Everything you need to know about anal sex

Last updated:
Reviewed by:
Dr Bryony Henderson, Lead GP at Livi
Anal sex can be safe, pleasurable, and fun – it just takes a little prep. Here’s what you need to know and do before trying it out

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Lots of people enjoy anal sex as a regular part of their sex lives. But stubborn taboos mean it’s not always talked about openly or covered in sex education.

Let’s set the record straight – anal sex can be a safe, healthy part of your sex life, as long as you know how to prepare.

What is anal sex?

Anal sex is where one partner’s penis enters their partner’s anus. Anal sex or anal play could also refer to any kind of sex act involving the anus, whether it involves hands, a mouth, or a sex toy.

Who has anal sex?

People of all sexes, genders and sexual orientations can and do have anal sex.

And people are having more of it than ever. Surveys in the UK found that the percentage of women ages 22-24 who’ve had heterosexual anal sex rose from 17% in 1990 to 34% in 2012. The proportion almost tripled in men of the same age, from 14% to 39%.

Is anal sex safe?

Anal sex is safe and shouldn’t hurt as long as you and your partner take some care. First of all, make sure you both know the risks so you can lower them.

The main risks of anal sex include:

  • Pain and bleeding – the lining of the anus is thin, so it’s at risk of tearing if it’s put under too much strain.
  • Sexually transmitted infections (STIs) – since the lining of the anus is prone to damage, anal sex has a higher risk of infections than some other types of sex, including STIs.
  • Injury – the anal sphincter (the muscles around your bottom that control when you poo), can get hurt during sex.
  • Incontinence – if you have female anatomy, this puts you at a higher risk of faecal incontinence, where you can’t control your bowel movements, as a result of anal sex.

Having anal sex after a night out or when you’ve been drinking can also increase some of these risks. So, if you’re just starting out with anal sex, try to limit your alcohol consumption so that you’re more aware and able to take care of yourself.

Consent and anal sex

Consent is key for any kind of sexual activity. Up to a quarter of women who’ve had anal sex said they’d been pressured into having it at least once.

Talk to your partner about what consent means to you, and always make sure your partner actively consents to sex. No one should be coerced into doing something they don’t want to do and remember that consent can also be taken back at any time.

How to have anal sex safely

All it takes are a few simple steps to make anal sex enjoyable and safe.

1. Open up to your partner/s

Before you have sex, talk to your partner/s about what you want to try and what you don’t want to do. The more open you can be with each other about your desires and boundaries, the better your experience can be.

2. Have a condom ready

Using a condom lowers the risk of STIs. Even if you’re not having vaginal sex, there’s still a risk of pregnancy if semen gets in contact with a vagina, so make sure to have a condom ready to go.

If you have vaginal sex after anal sex, switch to a new condom. This will stop bacteria from the anus getting into the vagina and causing a UTI. If your hands are involved, give them a good wash too.

3. Practise good hygiene

Before you have sex, give your bottom a thorough wash in the shower with soap and water, and make sure to rinse and dry it well.

Afterwards, try to clean up right away to rinse off any bacteria. You can use a wipe or soap and water to wash your bottom, genitals and any toys you used. Remember to wash or wipe from front to back to reduce the risk of bacteria causing a urine infection.

4. Use lots of lube

Unlike the vagina, the anus doesn’t have any natural lubrication. Using lube won’t just make the experience more enjoyable, it’ll also help prevent any pain or injuries.

Any water-based lubricant you can find at a pharmacy will do the trick. Avoid oil-based lubricants, including lotion or moisturisers, because it can cause condoms to break.

5. Go slow

Pace yourself and start things off slow. Make sure you and your partner are relaxed and aroused before any penetration. Rushing can be painful at best and cause an injury at worst.

If you’ve never tried anal sex before, you could try experimenting with some anal play on your own first. It might help you figure out what you do and don’t like.

What’s the bottom line on anal sex?

When it comes to anal sex, being open with your partner and getting prepped are key. It can be safe and pleasurable as long as you and your partner are both on board, well-educated and well-prepped.

When to speak to a doctor

If you’ve got any bleeding or pain around the anus or are struggling to control when you poo, make an appointment to speak to a doctor. It can feel awkward to talk about anal problems, but they’re more common than you think and a doctor is there to help.

What can Livi do to help?

If you’re experiencing pain, bleeding or think you may have injured yourself, a Livi healthcare professional can talk to you about your symptoms and help direct you to the right support or treatment.

This article has been medically reviewed by Lead Livi GP, Dr Bryony Henderson.

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If you’re worried anything related to your sexual health, a GP can give you advice without any judgment.

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