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Anal sex is any type of sexual activity involving the anus. This could include inserting your penis or sex toy into someone’s anus (known as penetration) as well as touching, licking or inserting fingers into it.
Many people, whether straight, bisexual or gay, enjoy anal sex and according to the National Survey of Attitudes and Lifestyles, heterosexual anal sex is on the increase. Between 1990 and 2012, it went up from 12% to 19% in men and among women, from 11% to 17%.
Explore our advice on anal sex covering everything from how to have it, staying safe and dealing with pressure.
Anal sex can be pleasurable for many people, whatever their sexuality. Both the anus and the rectum (which the anus leads to) have sensitive nerve endings. In males there is also the prostate gland (located between the bladder and the penis; a small gland just in front of the rectum) which can be pleasurable when stimulated.
The movement of anal sex is also pleasurable for the person ‘giving’ anal sex because the movement provides stimulation to the penis, and many men find that they reach orgasm through anal sex, although this doesn’t always happen.
The anus isn’t self-lubricating, so to make it more comfortable for both partners it’s also important to use lots of water-based lubrication.
If you are going to have anal sex it’s important that both you and your partner consent to having sex and feel comfortable. If you feel uncomfortable at any point beforehand, or during sex, you can change your mind and stop.
As with any type of sex, to enjoy anal sex both partners need to be turned on and this is achieved through caressing and rubbing one another. Everyone enjoys different things, but this could include cuddling, kissing, stroking and massaging each other, and as you become more aroused your body will relax and you may feel more sensitive to touch.
As part of foreplay you could also experiment with what is known as ‘anal play’. This will help you to find out if this is something you might enjoy and can include gently caressing the anus and/or inserting a finger into the anus. (If you wish, you can use gloves when doing this so that your hands stay clean). You could also try caressing the anus with your tongue (this is also called rimming).
You might find that you need more lubricant than for other types of sex. This is because unlike the vagina the anus isn’t self-lubricating – and go gently. You should be guided by your partner and what they want to do.
Be careful not to touch the vulva after touching someone’s anus without washing your hands first, because small traces of faeces can cause an infection in the vagina or the urinary tract. You could use gloves to touch the anus as a precaution.
When you are both aroused you should put a condom on the penis (do this before it goes anywhere near the anus as it can leak pre-come which contains sperm). You also need to make sure you use a water or silicone-based lubricant, as oil-based lubricants can damage condoms. You can put the lubricant directly onto the anus and also onto the outside of the condom when it is on the penis.
There are two roles in anal sex – the person who is ‘giving’ and the person who is ‘receiving’. If you are the person who is receiving it is important that you feel comfortable and in control of how deep the penetration goes, and if you are the person who is ‘giving’ it is important to go slowly and gently, inserting your penis just a small amount at first, and gauging your partner’s reaction. If either or you feel pain at any point it’s important to stop. It’s very easy to tear the delicate skin on the anus and these tears (called anal fissures) can take a while to heal. Also, painful sex is not very fun and is not something you have to put up with.
When you decide to stop having sex, gently remove the penis from the anus, and hold the condom at the base of the penis while you withdraw it to ensure that no sperm leaks out. Then tie it in a knot, wrap it in tissue and throw it away. You may notice some small traces of faeces on the condom.
If you notice any bleeding afterwards – if this this is bright red and disappears after a few minutes this should be fine, however if the bleeding doesn’t stop, is much darker or you are worried, you should seek medical advice. Also, some people find they have discomfort or bleeding while having a poo after anal sex but if this doesn’t heal on its own, you should seek advice from a doctor.
When you have anal sex it’s really important to use a condom – because the lining of the anus is very delicate it can be damaged easily, making it easier for STIs to be transmitted. Also if you are including kissing or licking your partner’s anus as part of sex, it is advisable to gently wash the area first with water and gentle soap. Some infections caused by bacteria and viruses can be passed on through oral to anal sex, for example hepatitis A or E coli.
If you also want to have vaginal sex, don’t use the same condom that was used for anal sex. Stop and use a new one. This is to prevent transferring bacteria from the anus to the vagina, which could potentially cause a urinary infection.
There are many different types and sizes of condoms, and you can get extra strong condoms which are recommended for anal sex. Condoms are available FREE from:
You can also buy your condoms, even if you’re under 16, from:
You should also use a water-based lubricant (oil-based formulas such as lotions and moisturisers will rot condoms and mean they won’t work properly).
Anal sex is sometimes seen as the default type of sex between men who have sex with men. This can mean that people end up having anal sex when it’s not enjoyable for them. Anal sex isn’t for everyone and it’s important to remember that there are lots of other ways you can enjoy sex without it.
Figures from the 2013 National Survey of Sexual Attitudes and Lifestyles show that almost one in five 16-24 year olds have had anal sex (19% of men, 17% of women). Another 2013 study into anal heterosex by The London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine looked at anal sex among young people. It suggested that some young heterosexual couples are having anal sex that is not enjoyable for both parties and that sometimes girls are coerced (strongly pressured) into having unsafe and painful anal sex.
The reasons for this were varied and while the young people interviewed mentioned wanting to copy what they saw in pornography, there were various other reasons such as young men competing with one another to have anal sex. Worryingly, there seemed to be a lack of concern about the levels pain the young women might experience or whether they have their consent.
As with any type of sex it’s important that you and your partner both feel comfortable and not pressured into doing anything you don’t want to do. For further information about this or if you feel worried, you can read our pages on consent and dealing with sexual pressure.
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