Here's everything you want to know about anal beads (but are too afraid to ask).

In the world of sex toys, there’s beginner stuff like flavored lube and bullet vibrators, and then there’s next-level gear like anal beads.

In case you’re not familiar with them or have been a little nervous to ask, anal beads are a series of shapes (usually round) that are on a long string. At the end of the string is a stopper to help you insert the beads and pull them out when you’re done.

To an outsider, anal beads might sound a little…intense. But sex experts swear they’re just another great tool to have in your bedroom arsenal.

Wait, so how (and why) are anal beads used?

Anal beads are typically used during sex to enhance your orgasm, certified sex therapist Debra Laino tells Health. “The beads are inserted slowly into the rectum and pulled out at varying speeds before or during orgasm,” she says.

Some anal beads are more rigid and can be inserted and pulled out like a dildo, Jess O’Reilly, PhD, host of the @SexWithDrJess Podcast, tells Health. “But most come on a soft string and you can insert one or two at a time, remove them, and then reinsert,” she says.

There’s some variation with the way anal beads are designed, too. “Some strands leave space between each bead and others are arranged with the beads in contact with one another,” O’Reilly says. “The anal sphincter muscles will respond with each insertion and removal.”

Here’s what else you need to know about anal beads, plus how to actually use them if you’re ready to take the plunge.

1. They stimulate the erogenous zone in your anus

The whole point of using anal beads (besides sexually adventurous bragging rights) is for them to feel good. “Anal beads provide pleasure through stimulating the erogenous zone we all have in our anus,” sex therapist Rachel Needle, PsyD, co-director of Modern Sex Therapy Institutes, tells Health. “The anal beads stimulate the anal sphincter muscles when moved in and out.” Laino adds that they can be used to enhance your orgasm or just to add new sensations to the mix.

2. They’re not the same as a butt plug

Butt play 101: While they both go in your butt, a butt plug is actually different than anal beads. “A butt plug is intended to stay inside once inserted, while anal beads provide pleasure by being moved in and out,” Needle explains. Similarly to anal beads, however, butt plugs stimulate the nerves in the anus. They also stimulate the internal part of the clitoris and G-spot, which is why some women like to wear one during vaginal penetration.

3. Lube is key

Your anus doesn’t make its own lubrication, which is why “good quality lube” is a must with anal beads, O’Reilly says. “Many folks prefer silicone-based lube for anal play, but if your beads are also silicone, use a slippery water-based lube,” she advises.

4. You probably want to do more than just using the beads

While O’Reilly points out that you can technically insert the beads and go about your day, they’re usually used while you’re doing other things, like foreplay, oral sex, or penetrative sex.

5. Silicone is a good option

Silicone is safe and gentle on your body, and it’s also non-porous, so it doesn’t harbor bacteria, Laino says. (BTW, O’Reilly points out that stainless steel is also non-porous, but silicone is usually a less intimidating option for beginners.)

6. You’ll have to choose between a rigid or soft strand

It may seem like a soft strand would be better to start with, but O’Reilly says that rigid strands are actually easier to insert. “You’ll need to press each bead in with a finger if it’s a softer strand of beads,” she explains, adding that rigid strands can simply be pushed in using the stopper at the end.

7. Start out slow

“Don’t go straight to penetration,” O’Reilly advises. She recommends teasing the outside of your anus before you actually dive in. Then, take slow, deep breaths. When you do insert the beads, keep in mind that it shouldn’t hurt. “It may feel a bit strange at first since you’re used to using this area as a one-way, exit-only street, but differentiating between unusual sensations versus painful ones is of paramount importance,” O’Reilly says.

8. Do it on your own first

That way, you can figure out what does and doesn't work for you. “Play with your own butt in the shower or add a lubed finger from behind while you masturbate,” O’Reilly says. “Learn to feel your internal and external sphincters and practice squeezing and relaxing them around your lubed finger.”

9. Over-communicate when you use these with a partner

Feedback is crucial when you use these with a partner, “so your partner knows exactly what feels good in terms of depth, pressure, angle, and movements,” O’Reilly says. And, of course, if something feels off, speak up ASAP.

10. Sanitize the heck out of it afterwards

Your butt has plenty of bacteria, and yeah, that bacteria is going to get on your beads. “Sanitizing is super important because of the bacteria in the rectum. Proper cleaning is a must as it is a very easy way to transmit an STI,” Laino says. To clean them, O’Reilly recommends thoroughly washing your beads with warm water and soap after every use and allowing them to dry before you store them. If you reached for lube while you were using the beads, make sure you sanitize your lube bottle afterwards, too.

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