There was a time when anal sex might’ve been considered taboo. And it still may feel like that to you. But according to the CDC, 38% of men and 33% of women surveyed from 2011 to 2015 had tried it — an increase from the 34% of men and 30% of women surveyed in 2002. If you've been thinking about trying it, good news: There are steps you can take to make it a pleasurable experience. And you may even find yourself wanting to come back for more.
To break down everything you should know about trying anal for the first time, we spoke with three sex experts. They are:
How do I prepare for anal?
Clean up using pH-balanced solutions before you get started.
To keep the process as mess-free as possible, you'll want to start by cleaning any toys or strap-ons you plan on using with a liquid hand or castile soap (aka soap made from vegetable oils like avocado or olive). These soaps are less likely to cause any irritation. Next, clean yourself. You can simply hop in the shower and clean with soap and water. Or, if you're nervous about there being any solid waste in your system, you could opt to wash things out with gentle cleansing products – like douches.
Dr. Goldstein also recommended avoiding enemas or using too much tap water, since they might make you more vulnerable to rectal tearing and/or STD transmission.
Consider lube your new best friend.
The rectum is extremely sensitive. And doesn’t self-lubricate like the vagina does. So it’s essential to put lots (and lots) of lube on the anus while having anal sex. As well as on the penis or strap-on. And you’ll need to reapply during penetration, said Matatas.
Dr. Goldstein recommended going with thicker, silicone-based lubes over ones that are water-based. Because water-based lubes can dry out faster. And Sher suggested going with lubes designed specifically for anal sex whenever possible. Note: Silicone lubes can eventually break down silicone toys, so make sure to use toys made of harder materials like plastic or ceramic.
While it’s never a guarantee, going with the right lube — and lots of it — might help prevent tearing in the rectum. Which, again, could increase the risk of viruses or bacteria causing infection.
Use a soft, small toy or lubed finger to make sure everything’s set.
Use a lubricated finger or a smaller, softer toy to confirm that everything is clean, said Sher. Read: You want to make sure poop won’t spread onto whatever you'll be inserting. But also try not to worry too much. Poop is stored pretty high up in the colon, said Dr. Goldstein. So the chances of it getting onto anything during your anal experience — assuming you cleaned up — are slim.
If you’re still worried about poop making a surprise appearance, communicate that concern to your partner, said Matatas. And just to be extra prepared, make sure to have towels on hand. And/or use condoms or nitrile gloves to keep things totally clean, said Matatas.
Does anal sex hurt?
It shouldn’t if you’re properly prepared and aroused. But it might feel different at first because it’s a new sensation. If you experience pain, it might be because:
Your sphincter muscles are tight… Relaxing is all in the foreplay, said Sher. Start slow and take your time before diving into the main event. “Allow yourself time for comfort, communication, relaxation,” he said. The more relaxed you are, the less clenched your muscles — like those in the pelvic floor — will be (more on relaxing below).
You’re dealing with medical issues like hemorrhoids… Aka swollen veins in the lower rectum or anus that might be causing discomfort. It’s best to avoid anal sex until the hemorrhoids have healed so that you’re not prolonging the condition, said Sher. But if you choose to do so anyway, a high-fiber diet and warm baths can help with discomfort.
You’re not using enough lube... Be sure to grab your lube and lather up. But stop immediately if there’s any intense pain.
If you or your partner notice blood, stop penetration to avoid risking any fissures, tears, or infections, said Sher.
Note: You can get STDs from anal sex just like you can from other forms of sex (think: herpes or hepatitis A). So it’s important to use barrier protection. And always make sure to get tested for STDs, said Sher. For most cases, the CDC recommends getting tested at least once a year.
OK, I’m ready. Got any tips?
We sure do. Here are some tried-and-true first-timer tips:
Communicate... Talk everything out with your partner before the clothes even come off, so that you’re both comfortable. Coming up with a safe word is also a good idea if this is your first time. So that if either of you say it at any point, you can stop. Communicate with your partner about any discomfort. “It’s vital that you’re in touch with one another’s sensitivities, and needs throughout,” Sher said. And afterwards, talk to your partner about what went well, what didn’t, and anything else you think needs to be addressed, said Matatas.
Relax... Take deep breaths into your stomach and ”consciously focus on relaxing throughout your body,” Sher recommended. Pro tip: Squeezing and releasing your muscles during penetration can also help you notice any tension, said Matatas.
Start slow and small... Start with fingers, then work your way up as you get more comfortable. The goal is to train/prep the muscles for anal and avoid tears, Dr. Goldstein said. Anal beads or toys of different sizes can also be a great middle step before moving on to a penis or strap-on. Anal requires a lot of trust as well as patience. So take it easy.
What should I avoid during anal?
If you’re using sex toys, be sure to use ones that have a flared base (and aren't made of silicone if you're using silicone lube). Because you don’t want them getting stuck inside of you, said Matatas.
And decide beforehand if you want to have anal or vaginal sex. Or clean up in between. Switching back and forth between the vagina and anus could lead to cross-contamination and potential vaginal infections, said Matatas. Because the anus and vagina each have their own specific bacterial communities.
Let the receiver take the lead to ensure that everyone is as comfortable as possible. Because the goal of sex isn’t always to receive pleasure, but to give it, too.
How can I care for my body after having anal sex?
Use a gentle soap to softly clean yourself… Avoid substances like talcum powder, alcohol, or iodine solutions that can harm the anus, said Sher.
Take a warm bath with Epsom salts… This can help relax the muscles, said Goldstein.
Use an ice pack… It can help with any post-anal pain or discomfort, said Sher.
Make sure to check your poop… If you notice excessive bleeding, pain, or discharge, then it’s time for a visit to your doctor. And put anal on pause until your symptoms are gone.
You might feel nervous when you trying anal sex for the first time. But following the proper prep, tips, and aftercare can help you have a fun experience. Because anal sex shouldn’t be painful. It should be an enjoyable way to spice things up and explore what you like in the bedroom. Bottoms up.
Subscribe to Skimm Well
Sign up here to receive our wellness newsletter filled with actionable advice, expert-vetted content, product recs, and more — delivered directly to your inbox.