I first wondered about how to prepare for anal sex when I was in college. At the time I was with my first real boyfriend, who was also my first real love—a man I thought I’d be with forever. I was 21, an age when everything is sort of do-or-die.
I had a couple of friends who had tried anal sex, but I ignorantly judged them for it. What can I say? I was 21, and 15-something years ago anal was still next level taboo. It was something I had no interest in, vowed I’d never do, and that was that. Like Sex and the City’s Charlotte York, I had zero plans on becoming “up-the-butt-girl.”
Then my boyfriend, my darling, that first love of mine whom I dramatically assumed I’d be with until I died, suggested anal sex and my mind started to wander into anal territory. Should this be a frontier that he and I should explore together? If I were ever going to do it with anyone, it would be him, of course. And so, because young love trumps everything, even a fear of pain and poop, I gave anal sex a try one night and it was…not fun. (Don't worry, subsequent experiences were way better and now I genuinely love anal sex.)
Today anal sex is more mainstream than ever—results of a 2016 National Health Statistics Reports by the CDC found that 35.9% of women and 42.3% of men had had anal sex at least once in their life—but the taboo around this particular sex act still very much persists. Because of that, many people aren’t getting the appropriate information they need to prepare for anal sex let alone have a good time doing it—which you absolutely should!
Because no one should be blindsided by anything sexual, here are 11 tips for how to prepare for anal sex
1. Educate yourself.
One of the first steps in preparing for anal sex, is educating yourself, letting go of any shame that might be surrounding anal for you, and basically, rolling your eyes at the taboo factor. Because breaking news: anal is nothing new.
The ancient Andean civilization of the Moche, who lived in Peru between 100 C.E and 700 C.E., left behind pottery and other artifacts that depicted mostly anal sex imagery. Even before that, anal sex was a normalized act in Ancient Greece and Rome. While it’s easy to make a joke here about Caligula, who was the third Roman Emperor, because of his hedonistic reputation when it came to sex and pleasure, the reality is that sex during that time, all forms of it, were socially acceptable—anal sex included. If it was normalized before, we can normalize it again by having it and not feeling ashamed about it.
2. Always use lube.
Before we can delve into any aspect of anal sex, anal play, butt plugs, or any of the like, it cannot be stressed enough just how important lube is in preparing for anal sex. Lube is a must; water-based lubes are best if you’re using silicone toys, as silicone-based lubes will eventually destroy those silicone toys.
“There are some things to remember when it comes to the anus,” says Laurène Dorléac, CEO and co-founder of Climax, an educational video series that teaches people, those with vulvas in particular, how to enjoy pleasure without shame. “Unlike the vagina, the anus is not self-lubricating. Without lubrication, friction may cause tiny tears, which can increase the risk of STI transmission. A lubricant can make anal play more pleasurable, and also protect these delicate tissues.”
Research has found that this transmission is most commonly the case with HIV and hepatitis. While both are manageable viruses that people live with, and HIV is no longer the certain death sentence it was just a couple of decades ago, avoiding STIs in general is obviously preferable and should be a goal every time you have sex.
3. Just breathe.
When it comes to anal sex, at least in conversations I’ve had with experts and friends alike, the two main concerns that come up are pain and poop—we’ll get to the poop part later. And, to be quite frank, anal sex can hurt like hell if it's not done right. Not only is lube paramount in any type of anal penetration, but so is relaxing.
“If you’re worried, angry or stressed out, the pelvic floor and the internal anal muscles tighten up,” says Alicia Sinclair, CEO and founder of COTR, the sex toy company that makes Le Wand, b-Vibe, and The Cowgirl brands. “It’s the same reflex that makes a scared cat or dog tuck their tail between their legs. And it’s the reason that someone who’s angry all the time is sometimes called a ‘tight ass.’ It’s literally true!”
In other words: RELAX. For some, relaxing means finding their center by breathing and keeping an open mind. For others, and something that has worked for me, anal sex after I’ve had an orgasm, when I’ve pretty much melted into a pool of butter, makes anal sex sublime. While for others, being fully aroused, thanks to extended foreplay, is what’s going to help the mind and body relax. Whatever it takes to get you into relaxation mode, go for it.
4. Start with a finger—or two.
Whether it’s vaginal penetration or anal penetration, it’s something you want to work your way up to, so you’re not taken by surprise. A great place to start is with your fingers, exploring the anal opening and understanding how the anal sphincter works. In doing so, you not only get a sense of what it feels like, but what feels good to you.
“My go-to suggestion for newbies is to play with yourself first and start with your fingers,” says Sinclair. “Playing with yourself allows you to be both the giver and the receiver, controlling the depth and intensity of your play safely.”
As Sinclair explains, this allows you to familiarize your body with these sensations, as well as give you an idea of what it will feel like when someone else is engaging in anal play with you too.
5. Try some anal toys.
We’re fortunate enough to live in a time where, not only is anal sex more accepted, but there are loads of sex toys for the anus from which to choose. From anal beads of varying sizes and shapes, to butt plugs, these toys can be used as a means to “train” your anal opening for what’s coming. It is that anal sphincter, after all, that’s sort of the wall you need to get through, which you can easily do so with lube and relaxation.
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“If you’ve enjoyed anal fingering, you might feel ready to try anal penetration with a butt plug, anal beads, etc.,” says Dorléac. “In CLIMAX Season 2, we give information on how to prepare your body and show you through explicit videos the best techniques to insert the toys, to play with them and to maximize pleasure.”
Combine those lessons with b-Vibe butt plugs, for example their Snug Plugs, that range in size from one to six, with Snug Plug 6 being a whopping 515 grams (just over one pound), and one of the heaviest butt plugs in the world, and you’re really moving toward full anal preparation. However, it should be noted that while Snug Plug 6 is a great butt plug, it’s something to work toward, if you want, in your preparation. One’s first foray into anal toys should be small like Snug Plug 1 and/or 2, or the Rimming Plug Petite, that introduces the sphincter to just the right amount of vibration to relax and pleasure it.
“A good trick would be to wear a butt plugs few hours before having anal sex to prepare the tissues to receive bigger objects or penis,” says Dorléac. “This technique helps the sphincters to relax which is essential for anal penetration.”
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As is the case with all sex acts, communication is paramount. Whether you’re communicating with yourself by being mindful of your own desires and boundaries, or communicating with your partner(s), you need to be honest about your experience. If you have initial concerns, share them. If, when you get started, there isn’t enough lube, say so. If the butt plug doesn’t feel good, say something. If all this warming up toward anal sex just doesn’t feel like it’s for you, tell your partner.
Anal sex isn’t for everyone, just like oral sex isn’t for everyone, and not everyone is into penetration of any kind. With the complexity of human sexuality, not everything is going to be a fit for everyone. And there’s absolutely, positively, nothing wrong with that.
7. Avoid the doggy style position your first time.
When it comes to anal sex positions, what feels good is going to vary for each person, so it’s all about experimenting, explains Dorléac, whether you’re solo or with a partner. “Experimenting with different positions can help you unearth some incredibly pleasurable experiences,” says Dorléac. “For solo play, try lying on your back with your knees brought up to your chest or get down on your hands and knees, while reaching one arm around behind you.”
With a partner, Sinclair suggests Rider on Top (aka Cowgirl position). “It’s a great way to put the receiver in control of the depth and intensity if they are playing with a partner who has a penis or is wearing a strap-on,” says Sinclair. “Laying on your back, with a pillow under the bum to slightly elevate it, is a great position for playing with a toy, fingers or so that you are face-to-face. The elevation of the butt also makes it easier to access.”
While Sinclair doesn’t recommend doggy style the first time one has anal sex, because it’s very easy for the giver “to go too deep, too fast,” there are ways to get around the too deep and too fast aspect. Ohnut, which limits the depth of penetration vaginally and anally, can be a great asset to have when have anal sex the very first time or the hundredth time. It also allows for other positions, especially where you don’t want too much depth.
8. Get over the poop thing—and I say this with love.
I’m the first to admit that getting over the “poop thing” isn’t exactly easy. It wasn’t until a partner said to me that if you’re going to have anal, you need to expect the occasional poop, that my mind was put more at ease. When he said, “Even if there’s a ton of sh*t, what’s the big deal?” While that put my mind even further at ease, it still didn’t quell the fear entirely. But he was right: if you’re getting into anal play, there can sometimes be a bit of fecal matter involved and it’s completely more than OK to be a little “OMG” about it.
“It’s really normal to be concerned about hygiene during butt play,” says Sinclair. “It’s important to consider how well you know your digestive system. For example, if you poop every day at the same time, then you’ll know when your rectum will be full or empty, and can plan around this. If you do not poo on a regular schedule, or you just really prefer an extra clean bum just in case, then an enema is for you.”
Not everyone is fortunate enough to have a bowel movement every day. Some people are on medications that cause constipation (like antidepressants), while others just don’t have a diet that makes for regular bowel movements. But because it’s your body, you know when the lower portion of the large intestine, toward the rectum, needs to be emptied. If you know you’re going to be engaging in anal play, Sinclair suggests using an enema about an hour before you start playing.
“It’s an easy way to ensure that your experience is poo-free and often gives folks peace of mind to enjoy their experience,” says Sinclair. “Of course, it’s important to remember that this is a human body. Accidents happen, our digestive system can be off one day, or we go a little rougher than planned and some poo might still appear. Have a back-up plan for these moments. Lay down a dark towel before you begin and have baby wipes on hand nearby for easy clean up.”
9. Anal sex can cause urinary tract infections.
One of the most important things to know about anal sex is that going from anal penetration directly to vaginal penetration, without cleaning up in between, can cause a handful of issues including bacterial and urinary tract infections. If you use a condom during anal sex, which is a good idea if you want easy clean up, then remove it for vaginal penetration or put on a new condom so there’s less concern about infections.
A study about the effect unprotected anal sex had in causing UTIs, even when vaginal intercourse didn’t follow anal intercourse, did find a correlation between the two. So much so that the study concluded that those with “unexplained urological symptoms” be questioned about their anal sex habits. UTIs are usually caused by E. coli, a bacterium found in the gastrointestinal tract.
10. Don’t try to push through any pain.
No matter what type of sexual acts you’re engaging in or what type of penetration you’re practicing, if it hurts, is uncomfortable, or you want to stop, speak up and put an end to it—unless, of course, you’re engaging in consensual BDSM-related pain, but that’s a whole other article unto itself.
“If at any point you feel discomfort, don’t try to push through the pain,” says Dorléac. “It’s probably a signal that the angle, speed, or depth isn’t right for your body at that moment. You may need to add more lube, downgrade to a smaller toy, or just stop anal play for now.”
Giving yourself a break and picking up again later isn’t the end of the world. It’s supposed to be enjoyable and pushing through the pain will do more damage than good.
11. Practice aftercare.
If you’ve gone through with it and had anal sex for the very first time, then it’s time for aftercare. Although aftercare is often associated with the BDSM community, it has a place in every post-coital session—especially if what was experienced was something new. Aftercare after anal sex is a good way to decompress, talk about what you liked and didn’t like, and things you’d like to try in the future. As Dorléac explains, everyone, regardless of gender or sexual orientation, can enjoy anal play (we all have a butt, after all). Because of this, everyone can be taken to such pleasurable heights that when we crash, aftercare isn’t just the cherry on top of an amazing experience, but an ideal bookend to what you just explored with your partner.
Originally Appeared on Glamour