A Once-Taboo Sex Move Goes Mainstream

“It’s a pretty under-approached, under-appreciated area because a lot of people think of it as dirty,” says Elizabeth McGrath, a Somatic sex therapist in the San Francisco Bay area. Tell that to the growing number of couples who have called anal sex in-bounds in the bedroom. A study published in The Journal of Sex Research looked at survey data of 40,000 cohabitating and married couples and found that, while only 14 percent of survey participants reported engaging in anal sex in the last year, 30 percent said they had taken part in anal stimulation. And, yes, anal-oral sex, otherwise known as anilingus, is a part of this growing experimentation. But why?

First of all, the anus is loaded with nerve endings. For both men and women, stimulation in the area between the genitals and the anus (the perineum), the anus itself, and even the area leading up to the tailbone can all create fantastic sexual sensations.

That part of the anilingus equation is an easy sell. Where most people abandon any plans to try this is when they consider its primary function. It seems weird — and potentially dangerous — to lick there. According to the experts, it’s not as bad as many imagine. Be warned, some real biology follows: “When we expel from our anus, the inner sphincters push out and then retract back in,” says McGrath. That means that the area of the body that comes in contact with fecal matter is mostly on the inside, so wiping well after a bowl movement cleans things much better than most people fear. It’s still a good idea to be reasonable about cleanliness down there when anilingus is on the table because that area of the body can have infectious agents, like bacteria, viruses, parasites that don’t just wash away.

With that out of the way, McGrath says part of the great thing about anilingus is that preparing for it can be foreplay. McGrath says the most important tip is to go slowly. Aside from cleaning in the shower together, foreplay can include a butt, inner thigh, and lower back massage, and oral sex. When a person starts anilingus, they should move their tongue around (but not in) the anus first to help their partner relax. Changing things up, as with oral sex, is a good way to see what feels best. 

For the most part, anilingus is similar for men and women. One major difference is that men have a prostate, which, when stimulated, can lead to incredibly pleasurable sensations. Men’s sphincters also tend to be tighter, but they have more area inside (fewer organs down there). Most people have hair around their anus and some men have more than women. It’s also common for men to have a stronger body odor.

One point that McGrath emphasized is that anal stimulation has nothing to do with your sexuality. “What makes someone’s sexual preference is the gender identity of the two people rather than the action that’s happening,” says McGrath. The bottom line, the anus has become a sexually relevant area of the body, and for those intrigued by it, it's worth exploring.