As a health educator, the most common question that young people ask me about anal sex is, “Is it ok?”
I am here to say yes! Yes, it’s ok to have or be curious about anal sex. It’s also completely ok to have no interest in it, or try it and find out that you don’t enjoy it. If you want to explore this kind of sex with your partner (and they do too), go for it! If you don’t want to, then don’t!
There’s nothing shameful about anal sex. Like other kinds of sex though, it’s important to understand how to do it safely, consensually and pleasurably. Here’s what you should know.
1. Practice enthusiastic consent.
Consent is necessary for all kinds of sex, physical touch, and romantic interactions. It’s never ok to pressure someone into anal sex. It’s also always ok to say no, even if you’ve had anal sex before.
Beforehand, talk with your partner about how far you want to go, what’s ok and what’s not, and how comfortable you feel with different sex acts. Keep checking in with each other during and after sex to make sure you’re still on the same page. Remember: Anal sex (like all sex) should be about both partners’ pleasure!
2. Use condoms.
Anal sex may not put someone with a vagina at risk for pregnancy in the same way that penis in vagina (PIV) sex does, but it can spread sexually transmitted infections (STIs). This means that using a condom (and getting regularly tested for STIs) is super important for safe anal sex.
Use internal (“female”) condoms, or external (“male”) condoms—just not at the same time. Internal condoms may not be as popular as their external counterparts, but they actually tear less often. If you’re using an internal condom for anal sex, take the ring out of the closed end of the condom before inserting it. It’s still a good idea to use condoms with toys, because it makes clean up easier.
3. Lube is your best friend.
Anuses (unlike vaginas) do not make natural lubrication. This means that it’s extra important to use store-bought lube. Lube reduces friction and can make sex feel comfier and more pleasurable for everyone. Put some on the outside of the condom, and inside and around the anus. You can use as much lube as you want.
There are three types of lube: water-based, silicone-based and oil-based. To tell the difference, look at the label and ingredient list. For anal sex, I generally recommend silicone-based lube because it lasts longer. Do NOT use oil-based lube with external condoms. The oil breaks down the condom, making it more likely to tear.
4. Change condoms between sex acts.
It’s not a good idea to put a penis or toy that’s been inside a rectum into a vagina or mouth. If you’re going to have oral sex (going down on, blow job) or PIV sex after anal sex, change the condom. Otherwise, you risk getting or giving your partner a yeast infection or Hepatitis. If you didn’t use a condom, thoroughly wash your penis with soap and water. The same rule applies to fingers and toys.
5. Work up to anal sex.
It’s NOT a good idea to go straight to full blown receptive anal sex with a penis or dildo. This makes it much more likely that the experience will be painful or uncomfortable—and there’s no reason that anal sex should be either!
To have safe anal sex, work up to it. Use fingers to get the anus used to this new sensation. Put some lube on your fingers and in your anus. Start with one finger and go slowly. If you feel comfortable and want to, work up to two or three fingers.
If you are planning to use a toy—like a dildo, vibrator or butt plug—make sure that it has a flared base and is designed to be used in the anus. Toys with a flared base have a wide, flat end to keep it from disappearing completely inside you. Your intestines are a large place, and it’s surprisingly easy to get something lost up there! A flared base will keep your toy in place, so you don’t have to make an awkward, expensive trip to the emergency room.
Pay attention to your body—what feels good and pleasurable? Does anything feel weird or uncomfortable? If you’re curious about why it feels the way it does, check out Teen Vogue’s Guide to Anal Sex.
6. Go slow.
If/when you’re ready to have anal sex with a penis or dildo, go slow. If your partner is the one doing the penetrating, have them put their penis/dildo in a little, take it out completely, put it in a bit farther and take it all the way out again. Repeat this, making sure everything feels good for you both! As always, don’t forget the lube.
If you try to have anal sex and it doesn’t happen at first, that’s ok. You can try again when you’re more relaxed, if you want to.
7. Never use numbing lube.
Some people are so worried that anal sex will hurt that they use numbing lube. But this is actually dangerous. Pain is a signal that something is wrong. Numbing lube keeps you from feeling this warning sign, which means you may end up doing damage to your body that could have been avoided. Never ignore pain.
If you’re 10-22 years old in NYC and need STI testing or treatment, or have other questions about sexual health, call the Mount Sinai Adolescent Health Center at (212) 423-3000 to get confidential healthcare at no cost to you.
Frances Horton is a Health Educator at the Mount Sinai Adolescent Health Center. She provides health education services to youth on a one-on-one basis, tailoring sessions to the unique needs of each patient.
The Mount Sinai Adolescent Health Center is located in New York City. It provides comprehensive, confidential, judgment free health care at no charge to over 12,000 young people every year. This column is not intended to provide medical advice, professional diagnosis, opinion, treatment or services to you or to any other individual, only general information for education purposes only.