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31st January, 20214 min read

Anal sex: all you need to know

Medical reviewer: Dr Adiele Hoffman
Author: Caroline Bodian
Last reviewed: 28/01/2021
Medically reviewed

All of Healthily's articles undergo medical safety checks to verify that the information is medically safe. View more details in our safety page, or read our editorial policy.

There are a lot of misunderstandings about anal sex, so you may well have questions that you’re unsure of. Is it very high risk? Can you get sexually transmitted infections (STIs) from it? And who can have anal sex?

Read on to learn all you need to know about anal sex, including the risks, benefits and how to do it safely.

What is anal sex?

When we talk about anal sex, we mean any type of sexual activity involving the anal area (bottom). This includes penetrating the anus with a penis, sex toys or fingers, and oral sex – anal stimulation using the mouth or tongue.

Anal sex isn’t an activity that’s linked to one gender or sexual orientation – anyone may choose to do it.

What are the health risks of anal sex?

If you’re considering anal sex, you may be wondering: is anal sex dangerous? Well, as with any sex, anal sex has possible risks.

In fact, anal sex has a higher risk of spreading sexually transmitted infections (STIs) than other types of sex, such as vaginal or oral. This is because the lining of the anus is thin and more easily damaged, which in turn makes it more likely to get infected.

STIs that can be passed on during anal sex include:

  • chlamydia
  • genital herpes
  • genital warts
  • gonorrhoea
  • hepatitis B
  • HIV
  • syphilis

Infections caused by bacteria or viruses, such as E. coli and hepatitis A, can also be passed on by oral-anal sex. Anal penetration with fingers can also pass on STIs.

An anal fissure is a less common risk of anal sex. This is a tear in the lining of the anus, which can be quite painful. It’s usually caused by hard large poos (bowel movements) or frequent loose poos, but can also be caused by anal penetration during sex.

What are the benefits of anal sex?

It’s important to practise safe anal sex (see below), so you can enjoy the benefits and not have to worry as much about the risks.

Like vaginal sex, anal sex has a number of benefits, including the fact that it can be good for your heart. Sex is, after all, exercise – and sexual arousal makes your heart beat faster. As with any physical activity, however, how much of a workout it is depends on how energetically you do it.

Some studies have shown that the average peak heart rate during orgasm is about the same as during light exercise, such as walking up the stairs. So while sex alone probably isn’t going to be enough to keep you healthy (it’s recommended that we do at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise a week) any exercise that ups your heart rate is good for you.

Some research also suggests that people who have sex may feel healthier, though this isn’t proven. In an American study, people who were having sex rated their health higher than those who weren’t. Of course, it could be that people who feel healthier tend to have more sex.

There does seem to be a link between wellbeing and sex, though – and that goes for anal sex, too.

How can you have anal sex safely?

While anal sex has health risks, you can minimise these risks by practising safe sex.

You can use condoms to help protect against the spread of STIs during anal sex. And make sure you use them with water-based or silicone-based lubricants, because oil-based lubricants (such as lotion and moisturiser) can damage some types of condoms.

And if you have vaginal sex right after anal sex, you should use a new condom. This is to avoid transferring bacteria from the anus to the vagina, which can lead to an infection.

Key points

  • anal sex isn’t limited to one gender or sexual orientation
  • anal sex carries a higher risk of spreading STIs than other types of sex
  • you can prevent STIs during anal sex by using a condom
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Important: Our website provides useful information but is not a substitute for medical advice. You should always seek the advice of your doctor when making decisions about your health.