Anal sex is more popular than it's ever been. According to a report released by the CDC in 2011, 44 percent of straight men and 36 percent of straight women admitted to having had anal sex at least once in their lives. A similar survey published in The Journal of Sexual Medicine in 2010 found that 46 percent of women in any age group had tried anal sex, compared to just 33 percent who reported having done so in a similar study conducted way back in 1992.

Clearly, many of us are a lot more open to the idea of giving anal sex a try. But while we now hear about anal sex all the time, it’s usually addressed in a very general way. That's great for beginners who need to know the ins and out of working up to anal penetration. The question is, what happens after that?

Here are some tips to ensure that anal action is pleasurable from start to finish. (Anal sex has its drawbacks, especially for those who don't know what they're doing. Read You Shouldn't Have Anal Sex If ... for details.)

Relax, Just Do It

If there's one thing you can do to make anal sex more pleasurable, it's to relax. Actually, come to think of it, that goes a long way in any kind of sex, but it's extra important here. That's because it can take time and practice to get the anal sphincter to relax. So, whether you're giving or receiving anal sex, you have to take your time, slowly relax into it, and allow your partner to do the same. The anal sphincter is a muscle. The more relaxed you are the more relaxed it'll be. That in itself can make anal sex a lot more pleasurable.

A lot of people also tend to hold their breath during anal sex, whether as a result of anticipation or a little natural fear. Big mistake. Big. Breathing is one of the most important aspects of allowing your body to relax and enjoy. Focus your attention here.

Getting out of your own head and learning to just enjoy the moment with your partner is also key to relaxation. You will never be able to relax if you’re on the outside looking in, so allow yourself to be present and get lost in the moment.

Finally, communicate. Tell your partner what you need, what you don’t want, what you enjoy, and what you don’t enjoy before the act and even during. Don’t be afraid to speak up. Great sex happens when everyone's having fun. When you're trying something new, achieving that can take a little extra effort. It is so worth it! (Get more communication tips in Talk Dirty to Me: The Why and How of Hot Aural Sex.)

The Slow Grind

Sex doesn't have to a be a race to the finish. In fact, when you're venturing into anal sex, it shouldn't be. Start slowly and gently to help get the area accustomed to the feeling of penetration. If you’re a beginner or this is your partner’s first go at back door lovin’, you don’t want to do too much too soon. The skin in the anal walls is quite thin and doing anything more than what you or your partner can handle may cause discomfort and pain. And there should not - I repeat, should not - be pain.

Sometimes, this means taking a break from anal penetration for a while and playing at something else (just make sure you use a new condom and/or wash your sex toys first. Anal/vaginal bacteria should never mix.)

Finally, be patient. No one becomes an anal sex pro overnight. Mastering - and truly enjoying - anal sex takes time, patience and lots and lots of lube. There is lots of individual variability in this time frame too, so be respectful of your partner's pace.

Anal Sex Toys

If there's one thing that's important at all times during anal sex, it's lube. The anus does not self-lubricate like the vagina does so making sure it stays as lubricated as possible will make anal sex easier, more comfortable and infinitely more pleasurable. (Learn more about lube in The Ins and Outs of Sexual Lubricants.)

Lubricants made specifically for anal sex are typically thicker and longer lasting than regular lubricants. Silicone lubricants are also great for the anal area because of their smooth and silky feel and their staying power. Stay away from water-based lubricants - they tend to dry out too quickly.

There are lots of good sex toys designed for anal pleasure, but the best anal sex accessories - especially for beginners - are your hands. Your fingers are flexible, soft and, most of all, familiar. Finger penetration is a great way to work your way up to having anal sex or using anal sex toys.

Sex toys such as anal probes, butt plugs and anal beads are also designed for anal pleasure. These range from entry-level to expert toys. Read product descriptions and reviews to choose your toy accordingly. Don't go for the extra-large anal beads right of the bat. They might look bad-ass, but it's always better to start off small and work your way up. (Read more about this in Anal Sex Toys 101.)

Rear-Entry Positions

There are a few positions that work well for anal sex. Doggy-style is probably the friendliest and most well known position here (keeping a deep arch in the back gives better access to the anal area), but many of the positions you typically use could work for anal sex as well. In fact, if you use lubricant (and a lot of it) you should be able to enter the anus from just about any position you like.

Try It Tonight?

Anal sex isn't for everyone (then again, what is?), but statistics suggest that a whole lot more people are willing to give it a try. And why not? Anal sex can be a fun, pleasurable new way to experience your partner. Just remember that anal sex is about more than penetration; it takes patience, communication and care to ensure that it's a safe and pleasurable experience from beginning to ... end.