Healthy Body

If You’re Having Anal Sex, It Might Be Time To Start Thinking About Your Butt Microbiome

Gabrielle Kassel

Photo: Stocksy/ Weekend Creative
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Anal sex is the air-fryer of sex acts. Lately, it seems everyone is trying and swearing by it. For good reason: It can be so pleasurable that some sexuality professionals think it has the power to close the orgasm gap. But while more people trying anal play is indisputably a good thing—you get an anal orgasm!—people who have anal sex might want to think about their anal microbiome. "Most people are unaware of how douching before anal play, and the friction of anal penetration can negatively impact the anal microbiome," says Evan Goldstein, DO, anal surgeon and founder of Future Method, an anal wellness company.

Below, we asked experts to demystify the anal microbiome, how anal sex can disrupt it, and why a probiotic may be helpful.

First things first: What is an anal microbiome

Known medically as the rectal microbiome, the anal microbiome is comprised of bacteria that live harmoniously in the anal canal, says Heather Moday, MD, immunologist, functional medicine doctor, and author of The Immunotype Breakthrough. These anal bacteria aren't harmful. They work together to keep your tush in tip-top shape, she says.

While a lot is largely unknown about the anal microbiome, it supports comfortable poops and wards off infection when it's functioning optimally. But if the bacterial balance gets thrown off, the anal microbiome stops functioning optimally. When your anal microbiome gets disrupted, the integrity of the anal lining is reduced, says Dr. Moday. "And when the anal lining is disrupted, infectious pathogens (like STDs) are more easily able to pass through the lining easily and infect you," she says. This alteration to the anal canal increased the risk of coming down with other kinds of anal infection, localized irritation, and anal fissures, adds Dr. Goldstein.

How anal sex can disrupt the anal microbiome

Let the record show that it's not just anal sex that can disrupt the bacterial make-up of the booty microbiome. "Many different things can disrupt the balance of the anal microbiome," says Dr. Goldstein. Broadly speaking, anytime a foreign object (wipes, douches, toys, body parts, etc.) is introduced in or around the anal canal, there is a risk of disruption. However, because anal sex involves inserting a foreign object into the rear, and many people take extra care to clean their butts before and after anal sex, anal play can create the perfect storm for anal microbiome mayhem.

Ahead of anal play, it's common for individuals to use soap, wet wipes, anal douches, or a combination of all three to cleanse the area. (For the record: This is not necessary). Unfortunately, each can disrupt the anal microbiome. Most body soaps—as well as other washes, oils, and creams—contain chemicals, antibacterial ingredients, and fragrances, and that can upset the flora, as well as agitate the anal tissues, explains Dr. Moday. Anal wipes and anal douching can also upset the balance. Dr. Goldstein explains: "Anal wipes are designed to wipe away the external microbiome," which open up the opportunity for 'bad' bacteria to take control. On top of that, wipes can introduce irritating chemicals, leave behind excess moisture, and irritate the anal skin and lining with the material of the fabric used, he says.

Anal douches—especially anal douches filled with tap water or laxatives—are especially disruptive to the rectal microbiome. "The pH of these solutions does not match the pH of the natural anal pH, so introducing them to the anal canal can irritate the anal canal and alter the anal microbiome," says Dr. Moday. But even if somebody doesn't use these (excessive) cleansing protocols ahead of anal sex, the friction present during penetrative play can upset the bacterial balance in the booty, according to Dr. Goldstein. (Yes, this friction exists even if you use lube, which BTW you should).

Before you rule out anal altogether and deny yourself the pleasure of peach play, it's worth mentioning that the vaginal microbiome is equally as sensitive! Disruption to the bacterial make-up in a vagina is why some people get yeast infections and/or bacterial vaginosis after using fragrant soaps, new sex toys, or having sex with a new partner. So, favoring one form of intercourse over the other isn't necessarily the solution. Plus, there is now a supplement on the market that may help! (More on that below).

Are gut and butt probiotics the solution

Put simply. Probiotic supplements are designed to help repopulate the good bacteria in the microbiome. Unfortunately for anal-sex havers, "most probiotics can't even get through stomach acid, which means there's no way for them to be able to re-colonize the bacteria all the way down to your rectum," according to Dr. Goldstein. That's precisely why his company, Future Method, just launched a Butt & Gut Daily Pre + Probiotic ($60).

Designed to help those who engage in anal play support colonization of good bacteria in their rectum naturally, the Butt & Gut Daily Pre + Probiotic is delivered in a fancy capsule (known as a microencapsulated delivery system) that's able to safely transport the formula through the stomach acid, all the way to your rear. The formula also includes prebiotics, which function as 'food' for the protective bacteria. The inclusion of prebiotics enables the protective probiotic colonies to do their protective work, Dr. Goldstein says.

So should you start supplementing with the Butt & Gut Daily Pre + Probiotic? If you regularly engage in anal play, Dr. Goldstein says it's a good move. Of course, no supplement is a magic solution. In addition to taking a probiotic, Dr. Moday recommends doing other things to support your butt microbiome health, "which are the same things you'd do to support your gut microbiome," she says. Including: Eating a fiber-rich diet, avoiding excess sugar, limiting alcohol intake, staying about from antibiotics when possible, and consuming fermented foods like sauerkraut, kimchee, and kefir regularly.

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