Anal sex is any type of sexual activity that involves the anal area and many people, whether they are heterosexual, gay or bisexual, enjoy it. Find out whether it’s right for you – and how to stay safe.
What is anal sex?
Most commonly, people think of anal sex as when a man’s penis enters the anus. However, it might also mean using fingers or sex toys to penetrate the anus, or using the tongue to stimulate the anus (called ‘rimming’).1
Everyone can enjoy anal sex, no matter whether they are gay, bisexual or straight.
How do I have anal sex?
It can feel strange when you start exploring the anal area during sex, so start slowly with touching and caressing to get used to the idea. If you don’t like it, it’s a good idea to talk to your partner and explain that anal sex isn’t for you. While lots of people enjoy it, many others would prefer to leave it out of their sexual activities.
If you decide to have penetrative anal sex, take things slowly and communicate with your partner. If you are giving anal sex, start by penetrating just a little and then pull out completely. When your partner is ready, penetrate a bit further and then pull out again. Continue with this until you are fully in – but be prepared to stop at any time if the other person is uncomfortable or in pain.
It can take a while to get used to the sensation of anal sex – if it doesn’t go perfectly the first time you can always try again when you’re both in the mood.
Love your lubrication
Unlike the vagina, the anus doesn’t produce its own lubrication (or ‘lube’), so it’s important to use a good product to help the penis or sex toy move freely and prevent damage to the inside of the anus.
Don't use your partner's come as a lubricant. It’s best to use a water-based lubricant which has been specially designed for sexual intercourse. Oil-based lubricants (such as lotion and moisturiser) can weaken condoms and make them more likely to break.2
Gay men and anal sex
Gay men can enjoy a range of different sexual activities, including oral sex, kissing and touching each other, as well as penetrative anal sex.
Many men also like having their prostate stimulated. The prostate is a walnut-sized gland located just below the bladder and is highly sensitive to stimulation.3 However, there are many blood vessels in and around the prostate and it can get bruised if handled roughly, so always treat it gently and use lots of lube.4
"I thought that all that men did in bed together was anal sex, but no-one has ever tried to force me to have penetrative sex. It's much more of a loving, caring thing than I thought, too." - Peter
Safety for women having anal sex
For women, be careful not to use the same finger to stimulate her anus as you use to touch her vagina. This is because you could transfer small amounts of faeces to the vagina which can cause urinary tract infections such as cystitis. The same goes for using a finger to stimulate the anus and then putting it in the mouth, as this can pass on sexually transmitted infections (STIs) such as hepatitis.
Technically, it’s not possible to get pregnant from anal sex as there’s no way for semen to get from the rectum into the vagina. But be aware that there is a small chance of semen leaking out and dripping into the vagina after anal sex.6 Using condoms is the best way to make sure you are always protected properly against pregnancy.
Anal sex, HIV and STI safety
Whether you’re a man or a woman, straight or gay, it’s important to protect yourself against the risk of sexually transmitted infections (STIs), including HIV, when having anal sex.
The lining of the anus is thin and can easily be damaged, which makes it more vulnerable to infection. This means that if you are the receptive partner (often called the 'bottom') you have a higher risk of STIs and HIV from unprotected anal sex than many other types of sexual activity.7
While the risk is less for the 'top' (or insertive partner), HIV can still enter through the opening at the top of the penis (urethra), or through cuts, scratches and sores on the penis.
STIs that can be passed on during anal sex include:
Using protection during anal sex is important to reduce your risk of catching an STI. For penetrative sex, make sure you use a condom and lots of lube – some people feel safer using extra-thick condoms for anal sex,9 and dental dams also offer good protection for rimming.
It’s a good idea to use condoms if you’re using sex toys for anal sex too, making sure you change them between partners and use a fresh one if you use the toys to stimulate the vagina afterwards.
If you’ve had unprotected anal sex and are worried about possible HIV infection, go and see your healthcare professional straight away. You may be able to take post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP) to prevent HIV infection, but it has to be taken within 72 hours to be effective. However, PEP is not a replacement for condoms and isn’t available everywhere. 10
©iStock.com/RobertDodge. Photos are used for illustrative purposes. They do not imply any health status or behaviour on the part of the people in the photo.
- 1. NHS Choices (2013) ‘Does anal sex have any health risks?’
- 2. NHS Choices (2013) ‘Does anal sex have any health risks?’
- 3. NHS Choices (2014) ‘Know your prostate’
- 4. Good in Bed (2010) ‘Prostate Stimulation and Male Sexual Pleasure’
- 5. NHS Choices (2013) ‘Does anal sex have any health risks?’
- 6. The Site (2012) ‘Anal sex’
- 7. NHS Choices (2013) ‘Does anal sex have any health risks?’
- 8. NHS Choices (2013) ‘Sex activities and risk’
- 9. British Association for Sexual Health and HIV (BASHH) (2012) ‘A BASHH guide to condoms’
- 10. WHO (2014) ‘Guidelines on post-exposure prophylaxis for HIV and the use of co-trimoxazole prophylaxis for HIV-related infections among adults, adolescents and children: recommendations for a public health approach: December 2014 supplement’