The ABC of anal sex

Two people wearing letter harness and hugging. The one behind is kissing the other one's ear.

Page last reviewed 5.6.2023

Anal sex is a part of normal sexuality and can be enjoyed by anyone regardless of gender or sexual orientation. The anal area is potentially a very sexual part of the body.

There are many types of anal sex, and it is possible to engage in it without the risk of STIs. Unprotected anal intercourse between men, however, carries a high transmission risk of HIV and other STIs. Read more here >>

Key points

In many ways, anal sex is still a taboo in our society and is associated with many beliefs, prejudices and negative images related to, for instance, dirtiness, unnaturalness and emasculation. Specific prejudices may be related to being in receptive (bottom) role in anal sex. Some men may even perceive such sex as threatening to their masculinity, even though it’s a matter of sexual pleasure and pleasure in general. However, having the courage to enjoy anal sex as a receiving party says more about strong and courageous masculinity than lack of it.   

One belief is related to the thought that anal intercourse is always accompanied with pain and other unpleasant sensations. Previous experiences also play a role in what kind of thoughts we have about anal sex. Previous negative experiences with anal sex are most often connected to a lack of familiarity with the anal area or proceeding too fast when having anal sex. There is not a lot of information available, which is a another reason why some might have negative experiences about anal sex.  

Many, even sexually experienced, have negative perceptions and misinformation associated with the anal area. We can talk about the so-called anal taboo, which prevents or makes it difficult to get familiar with the anatomy of the anal area. However, it is important to learn about the anal anatomy as it makes sex more enjoyable.  

Ilustrated anatomy of anal

Getting to know the anal anatomy will help you enjoy anal sex. The anal canal is a tube that is a few centimetres long with a mucous membrane. It starts immediately after the anus and ends below the rectum. The anal canal connects to the anus and this area has the highest concentration of pleasure-producing nerves.

The anal canal has two ring-shaped sphincters, of which the external sphincter around the opening of the anus can be contracted and relaxed at will. The internal sphincter is located about one centimeter from the anus. The actions of this sphincter are involuntary, but you can get it to relax by breathing deeply, relaxing and calmly inserting, say, a finger inside the anus. Relaxing the sphincters and pelvic area is important for pain-free and pleasurable anal intercourse. The rectum expands during arousal and becomes about the size of a fist in diameter. The rectum is not a straight tube, but forms an S-shaped bend, which it why it must be penetrated gently and at the right angle.

The rectum is less sensitive than the area around the anus, and the pleasure can come from the feeling of pressure caused by penetration. The prostate, on the other hand, is highly sensitive to touch and many enjoy prostate stimulation.

The prostate is the size of a walnut and is located just below the bladder and in front of the rectum. The prostate can be caressed through the rectum or the perineum, which gives many people pleasure and even an orgasm. The area of the perineum begins in the genitals and ends in the anus. 

Before engaging in anal sex, it is important to get familiar with your own anal area. This makes it easier to experience pleasure in anal sex. You can start exploring the anal area by looking at it with a mirror. Position yourself in front of the mirror and pull the buttocks apart and stretch the sphincter slightly. 

It’s a good idea to reserve a quiet place and time so that you can be prepared to sense all the feelings and sensations. At first, you can close your eyes, focus on your breathing, and let your body relax while taking into account the different sensations of the body. You can continue exploring by touching the perineum.

After that, you can put your finger in to the anus. To avoid ulcers or mucous membrane damage, the nails should be short and disposable gloves can also be used if desired. A lubricant should be applied to the fingers and anus. You can start pushing your finger into the anus by rotating your finger around the edges of the outer sphincter. This will help relax the sphincter muscles. The inner sphincter can resist opening, tension increases muscle contraction. Moving your finger around the anus and putting your it in the anus can be continued while relaxing and breathing calmly. The inner sphincter gives in after a while. It’s easier to move forward if you are in an aroused state. You can start training with one finger, and as the training progresses, you can add fingers if you want. 

Getting to know your own anal area and experiencing with a positive attitude and as a normal part of the body helps to enjoy anal sex more and promotes the overall health even for those who will never have anal sex.  

Anal sex is often associated with unnecessary hygiene concerns. For example, if anal sex is rimming, it is enough to wash the anal area in the shower. In many other forms of anal sex, it is most often enough to clean the anal area with a hand shower or paper moistened with water. Detergents containing fragrances may irritate and dry the mucous membrane.

However, before intercourse, the rectum should be as empty as possible.  After defecation, some stool might remain in the rectum. Any faeces in the rectum and the resulting odours can be minimised by douching, for example, with enema available in pharmacies. Douching can easily be done with a hand shower. In Finland, it is common that hand shower is installed next to a toilet seat. 

The shower head/hose should not be inserted into the rectum, but it should be placed firmly against the anus and lukewarm water is released into the rectum. Avoid using too much pressure. Water should be released inside the rectum until a light feeling of pressure is felt. After that, the water is released from the rectum. This can be repeated a few times until the water coming out is clear.

Shower heads for douching are also available at sex stores. Douching should not be done daily. There is a strain of bacteria in the rectum and excessive douching can upset the natural balance. Quick enemas for the treatment of constipation are also available at the pharmacy, they empty the rectum in 5-10 minutes. Rapid enemas should be used carefully, as their regular use can be addictive, causing the bowl no longer functioning normally without the medicine. 

Locating and relaxing the pelvic floor muscles is important and can best be achieved through practice. These muscles surround the urethra, bladder and anus. Their function is to work together with the sphincters to control the release of urine and feces.

Regular relaxation exercises and strengthening the muscles will help you enjoy anal sex more. Exercises improve blood circulation throughout the
pelvic area. Relaxing the pelvic area in between exercises is important. Muscle tension can cause pain during anal intercourse.

Two people lying face to face one on the other and kissing

Different ways of having anal sex

One person is lying on their back and the other has their face between their buttocks.

The taboo of dirtiness in anal sex is often associated especially with rimming , which is why many may have avoided can cause many to avoid even trying it. Those who have been encouraged  try rimming and learned to relax while receiving it have noticed that it gives them great pleasure.   

The nerves around the anus are particularly sensitive to touch and simply licking the anus can give a person an orgasm. You can lick the area with your tongue slowly or rapidly, varying the rhythm. Nibbling, squeezing and kissing the areas around the anus can also feel good. There are several
positions that are suitable for rimming, for example lying down on the stomach or on the back, the doggy position, in the 69 position, sitting on a chair or above the partner’s face, etc.   

There is no risk of HIV in rimming if there’s not blood getting in the mouth. However, rimming carries a risk of hepatitis A and B and other STIs, as well as certain intestinal bacteria or parasites. The risk can be eliminated by using a dental dam or a split condom between the mouth and the anus. 

Sex toys of various types and sizes are available for stimulating and arousing the anal area. These include dildos, anal beads and anal plugs. It is a good idea to start with smaller sex toys and, after you are used to them, gradually move on to bigger ones if you want.

The anus can be prepared to receive a dildo by rotating and pushing a finger against the sphincter. Apply plenty of lubricant in and around the anus and on the dildo. The dildo should be inserted carefully while breathing calmly. You should not insert anything into the rectum that could
damage the mucous membranes, break or slip completely inside the rectum.

After use, sex toys should be cleaned with lukewarm soapy water. If the same sex toy is used by more than one person, you can avoid HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases by putting a new condom on top of the sex toy every time the user changes or washes them with soapy water between users.  

Before anal intercourse, you should talk about your wishes and any concerns you may have with your partner. You can start preparing for anal intercourse by applying lubricant, massaging the anal area and inserting a finger into the anus.

It is a good idea to spend plenty of time on foreplay, because the more aroused you are, the easier it is to engage in anal intercourse. You should pause if you feel disturbing pain at the start or during anal intercourse. After pausing for a moment, you can try again cautiously and calmly. Applying more lubricant and changing positions may help reduce

Anal intercourse should be progressed gently, following the sensations of the body and the reactions of the partner. Often the bottom party is touching their penis during the anal intercourse, but at the moment of inserting the penis in, however, this may not be worth doing, as it can tighten the sphincter muscles, make it difficult to enter the anus and cause pain.  

During intercourse, it’s good to communicate with you partner(s) and make sure that sex feels good for everybody involved. Even if you are exclusively a top, it is important to get acquainted with your own anal area and to know how anal intercourse feels like in different positions, how to avoid inflicting pain and, for example, what different rhythms feel like. Experience can be done with dildos or anal plugs.  

There are several positions for anal intercourse and other types of anal sex, and they can be found on the Gay Sex Position website, which has both pictures and short video clips of different positions. See more here >>

During an anal intercourse, some gas can be released form the bowl as a result of pressure from pumping motion, it is completely natural. Faeces may remain in the rectum even after emptying or washing and may smear during intercourse. Rectal fluid can also be present, it is usually clear and thick. 

Various symptoms such as itching, stinging or pain may occur in the rectum area. The most common causes of itching or stinging are poor hygiene, yeast fungus, an allergic reaction or pinworms. Hemorrhoids are common but if the symptoms last a long time and there is strong pain involved, you should see a doctor. Ulcers can come from too little use of lubricant or as a result of various infections. 

The anal are contains a lot of blood vessels. Hemorrhoids are enlarged veins and are very  common. They often heal on their own, but they are also sensitive to recur. Long lasting constipation is considered to be an essential reason for the formation of hemorrhoids. Hemorrhoids can also be caused by insufficient use of lubricant in anal intercourse, or if a penis or dildo is inserted into the rectum before the sphincter muscle is fully ready to receive it. 

The rectum is extremely flexible and allows fist to fit into the rectum. The hand is inserted to the anus so that the fingers, including the thumb, are held together. 

It’s good if the fisting partner is someone you can communicate about the preferences as well as the rules. You should proceed to the fisting calmly. An aroused state is the best way to relax and enjoy fisting. The fisting can be stopped or paused at any point if it feels uncomfortable.  The nails should be short and the rings and bracelets removed. The lubricant suitable for fisting has a thick texture to protect the mucous membrane as much as possible. Lubricant should be used extensively. In fisting, it is a good idea to use disposable gloves to protect the mucous membranes from various bacterial infections and blood-borne diseases. 

When the sphincter muscles give up, the fingers are gently pushed in, one by one. Some consider it’s enough to have only part of the hand inserted. The rectum expands to its peak when the whole hand is inserted up to the wrist. There are very few nerve endings in the intestine and the feeling of well-being comes from the pressure that builds up in the intestine. In fisting, the rectum expand and contract according to the movements of the hand. At the same time, you can caress the area of the perineum and the prostate. 

Unprotected intercourse during fisting session increases the risk of transmitting HIV and hepatitis C, as fisting can cause wounds and sores. If anal intercourse also occurs during fisting session, water-soluble or silicone-based lubricant must be used for fisting, as the oil-based lubricant makes the condom break more easily. If in one fisting session there are several partners at the same time, the protective gloves must be replaced each time the partner changes.