7 min

Getting to the bottom of anal sex

Why are we so reluctant to discuss the dirty details of butt play?

A bulb douche is commonly used to clean the anus before anal sex.  Credit: Xtra file photo

“If he tells you his apartment is messy, that’s usually a sign.”

I have vague memories of a friend breaking it down for a group of us during university. Crowded around the bar, we were already well into our second pitcher of cheap domestic and — as topics tend to go at that point in the night — the focus had shifted to matters of a more personal nature.

“Messy means that he’s not clean . . . down there,” he continued. “That he didn’t douche before he went out.”

“Douche! You’re supposed to douche?” One of my roommates was horrified.

“You don’t? Well, that would probably explain your track record.”

There was uncomfortable laughter, and the conversation shifted to some other long-forgotten topic. Still, that particular exchange stayed with me in part because it was such a rarity. For a common sexual practice within the LGBT community, anal sex remains a largely unaddressed topic. The mechanics of “bottoming” are straightforward to anyone with access to the internet, but the preparation that goes into it is rarely, if ever, addressed — even within some of the more sexually progressive circles.

“The available information makes it abundantly clear that anal sexuality is, and always has been, an important feature of the human erotic landscape,” notes Jack Morin in his seminal book Anal Pleasure & Health. “Yet when we compare this information with the plentiful and detailed data about other sexual activities, it’s obvious that we are heirs to an unmistakable and potent conspiracy of silence.”

Morin argues that the general reluctance to discuss anal sex is part of a deeply rooted taboo that serves a series of social functions, including enforcing cleanliness, affirming a division between mind and body, reinforcing gender differentiation and encouraging homophobia. These functions are key within patriarchal and religious societies, but with the advent of science, shifting ideas around gender and sexuality, and the repeal of key sodomy laws, the anal taboo has become less pressing.

Still, shifting attitudes around a cultural taboo is considerably more difficult than merely changing laws. “Taboos have an all-encompassing quality . . . which makes them highly resistant to logic, scientific inquiry or even firsthand experience,” Morin argues. “Although taboos develop from within a culture, it seems as if they are externally dictated from on high.”

So even as queer culture has accepted certain elements of anal play and the sexual revolution has shifted attitudes around various sex acts, these pervasive taboos have nonetheless affected our ability to openly discuss them. As such, many gays are forced to learn about bottoming through whispered conversations between friends or, in certain cases, during their very first encounter.

“My first experience bottoming was when I was 15,” adult film star Blake Daniels says. “As I was so young and inexperienced, I didn’t make any preparations, [and] thankfully, there were no issues there. [But] I was apprehensive, and the experience was painful and not all that enjoyable.”

Daniels, who has built a career performing at such studios as NakedSword and Lucas Entertainment, considers himself to be sexually versatile and finds personal value in experiencing both sexual positions.

“I do like to bottom and really like the intimate connection I feel with a guy when I bottom,” he says. “When I top, I like to be dominant and take control of the person and the situation. Conversely, when I bottom, I like to submit to the other person and lose a bit of my control.”

But that loss of control comes with a fair bit of advance preparation.

“In the adult industry, bottoms are required to arrive all clean and prepared, [and] most studios have you arrive early and provide a space where additional cleaning and touchups can be done,” he notes. “This is essential, [as] a scene can last anywhere from three to 12 hours, and you can’t hide that sort of thing from an HD camera.”

“If things are less than clean during filming, the scene must stop and everyone waits for the bottom to go get cleaned up properly.”

Of the handful of websites that address the topic, most consider bulb douching to be the most common and effective method of bottoming prep, particularly for those who wish to engage in straightforward play involving the anus and rectum. But for anyone interested in more intense play, like fisting or deep penetration with toys, many experts suggest a shower douche that will allow water to get into the colon. The benefit of the latter is that the bottoming partner will remain cleaner for a longer period of time (between four to eight hours), while the former is ideal for more immediate sexual activity (roughly within a two-hour window).

But not everyone agrees that douching is a necessary step for anal play. Some experts caution that over-douching can strip the bowel of beneficial bacterium and mucus that are necessary in the digestive process and help to fight off infections. And certain commercial douche products contain chemicals that can irritate the lining of the anal cavity and make the bottoming partner more susceptible to sexually transmitted infections.

“In real life, people’s rectums aren’t always as clean as a freshly laundered bath towel,” argues sex columnist and blogger Andrea Zanin. “Some people like to do a bit of douching before anal sex, but it’s by no means mandatory.”

Zanin, who has been writing about queer sexuality, non-monogamy and BDSM/leather for more than a decade, advocates safe-sex preparation but thinks that far too many people are concerned with time-consuming physical preparation.

“I think a minimalist approach is most respectful of our bodies’ natural processes. Our systems are designed to excrete feces safely and at the appropriate time, as long as we’re eating healthily and staying hydrated. They really don’t need help, and overdoing it can interfere with your system’s natural instincts to excrete all by itself.”

Key to that is taking cues from your body and not forcing anything too quickly.

“The anal tissues are sensitive, and many people hold stress and emotions in the sphincter muscles, which results in physical tension . . . that can make anal penetration challenging or painful. Go gently, establish trust [and] respect your body,” Zanin says.

She suggests using your own fingers and sex toys before having anal sex with anyone else. “That way you’ll be more familiar with what feels good to you, you’ll be able to tell your tops what you like best, and you can teach yourself how to relax without the pressure of anyone else in the room.”

Moreover, she emphasizes the importance of respect for your partner and the understanding that sexual positions don’t always reflect power dynamics.

“Enjoying the bottom position in anal sex doesn’t necessarily mean you’re submissive — although the two can go together nicely if that’s your bag. [And] bottoming also doesn’t make you more feminine, unless you want to make it mean that to you. All that bottoming means is that you enjoy the sensation of having your anus stimulated.”

Daniels agrees. “I find that many people associate bottoming with being feminine and do not consider the act masculine. I am a masculine guy and I love to bottom as much as I like to top, so I don’t fit neatly in the perceived roles of gay society.”

Still, he feels that cleaning is an important step in anal play. “If I had some tips for someone new to bottoming, I would tell them to learn about and practise proper douching technique . . . [and] that poppers make things go much easier if it’s painful at first.”

But Zanin is sticking to her guns.

“Look, I’m all for cleaning out if that makes you feel more comfortable. As long as you don’t do it so often that it interferes with your body’s natural excretion processes, knock yourself out. But sometimes I wonder if all that flushing is an anxious attempt to control what’s essentially a messy reality. Our bodies don’t always obey. Our fluids leak out at the wrong moments sometimes. We produce smells other than soap and cologne. C’est la vie.”

Anal sex: a primer

Being a good bottom takes a certain amount of planning.

Bulb douching

The whole process can take about half an hour, with the key focus being on cleaning the anus and rectum. Bulb douching is ideal for a quick hookup or any situation where sex will happen within a relatively short window of time. But if you’re leaving the house in the early evening and returning with a hookup at 2am, it won’t be as effective.

Fill a sink with lukewarm water (this is important, as cold water can irritate your rectum). Fill the douche until full. Lube up both the anus and the douche wand and insert. Squeeze the bulb until it is completely empty and remove while keeping your sphincter closed. Try to hold it for five minutes and release into the toilet. Repeat until the water is clear.

Deep cleaning (shower douche)

The whole process can take about an hour and a half and involves cleaning the anus, rectum and beyond. This type of cleaning is ideal for deep penetration and lasts between four to eight hours.

Attach the wand to the shower hose and adjust until the temperature is appropriate (again, lukewarm). Turn off the wand, lie in the bath, insert and turn on. Keep the water pressure fairly light and fill until it feels right. Some suggest a minute or two, but it really depends on the individual. Turn off, and keep your sphincter closed. Wait five minutes and then release. Repeat until the water is clear. After 20 minutes, return to the toilet to expel any residual water.

Don’t over-douche, as this can strip the bowel of beneficial bacterium and mucus that are necessary in the digestive process and help to fight off infections. Experts say no more than two or three times a week.

Anal 101

Be patient, use lots of lube, and breathe.

The anal sphincters are muscles. Just like any other muscle in the body, exercise makes them stronger and stretching makes them more flexible. Anal sex does both of these, so if anything, it’s good for your muscles, not bad.

Use plenty of lube, don’t numb your skin with numbing creams (sensation tells you what’s safe for your body!), and don’t force anything in there if the muscles are resistant — the anal tissues are delicate. If you go without lube, deliberately dull sensation or otherwise push past your body’s “no,” you may create tears in the anus.

If you bareback, don’t use an enema, as this may also cause tearing during sex and increase your risk of STIs.

Relax muscles during insertion and stop if you feel any pain. With practice, you’ll become more familiar with your specific sphincter muscles and will be able to tense and release in a manner that can stimulate your partner.

Try out different positions – especially if there is any discomfort, if your partner has a curved penis, or if you want more stimulation of the prostate.

If you participate in fisting, keep your nails short and be aware that many fisting oils will degrade the latex in gloves. Go slowly!