Anal sex has likely been around since the dawn of time and has even been historically documented dating back as far as four millennia to the Babylonians, Greeks and Romans. Talk about a classic! Even today, though it is not always a comfortable subject for people to talk about, anal sex is more common than you might expect.
A national study on sexual behavior among people aged 18-44 from the CDC in 2016 found that as many as 42.3% of men and 35.9% of women reported having had anal sex in their lives. That’s more than one in every three people!
While anal sex can be a great addition to many people’s sex lives, as with anything it’s important to know the risks involved and how to manage your sexual health (and enjoy yourself!). For the sake of this conversation, we will focus on the various forms of anal sex, including external stimulation through oral sex as well as penetrative intercourse.
With that, here’s everything you wanted to know about anal sex!
Why Anal Sex Can Be Enjoyable
While every body is different, generally speaking, the opening of the anus (also known as the anal sphincter) is a highly sensitive area of the body with lots of nerve endings, and is considered an erogenous zone by most experts.
For those with vaginas, the proximity of the anus to the vaginal wall and pelvic floor can help create a stimulating and vibrating sensation based on the pressure of anal penetration. Think of it like your neighbor playing music and the vibrations passing through the wall and into your home. Again, every body is different, and this is not the case for everyone.
Because most people with penises do not have a vaginal wall, the pleasure of anal sex can come from the prostate, a small gland located a few inches inside the anal canal that produces seminal fluid (the main liquid component that is combined with sperm to produce semen). When stimulated or massaged, this can lead to orgasm for some.
Additionally, the lining of the rectum is incredibly sensitive as well and can be stimulated with fingers, a penis and/or sex toys. Experts have described the sensation as “intense” or “exquisitely pleasurable.” Quite the strong endorsement!
Potential Risks of Anal Sex
Pain, Discomfort and Irritation
One of the first things that many mention about anal sex especially through penetration is pain or discomfort, and much of this has to do with all the reasons that anal sex can be enjoyable. The nerve endings and sensitive tissue of the opening of the anus and internal rectal lining can be easily irritated and even suffer microscopic tears, exacerbating any hemorrhoids and potentially causing a higher risk of bleeding.
Similar to the mouth or the vagina, the anus also has its own bacteria. Even if both partners are not infected with any sexually transmitted infections, bacteria can pass between them. Aside from the ick factor, the consequences can actually be pretty serious. For example, anal sex can contribute to the spread of bacteria like hepatitis A and E. coli. Yikes!
Transmission of Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs)
Beyond the potentially unpleasant side effects mentioned above, arguably the larger and more concerning risk of anal sex is the transmission of STIs. It may be common knowledge in some circles that anal sex does not pose a risk for pregnancy on its own, and may even function as an alternative form of intercourse to prevent pregnancy. While this is scientifically sound reasoning, it is not the whole story.
Unfortunately, despite the potential for pleasure, anal sex is has the highest risk of STI transmission. Anal sex, either through oral sex or anal penetration, can transmit STIs between both partners, including HIV, gonorrhea, chlamydia, and herpes. This is because during unprotected anal sex, there is not only direct skin contact but also the potential for the exchange of bodily fluids like blood and semen. This rings particularly true for the receptive partner during penetrative anal sex — the receptive partner (“the bottom”) is 13 times more likely to become infected with the HIV virus than the inserting partner (“the top”).
Ways to Avoid Risks with Anal Sex
We understand if you’re a little spooked, but now that we’ve covered the risks involved with anal sex, let’s talk about what you and your partner(s) can do to mitigate those risks with some simple and straightforward steps.
Lay Back, Relax and Lube Up
Because of the number of muscles within the anal sphincter and rectum, much of the pain and discomfort that can be caused by anal sex is the body’s natural contraction of these muscle groups due to stress or nervousness. As we always say at ONE® Condoms, the mind is almost always the most important muscle for having a pleasurable sexual experience. Communicate with your partner about any discomfort you’re feeling and feel empowered to take breaks, change positions and take your time. What’s the rush!? Every body is unique and once you find the right technique that works for you, you’ll be ready to enjoy yourself!
Secondly, lube is your best friend! Because the anus and rectum are not self lubricating like the vagina, the more lube, the better. This includes flavored lube for any oral sex, as well as water-based or silicone-based lubricant for any penetration. Important note: while oil-based products like petroleum jelly, creams and lotions may seem like a good idea, they are not recommended, as they can actually cause damage (and cause breakage) to any latex condoms or dental dams being used. Check out our selection of quality lubes here and read up on how to find the one that works for you here!
Post-Coital Cleaning Up
The good news about bacteria is that we encounter it every day, and the medical advice for remaining well is the same: soap and water! Despite the smorgasbord of unique bacteria associated with anal sex of any form, a simple rinse with soap and water should do the trick. If you’ve had oral sex, consider doing a quick splash with an antibacterial mouthwash that you can purchase at the drug store or pharmacy. Fun fact: brushing your teeth can create microabrasions in your gums and increase your risk for the passing of bacteria, so mouthwash is the way to go.
External Condoms, Internal Condoms and Dental Dams, Oh My!
Yes, that’s right, the best way to prevent the transmission of STIs is through the use of barrier methods like dental dams (also known as oral dams) for oral sex and/or external and internal condoms for penetrative anal intercourse. Don’t have a dental dam? Not a problem, you can craft your own using a standard external (or “male condom”) — read more about creating your own dental dam here.
For any penetration with fingers, sex toys or a penis, the simple safer sex solution is to put on a condom (an external condom). Even if you are using a condom that is lightly lubricated out of the wrapper, make sure to use lots of water-based or silicone-based to ensure that you don’t experience a condom slip or tear. Need to stock up on condoms? Browse over to our site to shop condoms now!
And lastly, an internal condom (also known as a “female condom”) can be a great option for protection from STIs as well. Simply apply lubricant, pinch the firm ring at the tip, hold the condom by its opening and slowly insert (make sure the opening of the condom remains outside of your anus). The more you know!