The Booty and the Brain: Using Sphincter Law to Relax into Anal Play
Happy Anal August!
Last week I had a chance to chat with femme domme and doula, Goddess Erica, and it inspired me to reflect on the ways that my background as a birth doula can apply to my work and exploration of sexuality and kink.
With anal play being the topic of the month, one principle that I learned in doula training and have personally navigated during birth, is the concept of Sphincter Law. I began thinking about how the ideas and suggestions that women use during labor can be applied to the sensations and experiences of anal play... Shall we go deeper?
What is Sphincter Law?
Sphincter Law is a term coined by midwife Ina May Gaskin and the basis is described as the following:
“Sphincters are circular muscle groups that ordinarily remain contracted…Each sphincter’s job is to relax and expand so it can expand comfortably and wide enough to allow the passage of whatever must move through. Elimination and birthing both involve the opening of sphincters” (Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth, p170).
So when we think about this in terms of anal play, understanding how to help your body and anal sphincter relax is a great place to start. Sphincter Law takes this further by combining actionable breathing techniques with a consideration for the mind-body connection, and how it affects our ability to relax and enjoy pleasure.
Breathe In….Breathe Out
If you’ve seen any depiction of birthing class or Lamaze in the media, you’re probably familiar with the old trope of labor breathing that goes something like ‘hee-hee-whooooo’.
While that particular breathing pattern is something I’ve not seen in modern birth education, breath work is key to relaxing the body during birth. Similar techniques are also taught in yoga and meditation, and for good reason: deep abdominal breathing relaxes the muscles, especially those in the pelvic floor.
Using breath during anal play is an excellent way to help yourself relax and experience pleasure. Abdominal breathing looks something like this: place your hands on your belly, just below your belly button. As you breathe in slowly, expand your belly, when you have a full breath, pause for 1–2 seconds, then slowly breathe out while you contract your belly. Do this about 10 times. Do you feel the difference in your body?
Breathing like this can be beneficial as you’re being penetrated- that initial entrance of a toy or body part into the anus can cause an intense sensation for some.
When starting out, it was at this stage of anal play that I would panic. I’d feel discomfort, tense up, which caused more pain and would then abandon trying further. Fast forward to the experience of exploring with my husband who I was comfortable enough to go slow and ask him to give me time to breathe through these sensations. When I use these breathing techniques, I feel my body relaxing and can get past that initial discomfort (and move on to the pleasure!).
Aside from breathing, one of my favorite Ina May tips is that keeping your mouth and jaw relaxed helps keep everything else relaxed, she explains:
“The state of relaxation of the mouth and jaw is directly correlated to the ability of the cervix, vagina and the anus to open to full capacity” (Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth, p. 170). Don’t be afraid to have fun and make some noise while you explore.
Diving in…Head First
In the study of birthing women, prominent researchers such as Michel Odent have found that the hormone cascade required for birth (oxytocin, endorphins and prolactin) is directly affected by the birthing parent’s feelings of safety and security in their surroundings. These hormones are produced in the neocortex of the brain, and outside stimulation to the neocortex can have a direct impact on the body’s ability to relax.
Things like insecurity, fear and pain can prevent the neocortex from producing those relaxing hormones. Why does this happen? Ina May explains: “high levels of adrenaline in the bloodstream do not favor (sometimes they actually prevent) the opening of sphincters” (Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth, p 170).
How does this apply to anal play? Well for starters, you need to feel safe.
For me, exploring anally was something I tried here and there unsuccessfully with partners. After experiencing pain and anxiety in those attempts, I began to write anal play off as something that was not for me. It wasn’t until I had been with my partner/husband for years that I began to consider giving it another try. This time felt very different as I had a level of trust with him that was lacking with previous partners and that made me feel safe enough to start slowly.
Tips for relaxing your mind:
- Set the mood! Create an atmosphere that feels good, whether that’s low-lighting and soft music or a romantic date ahead of the sexy play; find something that resonates with you (and your partners if you’ll be exploring together)
- Talk about your concerns. If you have specific fears (pain, embarrassment etc), talk about that with your partner(s). Being prepared for how you’ll handle emotions and sensations as they come up can help alleviate anxiety
- Prep your materials: have everything you’ll need ready to go and nearby so you don’t have to worry about that stuff in the moment- toys, plugs, LUBE, LUBE, LUBE (seriously, don’t forget the lube) can all be stored close by for easy access
‘We can’t turn our backs on our bottoms’
Trying new things like anal play can feel a bit nerve-racking, and can also bring excitement, fun and curiosity to your sex life. There are many different forms of butt play — if you’re still not sure where to begin, download #open and check out the bootylicious hashtags that members are using! You may find interests that you’d never considered before; some of our favs include: #buttstuff, #analaugust, #prostateplay; #assworship!
Still in need of more titillating stimulation?? You can watch #open team members Sarah and Maile, talk all about the basics of butt play in our recent #openEd session: Yes, Butt.
And remember, despite negative stigmas that still exist, your pleasure is your choice! Don’t feel ashamed or embarrassed about wanting to explore anally. Take it from my favorite hippy midwife:
“It’s amazing how much better our bottoms work when we think of them with humor and affection rather than with terror, revulsion, or worst of all, look away from them in shame. Lord knows, we can’t turn our backs on our bottoms” (Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth, p. 182).