It may be 2021, but anal sex unfortunately still holds somewhat of a stigma. Even though it’s a pleasurable, fun and increasingly common way to engage in intercourse, we don’t talk about it as freely as we do other types of sex — and because of that, there’s also less education around the best ways to enjoy it.
“Despite the climax-centered design of the bum, anal sex continues to retain its taboo status — at least in theory,” Dr. Jessica O’Reilly, PhD., host of the Sex With Dr. Jess podcast, tells Bustle. “In reality, anal sex is quite common, and orgasm rates are actually higher for [people with vulvas] who include anal play in their erotic repertoire.”
Although anal sex feels different for everyone, like other sexual experiences, it can become more enjoyable with practice, and with open communication between partners. Here are 10 tips to make anal sex feel the best for you.
1. Communicate Your Concerns
A common anal sex anxiety is whether or not it’s going to hurt. And because this is can be a real concern for those on the receiving end, those worries need to be communicated.
“Anal sex should not be painful,” O’Reilly says. “So proceeding gradually in terms of speed, depth, and the size of the inserted object is of paramount importance.” Start small, like with a pinky finger, and focus on your breathing.
Talk about any concerns with your partner — that’s the best way for both of you to figure out what will make you both the most comfortable, which will get you closer to having fun and finding out what will make anal feel good.
2. Understand What’s Going On Down There
Because we still don’t discuss anal that openly, many of us have a lot to learn about the anus as an erogenous zone. For starters, your butt has a lot of nerves! Being aware of just how sensitive this spot is the first step to making anal sex easier and more enjoyable.
A bit of anatomy: The area inside your butt is called the anal canal. It’s a few inches long and rich in highly responsive nerve endings, explains O’Reilly: “Comprised of soft tissue folds, this area has a good capacity for expansion and is sensitive to touch, pressure, and temperature.”
The butt also has two sphincter muscles, “ring-like oval structures that help to hold the canal in shape,” O’Reilly explains. She suggests sliding a lubed finger inside during a shower to really see what it feels like in there.
“You’ll feel the external sphincter, which you can contract and release at will — the way you might flex and relax your biceps — less than an inch beyond the opening,” O’Reilly says. “The internal sphincter is just a little deeper, but because this smooth muscle ring is controlled by the autonomic nervous system — which manages automatic bodily functions like heartbeat and perspiration — it remains in a state of contraction.”
Although you can’t exercise complete control over this internal sphincter, as O’Reilly explains, “just as you can slow your heart rate through breathing and mindfulness, so too can you help relax this sensitive muscle through relaxation and deep breaths.”
3. Squeeze Your Sphincter Muscles To Loosen Up
Relaxing isn’t always easy to put into practice, especially if you’re already quite anxious. According to Sarah Melancon, sociologist and clinical sexologist at Sex Toy Collective, one hack for releasing some of the tension and stress (both physical and mental) around having anal sex is actually by “engaging the tension that’s there by squeezing that [sphincter] muscle on purpose. It’s counter-intuitive but it helps you relax,” she says.
During foreplay leading up to anal play or penetration, Melancon suggests squeezing your anus for about five to 10 seconds and then relaxing it; repeat this a few times. You can also hold a finger or toy in place and squeeze for a few seconds, then release. Repeat as many times as it’s comfortable, and you should feel yourself get looser, which will make anal easier. Think of it like warming up, Melancon says.
Anal curious? Try solo experimenting to find out with what you like and don’t like. That’s where masturbation comes in handy.
“As a general rule, the best way to venture into unchartered sexual territory is to experiment on your own before bringing a partner into the equation,” O’Reilly says. “This is because solo sex helps to detract from performance pressure, and when we’re alone we often allow our natural bodily responses to flow more freely.”
She recommends playing with your butt, teasing yourself, and using lube as you explore different sensations.
5. Realize Anal Penetration Doesn’t Have To Be On The Menu
Anal sex doesn’t have to mean penetration. Instead, anal play can be “a good exercise to build trust and become familiar with new sensations," says O’Reilly.
Anal play encompasses licking, sucking, kissing, giving massages, and basically seeing what makes anal feel good. Taking penetration off the table subtracts pressure, allowing you to focus on pleasure, O’Reilly explains.
And let’s be honest — if there was a rule book that said sex needed to include penetration, well, how boring that would be? There’s so much more to explore.
6. Focus On Your Desire
Newbies, understandably, can sometimes get too technical in their approach to anal sex — over-focusing on the how-to, following each step, and doing it right. But approaching anal intercourse like reading an instructional manual will only kill the mood.
“What’s often left out of the discussion is the sense of desire,” according to Melancon. “For the receiver in particular, if you get too focused on the mechanics of it, you’re going to step out of what makes your body feel aroused.”
Instead, Melancon suggests tapping back into that desire by asking yourself what you want from anal: Why are you excited to do it? What feels good for you? What sensations are you interested in exploring? You can even inquire emotionally: What does anal sex mean to you? Is it about engaging in deeper intimacy with your partner? Bringing it back to your desire and drive for connection will help you stay turned on and in the moment.
7. Don’t Focus Too Much On The Butt
Similar to when you’re giving oral sex to a person with a vulva, and you don’t need to be completely focused on the clitoris to make your partner feel good, you also don’t have to focus exclusively on the butt for your partner to enjoy anal play.
“We all have a tendency to get fixated on a body part or sex act when we’re excited, nervous, or trying something out for the first time,” says O’Reilly. “But there is no reason that you have to focus exclusively on the bum during anal play.”
Whether you’re using your tongue or fingers or a toy to stimulate your partner, you probably have a hand or two free you can use: “Double their pleasure and rub their clitoris or stroke their penis to produce arousal patterns with which your brain and body are already familiar,” O'Reilly says.
8. Introduce Toys To Your Anal Play
Don’t sleep on anal sex toys! O’Reilly recommends an anal trainer kit, which includes toys and plugs of varying sizes.
“Start with the smallest one, holding it completely still at first and notice the way your body responds as you allow your muscles to relax around its girth,” she says.
From there, slowly work your way up to different lengths and girths. Let it take days, weeks, or even months — you’re not in a rush. As O’Reilly puts it, “incremental experimentation can lead to mind-blowing results.”
9. Wait Until You’re Highly Aroused
Really want to have your mind blown during anal sex? Hold off as long as you possibly can.
“Shelve penetration until you’re highly aroused,” O’Reilly says. “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.”
O'Reilly suggests getting yourself all riled up with other body parts — and also don’t forget the other things you like to do in bed.
“Once you’ve incorporated butt play into the mix, don’t abandon your tried-and-true routines entirely,” O’Reilly says. “Instead, start by making backdoor pleasure an addendum to your regular repertoire, as opposed to an alternative.”
10. Try A Position Other Than Doggy Style
It sometimes feels like anal sex is synonymous with doggy style, but it doesn’t have to be. As much as the doggy style position feels great vaginally, it’s not the only way to have anal sex.
If you have anal in the missionary position, you can communicate better with your partner as to what depth of penetration works for you. If you don’t want that eye contact, the spooning position is also great for anal sex. In spooning during anal, you get to decide just how deep and how fast you want to be penetrated. If you’re being pegged or otherwise using a toy, talk to your partner about which position feels best for you.
Dr. Jessica O’Reilly, sexologist and author
Sarah Melancon, sociologist and clinical sexologist at Sex Toy Collective
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