October 31, 2007

Q&A: Safe Anal Sex Play And Anal Toys

Dr. Debby Herbenick answers a question from a reader about using anal toys and how best to engage in safe anal play

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Question: I have a question about safe anal play. I need/want to know if you can hurt or damage yourself in any way by putting something ‘too far’ up the anus. I just purchased some new anal toys. One that I purchased seems to be a little long which worries me, as I want to make sure I do not damage anything internally when I am using the toy.

Thanks for your question. Just like the vagina or a person’s mouth, there is only so much ‘length’ that a person can comfortably or safely take into one’s rectum. However, that probably varies somewhat between people based on their own body size, comfort, ability to relax the muscles around the anal opening and rectum, and other issues such as the degree to which penetration is gentle or rough, or the degree to which a person is using a personal lubricant to ease anal penetration.

Anal Sex Toys And Safety

Sex toys are typically sold as ‘novelty’ products and therefore do not go through a formal review process to ensure the safety of their use.

In addition, sex toy manufacturers often do not provide instructions on how to use sex toys and other enhancement products such as vibrators, dildos or anal toys (also called “butt toys”, and these may include butt plugs, anal probes, vibrating anal toys, or anal beads).

Given this lack of information, many women and men who choose to use sex toys are left to learn about the use of sexual toys through their own exploration, as well as through various web sites and books.

In terms of your own exploration, it may be helpful to keep in mind that sex should not hurt – unless, of course, you (either alone, or with a partner) purposely involve pain as part of your sex play, as sometimes but not always occurs with bondage, domination or power play.

If Sex Hurts

Generally speaking, however, if sex hurts it may be a sign that something is wrong and that perhaps you should stop or try something else. You may be able to reduce discomfort or pain through the use of a store-bought lubrication (if your sex play involves penetration of the vagina or anus), through relaxation (this can help relax the muscles around your anal opening), or through more gentle or slow touching or penetration.

If you are worried or concerned about any discomfort, pain or bleeding, or if you have ongoing pain or bleeding or cuts, you should check in with your healthcare provider.

Educate Yourself

Before engaging in any sexual activity that you have questions or concerns about, consider educating yourself – as we often don’t learn about sex (let alone sex toys) as we are growing up or even as we enter adulthood.

Web sites associated with the sex toy companies Good Vibrations (goodvibes.com) and MyPleasure (mypleasure.com) tend to provide information about sexual behaviors, sex toy hygiene, tips and techniques and safety issues.

Recommended Reading

Books that provide a fair amount of information related to safe and pleasurable ways of using sex toys include The Good Vibrations Guide to Sex, The Guide to Getting It On, and Sex Toys 101: A Playfully Uninhibited Guide.

That said, you may find another book to be of particular use or interest as it contains a large amount of information that is specific to anal play, whether with a partner or with toys. That book is Anal Health & Pleasure: A Guide for Men and Women.

You can also ask your healthcare provider for information specific to your own body and sexual health, so that you can have the most comfortable, pleasurable – and safe – sexual experiences possible.