Is Anal Douching Safe?
- It's important to be prepared with the right equipment to douche, including condoms, finger cots, vinyl gloves and disposable wipes.
- For any kind of anal play, use a lot of lube, then double that amount. And remember, "s**t happens!"
- Anal douching needs to be slow and gentle. Avoid over-douching or you risk disrupting the natural flora of the rectum.
Hygiene is central to conversations concerning intimacy/sexual health, and practices such as anal douching are increasingly being talked about.
But what is anal douching, and why is it becoming a hot topic among healthcare professionals?
Anal douching 101
Anal douching is a method of cleansing that involves introducing a small amount of fluid, often water or a saline solution, into the rectum. The main purpose is to flush out fecal matter and ensure the rectum is clean.
As many as 70 percent of men douche, according to a 2014 study, compared to 32 percent of women.
A couple of the most common reasons people engage in anal douching include:
- Comfort and confidence. Knowing your anal canal is clean can boost confidence and enhance comfort during intimate encounters.
- Hygiene and cleanliness. For many people, especially those engaging in anal intercourse, douching is about avoiding any unexpected incidents related to fecal remnants.
For people in cultures across the world—Italy, France, Japan, the Middle East and others—anal cleansing is appropriate after relieving themselves. However, this is external cleaning only, via a bidet. Anal douching specifically targets the internal rectum, while bidets focus on external cleanliness around the anal cavity.
Potential risks and concerns on anal douching
Rectal douching's most common drawback might be an elevated risk of acquiring sexually transmitted infections (STIs), according to a 2021 report. That's especially true if the douche is carried out using inappropriate equipment. The delicate lining of the rectum can also be irritated if abrasive substances are used.
Anal douching can damage the protective outer layer of rectal cells, according to Rhiannon John, a Brooklyn, New York-based certified sexologist with Bedbible. That has the potential to heighten susceptibility to sexually transmitted infections and HIV.
"However, for some individuals, the practice offers the benefit of mitigating concerns about fecal matter during anal sex, contributing to enhanced pleasure by reducing anxiety and fostering a more relaxed and enjoyable experience," John said.
Aside from irritation, injuries and bacterial imbalance, there is another risk.
"Over-douching can lead to dryness, irritation and an increased risk of tissue damage," said Lilith Foxx, a board-certified sexologist and inclusivity consultant based in Houston. "This is particularly true if you are rough or try to rush the process."
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A guide to safe anal douching
Before taking up anal douching, consult with your healthcare provider, especially if you have concerns or known rectal issues. This can prevent potential complications.
Experts highlight four important steps you should consider.
1. Choose the right equipment
Opt for medical-grade products specifically designed for the purpose of anal douching.
"When considering anal douching, prioritizing safety is of utmost importance," John said. "Select trustworthy equipment from well-known sources and carefully follow the provided guidelines."
Avril Louise Clarke, M.A., a clinical sexologist and intimacy coordinator in Barcelona, Spain, who is the global brand manager and growth market strategist for the sex-positive adult site, erikalust.com, has recommendations:
- Douche bulbs. They are reusable rubber bulbs with a nozzle on one end that's inserted into the rectum. The bulb is filled with water or another similar safe solution such as saline.
- Douche or enema bags. They are typically sold as part of an enema kit with tube and nozzle attachments. Similar to hot water bottles, a solution-filled bag is squeezed to release the contents internally in the body.
2. Be prepared and know what you're doing before you begin
Ensure your douching equipment is clean. Use mild soap and warm water, then rinse thoroughly a few times to make sure it's clean.
"Our body has a delicate balance of electrolytes that help keep it functioning properly," said Rebecca Alvarez Story, a sexologist and co-founder of the sexologist-led intimacy company Bloomi, in San Francisco. "You should be using ingredients that are least likely to throw off this balance, while also ensuring you are eating plenty of fibrous foods and increasing your water intake for regular bowel movements ahead of anal play."
She added that saline-based enemas can be OK. Unfortunately, frequent use can have side effects such as disturbing our gut bacteria as well as affecting our body's electrolyte balance.
"If you plan on douching, it's important to be mindful of how you do it," she added. "Make sure to prepare your butt and your douche. You can begin with nozzle and douche cleaning in order to avoid the spread of bacteria. Make sure to use water that's a little less than lukewarm to avoid any potential burning. If you're using any type of enema solution, follow the mixing instructions on the package. You can lubricate the tip of the douche to make insertion easier."
When it comes to pressure and time for evacuation, it's best to be gentle and avoid excessive pressure, according to Martha Tara Lee, D.H.S., an AASECT-certified sex educator and clinical sexologist with Eros Coaching in Singapore. And be sure to wait a few minutes, so any remaining water or fecal matter can be expelled before any anal activities.
"Anal douching needs to be slow and gentle, as the rectal lining is delicate and can take weeks to heal if damaged," Foxx said. "I also recommend douching no less than two hours before play, to allow for the muscles to settle and for any liquids introduced to make their way out of the rectum."
She recommended allowing ample time for natural lubrication to return but still to use additional lubricant during anal play.
"As the saying goes: 'For anal play, use a lot of lube, then double that amount,'" she added.
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3. Rinse and repeat
Depending on your own thoroughness, it's possible you might not get completely clean with just one rinse. And that's OK. Simply repeat the process a couple of times.
But avoid over-douching because it can disrupt the natural flora of the rectum and lead to other complications.
Listen to your body and, when in doubt, seek professional advice. Those with hemorrhoids, fissures or other rectal issues may need to take extra precautions or avoid douching altogether.
When you're done, clean the equipment with mild soap and warm water. When everything is dry and you've examined everything to make sure it's sparkling clean, store it in a cool, dry place.
If you notice any irritation, discomfort or bleeding after douching, talk to a healthcare professional before you douche again.
Alternative strategies and additional tips
Foxx and Lee recommended additional strategies for anal play, such as tips to ensure cleanliness and reduce the risk of a mess:
- Consider timing. Planning anal activities following a bowel movement and a regular shower can mitigate the need for douching.
- Use finger cots. Finger cots are small, latex or nitrile coverings that can be placed over the finger for added protection during manual stimulation or penetration. They can help reduce the risk of direct contact with fecal matter and make cleanup easier.
- Hide visibility. It can help alleviate some anxieties about cleanliness to "hide" the mess visibility. For example, you can lie down on dark towels before play, use black latex gloves for anal play/fisting and use Tuxedo Black condoms, which are an opaque black color.
- Eat a high-fiber diet. A diet rich in fiber can help with bowel movement regularity. While not an immediate fix, it's something to consider if anal play will be in your regular repertoire of play. It's generally considered safe but check with your medical provider before making major dietary changes.
- Practice good hand hygiene. Before engaging in anal activities, ensure you thoroughly wash your hands with warm water and mild soap. This helps minimize the transfer of bacteria or fecal matter.
- Try playing in the shower first so you're both clean. This also makes for easier cleanup should something unplanned happen. Silicone-based lube is ideal for this, as it won't immediately wash away like water-based lube will. It also takes soap and water to clean off, and since you're already in the shower that makes it easy. Be warned, though, that silicone-based lube is not compatible with silicone toys. Oil-based lubes will work well for shower anal play, however, they're not compatible with latex condoms.
- Use a condom. Using a condom during anal penetration can provide an extra layer of protection and help minimize contact with fecal matter. Make sure to use a high-quality latex or polyurethane condom that is compatible with your chosen lubricant.
- Use disposable wipes. Keep disposable wipes or moist towelettes nearby for quick and convenient cleanup before and after anal play. Look for wipes specifically designed for intimate use and gentle on skin.
- Use vinyl gloves. Vinyl gloves can be used for anal play or penetration to create a barrier between the skin and any potential mess. They are available in different sizes and should be used with water-based lubricants for easy insertion.
Anal douching can enhance the sexual experience
When done correctly, anal douching can enhance the sexual experience and ensure hygiene. However, it's not without risks, and individuals should approach this process with knowledge and caution. Whether choosing to douche or opting for natural cleaning methods, it's always essential to prioritize safety and comfort, ensuring intimate moments remain pleasurable.
Prioritizing cleanliness and safety in our intimate practices is a testament to the respect we have for our bodies and the bodies of our partners. As with all personal care routines, it's essential to be informed and cautious, and prioritize well-being above all.
"Talk with your partners openly about preferences and expectations concerning cleanliness and preparation," Foxx said. "The reality is, when it comes to butt stuff, s**t happens—no matter how thoroughly you prepare. That is, after all, what the organ is made for. You and your partner(s) need to understand and be OK with this."
"Remember, communication and consent are crucial when engaging in any sexual activity," Lee said. "Discussing concerns about hygiene and using protective measures with your partner(s) can help ensure a safe and enjoyable experience for everyone involved. It's essential to remember that everyone's body is different and personal preferences may vary.
"It's recommended to consult with a healthcare professional or a sexologist for personalized advice and guidance on anal douching or any other sexual wellness practices."
Inclusion in a sexual wellness routine
"The inclusion of anal douching as part of one's sexual wellness routine is considered a personal choice due to the individual nature of preferences, comfort levels and values," John said. "People have varying attitudes and priorities regarding their sexual experiences and hygiene practices. What feels right for one person may not necessarily align with another's perspective."
Cultural beliefs, health considerations and personal preferences also play a significant role in shaping this decision.
"Some individuals may find anal douching a valuable practice contributing to their sense of cleanliness and comfort during intimate activities," she added. "Others may prioritize alternative methods or choose not to engage in anal douching based on their own set of considerations."