We at Bustle love giving you tips for how to tap into your sexual potential and troubleshoot when things aren’t going your way in the bedroom. But what about finding solutions to those stressful sexual health situations that inevitably crop up when you’re getting down? This week’s topic: how to prepare for anal sex.
Q: My boyfriend has been talking to me about trying anal sex. I'm open to the idea, but I want to know more about how to prep for anal. Do we need to use a condom? Should I use the bathroom before? And how can I make it as much fun for myself as possible?
A: Trying a new thing between the sheets is like a beauty influencer making a new eyeshadow pallet. While you’re excited and hopeful, you’re not sure how it’s going to turn out. Though getting into butt stuff may seem intimidating, knowing how to prep for anal sex is easier than you may think. If you already know all about clitoral orgasms, you may be surprised to learn that your anus has thousands of sensitive nerve endings in and around it that can also give you pleasure. Most of these nerve endings are concentrated around the opening, but the outer part of the rectum also has them. With the inner part of the rectum, what feels good during sex is mostly the pressure and fullness that comes with being penetrated.
As sex educator and sex worker Jillian Janson previously told Bustle, “With anal sex, there are multiple ways you can get pleased. Stimulation of the anus, perineum, and rectum can engage the pelvic and pudendal nerves, which are implicated in the orgasmic response.” While most people need their genitals to be touched during anal sex in order to orgasm, Janson says some people can orgasm just from anal penetration.
What’s more, you don’t need penetration to have a great time with butt stuff. “You can like anal sex and only enjoy fingers, tongues, or toys — anal sex does not have to involve thrusting or penetration,” sex and pleasure educator Luna Matatas tells Bustle. “The pressure for penetration can feel goal-oriented and sometimes make us judge ourselves if our body wasn’t in the mood.” What matters most is that you’re excited to explore a range of different sensations.
Ready to prep for anal? Here’s everything you need to know for your first time.
1. Explore Your Own Butt
Masturbating doesn’t have to end at your genitals. The next time you’re getting it on with yourself, try stimulating your butt and see how it feels. "Solo anal play is one of the best ways to get started with anal pleasure, the same way that vaginal masturbation can be a useful way to learn what you like," Alicia Sinclair, founder and CEO of b-Vibe, previously told Bustle. "On your own, you can experiment with different things, or stop and start anytime you want, without needing to navigate things with someone else."
You may have noticed that your anal canal, also called your rectum, is very tight. Going straight from not having anything in there to having a full erect penis or dildo inside it can feel intense, and even painful, if not done correctly. Something you can do beforehand is get used to feeling sensations down there. Start with a finger (yours or your partner’s) or a thin sex toy or butt plug, and work your way up. “Pair butt stuff with your regular masturbation routine by adding in a vibrating butt plug,” Matatas suggests. Starting on your own is a great way to become comfortable with new sensations and be able to communicate to a partner what feels good and what feels like too much.
2. Talk To Your Partner About Anal Sex
Like all things in sex, you want to prioritize consent, communication, and pleasure during anal. What are you excited to try? What are you not into? Would having a safe word make you feel comfier? Get clear with your partner about what you both are comfortable with. "Talking about anal sex is the same as any other sexual activity," sexologist Dr. Laura Deitsch previously told Bustle. "Be open and honest, figure out how you feel, and what you are looking for."
“There’s no such thing as ‘surprise anal’ — talk about it, what you’re excited about (e.g. trying something new, rimming), and what you’re nervous about (e.g. poop, pain),” Matatas says. Being honest about your nerves and expectations will help you both feel more connected.
3. Feel Free To Clean Yourself
One of the first misconceptions about anal sex is that it’s “unclean” because it involves butts. In actuality, your anus has natural bacteria that help fight infection. If you clean your body regularly, your butt is as clean as the rest of you. Additionally, Dr. Deitsch shared that you generally don’t store feces in your rectum — meaning you don’t need to be afraid about a poop situation.
“A gentle enema can be used ahead of time if folks like, but a lot of people simply pay attention to their latest bowel movements and have a decent sense of when they are more or less 'full,’” Dr. Deitsch explained. While you don’t need to wash yourself right before anal penetration, jumping in the shower may make you feel more comfortable.
And if poop does happen while you’re getting it on, try not to worry too much. “Talk with your partner about mess management,” Matatas suggests. “Don’t be afraid to use latex or nitrile gloves on your hands or condoms on your sex toys — makes clean-up super easy!”
4. Prepare Your Space
When exploring anal play, you want to make sure you’re feeling as relaxed as possible. Light your favorite candle, take a few deep breaths, and make sure you’re feeling calm and collected. After setting the vibe, you may want to prepare some literal things. Putting a towel down may help you feel more relaxed (it will also make sure you don’t stain your comforter with lube!). Matatas also recommends laying a towel down on your floor or nightstand. “You can put used condoms and sex toys fresh from the butt onto the towel and worry about it later,” she says.
Clean and sanitize any toys you’ll be using, and make sure you have contraceptives and lube on hand. "A condom is the safest thing in terms of not sharing good old-fashioned bacterial infections," Dr. Deitsch told Bustle. "If rimming is going to be part of your play (mouth to anus), be sure to clean really well around the area ahead of time."
5. Get In The Mood
Sex is as mental as it is physical. The most important thing is to get really turned on and comfortable. Your anus is surrounded by a ring of muscle called the anal sphincter, which is designed to keep in feces. Your sphincter needs to be relaxed to allow something to pass through it. "Shelve penetration until you’re highly aroused," Dr. Jessica O’Reilly, Ph.D., host of the SexWithDrJess Podcast, previously told Bustle. "It is often a good idea to hold off on penetration until you’re decidedly excited, as arousal can help you to relax and have a palliative effect on your body."
So, do whatever works for you to get yourself feeling fantastic. Maybe you watch or listen to audio porn with your partner or make out for a while and give each other sensual massages. And remember that penetration doesn’t have to be the goal — you may just opt to play around with toys, fingers, and tongues. “Go with what your butthole is in the mood for,” Matatas says. “Hold a vibrator against the butthole, try face sitting with analingus, use anal beads and a clitoral vibe… the possibilities are endless.”
6. Lubricate, Lubricate, Lubricate
Something really important to know about your anus is that, unlike your vagina, it’s not self-lubricating. All that slippery goodness that coats your vagina when you’re turned on and makes sex feel great while protecting your vaginal walls? Not naturally present during anal sex.
Luckily, humans are improvisational creatures and have invented lube (which is also super useful for vaginal sex). Make sure you have lots of lube on hand when experimenting with anal play — even if you’re using smaller implements, like toys or fingers. It will make everything feel much better and be much safer for your body. "This prevents tears and makes penetration easier and more pleasurable," Irene Fehr, MA, CPCC, sex and intimacy coach, previously told Bustle. Put lube both inside and around your anal opening and on whatever implement you’re planning on using — whether it’s a finger, a toy, or a penis. Just make sure if you’re using condoms that your lube is water-based and not oil-based, since oil-based lube degrades latex.
7. Go Slow
When you’re ready for actual penetration, the best rule is to go slow. “Remember, it’s not a race," Sinclair told Bustle. "The right pace is the one that works for you.” Have your partner penetrate you a little, then stop and wait for you to get used to the new feeling. Once your muscles have relaxed, your partner can continue, little by little, until you feel comfortable with the whole thing.
“More anal pleasure doesn’t automatically mean bigger, harder, deeper,” Matatas says. There’s absolutely no rush. You need to be relaxed so that you don’t tense up your muscles, which is what can cause pain.
8. Push Out
To maximize pleasure and minimize pain, Dr. Deitsch suggested “pushing out” (like you’re going to the bathroom) as your partner starts to penetrate you. "Anal shouldn't hurt if it's done with plenty of lube, relaxation, pushing out while insertion is slowly happening, and a respectful partner," she explained.
9. Find A Comfortable Position
There are countless ways to get it on from behind. “Positions for anal are about as varied as they are for vaginal," Dr. Deitsch told Bustle. "Remember, do what feels good. Only you can decide what that is!" Not sure where to start? "Typical ones are either receiver on top, either facing front or back; doggy-style; missionary; receiver flat on back with legs closed (offers a lot more control for the receiver); and almost anything else you can think of and get comfy in,” she explained.
Try a position that gives you as much control as possible — such as sitting on your partner’s lap. Many experts recommend starting off lying on your side and being spooned. Doggy style can be the easiest for insertion, but if your partner can’t see your face, they won’t be able to see your reactions and gauge how you’re doing. “First-timers might find more pleasure in anal missionary or lying on their stomach,” Matatas says. “If going for doggy, support the person receiving with a pillow under their pelvis so they can relax their body and not worry about holding it up. Pillow props or sex wedge cushions work great for anal missionary, too.”
As the receiver, you should feel comfortable taking the lead on positioning. “Being able to control the depth of penetration, either by squatting down or by pushing backwards, can allow the receiver to go at their own pace,” Matatas says. “During anal fingering or with butt plugs, try pushing down or backwards onto the finger or sex toy.”
10. Reapply Lube As You Go
Even if you are having the most mind-blowing time of your life, remember that you aren’t making any of your own lubrication during anal sex. To avoid the sex getting dry (and potentially causing pain or tears of your anal tissue) plan to add more lube as you get it on. It will only make everything feel even better, so don't feel bad about taking multiple lube breaks.
11. Think About Contraceptives
Pregnancy can’t occur if ejaculation happens in your butt. However, if some ejaculate gets into your vagina, there’s a risk of pregnancy. Additionally, various infections can be spread through anal sex. Basically, anything you can get in your vagina, you can also get in your anus — including HIV, chlamydia, gonorrhea, syphilis, herpes, and HPV. In fact, the risk of contracting an STI is actually higher with anal sex than vaginal sex, because anal tissue can let bacteria into your body more easily than vaginal tissue does.
If you’re getting it on with a new partner, plan to get tested together for STIs. Additionally, using condoms during anal sex may help you both stay protected.
12. Be Mindful Of Your Vagina
Another thing to pay attention to is getting bacteria from your rectum into your vagina. Your vagina has lots of bacteria living in it, in a symbiotic yet tenuous balance. Disrupting the balance can lead to yeast infections, urinary tract infections, and other bacterial infections in the vagina.
To make sure you don’t share bacteria between your parts, plan to clean the insertion implement (finger, penis, toy) between uses or switch condoms. It’s also a good idea to remind your partner to keep track of hands and toys in this regard — maybe they can designate one hand for touching your vagina and clit and another for anal play.
13. Know When You Really Want It
"There is nothing in the rule book that says you must include penetration in your anal sex practice,” O’Reilly told Bustle. If you decide that anal sex is not for you — or that you prefer anal play instead — that’s OK.
The most important thing about anal sex — and actually the most important thing about all sexual acts — is to make sure you’re actually excited about experiencing it. “Explore [the butt] like another erogenous zone and tune into what it likes,” Matatas says. Don’t just do it because your partner wants to, or because you think you should. The sexiest thing you can give a partner is your enthusiastic consent. If you’re not feeling that, then take a moment and consider whether checking out this new thing is the right thing to do at this moment.
Additional reporting by Griffin Wynne.
Ahrné, Nobaek, Jeppsson, Adlerberth, Wold, & Molin. (1998). The normal lactobacillus flora of healthy human rectal and oral mucosa. Journal of Applied Microbiology, 85(1), 88–94. https://doi.org/10.1046/j.1365-2672.1998.00480.x
Jenness, S. M., Begier, E. M., Neaigus, A., Murrill, C. S., Wendel, T., & Hagan, H. (2011). Unprotected anal intercourse and sexually transmitted diseases in high-risk heterosexual women. American Journal of Public Health, 101(4), 745–750. https://doi.org/10.2105/ajph.2009.181883
Jillian Janson, sex educator and sex worker
Dr. Laura Deitsch, sexologist
Irene Fehr, MA, CPCC, sex and intimacy coach
Alicia Sinclair, founder and CEO of b-Vibe
Dr. Jessica O’Reilly, PhD., host of the SexWithDrJess Podcast
Luna Matatas, sex and pleasure educator
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