Good news first: “The short is answer is no. In safe anal play, there should be no long-lasting effects,” says Alicia Sinclair, certified sex educator and CEO of b-Vibe, an anal play product company.
But there’s a longer answer, too, and it requires a quick anatomy lesson: The rectum is the last part of your large intestine, which leads to the anus, says Evan Goldstein MD, CEO and founder of Bespoke Surgical, a sexual-wellness company specializing anal-related health. “There are actually three sets of muscles that comprise the anal sphincter, which is the last part of your anus.” Two of these muscles are voluntarily controlled (relaxed and contracted), while the third operates involuntarily. For pleasurable and “successful” anal, all three of these need to be relaxed. How? Foreplay.
Just as you can overstretch your hamstring in yoga, you can overstretch your sphincter during anal.
Get all the erogenous zones in on the action in order to optimize your body's ability to relax and, thus, relax the sphincter, says Sinclair. Also, lube. “Lube is a complete necessity—not just for helping to minimize injury, but also for maximizing everyone’s pleasure,” Dr. Goldstein adds, specifying not to opt for a warming or cooling or numbing variety. “People use these desensitizing lubes in order to not feel anal pain during play. The problem with this is that anal sex shouldn’t be painful. And if it is, it’s a signal that you should stop or slow down." Basically, these lubes interfere with your ability to 'hear' your body's warning sirens. Furthermore, without the proper prep, Dr. Goldstein says you open yourself to the risk of injury and decidedly not-fun situations, like pain, the tearing of anal tissue, and even permanent dysfunction.
And while being really, really prepped every time should keep you safe from anal play having any lasting side effects, the fact that the sphincter is comprised of muscles offers certain pros and cons. On one hand, “muscle has memory so it gets used to relaxing,” says Dr. Goldstein. That’s why some people say anal sex gets “easier” and more comfortable the more often you do it.
But just as you can overstretch your hamstring in yoga, you can also overstretch your sphincter during anal. “It is possible to push the anal sphincter muscles with a toy, cock, or fist beyond their ability to recoil and snap back. Looseness occurs if one continues to push the boundaries of their anal muscle elasticity,” says Dr. Goldstein. So, repeatedly engaging in activities that test your body's elasticity over time can certainly lead to getting stretched out, he adds.
However, your body will usually alert you via pain that what you’re doing isn’t A-okay with your a-hole before you reach a point of no return. That's why both experts say the fear of damage shouldn't stop you from exploring butt play and pleasure with a partner you trust.
To tame your worries, practice preventative measures, like kegels and pelvic-floor strengthening moves. Sinclair says that, yup, those famous do-anywhere vaginal-strengtheners also lend themselves to your anal sphincter. You might try strengthening them Hilaria Baldwin-style.
With a proper warm-up, lube, and exercises, you and your anal sphincter will be great, but if you do suffer any kind of injury, seek advice from a doc who specializes in sexual health. “Find an expert who uses a professional approach to sexual wellness, because there are options to assist in remedying these rare but less than ideal outcomes,” Dr. Goldstein says.
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