

At the same time, though, it might be a good idea to get as OK as you can with the idea of maybe encountering some poop. It does happen, occasionally, and if it does the best thing to do is play it cool and clean up like a grown up.

4. Get Some Butt Sex-Specific Towels

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You also might want to get some towels to lay down on the bed (or the couch or wherever you’re doing it) so that if any lube or vaginal fluids or fecal matter gets all over the place, it’s easier to clean up. If you're already having period sex — or if you or your partner is a squirter — then you're probably already used to having to be a little more conscientious about clean-up. Just think of anal sex as being similar to that!

5. Get Some Condoms

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If you're having sex with a new partner or even just one whose status you're not sure of, then it's really a good idea to include "get condoms" in your anal sex prep list. While you can't get pregnant from anal sex, it is the sex act with the highest rate of transmission for STIs. That's because the anus is fragile, absorbent, and doesn't self-lubricate the way a vagina does, making it more likely to tear (which allows bacteria to enter your system). Using (and swapping out) condoms is also a must if you plan to switch between anal and vaginal sex.

Both external condoms (sometimes called "male" condoms) and internal condoms (sometimes called "female" condoms) can be used for anal sex. They provide slightly different sensations, so maybe grab a couple different kinds and see what you like best.

While anal sex often takes a bit more preparation than other kinds of sex, many people think it’s worth it! If you’re interested in anal, don’t let the preparation scare you off. Think of it as all part of a fun, sexy process will lead you to a whole new experience.

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