Anal sex, especially when you’re bottoming, can feel like a game of Russian roulette.
Actually, the same can be said for all kinds of sex. Our guard is down and really, we’re at our most vulnerable: we’re naked, turned on, eager to please, and there’s a risk that whatever we’re doing just won’t work. But for a bottom — the person in the receptive role during anal sex — the stakes feel higher, with a lot of us left feeling like we’re groping around in the dark (both literally and figuratively).
How painful is it going to be? Should I not eat before? For how long? What if I have an ‘accident’? These are the questions bottoms have asked themselves (or googled on the sly) at one point. Many of us have had to rely on trial and error over the years to figure out best practice — that is, until now. TikTok has become the hub for bottoms wanting to learn more about anal sex, how to enjoy it, and most importantly, how to practise it safely. But this begs an even bigger question: why were we never taught about it?
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In the UK, the answer lies within the decades-long erasure of LGBTQ people from school curricula, and most notably the implementation of Section 28 in 1988. The legislation, enacted by Margaret Thatcher’s government to “prohibit the promotion of homosexuality” by local councils, banned the positive depiction of LGBTQ identities and relationships in classrooms, libraries, and extracurricular clubs for 15 years until it was repealed in 2003. However Lisa Hallgarten, head of policy and affairs at Brook, a charity specialising in the sexual health and wellbeing of young people in the UK, says the problem didn’t end there.
“Section 28 not only created a complete silencing at the time but for years afterwards,” she explains. Hallgarten argues the legislation’s legacy has left today’s teachers still feeling anxious to talk about LGBTQ sex. “They’re much more comfortable talking about heteronormative forms of sex because it’s focused on reproduction,” she says. “They’re not trained to talk about pleasure or any other form of sex different couples might have.”
“I’m a gay man and a butt doctor, and there’s this huge lack of anal sex education out there.”
Dr Carlton Thomas made his first TikTok about bottoming in the summer of 2020. As the coronavirus pandemic escalated around the world, TikTok was busy taking over the lives of his teenage children at home in San Diego. A gastroenterologist for 17 years, the 49-year-old saw an opportunity amongst the Megan Thee Stallion dance routines and banana bread recipes (remember those?) to share his expertise. “I’m a gay man and a butt doctor, and there’s this huge lack of anal sex education out there,” he says. “Who better to teach it than someone with professional and personal experience of how things work?”
Since then, he’s amassed nearly 250,000 followers on Gen Z’s favourite platform by covering a range of anal sex-related topics — from advice on how to avoid bleeding, douching (his most popular video, a guide to using store-bought enemas, has 1.6 million views), kegel exercises, tips for maximum pleasure as well as information about HIV prevention.
Citing the absence of gay sex education from his own childhood as the motivation behind starting the account, Thomas tells me that throughout medical school and his gastrointestinal doctor training, anal sex was never mentioned. “I had a lot of questions, so I did my own research to get the answers,” he says. The success of his videos, which regularly receive tens of thousands of likes, confirms that others around the world have been searching for these answers too. “People want to know how to do anal sex right, how to do it well, and how to do it safely,” he explains.
But Thomas isn’t the only face of TikTok’s bottom positivity movement. Alex Hall, a 29-year-old graphic designer, was living in New York when he came up with the idea of The Bottom’s Digest, a cooking channel sharing “bottom-friendly” recipes inspired by the Texan and Cajun cuisine he was brought up on. The rising cost of meat in the city paired with Hall’s growing sensitivity to dairy led him to a mostly plant-based diet, which he says provides a number of benefits for bottoming. “What we eat is such a big part of how our sex is going to go,” he tells me.
Now living in Texas and running the account with his husband Mike, Hall has spent years searching far and wide for the best (or should I say cleanest) bottoming fuel. “What I did find would be so obvious…a salad. I hate salad!” he exclaims. “Sex and food are two of life’s great pleasures and our community really deprives themselves of one to enjoy the other, and we shouldn’t.” Whether it’s alfredo pasta, mac and cheese, or meatballs, Hall’s comfort food recipes are high in fiber and low in FODMAP (short for fermentable oligosaccharides, disaccharides, monosaccharides, and polyols — essentially sugars that can cause intestinal distress), which makes them perfect for bottoms eager to avoid bloating, diarrhea, and constipation.
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Daniel O’Shaughnessy, nutritionist and author of Naked Nutrition: An LGBTQ+ Guide to Diet and Lifestyle, notes that the perfect bottoming diet varies by individual. “As a general rule a bottom needs fiber when it comes to anal sex,” he says. He advises increasing fiber intake slowly to avoid excess wind and to avoid insoluble fibers (which can be high in FODMAP, think cauliflower, legumes, and some whole grains) at least 24 hours before the big moment. O’Shaughnessy’s other recommendations for bottoming nutrition include fermented foods (such as kimchi and kombucha) for improved gut health, avoiding dairy products, and chewing food properly for digestion.
Hall tests his bottom-friendly recipes himself, then runs them past a group of 10 drag queens. 24 hours later, the queens report back about whether they felt bloated, and if they did bottom, how it went. “So many people have had heartache trying to find information like this so it’s important these recipes actually work,” he adds.
Aside from the occasional troll, the response to both accounts has been overwhelmingly positive. Thomas’ followers regularly credit him with revolutionising their sex lives in his comments, but he says the real impact of his videos can be found in his DMs. Gay men living in countries where homosexuality is illegal — and sometimes where it’s punishable by death, like in Saudi Arabia and Iran — message him “at least once a week” for advice.
The bottom community on TikTok isn’t exclusively for gay men, either. For Hall, cis and trans women make up almost half of his following. But whenever our society talks about sex, it’s heterosexual, penis-in-vagina sex that has always been the default: it’s compulsory to teach in schools, we read about it in the advice columns of magazines and websites, it’s what we read about in erotic novels, and watch (or awkwardly avoid watching when accompanied by family) in our favourite TV shows and films. The only representation we really see of anal sex onscreen is when it’s relegated to cheap homophobic jokes.
Thankfully, the tide appears to be turning. TikTok’s bottoming hashtag has over 10.4 million views and is brimming with honest experiences and advice from bottoms all over the world. Accounts like Thomas’ and The Bottom’s Digest are normalising these once shame-ridden conversations while providing an education to bottoms who can’t find information in more conventional places.
But these creators, for all their hard work, are facing censorship from TikTok itself. While the platform bans videos featuring nudity and sexually explicit content, creators across the field are having their content removed and their reach suppressed for even mentioning the word ‘sex’ in their TikToks, despite the platform’s community guidelines stating that educational content is an exception to the rules. Thomas says he has to be selective with what he posts, often resorting to codewords and innuendos in his videos to avoid being censored.
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This censorship is problematic, says Hallgarten from Brook, especially for the people whose only access to information about sex is through social media. She’s curious about the criteria TikTok uses for judging and removing videos, and whether expert organisations have been involved in the process. “The way they approach sex needs to be more nuanced and there has to be a clear set of values that underpin the decisions being made,” she says. When it comes to sex ed videos that haven’t been removed from the platform, Hallgarten urges users to check how the information they see on TikTok compares to that of trusted sources like Brook. If COVID-19 has taught us anything it’s that misinformation on social media is rife. Hallgarten suggests platforms could easily add a box to videos featuring sex content directing users to expert organisations, like TikTok and other platforms have (eventually) done with mentions of the coronavirus.
A spokesperson for TikTok said that users can appeal the platform’s decisions to remove their content or suspend their accounts if they believe no violation of the community guidelines has occurred. They also noted that TikTok’s content moderation practice is detailed in the quarterly enforcement reports it publishes. But while these reports gloat statistics, for example that 90 percent of videos flagged for “adult nudity and sexual activity” are removed within 24 hours of being posted, they fail to explain how educational videos about sex are distinguished from the potentially harmful videos which are banned.
Information on anal sex shouldn’t be reduced to folklore. Bottoms deserve to feel empowered to take control of the sex they have, and a vital part of that is ensuring they are well equipped to enjoy anal sex safely. For too long we’ve been relegated to the shadows and made to feel like we’re harbouring a dirty little secret — but thanks to TikTok creators, change is finally on the horizon.
Bottoming dos and don’ts
With the help of some trusted health organisations including the UK’s National Health Service (NHS), Brook, the San Francisco AIDS Foundation and sex education charity Fumble, we’ve compiled a list of bottoming dos and don’ts to get started.
Always make sure your top is wearing a condom. The lining of your anus is very delicate and can be damaged easily, which increases the risk of STI transmission.
Your anus isn’t self-lubricating, so using lube is essential for anal play. Try to use water-based products as oil-based lube can break down condoms, and avoid desensitising lubes — they may prevent you from noticing pain.
This is to avoid transferring bacteria from your anus to your vagina, which could lead to a urinary tract infection.
This is pretty self-explanatory, but getting tested regularly for STIs is always recommended.
Purely for ease of cleanup if you do have an accident.
If it’s your first time bottoming (or first time in a while), use a lubricated anal sex toy (slowly) beforehand to get used to the feeling. Foreplay is crucial to relax the muscles in your anus.
Remember, you’re in control
Make sure you communicate to whoever you’re having sex with if something doesn’t feel right or if you want to stop. Consent can be given and withdrawn at any time.
Bottoming can feel uncomfortable (especially if you’re a newbie), but that’s what foreplay is for. Pain should never be something you’re expected to put up with, and tears on the anus (known as anal fissures) take time to heal.
Feeling relaxed is key. By regulating your breathing, you’re helping your anus to relax. Take deep, slow breaths to start with.
Avoid doing this where you can, but if you can’t, make sure to clean the toy thoroughly before and after use.
A common assumption is that poo sits directly inside of your anal sphincter, but this is false. Poo is stored in your colon and it’s when you’re on the toilet that it travels through the rectum (where the fun happens) and out of your sphincter. As long as you’ve recently been to the toilet, it’s very unlikely that you’ll actually ‘poo’ on your partner.
If you’re too worried about it to enjoy yourself, stick to other forms of sex (like oral) until you’ve gotten comfortable with the fact that shit does indeed, happen. Anal douching is common in the bottoming community to clean the rectum before sex, but it has its own pros and cons.
This article was first published in 2021 and republished in 2023.