When it comes to having sex, whether solo or partnered, there are many different ways to get down. No matter what your sexual orientation is or how you identify, for many people, one of the most talked-about types of sex is anal sex.
But this type of sex has a stigma attached to it (more on that later), so we turned to sexual health and consent educator Samantha Bitty to help explain everything you need to know about anal play and to reinforce the idea that anal is about pleasure – it isn’t a sexual activity that should be shameful, nor is it one that is tied to one specific orientation or group.
Whether you’re looking to change things up in the bedroom or preparing for your first foray into anal play, we’ve got you covered. Read on for everything you need to know about anal play — from the safest ways to do it, how you can help to destigmatize it, and the types of toys to keep in mind.
Related: 21 sex myths everyone thinks are true.
First things first: What is anal play?
When you think of anal, your mind might immediately go to anal penetration. However, it’s more than that. Bitty says that it’s not just your, erm, backdoor hole that’s involved. “My perception includes the whole ass, not just the anus,” she says. So any act that is happening to your bottom is considered anal play, whether that be internal or external stimulation.
It’s also not exclusively about penetration, whether that be from a body part or a sex toy, such as a butt plug. “There’s a wide range of what feels good,” Bitty explains. “Not everybody is the same,” she adds, pointing out that different types of external stimulation can be enjoyable, depending on what you like.
What are some stigmas around anal play?
The myth that anal is only for gay men
There’s the false idea and stigma that anal is something strictly for sex between men, which is rooted in homophobia, Bitty says. Anal is something that can be enjoyed by anyone, whether that’s heterosexual couples, nonbinary people, lesbians or anyone else – it’s for everyone.
“We’ve had laws against anal sex, right?” Bitty says, referring to section 159 of Canada’s criminal code, which states that anal intercourse is illegal except when conducted in private between two consenting people over the age of 18 or between a married husband and wife (the federal government introduced legislation to repeal section 159 in 2016).
There are numerous countries around the world where sodomy is punishable by law, which is homophobic and contributes to the idea that anal is somehow immoral or wrong, says Bitty.
The shame of having anal sex
Bitty says there’s the idea of anal sex being a “depraved act.” She notes that there’s a misconception that — for whoever is on the receiving end, regardless of what gender you are — it’s inherently degrading. It doesn’t mean someone is submissive if it’s something they enjoy, and there’s nothing wrong with being a top or a bottom.
Because of how the anus functions, Bitty points out there are also misconceptions around anal being sanitary. “There is an element of shame around natural things that our body does,” she says, adding that anal should be done safely to minimize the spread of bacteria. But she mentions that hygiene aside, there’s a false idea of it being an “inherently dirty or shameful act.”
So, how do you break the stigma around anal sex?
Because the stigmas around anal play have deep roots in homophobia and shame, it’s important to remember that these things have no place in sex positivity. No sexual activity that’s consensual should be treated as something that’s shameful.
Self-reflection and self-awareness are key to destigmatizing harmful attitudes towards anal. According to Bitty, self-reflection involves questioning where you got any negative ideas about anal sex from and considering the societal systems, such as patriarchy, that have informed those ideas. By thinking about how homophobia and heteronormativity inform negative ideas around anal, you can start to unlearn those attitudes.
Self-awareness involves setting boundaries for yourself because it’s important to hold space for your desires, while also having respect and care for your partner’s desires and boundaries. It’s about knowing what you enjoy and keeping an open mind, remembering that there’s nothing dirty or inherently bad about anal sex.
How to safely engage in anal play while still having fun
Because the anus is connected to the intestines, it’s important to be careful when inserting any objects into it, in the event that the item gets stuck or travels into another part of the body. “It is a powerful muscle, and there is the possibility it could suck something up there. So just [be] aware of it,” Bitty says. When choosing a toy to insert, such as a butt plug, Bitty says to start small by going for something short and narrow. “Nothing goes up there that doesn’t have a flare,” she adds.
It’s also necessary to have patience – and lots (seriously, LOTS) of lubricant. Many people enjoy oil-based lubes and silicone lubes or hybrids because they don’t dry up (water-based lubes and saliva will evaporate) however, oil-based lubes can damage latex condoms, so be aware of what type of lube you’re using before you head to the bedroom. Consider using internal condoms, which are made of nitrile and are hypoallergenic.
Communication with your partner(s) and also yourself is also essential while exploring anal pleasure. “Pay attention to what your body is doing and what it likes,” Bitty says. “You can go slowly.”
And although there will be pressure, slow down or stop if you’re feeling any pain. Check in with yourself and your partner to ensure it’s a fun and pleasurable experience for everyone involved. If you are feeling any discomfort that doesn’t subside, contact a healthcare provider.