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What Is Anal Sex?

Medically Reviewed by Dan Brennan, MD on November 30, 2020

Anal sex is any sexual activity that involves the anus. It does not always mean penetration with a penis. People can use sex toys, fingers, or a tongue. People of all sexual orientations and gender identities can have anal sex.

Other Names for Anal Sex

People use many different terms for anal sex, but some common ones include:

  • Anal
  • Anal intercourse
  • Buggery
  • Greek
  • Bareback

Myths and Misconceptions About Anal Sex

Myth: Only gay men have anal sex.

Many gay male couples have anal sex, but not all do. Also, people of any sexual orientation or gender can enjoy it, including heterosexual couples.

People without penises can use a sex toy to anally penetrate their partners. Pegging is a term for when a woman does this to a man. 

Myth: There's no chance of getting pregnant from anal sex.

While the chances of getting pregnant from anal sex are certainly lower than with vaginal sex, there is still a small possibility. Any time the penis is close to the vagina, there is always the chance that semen will enter the vagina and lead to pregnancy. 

Myth: It's harder to get sexually transmitted infections from anal sex.

It's just as easy, if not easier, to get sexually transmitted infections (STIs) from anal sex. The tissue of the anus is delicate and can tear easily. This can leave more openings for an infection to enter the body. The person who is getting anally penetrated, sometimes called the bottom, is more at risk for STIs than the person doing the penetrating, sometimes called the top.

How to Explore Anal Sex

You need to relax the sphincter muscle of the anus — the muscle you squeeze when you need to poop but have to wait — to receive anal sex. So it’s important to try to stay relaxed as you explore anal sex by yourself or with a partner. 

Unlike the vagina, the anus does not self-lubricate. You need to use a lot of lubrication, whether you use fingers, a sex toy, or a penis. It will help you avoid tearing or other injury to the area. 

People with penises usually have a prostate gland. This gland has many nerve endings, making the area sensitive. Since the prostate sits on the other side of the rectum, it’s possible to stimulate it by putting a finger or a sex toy inside the anus. Some people with prostates find anal play a pleasurable activity for this reason.

Anal sex may be slightly painful, or it may simply feel strange the first time you try it. Remember, you can always stop any time you want and try again some other time. You can also decide that anal sex is not for you. 

Safety Advice and Special Considerations

Anal sex may be a higher-risk activity for the spread of STIs. To lower your risk, use a condom when you’re giving or receiving anal sex with a penis. To lower the risk of an STI from oral sex on the anus — sometimes called rimming — use a dental dam. This is a flat piece of latex or polyurethane that goes between the mouth and the anus.

One way to lower your chances of getting HIV from anal sex is to take pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP). This is a prescription medication that, when taken every day, can lower your risk of getting HIV by 99%.

If you end up having unprotected anal sex for any reason, you can also take post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP) within 72 hours of the activity. This is another type of medication that can help prevent HIV after you’ve had sex. However, unlike PrEP — which can be taken daily to prevent HIV — this is an emergency measure only, and you should not use it as a primary form of HIV prevention. 

If you’re having anal and vaginal sex, use a new condom each time you switch from the anus to the vagina. This will lower the chance of infections like urinary tract infections (UTIs) and bacterial vaginosis (BV). If you’re using fingers or sex toys for anal play, it’s also a good idea to clean them before you use them in the vagina.

Show Sources

SOURCES:

Avert: "How to Have Anal Sex."

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: "Dental Dam Use."

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: "PEP (Post-Exposure Prophylaxis)."

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: "PrEP (Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis)."

National Health Service: "Does anal sex have any risks?"

Office on Women's Health: "Bacterial Vaginosis."

Power Thesaurus: "anal sex/synonyms."

Sex, Etc.: "What is anal sex, and how do you do it? Are there any risks?"

Slang: "Pegging."

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