Does Anal Sex Hurt? An Ob-Gyn Weighs In on What to Expect

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If you've ever Googled "does anal sex hurt?" know that anal sex can be a highly pleasurable experience for all bodies and genders, but it can also cause discomfort for a number of reasons. The speed of insertion, amount of lube used, and lack of communication between you and your partner(s) could all be contributing factors as to why anal sex may feel painful. It may even bring increased tightness or uncomfortable sensations that you're not used to feeling — especially if it's your first time exploring the possibilities of anal sex.

Despite these feelings, "no sex should ever hurt or be painful," Betsy Greenleaf, DO, a fellow of the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and owner of the Pelvic Floor Store, says. If you are experiencing pain during or after anal sex, that's reason enough to stop and consider what the problem is before continuing.

Ahead, let's dive into the question, "does anal sex hurt?"

Does Anal Sex Hurt?

You may experience some initial discomfort having anal sex, but you definitely shouldn't feel pain. According to Dr. Greenleaf, you can expect some minor soreness and minimal bright-red blood when wiping within 24 hours afterward, but it shouldn't persist the following day.

As for what you should not be experiencing, Dr. Greenleaf notes the following symptoms are abnormal: severe pain, cramps, abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting, pain with movement, pain with walking or riding in a car, pain with touching the abdomen, severe pain with bowel movement, or inability to have a bowel movement. She also adds that if you have difficulty holding in gas or being unable to control when you poop, this is also a sign something is wrong. If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, you should seek medical advice and assistance.

Why Does Anal Hurt?

Though anal sex should not hurt, there are a few reasons why you may be experiencing discomfort. The first one could be because you are hesitant, worried, or tense while having anal sex. When this happens, "the muscles of the pelvic floor and the anal sphincter will contract," which Dr. Greenleaf notes is a "natural protective mechanism." But doing this could make you more susceptible to tearing or injuring the muscles in your pelvic floor and anal sphincter, therefore causing pain.

If the speed of insertion is too fast or the item you are trying to insert inside your anus is too large, it's also possible "your colon could puncture or rupture," Dr. Greenleaf says. If after or during sex you're experiencing severe abdominal pain, bleeding that isn't stopping, fever, nausea, or vomiting within 24-48 hours, this could be the case — however, Dr. Greeleaf notes that this is "an unusual event."

Other complications include infection, abscesses, and STIs. "The bowels are filled with trillions of bacteria. If this bacteria enters through a cut, this can cause an infection. Symptoms may be pain, fever, spreading redness of the skin, pain to the touch, nausea, or vomiting." If you are also not using a condom, you could have an anal STI — though it's important to note that they are not always painful and you may not even know you have one, as some STIs can be asymptomatic. When STIs are left untreated, they can sometimes cause abscesses, which are collections of pus in the area of the anus and rectum. The symptoms include swelling around the anus and a constant, throbbing pain. However, anal sex can also cause abscesses — even without having an STI.

The last and perhaps biggest reason you could be experiencing pain is because you are not using lube. "The anal canal does contain some mucous but does not produce lubrication as a vagina can," Dr. Greenleaf says. For this reason, not using lube could contribute to uncomfortable friction that could absolutely be avoided.

How to Make Anal Not Hurt

Anal sex can actually elicit a ton of pleasure when done correctly — one study showed that nearly 44 percent of women have experienced pleasure from some form of internal or external anal touch. It's important to know how to properly have anal sex so you don't put your health at risk. These are some tips on how to prevent painful anal sex.

  1. Start slow. "Only proceed if the muscles are relaxed and you are comfortable," Dr. Greenleaf says. "Stop when it becomes uncomfortable, and ensure you communicate with your partner what feels good and doesn't." In order to relax, consider warming yourself up with foreplay or anal masturbation. You can also take a warm shower or bath before, too, to set the mood and put you in the right mind space.
  2. Use lube to decrease the amount of friction, Dr. Greenleaf says. This can help with discomfort and pain and make it easier for items to slide in and out of the anus. (More on the specific type of lube you should use below.)
  3. Wear a condom. This can help protect you from contracting an STI like gonorrhea, chlamydia, syphilis, HIV, and more.
  4. Start small. "Using smaller items such as a finger or dilator to slowly pass into the anal canal before placing an object of a larger diameter would be a great way to test the waters," Dr. Greenleaf says. She also suggests holding the object in place for a little so you can ensure the muscles are relaxed. Once you know you or your partner is relaxed, you can then proceed with movement.
  5. Masturbate first. Learn what type of sensations you enjoy during anal sex by masturbating by yourself first. Do you like the feeling of an anus massage over penetration? Do you like the "popping" sensation anal beads provide? Or do you prefer how a butt plug feels inside of you with no movement? Learning about your body's needs and wants can be helpful before bringing a partner into the mix. Bonus tip: you can even try mutual masturbation with your partner in order to show them how you like to be touched during anal sex.
  6. Communicate with your partner. Before engaging in sex, let your partner know what you're interested in trying during anal sex, what sex positions you'd like to try, any safe words you'd like to establish before play starts, etc. Then, as you're having sex, let your partner know how things feel. If something feels off, don't be afraid to use your safe word to slow down or stop play completely. After sex, engage in aftercare by discussing what worked, what didn't, what felt good, what you'd like to try next time, what you would not like to try next time, and more. This communication can lead to a better and less painful anal sex experience in the future.

Anal Lube Options

The best anal lube option for your anal sex exploration is either silicone-based lubricant or water-based lubricant, depending on your preferences. But generally, "a silicone lube is usually the best for anal sex because it takes longer to dry out," sex and relationship coach Angela Rosario says. However, if you are using a sex toy made out of silicone, you'll want to use a water-based lubricant, since silicone-based lube can break down the sex-toy material.

Some of our favorite water-based lubricants include Lovehoney's water-based lubricant ($17) and Unbound's Jelly formula ($18). For silicone-based lubricants, you can try Überlube ($20) and Sliquid's silicone lube ($40).

Also, make sure you aren't using numbing lube. While this kind of lube does exist — not only to reduce friction and sensitivity — Rosario doesn't advise using it for anal play. "You want to make sure that you're feeling everything," she says, that way you know what your limits are, which can help prevent pain.

For more information on anal sex, read our guide on how to prepare for anal sex.

Taylor Andrews is a Balance editor at POPSUGAR who specializes in topics relating to sex, relationships, dating, sexual health, mental health, and more. In her six years working in editorial, she's written about how semen is digested, why sex aftercare is the move, and how the overturn of Roe killed situationships.