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A Sexual Frontier

Confused about anal play? This primer should help.

For most American lovers, anal play represents the sexual frontier, the line they've never crossed, or maybe once or twice, with results that may well have ended further explorations. If you're revolted by the idea of anal sex, or have had a horrible time with it, don't do it. But if you're curious about it or hope for a better result next time, this primer should help.

What is anal sex? If you think it's penis-anus intercourse, think again. That's the least popular form. Most lovers limit things to sphincter massage and gentle fingering that doesn't go very deep.

Anal is much more popular in porn than in real sex. In the landmark "Sex in America" survey (1999), 26 percent of men and 20 percent of women said they'd tried it--but only 2 percent and 1 percent respectfully said they'd included anal the last time they'd had sex.

Nonetheless, many people feel curious about anal, and some are quite enthusiastic. Aficionados say it deepens intimacy, with the recipient, in effect, saying: "No part of me is off limits to you," and the partner saying: "All of you turns me on."

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Unfortunately, many receipients, usually women, have suffered pain The anus is much less receptive than the vagina or mouth, so many men have had difficulty entering it, and when they do, many women experience sharp pain, which typically ends things, often forever.

Misconceptions also abound, for example, that anal is dirty, that it must hurt women, that men who enjoy receiving must be gay, and that it spreads HIV. In fact, anal sex need not cause pain. With good hygiene, it's clean, and free from fecal contact. Many 100 percent heterosexual men enjoy receptive anal. And with condoms, anal intercourse is as safe as any other type of safe sex.

Anatomy Surprise

The anus contains not one, but two sphincters, one visible, the other not because it's slightly inside. The external sphincter is easier to relax. But if you want to relax your internal sphincter and enjoy receptive anal play, over time, you probably can.

Inside the internal sphincter, the narrow anal canal extends an inch or two. The sphincters and anal canal are highly sensitive to touch, the reason anal play feels erotic. The anus is also surrounded by muscles that contract during orgasm. Anal stimulation can excite these muscles and intensify orgasm.

Beyond the anal canal lies the rectum, a wide, five-inch cylinder with curves that vary from person to person. Anything inserted into the rectum must negotiate these curves, which is why anal insertion of anything should proceed very slowly, with lots of lubrication, and the recipient always in control of the speed and depth of insertion.

The rectum and anal canal usually contain only traces of stool. Most fecal material is stored above the rectum, but traces of stool may remain on anything that enters the anus.

Unlike the vagina and mouth, the anus and rectum are not self-lubricating. For pain-free anal, you must use plenty of lubricant. Even with good lubrication, anal play may cause minor bleeding, especially if the recipient has hemorrhoids.

Minor bleeding is no cause for concern--unless an inserted erection is HIV-positive. If HIV-contaminated semen contact blood, the recipient risks infection. Unless you're confident that your lover has no sexually transmitted infections, use condoms.

Hygiene

Anal play is a minority pleasure because our culture views the anus as dirty and disgusting. Overcoming this taboo takes time. Take all the time you need.

Cleanliness is crucial. Wash, bathe, or shower beforehand. Clean the area with a soapy finger. Some people also rinse internally with enemas. Disposable enemas are available at pharmacies. Anal rinsing helps lovers relax, and if the recipient washes well beforehand, anal play--including oral-anal "rimming"--is clean and safe. But nothing that touches the anal area should contact the vagina. Anal bacteria may cause a urinary tract infection.

Recipients, Start Solo

If you're interested in receiving, begin by fingering yourself. Lubricate the opening, then, while breathing deeply, slowly press one finger through the external sphincter. Once you're comfortable with that, explore your internal sphincter, and when you feel ready, slowly press through it. Recipients should feel comfortable with solo play before complicating things with anyone else.

Use plenty of lubricant. Popular water-based lubes may not provide sufficient comfort for anal play. Try thicker jellies, vegetable oil, or the lube anal experts recommend, Crisco.

Most lovers stop at fingering, but you might try a string of anal beads or a small butt plug. Plugs have flared bases keeps them from getting lost inside.

It Should NEVER Hurt

Fumbling attempts at anal can really hurt. Any pain means the recipient is not sufficiently lubricated and/or relaxed, and/or the inserter is being insensitive.

Couples interested in anal should cultivate whole-body relaxation. Take a hot bath or shower together. Enjoy mutual whole-body massage, and other sex play. Anal feels most enjoyable when lovers feel highly aroused. Then proceed to well-lubricated external sphincter massage. If the recipient allows, try very gentle, shallow fingering. Most people stop there.

If you're interested in going further, the recipient should ALWAYS be in charge. With the inserter still, the recipient should back onto the finger, toy, or penis. The recipient should always control the speed and depth of insertion. Good positions include: recipient-on-top, spooning, or standing bent over with the inserter behind. The inserter should remain still--no pushing inside and no thrusting until the recipient invites it, and if the recipient invites movement, slow, gentle, well-lubed moves.

Some recipients enjoy being anally fingered or wearing plugs as their lovers bring them to orgasm by hand, mouth, or vibrator. But many recipients prefer not to have orgasms with anything inside their back door. Discuss this. It's the recipient's call.

If Only One of You Wants It

While there's nothing wrong, unnatural, or perverted about anal play, it's insensitive and wrong to pressure anyone into it. If you're eager and your lover is reluctant, never force it, and don't nag. Explore your partner's reluctance. What exactly is off-putting? Listen carefully. Address the person's concerns. Ask if there is any way your partner might feel comfortable with any type of anal play, for example, rimming or gentle sphincter massage. Remember, most people stop there or engage in light fingering. Do only what's mutually agreed. If your partner says stop, stop immediately. Always respect limits.

No Damage

Some worry that once stretched sexually, the anus won't return to normal, resulting in soiled underwear. No. The anal sphincters open and close throughout life. Assuming yours close normally after defecation, they'll do the same after anal sex.

Are Recipient Men Gay?

Straight, bi, or gay, sexual preference has everything to do with the gender you fantasize about and embrace in bed. It has nothing to do with sexual activities, including anal play. Gay men kiss, hug, and enjoy oral sex. Are kissing, hugging, and oral gay? No, and neither is recipient anal.

Intimacy

If anal sex repels you, don't play that way. But compared with other types of lovemaking, anal requires more communication and trust, which deepen intimacy and bring couples closer, a big reason why it appeals to some lovers. In the end, as it were, anal is just another sexual variation that some people enjoy.

For more information, read Anal Pleasure and Health: A Guide for Men and Women by Jack Morin, Ph.D., or The Ultimate Guide to Anal Sex for Women by Tristan Taormino.

San Francisco journalist Michael Castleman, M.A., has written about sexuality for 36 years. more...

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