Does Anal Sex Hurt and Is It Safe?

Once a taboo, anal sex is now seen as an enjoyable addition to many sexual relationships. According to the National Survey of Attitudes and Lifestyles, the amount of people practising anal sex went up from 12 per cent in 1990 to 17 per cent between 2010 and 2012 for men, and from 11 per cent in 1990 to 15 per cent during that time for women.

So now your partner wants to give it a try. Perhaps they've tried it before and enjoyed it, or maybe it's long been a fantasy of theirs (and maybe yours too). If so, you wouldn't be alone – a study found that anal sex is a common sexual fantasy for 32 per cent of women and 64 per cent of men. On the other hand, some people have a very clear idea that anal sex isn't for them, and that’s totally fine too as nobody should ever do anything that feels in any way coercive or uncomfortable. 

There seems to be a worrying trend within our society where some teenage boys are persuading girls into having anal sex without making consent a primary concern.  A study by researchers at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine found that some young people normalised “coercive, painful and unsafe anal sex”. The researchers said the 113 teenagers who they interviewed as part of the study rarely spoke of anal sex “in terms of mutual exploration of sexual pleasure” and that boys “wanted to copy what they saw in pornography.” 

It’s worrying to hear this climate of coercion seems to exist amongst teenagers today, but what about consenting adults? Well, if your partner wants to try anal sex and you don't feel comfortable then be sure to say so. However if you're curious to give it a go then my advice is to start gently.

For most people the trick is getting to full penetration over a period of several sessions. To begin, gently inserting a finger can help to get you used to the sensation of having something inside your anus. It's important to stay with this until you feel sufficiently confident to try something a bit bigger. Many people use sex toys, as well as fingers or tongues, to gently explore the anus before progressing to full penetration by a penis. Some couples simply stick to using sex toys and find this just as pleasurable. Lots of kissing and caressing is likely to help too because it will help to ease any anxiety and boost arousal. 

If you haven't tried anal sex before, it's natural to be concerned about pain. Any painful sensation is usually a warning sign that something is wrong and isn't working, but when done with care it is no more messy or difficult than other sexual practices. That's why being really aroused before any penetration is attempted is so important, along with feeling confident that your partner will stop if you ask them to. This is because the anal sphincter is likely to clamp shut at the first sign of pain or anxiety.

The anal entrance is very sensitive and so starting with gentle touch or stroking there and all over the buttocks can really help set the scene before attempting penetration. Once the penis is inside the anus, any thrusting should start only after the penis has ‘rested’ there for a while. This helps you get used to feeling ‘filled up’ and also allows for checking out with a partner when to start and stop moving.  

Getting into the right position can help too. Spooning or lying side by side can be helpful because it allows for continued stimulation of the clitoris, nipples or penis, which can enhance pleasure and help maintain arousal. The level of penetration isn’t as deep as with some other positions, so this may be a comforting thought if you are an anal novice. For some men, face to face entry where the penetrator has their partner’s legs raised over their shoulders can help with continued stimulation of the penis.  

Anal sex is safer and often more pleasurable and fun when you take care to follow some basic guidelines. The anus doesn’t lubricate in the same way as a vagina so using plenty of lube is a must. Spread it all over the penis around the anus and as far up inside as you can. This will make penetration and stimulation much easier, and also help to avoid any damage to the anus which can be prone to cuts and tears if a partner gets careless. A water based lubricant which you can buy from pharmacies is best because oil based lubricants can cause latex condoms to break. 

I'd also always recommend using one to protect against STIs and to help avoid getting harmful bacteria where it can cause damage. Hygiene is important when it comes to anal, so wash thoroughly before any activity and wash the sex toys afterwards too. You may have seen people in porn put any sex toy, or their partner's penis, into the mouth or vagina after it has been in the anus, but this can spread harmful bacteria. Using latex gloves for penetration with fingers and dental damns for mouth to anus contact may not sound the sexiest thing in the world but they can certainly help to limit any potential health hazards. And if there are any existing anal problems, such as itching or soreness, piles or constipation, these must be dealt with before you give anal a try. Also, definitely see a doctor if there’s any bleeding or discharge from the anus after sex (or indeed at any other time). 

Lots of kissing and caressing will ease anxiety and boost arousal

 

Lots of couples find anal sex really enjoyable, but like most sex experimentation the key is to find out what works for you. Don't be disappointed if it takes a few attempts to get to a place where it feels like a natural addition to your sexual experience. Equally, if you do try anal and find it's not for you then don’t worry – there are always plenty of other things to experiment with.

Whatever happens, feeling safe and comfortable is likely to enhance the experience for both of you. A key part of that, as with all things sexual, is deciding together what’s on offer and how far you want to go.

Ammanda Major is a Relate Sex Therapist and senior consultant on Sex Therapy.  She has a regular agony aunt column on the Relate website ‘Ask Ammanda’, which deals with common relationship and sexual problems.