I know I talk about anal play a lot. It’s one of my favorite kinds of sex, and ever since I co-wrote The Ultimate Guide to Prostate Pleasure, I’ve been fielding lots of questions from folks of all genders who want to make it more fun. But that’s not what I want to focus on today. Whether anal play is your cup of tea or not, there are lots of good reasons to become more familiar with that part of your body. One of the most important is that it’s a barometer of your stress level, whether you’re aware of it or not.
Think about what happens when a cat or a dog gets scared. It’ll tuck its tail between its legs in a protective gesture, tightening the pelvic floor. Humans have the same reflexive reaction to fear or stress. We simply don’t have tails to make it visible. (The anal plugs with tails attached to them aren’t the same thing.) When you get anxious or worried, your pelvic floor gets tense and your anus tightens.
That’s a reaction to the sympathetic nervous system getting activated, which is a fancy way of describing the familiar fight-or-flight reflex. Interestingly, another way that shows up is we clench our teeth. If you think about how that same cat or dog might start to show its teeth and bite whatever is attacking it, you’ll see that it’s another similar response. Jaw clenching under stress is caused by your body getting ready to attack with your teeth.
The difficulty is that our bodies have these deeply-programmed responses based on evolution and we haven’t caught up to the modern era. We aren’t all that well adapted to the many stresses of daily life- rush hour traffic, a project landing on your desk at 4:30 on a Friday, stacks of bills, running late to catch a plane, neighbors running leaf blowers. Our lives are full of stress and anytime we get worked up, our pelvic floors tighten. On top of all of that, when you spend hours every day sitting in chairs or in cars, you put pressure on the pelvic floor and reduce its range of motion. One of the reasons pregnant women often get hemorrhoids is the extra pressure and weight on the pelvic floor, but spending a lot of time sitting can have a similar effect.
There’s a reason that we call someone who annoys us a “pain in the ass.” For that matter, if we want to be a little more polite about it, we might call them a “pain in the neck.” Given that jaw and neck pain are closely connected, both phrases really mean that this is a person who stresses us out. Along those lines, there’s a reason we might say that someone who’s angry or stressed out all the time is a “tight ass.” It’s literally true.
One of the challenges we face is that getting rid of the stressful situation or person isn’t enough to help unwind the stress. The fight-or-flight response (the sympathetic nervous system) is balanced by the relax response (the parasympathetic nervous system). It’s not totally accurate, but you can think of then as the gas and the brake. If you take your foot off the gas, you’ll coast for quite a while. If you really want to slow down, you need to hit the brake, especially if you’re headed downhill. When you want to relax, you have to do more than take away the stressful stuff. You also need to activate the relaxation response.
For a lot of us, that isn’t easy. We have plenty of reasons for our fight-or-flight to get switched back on. We also have a lot of habits around it because it happens so quickly. That adrenaline comes flooding back into our bloodstreams before we even know it. Our bodies are used to it, which is one reason so many people can’t relax and end up looking for more stimulation. It’s familiar, even if it isn’t comfortable. There’s also a fair bit of privilege that goes into it- it takes time and resources to carve out the room to relax and that becomes a lot harder when you don’t have as much of either.
I recently spent almost two weeks on the road. I attended a training, I taught six workshops, saw several coaching clients, visited some friends and family, and had to wheel and carry my suitcase from place to place. I was taking trains and planes from one city to another, sleeping in unfamiliar and uncomfortable beds, and was on the go from waking up to falling asleep for most of that trip. That’s pretty much par for the course when I’m traveling and working. I knew that I’d be stressed out by the end of it, and I was right. By the time I got home, I could feel that my pelvic floor and my ass had gotten wound up tight.
Fortunately, I’ve been on this ride quite a few times and I was prepared. I have a bodywork trade with another sexological bodyworker, and we scheduled a session for the day after I got home. From past experience, I knew that anal massage was what I needed. Let me explain.
Some Anal Anatomy
The anus is made of two rings of muscle. The external one is continuous with the pelvic floor and is made of skeletal muscle. That’s the kind of muscle you can consciously control, and it’s called skeletal because it moves your skeleton. Tighten your bicep and your arm bones move. But the internal muscle is connected to your digestive system and it’s made of smooth muscle. That’s the kind of muscle that’s in your organs and your blood vessels. You can’t fully control it because it’s wired by your autonomic nervous system. That’s the part of your nervous system that handles all of the behind-the-scenes management of things like your heart rate, your digestion, etc. Both the fight-or-flight and the relaxation nerves are connected to the internal anal muscle, and it’s the only place you can directly massage the parasympathetic nervous system to stimulate the relaxation response.
When you take the erotic charge out and when you know the right techniques, anal massage is one of the most relaxing things you can do. By gently and slowly helping the muscle to let go and soften, you relax the entire body. Of course, there are lots of other massage techniques that can have similar results, but anal massage creates a deeper, more profound release of stress and anxiety. It helps the entire body to slow down and let go of tension. It makes it easier for your body to stay relaxed for longer.
The difference between erotic anal play and non-erotic anal massage is amazing. Sexual touch can definitely be lots of fun, but erotic experiences include a certain amount of excitement and energy. One of the things that makes anal sex feel better is understanding how to balance that arousal with relaxation. And when you take the erotic intent out and focus on easing away the stress and tension, you can drop into a deeply meditative state. The entire body can unwind with less effort. I’ve been both the giver and receiver of that experience many times, and it’s exquisite.
By the time my bodywork session was done, I could feel the relaxation radiating throughout my entire being. I was speaking more slowly, my voice had deepened, my gaze was softer, and I felt like I’d had a full night of great sleep rather than 90 minutes on a massage table. Every muscle in my body felt calm, and I could feel much more movement and flexibility in my pelvic floor. I wasn’t a tight ass anymore, and it felt wonderful.
Once I was back in that state, I could maintain it with some calming breathwork. I could stay more relaxed by practicing yoga. I was far more resilient when dealing with the minor annoyances of daily life. I’m familiar with how my body works. I know that I lean towards anxiety, and that I start to tense up when I hit my stress threshold. I do a pretty good job of keeping in balance, but once things get past a certain point, I turn into a tight ass. When that happens, I need some outside support to get back to center.
It’s unfortunate that there are so many people walking around with so much tension, stress, anxiety, and anger in their bodies. Lots of them don’t even know that it’s happening because it’s their baseline. They certainly don’t realize that they don’t need to be that wound up. It’s what they know and what they expect. Trying to relax and release all of that trapped energy feels scary and unfamiliar. Maybe they worry that if they let things go, they’ll never pick them back up again. Or they think that they’re using that intensity to power through life. Or they figure that’s just how everyone is. Some people are so used to carrying pain in their pelvic floors that they’ve forgotten how to release it or never knew that they don’t need to. That’s especially common for survivors of sexual trauma or assault, but it’s also something I see in plenty of folks who aren’t survivors.
Anal massage isn’t going to fix everything. It doesn’t get rid of the things that stress you out, and it doesn’t take away the very real reasons so many of us feel discomfort in our bodies and pain in our hearts. But what it can do is help you become a little softer and a little more compassionate with yourself and others. It can help you find the space to relax a bit and be more resilient. It can give you more room to move within your body. And it can allow you to stop being such a tight ass. Once you find that place, you have more energy for other things. You can move more freely and stop fighting yourself quite so much.
Here’s a good way to see if you’re being a bit of a tight ass. Try this calming breathwork practice. Experiment with breathing into your ass. If you can do it, great! Keep working on it- there’s always room for improvement. If you have difficulty tuning into the sensations or if you can tell that there isn’t a lot of movement, that can be a sign that the muscles are tense and might benefit from some non-erotic anal massage.
If you live in a city where you can find a sexological bodyworker, I highly recommend it. You can also get in touch with me for a session in Seattle, or when I visit your city. If you want to learn how to give this kind of experience to someone, you can bring a friend or a partner and I’ll coach you through it. And if you know that you enjoy anal play or prostate massage, this can be a wonderful way to get warmed up before you start to bring the erotic energy into the experience. I’m happy to guide you through that, too.
I can speak from both personal and professional experience when I say that learning to let go of your tight ass can be an incredibly healing and transformative process. When you’re ready to explore it, I would be honored to help you make it happen.