Let’s face it: safe anal sex isn’t something we always talk about openly, whether that’s with our partners or with our friends. Unlike some bedroom activities, anal sex calls for a little more preparation to get right and do safely. So is anal sex safe? What, if any, are the long-term risks? How can you guard against accidents? To help shed light on this historically taboo topic, we’ve put together a guide to having safe anal sex you can feel good about before, during, and after. Whether you prefer solo play or doing it with a partner, anal sex involves more than just anal penetration by a penis—fingers, tongues, toys, rimming, and other types of internal and external stimulation all count. Let’s get into it!
Is Anal Sex Safe?
Yes, anal sex is a safe and pleasurable sexual activity, provided that people take proper measures to prepare, minimize complications, and communicate openly. While it may be awkward and touchy at first, communication is an important part of having anal sex safely. Anal sex does require planning and preparation beforehand, though it ultimately isn’t so different from any other type of sex in that safety precautions should always be taken. From using ample lubrication to following best hygiene practices (like using condoms), there’s no reason to expect any long-term complications or issues. The rest of this article will look more closely at ways to prepare for bottoming and how to safely do anal, whether you’re new to it or just need a quick refresher.
Common Concerns and Side Effects
Hesitations around anal sex are perfectly normal, which is why being aware of potential side effects and knowing what to expect beforehand makes such a big difference. This helps create a more pleasurable atmosphere for both you and your partner(s), in addition to ensuring long-term health and safety. Many people worry about the risks of anal sex, but the good news is that it’s perfectly safe if done correctly and can be full of toe-curling sensations for people who are new to bottoming. Below, we address some common concerns and misconceptions around butt play and how to have safe anal sex.
Slight discomfort is normal the first time you have anal sex. However, discomfort is much different from pain. Pain is our body’s way of telling us something’s wrong, especially shooting and sudden pain. Even when using plenty of lube, taking your time, and engaging in lots of sensual foreplay, it’s a process to get your butt to adjust to penetration. Never force anything into your butt, as this can cause skin and muscle tearing, bleeding, and infection; if you feel pain, take a break, breathe, and adjust as necessary—even if that means stopping altogether. While pain should be avoided during anal sex, it is also your friend, giving you warning signs when you’ve gone too fast, too deep, or are in danger of potential harm. We’ll talk more about how to properly do anal training later on in this guide.
Infections happen when you have tears in the skin that bacteria gets into, or when engaging in anal to vaginal or oral sex. So, swap out condoms when changing holes, use different hands for anal versus vaginal play (or wash them in between), and clean up once you’re done. Note that the risk of infection is higher with anal sex because the skin is thin and more prone to tearing. Otherwise, the use of condoms and dental dams is extremely beneficial at preventing infections such as UTIs and STIs, while minimizing the risk of spreading HIV. If you do have unprotected anal sex, pee shortly after (if you’re the one doing the penetrating) to flush out any E. coli bacteria and other germs.
STIs and Safer Sex
Although there’s a risk of STIs with any sexual encounter, there is an increased risk of transmission when you’re having sex with more than one sexual partner at a time. It’s important to practice safer sex when you’re having sex with multiple people. Safer sex comes in many different forms:
- Getting tested for STIs right before sex, as well as three to five days after.
- Taking PrEP or TasP Using condoms, dental dams, and latex gloves.
- Getting vaccinated for HPV.
- Ask your doctor about prophylactics, depending on your level of risk.
Hemorrhoids are swollen or enlarged veins in or around the anus and lower rectum; they are fairly common and can be easily treated with OTC or at-home remedies. While there are a number of causes behind hemorrhoids, most doctors will tell you anal sex is highly unlikely to be the culprit. However, that’s not actually true. Hemorrhoids are your body’s response to an extreme amount of pressure focused in the anal area, whether that’s a strenuous bowel movement (likely caused by constipation), childbirth, and yes, anal sex. Whether or not hemorrhoids were caused by anal sex, it can definitely inflame and irritate existing hemorrhoids, so if you or your partner(s) are experiencing symptoms, stay away from butt play until they’ve healed. Symptoms of hemorrhoids include swelling, itching, irritation, pain, and bleeding in or around the anus. Keep in mind that bleeding and irritation can be from other things as well; so, seek immediate medical attention if you’re concerned or have persistent rectal bleeding.
One of the biggest causes of anxiety surrounding anal sex is the risk of an accident. You know, the poop accident—from a little slip to a full-on bowel movement. The likelihood of any type of poop-related accident when having anal sex will vary depending on the person, your diet, regularity of bowel movements, and the type of butt play engaged in. However, it’s highly unlikely to happen unless you actually feel the urge to go or you haven’t had a bowel movement recently. Accidents aren’t the most common, but they do happen. Cleansing before and after helps remove any undesired residues from the anus, while a regular routine in your diet (fiber supplements and a daily pre + probiotic are your ally) and exercise contribute to overall wellness and reduce the chances of a mess. Avoiding accidents is all about preparation and diet, as you get out what you put in.
Long-term effects of anal sex
Another common concern surrounding butt play is the long-term effects of anal sex—for example, the fear of permanent stretching of the anus, fecal incontinence, or catching STIs. While any sex act comes with its risks, fecal incontinence and permanent stretching have both been, for the most part, debunked as myths that are unlikely to occur, provided proper precautionary measures are taken before anal sex. The same goes for STIs—you can certainly get one, but the chances are much lower if you use condoms and other protective measures, such as cleaning your butt toys, avoiding cross-contamination between body parts and partners, and undergoing regular testing.
How to Have Safe Anal Sex
Anal sex is an increasingly common way to get it on and includes any type of sexual activity involving your butt—from penetration with the penis to using toys, fingering, or rimming (licking around the anus). No matter how you do it, safe anal sex is about more than just being cautious—it leads to greater comfort between partners, more pleasure, less stress, decreased risks of STIs, and more full-body orgasms. People of any sexual orientation or gender can enjoy anal sex. Below are some steps for how to safely do anal with partners or by yourself.
1. Prepare properly
Anal training and playing with toys are important aspects of enjoyable bottoming and minimizing the risks of anal sex. Before jumping into full-on penetration, the muscles inside your bum need to learn to relax on command. You can read our ultimate anal training guide for more detailed steps, though in a nutshell, the goal is in the name: to train the skin and muscles in your butt through a series of mental and physical exercises that strengthen and stretch the skin to be more accommodating. There are a few ways to prepare for bottoming. The first is hygienic—try to have a bowel movement three to five hours before penetration, and be sure your butt has been sufficiently washed using a little water or, as we recommend, an anal douche. The muscles in and around your anus aren’t naturally prepared to receive a large member or dildo in penetration. Anal training kits help solve this problem by providing butt plugs or dilators in small, medium, and large sizes that allow users to gradually adjust to the size of a penis or other toy. It’s important to give yourself adequate time to train—ideally 4-6 weeks. Don’t forget to keep condoms handy, clean your toys before and after use, lay out a few dark-colored towels where you’ll be getting frisky, and use lots of lube (more on that below). Taking steps to prepare helps relax both your body and mind for a more enjoyable experience. Mentality-wise, keep it fun! Breathe and relax to make insertion more comfortable. Communicate with your partner and discuss what you like beforehand, creating an atmosphere free of shame and judgment. Do your homework if you’re unsure about something. And most of all, listen to your body! If something seems off, stop and reassess.
2. Lube up
The anus isn’t self-lubricating, so lube up whenever you’re engaging in anal sex or penetrative play. There’s no such thing as too much lube, so don’t skimp, and don’t be afraid to keep reapplying it as the fun continues. Besides feeling amazing, using lube can help prevent anal discomfort, pain, bleeding, and tearing. Even for anal fingering and light massages around your sensitive area, lube will be your friend! There are four primary types of personal lubricant on the market today: silicone-based, water-based, oil-based, and hybrids. Silicone-based lubes have a thicker, slipperier texture that’s longer-lasting, making them the best choice for anal sex (compared to water-based lubes, which may dry up more quickly). Note that silicone-based lubes won’t work with silicone toys, and that oil-based lubes will also damage silicone toys as well as latex condoms, making them a better fit for that sensual back massage rather than anal sex. Choose a lube that will agree with your body chemistry and any toys used. And while everyone has a butt, not everyone’s experience will be the same. It's different for ladies, so lube up and start slow.
3. Go slow
Another thing—go slow. You can speed up as you go, but don’t rush into it. Going too fast causes the muscles to tense and contract, creating friction, pain, and potential micro-tearing in the anus. I often recommend starting with the receptive partner on top, which allows the person receiving to be in control of the penetration speed and movement. On the same note, start small when it comes to bottoming. One finger, then two, scaling the size of toys to gradually prepare for a penis or larger dildo. Preparation also includes rimming, foreplay, conversation, and the psychological, not just physical aspects of getting in the mood. This will be easier the more lubed and prepared you are, from the light neck kisses to massaging around the anus and pelvic floor muscles.
Communication is a vital part of any intimate encounter, even those who are fleeting and casual in the heat of a night out. This means communicating before, during, and after anal sex, and making sure everyone involved has given clear consent. And yes, we know, long and deep conversations won’t always happen before you climb in bed. Still, make sure you and your sex partner(s) are on the same page before having anal sex. Talk (or whisper) to each other. Be playful! Unless someone’s explicitly asked for it, surprise anal penetration is unwelcome penetration. Once the basics have been established, maintain awareness and talk as you go—discussing speed, positions, likes or dislikes, safe words, and comfort levels. Afterward, keep the line open for further reflection and discussion together, whether this was a one-time thing or one of many butt play adventures. If you or your partner need to stop for whatever reason, then stop! Communicating discomfort and pain is very important to avoiding longer-term damage like anal fissures. Plus, open communication showing vulnerability builds trust and can be quite arousing. So, talk with your sex partner(s) about the ins and outs of anal before you start taking each other’s clothes off; otherwise, you may catch someone off guard, create a sense of undue pressure, and either of you won’t have had the proper time to prepare. Have fun and welcome learning opportunities if you’re new to the world of anal pleasure.
5. Practice good hygiene
Practicing good hygiene is one of the most important anal sex best practices to ensure the experience goes smoothly and to minimize potential risks. Use condoms and dental dams, swapping out for new ones if you move from the butt to the vagina, mouth, or another part of the body. Avoiding cross-contamination is especially important when it comes to having safe anal sex. This includes not sharing toys between partners in group sex scenarios, and swapping out condoms when going from one person to another. Also, for any anal fingering, trim your fingernails! Your bottom is a breeding ground for bacteria—the smallest cuts or tears may lead to infection, besides discomfort in the moment. So before you get down to business, give your butt some love. Use the bathroom, wash up, and prepare for bottoming using a bulb douche or similar product. Anal cleansing can have a lot of gray areas, so check out our guides on how to anal douche and the basics of lube for anal sex. Remember: Anything that comes in contact with or will be inserted into someone’s butt should be properly cleaned before and after—toys, fingers, penises, douches, and so on. Keeping your butt toys clean preserves their lifespan in addition to keeping you and your partner(s) safe from infection. Use warm water and soap for cleaning, following any specific product care directions as necessary.
What if You Suspect That You Have an STI?
Unfortunately, there’s a lot of shame and stigma surrounding STIs and STDs. If you suspect you have one, the first thing to do is to get tested. Go to a clinic or talk with your doctor about potential treatments. Some STIs—such as chlamydia and gonorrhea—are easily cured, though this isn’t always the case. That said, chronic STDs aren’t the end of your love life and can be kept in check with the right measures. If you have or suspect you have, an STD or STI, it’s important to communicate this to your current and recent sexual partners. Be mindful about how you go about this and prepare to answer questions your partner(s) may have. This can be difficult to talk about, so do your best to be transparent, honest, and compassionate. Don’t beat yourself up and do your research to alleviate doubts and concerns. From there, it’s especially important to practice good hygiene and use protection during anal sex to reduce the transmission of sexually transmitted infections. Bottoming-lovers are in luck—as of February 2022, the FDA has “authorized the marketing of the first condoms specifically indicated to help reduce STIs during anal intercourse.” Before this, the FDA had not approved or cleared any anal-specific condoms. So, despite what you may see in online porn, using condoms is extremely important when it comes to having safe anal sex. Follow the safe anal sex best practices outlined in this guide to help minimize your risk of STIs, in the process making butt play with your partner(s) all the more pleasurable. When in doubt, get tested and consult a medical professional with any questions or concerns.
Anal sex is a highly stimulating way to get it on, no matter your sexual identification or gender. To make the most of your experience and minimize risks, accidents, and complications, do your homework before diving in. So is anal sex safe? Yes! Is it for everyone? No, but that doesn’t mean you should let taboo or fear rule it out if you’re interested. At Future Method, we want to help you get to the bottom of butt play by bringing science into the bedroom. Explore our blog for more guides and resources on sex and psychology, how to have safe anal sex, the fundamentals of bottoming, and more. Have any questions? Send us an email or follow us on Instagram to stay up to date.
The views expressed in this article intend to highlight alternative studies and induce conversation. They are the views of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of Future Method, and are for informational purposes only, even if and to the extent that this article features the advice of physicians and medical practitioners. This article is not, nor is it intended to be, a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment, and should never be relied upon for specific medical advice.