Anal sex is something that many feel is part and parcel of being gay. Despite this, few of us talk about it and even fewer of us know what we're doing when we first try it. (Guides to anal sex are few and far between.)
This lack of knowledge and the unfortunate societal taboo associated with the anus (shame, embarrassment and disgust) could lead to unpleasant experiences that may affect the way you feel about anal sex.
The most important thing to remember is that anal sex is not mandatory. Many gay men prefer not to have anal sex and have very happy and fulfilling sex lives without it. (Many straight people also enjoy anal sex, so it's not a 'gay thing' at all.) You should never feel pressured into having anal sex if it is something you're not comfortable with.
But, by knowing more about anal sex you can avoid making your choice about it on the basis of fearing the unknown. Many men who overcome this fear discover that anal sex becomes an important and enjoyable part of their sex lives. If you’re one of those guys, or want to be one of those guys, here are some helpful tips and advice that may help you have a vastly better anal sexual experience.
A brief biology lesson
It helps to understand your anus. This make anal sex less mysterious - and you'll understand what actually happens when you have a penis in your anus.
The anus is the opening in your butt and extends into a small (about 6 cm) passage. It’s also the entrance to a bigger passage called the rectum. The anus has two rings of muscle (like doors); the external and inner sphincter. You're usually able to control the external sphincter but not the internal sphincter.
When having anal sex, the penis has to pass through these two sphincters. If these muscles are tense and too tight (perhaps because you’re nervous or tense yourself) it can be painful when a guy tries to penetrate through them.
Once through the sphincter muscles and the anal passage, the penis moves into the rectum, which is about 20 cm long. The anus and the rectum are both able to expand and stretch a great deal and should be able to accommodate any size penis. There is no evidence that having anal sex – even a lot of it – can cause your anus to become permanently loose, especially if penetration is done correctly and with the appropriate amount of lube.
Why is anal sex enjoyable?
Like your penis, the anus is full of sensitive nerve endings which can make anal play a very sensual experience. When you are penetrated, your prostate gland (located near your bladder) is also stimulated by the penis, which is very pleasurable for many men.
The bottom partner may also enjoy the "full" feeling of having a penis inside him; the intimacy of being penetrated by another man; and the erotic thrill of "being fucked". These can all add up to make anal sex an intense sexual experience.
Making friends with your anus
Before you offer up your anus to a partner, it's a good idea to spend time getting to know it well. You could start in a warm relaxing bath. Rub the outside gently and with lube insert a finger (or two) inside. When you feel comfortable, you could try use a sex toy, like a dildo, a smaller butt plug or anal beads, with lots of lube. It’s best to use a proper sex toy rather than a household item to avoid any embarrassing complications. (Remember to clean sex toys thoroughly with warm soapy water, and for extra protection you can use a condom on your dildo or vibrator.)
The most important thing to remember is to take your time until you’re comfortable and enjoy the sensations you feel. Use plenty of lube and take it slow. You shouldn't have to hurt yourself and there’s no rush - stop whenever you want to.
This is an area that many guys are nervous about. Making a mess or smell while having anal sex can be embarrassing for the bottom partner. Remember that everybody poops and that accidents can happen to anyone. But there are things you can do to have a clean anal sex experience and minimise the chances of things getting messy.
• Go to the bathroom a while before having anal sex.
• While the anus and rectum do not usually store faeces (poo), there may be remnants left behind.
• The very least you should do is ensure you are clean around your anus. Have a shower or bath.
• You may also want to check in the bathroom with a finger if you feel any remnants of faeces inside you.
• If you do, you can clean yourself out with your fingers and then wash and clean up thoroughly.
• Some guys prefer to use an enema to clean out their anus and rectum.
• An enema is a device used to push liquid into your anus and rectum to clean them out. You then eject the liquid out again.
• You can buy an enema kit at your chemist (no prescription needed) and follow the instructions.
• A Fleet enema contains Sodium Phosphate that could reduce your risk of passing on hepatitis to your partner.
• Some doctors, however, recommend only using warm water in an enema to avoid unbalancing the anal environment.
• Be wary of over-using enemas; this may be harmful for the anal cavity.
• Using an enema may increase your risk of HIV infection if you do not use a condom (bareback).
Getting down to business
• When first having anal sex, take your time and stop whenever you want to.
• You may want to start with some foreplay, such as letting your partner finger you (using plenty of lube) until you relax.
• When it comes to the sex, there are various positions you can try. Do whatever feels most comfortable for you.
• Use plenty of lube - you can smear some inside your anus and also apply it liberally to your partner’s penis.
• When the penis starts being inserted into your anus, ask your partner to go slowly - especially at first.
• Remember to breathe normally.
• If you feel pain at any point, ask him to stop and be still for a little while he’s inside of you, and then let him try move again. (A burning sensation initially is normal but if it increases severely, stop.)
• If you’re not enjoying it, ask your partner to stop. You can try again later. It may take several attempts for you to feel comfortable.
• When you’re having sex, you may feel like you want to go to the toilet. This is natural. In time your body will learn to know the difference between having anal sex and needing to go to the loo.
A bottom’s guide to being safer
• Be aware that anal sex is the riskiest form of sex when it comes to HIV.
• You can also contract other sexually transmitted infections (STIs) as well as hepatitis through anal sex. (A hepatitis vaccine is available from your doctor.)
• The bottom partner is at a higher risk of becoming infected with HIV than the top partner.
• The best way to avoid HIV infection (and other STIs) is to use condoms and water-based lubrication (oil-based lube destroys condoms). Don't let your partner pressure you otherwise - you’re the one most at risk.
• Try to get your hands on a “female condom” (at a chemist or organisations like OUT). They are great for anal sex and are inserted into the anus before sex, giving YOU the power.
• If you insist on not using condoms (known as barebacking) it is safer to use oil based lube - and use a lot of it (to avoid small tears of the anus).
• If you bareback, don't use an enema; this may also cause tearing during sex and increase your risk of HIV infection.
• If you bareback, don’t let your partner be too rough and make sure he pulls out before coming – it can reduce your risk a little.
• Don't allow your partner to force himself into you. If it's hurting it could lead to tearing and increase your risk of HIV infection.
• Get tested for HIV regularly to know your status. If you are infected, early treatment will keep you healthier and reduce your chances of infecting others.
• If you’ve had unsafe sex or are worried you might have been exposed to HIV through your partner, you can go on medication to reduce your risk of HIV infection, known as PEP (Post Exposure Prophylaxis). You should get on PEP within 72 hours of having unsafe sex for it to be effective.
Anal sex is something that you will most likely get better at and enjoy more with experience and over a period of time. You will learn what works for you and what doesn't, and discover that the anal sex experience is unique for every individual. It’s important to remember to have fun, laugh and don't take it all too seriously. After all, it's just sex, not an exam!
For more advice and tips about sex between men visit www.men2men.co.za. If you’re in the Gauteng area, get in touch with OUT in Hatfield, Petoria for free HIV testing and access to PEP medication, lube and traditional and “female” condoms.
By Luiz De Barros, with Delene Van Dyk (Psychiatric nurse and human sexuality consultant)