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 30.6.2022

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 ways of having anal sex and many of them can be carried out without any risk of transmission of STIs. However, there is a significant risk of transmission of HIV and other STIs in unprotected anal intercourse. Read more here >>

Key points

In many ways, anal sex is still a taboo in our society and is associated with a wide range of beliefs, prejudices and negative perceptions, for example, of dirtiness, abnormality or it not being natural. 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

The anal canal is a few centimeters long mucous membrane tube immediately after the anus and it ends before the rectum. The channel connects to the anus and this area has the most pleasure-generating nerves. 

There are two ring-shaped sphincters, from which the external sphincter at the opening of the anus can be tightened and relaxed willfully. The internal sphincter is located about an inch from the anus. This sphincter works regardless of will, but a deep breath and calmly putting, for example, a finger in the anus helps it to relax. Relaxing the sphincter and pelvic area is important for painless and enjoyable anal intercourse.   

The rectum expands when aroused and it’s about the size of a fist in diameter. The rectum is not a straight tube, it forms an S-shaped bend, which is why entering it in must be done gently and at from right angle.   

The rectum has less sensitivity than the anal area and while penetrating pleasure can come from the feeling of pressure, the prostate in the other hand is very sensitive and many enjoy prostate stimulation greatly. 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 perinium, 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 done by practicing.

The muscles surround the urethra, bladder and anus. Their task, together with the sphincter muscles, is to hold back urine and feaces. Regular relaxation exercises as well as strengthening muscles will help to enjoy anal sex more.

Exercises increase blood circulation throughout the pelvic area. Relaxing the pelvic area between exercises is important. Muscle tension may cause pain during an 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 nervous system around the anus is especially sensitive to touching and simply having your anus licked can give an orgasm. You can lick the anus slowly or rapidly, changing the rhythm. Nibbling, squeezing and kissing areas around the anus can also feel good. There are several suitable positions for receiving rimming : 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 such as dildos and anal plugs can be used the caress the anal area. Sex toys come in different sizes and shapes. It’s a good idea to begging the use of the dildos and anal plugs from smaller sizes, then if desired to move on to bigger ones. 

The anus can be prepared to receive the dildo by rotating and slightly pushing the finger against the sphincter. Apply plenty of lubricant in and around the anus.  Dildo should be pushed in slowly while  breathing calmly and can then be moved in to the anus at the desired pace. Anything that can damage the mucous membranes, break in or slip into the rectum should not be used as a sex toy.   

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, it’s good discuss your needs, wishes and possible fears and concerns with your partner(s). Personal preferences and the anatomical structure of the receiving party (bottom) affect which positions are best suited. The size, shape and erection angle of penetrating (top) party’s penis can also play a role in which position feels the best.

Preparations for anal intercourse can start by applying lubricant, massaging the anal area and inserting a finger into the anus.

It’s a good idea to reserve plenty of time for foreplay, because the more aroused you are, the easier it is to enjoy anal intercourse. Anal intercourse should be paused if any disturbing pain occurs. After a break, you can start cautiously and calmly to continue progressing. Adding a lubricant and changing position may help reduce pain.

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.