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Ask A Sex Therapist: A beginner’s guide to anal

WORDS BY LAURA MIANO

A crash course in anal play.

Laura Miano is a sex therapist based in Melbourne and co-founder of sex toy concept store Posmo. Her mission is to empower people to create a more fulfilling sex life and to support those who might like to explore their sexuality beyond cultural norms. To learn more about her, follow @lauramianosexology or contact her here.

I’ve been thinking about trying anal with my partner but I’m a little apprehensive as it’s my first time. How can we make it a pleasurable experience for us both? 

– Hesitant 

Hi, Hesitant,

How exciting! Your anal passage is densely packed with ‘feel good’ receptors. This means you have the capacity to feel pleasure when engaging in anal play; which is consistent across all bodies and people of all gender and sexual identities. But just because we all have the ability to access anal pleasure, doesn’t mean it’s equally easy for everyone.

I’ve started to notice a shift more recently in people opening up the conversation around anal play – for straight cis men in particular. Which is great! As we slowly start to break down traditional taboos, our minds become more open to the wonderful world of sexual possibilities.

But let’s be honest – anal play can feel a little strange when you’re new to it. If you’re used to things only going out, rather than in, you might start to tense up and feel anxious, leading to an unenjoyable experience.

Unpacking your concerns 

And even if you feel ready, you might find the experience surfaces a subconscious sense of disgust. This is totally normal! According to a 2020 study, “Sexual disgust is an emotion hypothesised to deter individuals from engaging in sexual activities that are probabilistically detrimental to fitness”. 

In essence, this means our minds have evolved to feel disgusted as a level of bodily protection. We’re hard-wired to feel this emotion when thinking about fecal matter. Obviously, your anus is closely associated with fecal matter. The idea of engaging with your anus in a sexually pleasurable way, as well as the mess that might come from it, naturally might seem a little bit nauseating.

On top of the simple disgust response, other hurdles might include sexual anxiety around trying something new (you might like to stay in your comfort zone during sex) or body image concerns (i.e. it’s happening from the back, I can’t see my partner’s face). 

The perceived social or sexual significance of trying anal play might also impact how you feel about it. Years of inherent and unhealthy discourse have led us to conflate anal sex with feeling ‘gay’, ‘slutty’ or ‘dirty’. All of this is completely untrue – of course – but if you’ve had these thoughts before, chances are they’ll impact how easily you slip into that pleasurable state during anal sex.

There are many more reasons why anal play might seem overwhelming for you. You might be afraid of pain or discomfort, particularly if it’s your first time. That’s okay! Anal play requires a little more preparation, but if you take it slowly and lube up, it should be a relatively pain-free experience. 

If you’re feeling any of the above – negative thoughts, hesitation due to stigma or fear – they’re likely to cause you to tense up and become hyper-vigilant. These can actually act as a barrier to experiencing pleasure, which is why it’s important you integrate anal play in a slow and controlled way. And for some lucky people, these barriers don’t exist. If that’s you, all I have to say is lube up and have fun!

If these barriers do exist for you, that’s okay! Firstly, have a think about whether your genuine desire and curiosity for anal play outweighs your apprehensions. Remember, you should be doing this for yourself, not because you think you should. If your fears exist in the context of a genuine desire, then spend a little moment validating your concerns.

Being apprehensive is okay! You feel tense for very valid reasons; don’t push that feeling away. Acknowledge what’s making you feel uneasy and move closer with the mindset of ‘I feel tense because of (insert fear here), but I’m going to gently give it a go’. Ensure you’re communicating this with your partner from the very beginning, ensuring they’re able to support you in the right ways. 

Starting out

From there, start with a finger or a small sex toy – like the smallest in Posmo’s trio of Gem Metal plugs. I should also note that when you get to this stage, you’ve ideally already engaged in erotic or sexual activity so you’re well and truly turned on. This will become much more pleasurable once you’ve warmed up by yourself or with a partner. 

Once you have your finger or small butt plug, apply a very generous layer of lube. If your toy is glass or metal, opt for silicone lube. If it’s a silicone toy, go for oil or water-based. And when I say a generous amount, I seriously mean it! 

Also, remember to always use a toy with a flared base (your finger works too). Your butt can quite literally suck up a toy if there isn’t something to stop it like a handle or wider base. Once you start inserting, take it super slow. And make it horny! 

Keep it erotic

Many people forget to be erotic when they try anal for the first time because that hypervigilance kicks in. So while you start inserting, have your partner rub your nipples, kiss your neck, stroke your hair, tease your inner thigh or whatever else turns you on (you can also do this yourself). This will keep you turned on and relaxed, allowing for easier and more pleasurable insertion.

Check-in with yourself

Also, remember to use grounding tools when you first try insertion. Exercises like deep breathing, body scanning, monitoring negative self-talk and the five senses activity are all great in facilitating mindfulness. These are tools to tap into if you need to – don’t feel like you have to use these. If you’re feeling calm and enjoying yourself, that’s fantastic!

If you’re a vulva owner, you want to make sure you’re using a condom on the toy, finger or penis – and then use a new one for vaginal play. Alternatively, wash the chosen stimulator well before inserting it into your vagina. Never go between the two without cleaning!

Getting comfortable 

Once you get the insertion down pat, take time to explore. Slow and carefully increase the intensity – don’t jump straight to a penis or full-size dildo, unless you have no qualms with anal play. This slow graduation will not only turn you on but will help prevent a painful experience.

If you’re interested, you might want to try a butt plug dilator set. Put simply, these toys sit in your butt without you needing to hold them in there or increase the size – making the process a little less overwhelming. You could also experiment with a dildo, which is used for in-and-out type penetration. Other options are anal beads, your partner’s penis or a dildo strapped onto your partner’s harness. 

Remember to keep up the communication, monitor your feelings and check-in throughout the experience if you’re playing with a partner. From here, it’s all you baby. Have fun!

For more information on getting started with anal play, head here

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