Should We Talk About the Fact That Anal Sex Might Hurt?

Published: OCTOBER 9, 2014 | Updated: MARCH 27, 2024
With great pleasure sometimes comes a little pain. It's important to discuss the potential of both, especially when venturing into the world of anal play.
I recently completed a chapter on anal sex for an anthology of sex master secrets. Before publication the editors wanted to make some final corrections and having worked in publishing for years, I was not fazed. The final edits were strong and added to the work. Getting positive, helpful information out about sex is crucial to our greater collective understanding and de-stigmatization of sex...and anal sex is definitely a topic that needs to be discussed. Surprisingly however, the editorial team whom I truly respect for their work on sexuality wanted me to revise what I believe is crucial knowledge about anal sex: They wanted me to eliminate the conversation on pain. I was shocked. How could sex educators purposefully avoid preparing people for the fact that this sexual practice, while extremely pleasurable and sensual, can, in the beginning (or anytime), be anywhere from mildly uncomfortable to downright excruciating? It just seemed irresponsible and antithetical to the very concept of sex education. In the end, we worked it out and now we all feel the chapter is strong as both an introduction to butt sex for beginners and as a reinforcement for people who are already ass aficionados. But the situation did make me think: Should potential pain be a topic to address in sexual education?

Potential Pain

Almost any sex act has the potential for unpleasant sensation, falling anywhere on the spectrum from mild discomfort to "oh-god-never-do-that-again!" Blowjobs can cause gagging, fingers can come with sharp fingernails, spankings can sting too much, penises don't always bend the way we want and vaginas come in different shapes and sizes that won't always accommodate the things you try to put in them. The thing is, anal sex and stimulation already bears the expectation of pain. In a very unscientific survey, almost everyone I asked said that their first experience with butt play fell somewhere on the pain spectrum, sometimes even preventing them from ever trying ass stuff again. Could the expectation that anal sex is painful be setting folks up to think pain is the norm? Sometimes if we expect pain we will feel pain, and this may hold us back from trying new things, sexually.

To Reduce Discomfort...

Having an experienced person introduce you to anal sex is the ideal; someone who knows their way around the block to the back door. Having an experienced guide can dissuade fear and anxiety, and hopefully eliminate (or at least reduce) both physical and psychological pain. These days, anal sex is much more prevalent and people are exploring their asses earlier. This increases the likelihood that the person touching, licking or penetrating your ass will have some experience with anal sex. If you're into ass, you know that patience and lube are the key elements to a great experience. People who are less experienced might not take enough time or use enough slippery stuff. (Get our sexpert's take on anal lube here.)

Less Pain, More Gain

The potential for pain in anal sex can be likened to that of more extreme sex acts, such as fisting and erotic asphixiation, practices that don't have to hurt, but might. Even sex acts like hitting, slapping, pinching, biting, and spanking that are supposed to hurt in a good way, shouldn't be excruciating if performed correctly. The key in these situations is communication. (Get the conversation started with our article, Butt Play: Your Ifs, Ands and...Buts.) Some cautions do apply to anal sex. Tears and abrasions can happen. Lube is highly advised. While I don’t want to turn anyone off from anal sex, I do think we need to be informed about the potential for pain. We can't always be sure whether anal sex will be painful or pleasurable for us, but I believe having as much information as possible is more likely to lead to a positive result.
Jon Pressick

Jon Pressick is a sex-related media gadabout. For more than 20 years, Jon has been putting sex into our daily conversations at his long-running site SexInWords—as a writer, editor, publisher, sex toy reviewer, radio host, workshop facilitator, event producer and more. These days, he focuses on writing for Kinkly, GetMeGiddy, The Buzz and PinkPlayMags and editing Jason Armstrong's series of Solosexual books. In 2015, Jon edited Cleis Press' Best Sex Writing of the...

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