While most people are familiar with vibrators and dildos, anal beads don't get quite the same amount of love and recognition that they deserve. This could be for a myriad of reasons, but mainly because sex toys focussed on anal pleasure are either stigmatized as "too messy" or "intimidating," or because, as seen with pegging, there are lingering homophobic sentiments attached to butt play.
But the truth is, butt play is an accessible (and fun!) way to explore pleasure, regardless of your gender or body. And anal beads in particular are a great toy to get you started with butt play since they're flexible, simple, and intuitive to use.
The best way to think about anal beads is to think of them like they're the "supporting role" for other sex or masturbation acts, says sexologist Megwyn White, director of education at sex-toy brand Satisfyer. In other words, anal beads are best when used in an ensemble of other sexual sensations, like clitoral stimulation, oral sex, or internal vaginal sex.
"The anus is a storehouse of pleasure and a primal resource for a deep release," says White. "Getting acquainted with its pleasure can open up a whole new dimension of sensual intimacy, which is why using anal beads can help increase pleasure."
Before you jump right in and get started though, it's important to understand the basics. To help, POPSUGAR spoke to two sex experts to find out everything you need to know about anal beads — including what are anal beads, how to use anal beads, and tips for enjoyable, no-stress butt play.
What Are Anal Beads?
Anal beads, also sometimes referred to as anal balls, are a series of small beads fitted on a flexible cord. Usually, the smallest beads are at the bottom of the cord and are inserted first before gradually increasing in size as you go up the cord. Most beads are round, but there are some options that are oval-shaped or pill-shaped, which can add "more ease upon insertion," says therapist and sexologist Joy Berkheimer, LMFT.
As far as design, anal beads can be made with silicone, glass, or metal, but the most popular by far is silicone because it's super soft, flexible, and easy to use, says Berkheimer. That said, all three are great options and have their own unique flavour of sensation: silicone is the most flexible, but glass and metal are more rigid, which some prefer. Additionally, if you enjoy the coolness or metal or glass, you might prefer those options over silicone. From a safety standpoint, all three materials are non-porous and very easy to keep clean.
Berkheimer adds that the most important feature to keep in mind when looking at anal beads is that there is a ring or stopper bead (neither of which are meant to be inserted into the anus). This prevents the beads from going in too deep or becoming lost. Just like with butt plugs, a flared base is an absolute non-negotiable with any sort of anal play to prevent the sex toy from getting stuck in the anal cavity.
Why Do People Like Using Anal Beads?
People love anal beads because they're fun. And yes, it really is that simple. But more specifically, anal beads are a beginner-friendly toy that engages with the thousands of pleasure-sensitive nerve endings around the anus, says White.
Anal beads in particular are a great option because they allow for users to decide how much sensation they receive — both by the size and style of the beads, and how deep they are inserted. And unlike butt plugs, which are meant to stay stationary inside the anus for a pleasurable build up of pressure, the unique fun of anal beads comes from motion; they're meant to be pulled and pushed inside the body.
"Just as popping bubbles is a satisfying experience, removing each bead can create a pleasurable 'pop' or subtle stretching sensation that builds up toward a satisfying climax," says White. And once you get comfortable with the sensation, timing will amp up the anal bead experience. When you or your partner are close to orgasm, "strategically pulling the beads out at the right time intensifies the possibilities of some of the most pleasurable sensations you've experienced," says Berkheimer.
How to Use Anal Beads
The most important part of trying out a new toy — no matter what kind — is to prepare ahead of time. Start by talking to your partner about butt play. Establish how you'll communicate during sex to let each other know when things are feeling great, when things are feeling OK, and when all play needs to stop. (Some people use a safe word like "yellow" or "red" to indicate when they want things to slow down or stop completely.) Ultimately, make sure you and your partner are on the same page about trying anal beads, and never feel any pressure to try butt play if it's not exciting to you.
Once that is established, the most important thing you can do is relax, says Berkheimer. Ease into anal play by starting with foreplay. Spend extra time giving or receiving oral sex, initiating an erotic massage, and/or playing sensual music, suggests Berkheimer. When you're ready, try inserting a finger one to two inches into the anus and internally massageing the area. This will feel good, and it will help prepare your body for anal beads later on.
Then, get your toy of choice ready with lots of lube. Silicone-based lubes are long-lasting and typically more recommended for anal play, as they "provide a thicker and smoother barrier," says Berkheimer. However, if your toy is made out of silicone, you'll want to opt for a water-based lube since silicone-based lube can breakdown the material of the sex toy.
Once the lube is decided on, "apply lubricant liberally on the tip and down the length of the toy, as well as on the anal opening itself," says Berkheimer. When you're ready, take a few deep breaths and slowly insert the first anal bead. See how it feels, and when you're ready, keep going slowly. When you've found a comfortable stopping point (remember, you don't have to insert the full length of beads!), try gentle motions with the anal beads, either up or down or in and out. If you prefer no motion, that's perfectly OK too.
If at any point — including insertion, while inside of you, or removing the anal beads — you feel pain or discomfort, stop. "Then, take some deep breaths, move to another activity, and wait until you are fully comfortable to try and use them again. Anal penetration should never hurt. The point is pleasure, so stop and check in with your partner if that's what's occurring," says Berkheimer.
A small note: if you have any pre-existing injuries or temporary conditions, such as hemorrhoids or anal fissures, Berkheimer says skip the anal beads and butt play until you're completely healed up.
Tips for Making the Anal Experience Better
Below are a few tips on how to make anal play even more fun and safe:
Lube, Lube, Lube. We've mentioned this before, but it bears repeating. Always use lube during sex, but especially any kind of anal play. For anal, silicone lube is typically best, but check out POPSUGAR's guide on how to use to lube to make sure your lube is compatible with your toy.
Try Anal Training. Anal training describes a series of "exercises'' that prep the anus for internal play. Anal training is really important for safe, comfortable butt play — regardless of how small or large the toy is. Given that anal beads come in so many sizes, they are the perfect toy to get into anal training. "You can practice by inserting a size on the cord that feels comfortable, and then letting yourself clench your muscles voluntarily or while masturbating," says Berkheimer. "To become used to the sensations, it's suggested you practice training four to five times a week for 10-15 minutes at a time. This gradual process will help increase your awareness of your own body, letting you know you are in control of what you experience, and this can be done safely with the right amount of lube and a patient partner."
Tense the Pelvic Floor. For both solo or partnered play, Berkheimer recommends activating the pelvic floor for a deeper orgasm. By clenching and releasing your pelvic floor muscles and anal anal sphincter muscles at varying speeds, you'll activate the anal nerve endings, which will "create more pleasure during intercourse and orgasm," says Berkheimer.
Be Careful About Cross-Contamination. When combining anal and vaginal play, always make sure to avoid exposing the vagina to the anus's bacteria. As a standard rule, never touch the vulva with your hands or a toy after it's come in contact with the anus. Likewise, you should never share your anal beads with multiple partners, says White. Best practice means you'll have a set of anal beads for your personal use and your partner's personal use.
Use a Flared Base for Safety. "Always make sure there is a flared base at the base of the toy to prevent anal beads from getting lost inside," says White. "The anus has a natural suction effect, and if an object is inserted, and it does not have a flared base, it can easily slip inside and get stuck. This can be dangerous and cause injury to the body."
Clean Your Toys. Proper toy cleaning after use is imperative in keeping you and your partner safe for future use, says Berkheimer. "One of the most effective ways to do this is to boil your beads in water, up to five minutes. You can also place them in your dishwasher to have them sterilised. Your anal beads can be placed on a lint-free linen towel to air dry. Lastly, store your beads in their own separate area, away from other sex toys you own," she adds.