Whether you’re happily partnered or happily your own soulmate (thank you Lizzo), this month’s Sex Ed for Adults Q&A is for you. We’re talking about anal play, cock rings, and pelvic pain, but the main theme is this: find options that feel good for you and your partners, and don’t let anyone shame you out of them.
I’m too nervous about penetrative vaginal sex to feel anything but pain, even when I finger myself. How do I make this stop?
Ironically and frustratingly, believing that sex will cause pain can…cause sex to be painful. That’s because that belief tells us “you won’t be safe or comfortable doing this” and your body responds to that perceived threat. So, in a society where it’s commonly believed that people with vaginas should feel shame or discomfort around sex, it’s no wonder that so many of us actually do.
Before I dive any deeper into this, I want to be clear: Pain with vaginal sex is not normal or to be expected, even if you’ve never had penetrative sex before.
There are many reasons why someone with a vagina might experience pain during play: lack of lubrication, lack of nipple stimulation, not being aroused, a history of trauma, internalized shame about sex, a physical condition known as vaginismus, an undiagnosed STI, and even certain medications.
That’s a lot of possible causes of your pain, and they’re all worth paying attention to. That may mean connecting with a trusted pelvic pain specialist or sex therapist to talk through some of the issues that you’ve been experiencing. It may mean trying out different sexual options.
Think about what your environment looks and feels like when you feel most comfortable and safe. Can you create that environment when you masturbate or have sex? As you create that environment, think about your physical comfort. Maybe you want to be propped up with pillows, or you want mood lighting and music. Or, maybe you want to take some deep, meditative breaths as you begin to touch yourself or let a partner touch you (deep breaths can relax the pelvic floor muscles). A safe environment is essential for sexual pleasure — it helps you relax!
Then, take it slow. If entering your vagina is what’s causing you pain, don’t try to put anything up there for a while. Pay attention to other pleasure zones on the outside of your body, like your nipples, lips, ear lobes, clitoris, and perineum. All of those areas can be pleasurable to touch. You can use a sex toy (like a vibrator) if you want, or you can just use your hands. Regardless of which you opt for, I always recommend using lube. Lube reduces friction which can make all of your sexual experiences — penetrative or not — more comfortable and pleasurable.
If you’re experiencing sexual pain, know that you’re not alone and you don’t need to just “power on through.” You deserve to live a life full of sexual pleasure. If your pain persists or gets worse, talk with a medical provider or sex therapist about what you’re experiencing. Pelvic pain specialists (including physical therapists) exist to help people through these issues.
Can you get an STI from anal sex?
In short, yes, you can get STIs from anal sex.
The term “anal sex” is an umbrella term used to describe a variety of sexual behaviors that involve your booty. Your mind may immediately think of penetrative anal play (where one person’s anus is receiving another person’s biological or store-bought cock), but that’s just one type of anal play.
Anal play also encompasses analingus (oral sex performed on an anus), using booty-safe sex toys (non-porous toys with flared bases or handles for safe insertion and removal), and manual stimulation (fingering or fisting). STI transmission is possible during any of those sex acts, even using toys.
The anus has very thin mucous membranes, even thinner than those of the vagina. Mucous membranes are highly porous, which means fluids can pass through them more easily. They’re also prone to tearing, and those tears can make it easier for blood and other bodily fluids to enter your body.
To be clear: pretty much everyone has an anus, so anal play isn’t just for one particular type of person. People of any gender or sexual orientation can engage in anal play. So, if you’re looking to try out anal play, but are worried about STI transmission, you have a few different options.
PrEP (pre-exposure prophylaxis) is a once-daily medication used to prevent the transmission of HIV. PrEP is only taken by people who are HIV-negative.
Use barrier methods
Barrier methods, like the FC2 internal condom, standard external condoms, dental dams, and powder-free gloves all serve to protect from skin-to-skin or skin-to-fluid contact. Barrier methods reduce the transmission risk of all STIs, but take note: they are risk reduction tools, not risk elimination tools. STIs that transmit through skin-to-skin contact, like Herpes and HPV, can still be passed onward if the affected part of your body isn’t covered.
Get tested regularly for STIs
Most people living with STIs don’t know that they have one. So, before you begin having sex with a new partner, get tested. You can even visit your local testing site together as part of a sexual wellness date. If you engage in anal play of any kind you should make rectal testing part of your STI testing routine, because certain infections can stay localized in the anal region and a blood or urine test won’t catch them. The Nurx Full Control Kit includes a rectal swab test for chlamydia and gonorrhea.
Clean your sex toys
Toy hygiene is important whether or not you share your sex toys with partners. There are a few different ways that you can clean your toys, but the one tried-and-true method that works for every toy type is simply washing it in the sink with hot water and unscented soap (like Dial Gold).
Talk about it
Ultimately, it’s up to you and your partners to decide what prevention methods — if any — you want to incorporate into your sex life. That’s a personal decision, but you can’t get there without talking openly about it. Have a conversation about your sexual boundaries and desires, your latest testing results, and if you’re having sex with other people. That way, everyone can make an informed decision about the STI prevention methods that are best for them.
Do cock rings stop you from orgasming? Is that healthy?
Cock rings are flexible circles, typically made from silicone or nitrile, that range in size. They aren’t designed to stop you from reaching orgasm or ejaculating.
Rather, they’re intended to delay orgasm or ejaculation and help people with penises hold an erection for a longer period of time. They work by keeping blood in the penis for longer amounts of time. That means they can be a very helpful tool for folks who experience erectile difficulties.
Cock rings are perfectly healthy to use when used properly. When using a cock ring, you should always start with the largest possible size and then move to tighter sizes once you feel comfortable. Many cock rings come in packs that contain multiple sizes so that you can try out what feels right for you. They should feel tight, but not painful, and if you feel pain then you should remove it immediately.
Crucially, you should never make cock rings at home — tools like rubber bands are too tight to wrap around the body, and you can end up harming yourself unintentionally.
Most people wear cock rings to delay ejaculation, but you shouldn’t wear them for more than 20-30 minutes, so be mindful of the time that has elapsed. Use a little bit of lube when putting them on and taking them off, and you’re good to go!
Cock rings can help you maintain an erection for longer, but if you’re experiencing erectile issues on a regular basis, it’s worth talking to your doctor. You may have an underlying condition, like high blood pressure or diabetes, that could be contributing to your erectile issues.
About the Author
Cassandra Corrado is an independent sex educator who teaches at colleges and universities across the United States. Formerly a victim advocate, she mostly teaches on topics related to un/healthy relationships, violence prevention, LGBTQ+ health, and sexual pleasure.
This blog provides information about telemedicine, health and related subjects. The blog content and any linked materials herein are not intended to be, and should not be construed as a substitute for, medical or healthcare advice, diagnosis or treatment. Any reader or person with a medical concern should consult with an appropriately-licensed physician or other healthcare provider. This blog is provided purely for informational purposes. The views expressed herein are not sponsored by and do not represent the opinions of Nurx™.