Heather Corinna replies:
My boyfriend and I, both 18, are very comfortable with each other. We took things slow, somewhat due to my discomfort in the religious section and partly to make it more genuine. Skip forward a bit and we are delving into the world of sexual activity. I want to steer clear of PIV sex for pregnancy reasons and virginity reasons. But the other day we were exploring each others' bodies and before we knew it we were having anal sex. Thankfully my boyfriend used much lotion in the absence of lube and took it very slow. We both enjoyed it and were even able to switch positions once or twice with little to no difficulty. My question for the staff of Scarleteen is simply this, is there something I'm missing? From word of mouth anal is supposedly unpleasant, unsafe, and should be avoided; but my boyfriend and I really enjoyed ourselves. We want take a day and just explore the possibilities but is there such thing as too much or things that I should be wary about before we even consider more anal sex? Thanks.
You know, one of the neatest, most interesting things about sex from my perspective, is that what people do and don't enjoy is so diverse. One person's least favorite sexual activity is another person's favorite. I think that's really cool.
All of our bodies, sexualities and situations are so different that, for the most part, we can only really find out what we like (or don't) by following our own interests and feelings, then by experimenting and exploring as feels right for us and any of our partners.
Some people love anal sex. Some people love it who are on the receiving end, as it were, others love it who are on the other side of things, and some people love pegging a partner and being the receptive partner. Some people don't like it at all, again, be they a receptive partner or the person with a body part or toy who's doing the entry with a partner. Some people have liked it a lot with one partner, but didn't like it at all with another. Some people like it at one time of life, but not another. Just like with other kinds of sex, there are also some people who just can't do it, due to certain limitations of their unique bodies.
What other people experience with sexual activities can sure be interesting, and it can tell you many things, but something it can't tell you is what you like and enjoy.
The real difference with how anal sex is often talked about is generally that penis-in-vagina intercourse has a longstanding cultural stamp of approval while anal sex hasn't had that, largely due to religious ideas, mythology about the anus and anal sex, and people's negative feelings about their bottoms. This is also about historical shifts and changes. The way anal sex is often talked about now used to be how oral sex was talked about. Then oral sex became a more common or popular sexual activity, and one more people talked about as something they did in their sexual lives, so the stigma with it decreased. I highly suspect the same will happen with anal sex in time, particularly if we also get less homophobic as a culture, since many negative attitudes and fears about anal sex often have roots in fears and ignorance around homosexuality.
As far as what you hear about pleasure with anal sex goes, we know from many studies and anecdotes that a lot of people don't find penis-in-vagina intercourse pleasurable, or the best thing of ever. But that cultural stamp of approval versus a cultural stigma also means we hear more about how anal sex is unpleasant for some people than we hear about how vaginal intercourse is (even though I'd say that based on the data we have, just as many people probably don't like one as people who don't like the other). It's way more loaded for people to talk a lot about how they don't like the one sexual activity (vaginal intercourse) often held up as the only kind of sex, or the only truly acceptable, sanctified or "loving" sex, so we're going to hear more negatives about other kinds of sex just because people have more cultural permission to say they don't like those.
And if you've heard some stuff about how the anus is only "designed" for "one way," meaning that it's only designed for things leaving the body, not entering it, do know that those are value statements, not statements based in sound science or current medical data. Especially since there's no one on earth who has ever been able to identify, let alone consult with, the designer of our bodies or their parts or see their apparent blueprints that would tell us what a body part like the anus is "supposed" to be used for. Besides, we already know that on top of the anus and rectum being a key part of your digestive system that eliminates waste, is is also a body part people sometimes engage as part of their sexual lives and behaviours. That's nothing even remotely new.
So, you've heard or read that some other people don't find anal sex pleasant. That's fine: we all get to like the sexual things we like and not like the things we don't. Hooray for that!
You're saying that you liked it, though, and this is about you.
If it's something you enjoy so far, and something you want to explore, the only other person who really matters here per what they like and don't like is anyone you want to explore this with.
When it comes to safety and sexual health, with some basic precautions, including the kind of slowness and gentleness you seem to be describing, it's really not much more potentially unsafe than vaginal intercourse is.
There are two primary differences between the two from a health standpoint: the tissue of the anus is considerably more delicate than that of the vagina, and more prone to injury, and the risks of infections are higher, both because of that delicate tissue (which makes it more vulnerable to pathogens) and because of the microorganisms that are in and around the rectum which aren't typically present in other areas of the body. Both those factors also get amped up when people don't take into account that while the vagina can self-lubricate, the anus can't. While there are also health risks of not having the vagina properly lubricated during various kinds of sex (not to mention it often feeling painful instead of nice), not using adequate lubrication during any kind of anal sex is more risky.
So, anal sex, like vaginal intercourse, is just something to make sure you're being smart about per your general safety and sexual health.
Lots of lube and going slow are givens. Using condoms -- or if we're talking fingers instead of a penis or sex toy, latex gloves -- is also important if you want to safeguard your health. If you two haven't considered yourselves to be "having sex," safer sex might not be something you've talked about or prepared for yet, but if you're engaging in anal sex, and you want to do the best you can by your health, it's time for that. Past time, really, since ideally, with what you've already explored, condoms or other barriers would've been part of the equation.
It's using condoms that helps protect your partner from any infections -- and even if you don't have any STIs, infection is still a possibility with anal sex -- as well as protecting you, in the event you two did or do any kind of sex afterwards where your partners penis (or hands, if they were part of the booty-play) also had contact with your vulva or mouth.
Using a condom will also protect against pregnancy: while pregnancy is far more likely to occur with vaginal intercourse, it can still occur with anal intercourse, due to the close proximity of the vaginal opening to the anus and the area surrounding it. Anal intercourse isn't a good way to be sexual when you want to avoid pregnancy unless you are using condoms or another reliable method of contraception. We have a list of ways of being sexual together that truly don't pose any pregnancy risk here, if you want to see what those activities are and stick to those instead.
We have a good deal of information about anal sex already on site that you can use for more in-depth information about this anatomy, anal sex, and safety and sexual health in regard to anal sex. I've included links to a couple broader pieces here which have information applicable to anal sex, too:
You also might want to see if your library has Dr. Jack Morin's Anal Pleasure and Health or Tristan Taormino's The Ultimate Guide to Anal Sex for Women. Both are excellent guides to both the anatomy of the anus and rectum and to exploring anal sex safely. (If your library has them, but you don't want to check them out for some reason, you can always just look at them there. And if you're worried about anyone seeing you do that with a sex book, go grab yourself a big art book you can nestle the book you're actually reading inside of while you look at it. Extra bonus: you can discover some new art, too.)
In terms of your question about if a day of sexual exploration can be "too much," sure it can. Just like, say, a day of running can be too much, or we can eat too much at the all-you-can-eat buffet. Our bodies have limits, after all, and genital tissue specifically is delicate stuff and will tend to only take so much before it feels raw and sore, even with lube, even when we still feel sexually excited. As well, as you know sex isn't just physical, so being that close to someone else, being in our sexuality exclusively for along periods of time can also feel like too much at a given point. we can also just feel done with it, and at some point, we typically will. So, with this kind of sex, as with any other, you just want to pay attention to yourselves, your bodies, and each other. Communicate. Be real about it. If and when something isn't feeling good anymore, or it hurts, or you're becoming bored or feeling like you want to switch to another activity, talk, take a break or call it a day, then you do that.
I do want to make sure, given what you're saying about religious beliefs, that you're aware anal sex has that word sex on the end of it because it's a kind of sex: it's a way that people may choose to express and explore sexual feelings together, and also poses the same kinds of physical and emotional risks vaginal intercourse does. For someone who didn't want to be having sex, or who was trying to make sexual choices in alignment with a religion that says for them not to be engaging in sex, anal sex would usually not be in alignment with those wants, values or beliefs.
I'm not about to say what I am because I think engaging in consensual sex the way you are isn't okay. I'm personally invested in doing what I can to make sure that whatever people's sexual choices, they are choices they feel as good about as possible. So, I just want to check in with you that you're really okay with these choices.
Maybe your religious beliefs or values are such that it's vaginal intercourse (or other activities) you're specifically keeping on the shelf, but other sexual activities, like anal sex, are things your religion or belief system gives a thumbs-up. Your own values and beliefs are just that: yours. They're subjective and they're personal, so if this fits with them just fine for you, it gets to.
But what I've observed over years of doing this work is that people who subscribe to religious beliefs or ideologies that say "no sex," or "no sex until ," is that if they kind of try and find exceptions to that, or loopholes, that are still kinds of sex, they usually don't feel very good about doing those things in the long run. Religions that say "no sex," or "no sex until ," might not explicitly say things like no oral sex or no anal sex, but it's usually pretty clear that "no sex" is meant to mean "no sex," not "everything but vaginal intercourse."
So, in time, what seems most typical is that folks in that situation come to the conclusion that they were not actually following "the rules" at all, but just finding ways to rationalize not following them. If and when that happens, they often will feel awfully crummy about it: shameful, angry, guilty.
It can be so easy to get caught up in all of the heady, awesome feelings we can experience with sexual activities, or with a sexual partner we think is the absolute stuff that we might only later wind up whacked in the head or the heart with feelings of conflict about those choices and actions. As well, I hear from people who want to choose religious restrictions around sex but who have a hard time holding those lines with partners, often both because they do have strong feelings of desire, and do want to be sexual with those people, but also because they often feel shame all around: shame around sex and sexuality per their beliefs; shame about having and holding those beliefs or saying no to sex. It's all clearly very tricky to sort through and work out for a lot of people.
To be sure you are doing things you really feel good about -- if you're not sure already -- one thing I'd suggest, be it about anal sex or any other kind of sex, is to take some extra time to clarify your beliefs and your own sexual ethics and values around sex if you haven't done that lately.
In other words, so that any sex you engage in can be likely to be something you feel good about not just before and during, but after, I'd check in with yourself about what you believe right now, at this point in your life, and if there's a religion or doctrine you follow, whatever that is, to be sure you're feeling really good about moving forward with these kinds of sex.
In doing that, it might be helpful to use a checklist like this: Yes, No, Maybe So: A Sexual Inventory Stocklist. That way, you can really have a think about which sexual activities are and aren't things you feel comfortable with, and focus on one at a time as you do that. It can feel pretty overwhelming to try and figure out how we feel about every possible sexual activity under the sun all at once, after all.
One typical part of adolescence and emerging adulthood is figuring out what your own values and beliefs are separate from the ones you grew up with, or which your parents have. I don't know if your religious beliefs around sex are part of your upbringing, or a religion you were raised in, but if they are, it also might be that it's coming time to reevaluate if those are beliefs and values you still share, or if you share them in one way, but not another.
With big stuff like sex and religion in the mix, I'm just a big fan of making sure to press pause and take the time we need to think things through deeply. It's just no fun at all to only figure out after the fact that we've been doing sexual things we feel bad about, and a lot better to avoid that kind of strife when we can. Making sexual choices that aren't really right for us, or that we don't feel great about can also tank or muddy relationships we care about, especially if we aren't taking time to think through all of our feelings, talk about them openly with any partners, and negotiate any sex we do take part in clearly and well.
Lastly, I also want to make sure you know -- I know this might sound painfully obvious -- that sex of any kind isn't something people can do without at least one person having awareness about it and a real intent to be sexual in those ways.
In reality, there is no "before we knew it we were having anal sex." Consensual sex isn't something that happens to us: it's something we mutually, actively do. In order for any kind of sex, to be going on, at least someone -- and hopefully everyone involved -- intended to do and be doing that kind of sex.
Ideally, any kind of sex you and someone else engage in is going to be sex you both actively, intentionally choose to take part in. That's part of real consent, and it's also a big part of making sexual choices we will most often feel great about. And the dynamic of consensual sex being thought of, or framed as, something that "just happens," is another common thread we see when people are engaging in sex they have religious, ethical or other conflicts with.
I'm going to leave you with a few different links I think might be useful to you, including a piece expressly about sex "just happening," and some more pieces to help you and yours best think about, more actively negotiate and make your sexual choices, whatever those may be.