Anal Sex, Anal Intercourse
Anal Play:
Thoughts, ideas, suggestions, resources
Robert W. Birch, Ph.D., Sexologist

These are typical questions:
Is it normal for anal intercourse to hurt?
Is there any way to have anal sex without having pain?


It is interesting that the question is about pain, not pleasure. When thinking of anal penetration, most people are likely to associate backdoor activities with discomfort. Even the thought of brief digital penetration for a rectal prostate exam is enough to cause some men to avoid a procedure that every male over forty should have yearly. Obviously it is not unusual for anal penetration to be uncomfortable, or at least to stir a bit of anxiety. Rather than trying to answer if it is normal for anal sex to hurt, I'll just say that it is not uncommon. The degree of discomfort depends on a number of variables, including (but not limited to) the degree of physical relaxation, the intensity of psychological anxiety, the size of the entering object relative to the size of the anal opening, and the amount of information one has about backdoor activities.

If every time a man asked a women, "Can I push my erection up your rectum," the woman would respond, "Only if I can first stick a dildo the size of your erection up yours," the number of couples having anal intercourse would probably be reduced dramatically. As we will see, however, there is a lot more to anal play than anal intercourse.

I will from time to time make statements that might seem to imply that I am writing only for heterosexual couples, with the female partner's anus being in line for the penetration. I hope, however, that the suggestions I give and the resources I offer will apply to:

Let's face it, for most people the anus is not thought of as their most photogenic feature, or their mate's most delicious "sweet spot." The association most folks have with the rectum is the image of a portal for dumping some pretty nasty stuff. Anatomically, the sphincter muscles that surround the anus are better adapted to keeping things from falling out, than for relaxing to allow things to enter in. However, there are plenty of heterosexual and homosexual couples who thoroughly enjoy anal play and anal intercourse. Among sex-positive thinkers who believe in a freedom of choice about sexual expression, anal play is viewed as a normal variation within the wide range of possible adult sexual activities.

Unless you are into "kinky" sex (not a derogatory description), pain is probably not your cup of tea. For most people, sex is about pleasure. In the pursuit of pleasure, a lot of men and women have discovered that the outer pucker of the anus is a highly sensitive erogenous zone, and a superficial caress with fingers or tongue (analingus) is a routine part of their sex play. The licking of the anal sphincter has been called an ass blow, cleaning up the kitchen, a trip to the moon, and going around the world.

When playing rim around the rosy, the gourmet analist might do so at length, the sampler might do so only briefly, and the cautious would do so through latex or Saran Wrap. The squeamish will no doubt avoid the area all together!

There are also a lot of people (men and women) who might or might not be comfortable with analingus, but are nonetheless curious about anal penetration with penis or toy, and they want to try it. So, let's be realistic about going up the dirt track. It is possible and it can be pleasurable! Most of us did learn fairly early to avoid messing our pants . . . we learned to keep our poopie in, but when necessary and appropriate, to relax the sphincter some and push. It is generally possible to evacuate waste (those words are as delicate as I can get) without any major discomfort, and we at times pass stools with a larger diameter than a finger and many toys. The sphincter muscles do stretch and they can be helped to better do so with relaxation.

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First a word about latex. If you want a latex barrier over the anal sphincter during oral stimulation, cover it generously with saliva, artificial water-base lubricant (like Astroglide), semen, or vaginal lubrication. Remember, you must only go in one direction -- from vagina to anus, never from the anus to vagina! More on this below.

Beginning in 2000, warnings have been issued by the CDC and the World Health Organization advising that nonoxynol-9 should not be used during anal intercourse. Studies have shown that nonoxynol-9, a spermicide contained in some condoms and lubricants, offers no protection against sexually transmitted diseases and destroys the protective lining of the rectum, which may enhance HIV transmission. HIV is the virus that is responsible for AIDS!

You could buy a dental dam, but they are relatively thick. I would suggest unrolling a non-lubricated latex condom and cutting it lengthwise. It is amazing how far this can then be stretched, and how much feeling can be exchange between giver and receiver. As mentioned, a safe lubricant between the latex and anus adds to the pleasure. Warm your lubrication if it is artificial.

Remember, in  all anal activities, cleanliness is essential! Wash before and after, and thoroughly wash your toys with soap and hot water or one of the commercial sex toy cleaners.

In thinking about relaxing the anal sphincter muscles, take note of the fact that if a woman is psychologically uptight about vaginal penetration, her anxiety can translate into involuntary tightening of the muscles surround the opening of her vagina. This often leads to a psychosomatic condition known as Vaginismus, and this reflexive, unconscious squeezing of the vaginal muscles can make penetration painful or, in extreme cases, totally impossible. The muscles surrounding a woman's vaginal entrance are the same as those that surround the opening of her rectum. Thus, one of my first recommendations is to work on relaxing the mind and the muscles making up the pelvic floor.

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Learning to relax mind and body is essential to enjoying anal play. Relaxing the mind begins with a curiosity and a willingness to explore this taboo erotic behavior. Talk about it and decide together what you would like to try. Remember, mutual understanding and consent is an absolute requirement.

I have often recommended the Kegel exercise as a way for a man or women to locate, and then gain control over this band of muscles that make up the sling between our legs, and quite literally keep our guts from falling out.

Relaxation is a good place to start, but there still might be a little pain upon entry, depending on the size of a partner or the size of the toy. There are several good anal lubricants on the market that contain just enough benzocaine to create some superficial numbness, easing the penetration and reducing the initial discomfort. These products accomplish two things, for in addition to a bit of desensitization, the products provide essential lubrication for pleasurable anal play. Vaginas self-lubricate, rectums don't.
A good safe water-base lubricant is necessary, regardless of how deep the penetration or what object is inserted. Petroleum-based lubricants, like Vaseline, are not recommend, as these products will cause deterioration to latex and rubber products, will not wash off easily, and may harbor bacteria.

Astroglide is a good sexual lubricant for superficial caress or for the insertion of small fingers or toys. An anal lubricant will probably be preferred for anal intercourse or for larger toys.

Remember, never insert anything that does not a large end that will not accidentally slip into rectum. Once something passes through the anal sphincter, it's gone from sight and impossible to retrieve without medical assistance. Don't become one of the stories that get passed around about people coming into the emergency room with all types of objects lost up their ass!

Remember, anything that has been in, on, or around an anus should never ever be inserted into a vagina! Bacterial transported into the vagina from the rectum can cause havoc. Many couples will use a latex glove during anal play, removing the glove before moving to the vagina. Some people cover their dildos and toys with a latex condom, removing the condom before moving from back to front.

After anal play, remember what most women learn as young girls. When cleaning up, always wipe toward the anus, front to back, and never from the anus forward!

Be careful with sharp fingernails. A scrap or scratch in a dark, moist breeding ground for bacteria might just be asking for trouble.

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As mentioned, the outer sphincter can be caressed superficially with fingers (a little lubrication adds to the sensation), or caressed with the tip of the tongue (using a latex or Saran Wrap barrier if desired). Fingers can also penetrate, and when a finger is in a woman's rectum, the thumb can be in her vagina. Finger play on a man often involves prostate massage. If the man is on his back, the finger is in deep and curled upward.

Some people like what I will call "passive containment," meaning the insertion of an object that once inside remains in place. A butt plug is the prime example of what might be used.  By its design, one can see that after insertion, the anal sphincter muscles will close around the narrower shaft behind the larger diameter of the plug. The wide end on the shaft prevents it from slipping in. Butt plugs come in a variety of sizes and are made of a variety of materials, i.e., rubber, plastic, or metal. Must people who like a large butt plug will probably want to use a lubricant containing the numbing agent benzocaine.

Benwa Balls are a series of cylinders (usually plastic) connected by a string, typically having a ring tied to the end to facilitate pulling the balls out. Larger Benwa Balls are used for vaginal insertion, smaller ones for anal. The usual practice with a string of Benwa Balls is to insert each one slowly, one ball at a time until entire series is in place. Then as the person (with the balls inside) begins to orgasm, the string of balls is pulled put fairly quickly. Bump, bump, bump, bump . . . they expand and then pop though the very muscles that contract during a climax. If the balls are not too large, they can be use with a lubricant like Astroglide.

If you use Benwa Balls, remember the need for cleanliness. A lot of these toys have seams where the two halves of a ball have been glued together, have holes where the string passes through, and have a string that is probably absorbent. Benwa Balls should be carefully cleaned, and unless there are instructions stating otherwise, I urge users to boil their balls!

Another alternative is to use a more user friendly probe, with or without bumps and with or without vibrations. Being thinner and by design, these toys are usually meant to be slid in and out. A lubricant like Astroglide is recommended, unless the recipient is new to anal pleasures and still a bit uptight about backdoor entry. Then a desensitizing lubricant is recommend.

Finally . . . no, not gerbils . . . there is anal intercourse. Note that many people use the word sex when they mean intercourse. Anal sex refers to any erotic or sexual activity involving the anus. Anal intercourse is penetration by a penis or penis substitute. Most novices at anal intercourse insist on a numbing lubricant, and this gives another reason, beyond health considerations, why the one penetrating should wear a condom.

Remember, if you are having sex with a stranger or someone you mistrust, male or female, anal or vaginal, practice safe sex! Sex is great, but not worth dying for!


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