Spoiler alert: It's basically just another word for anal sex with a strap-on.

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We're more open about our sexual habits than ever (thanks, reddit and TikTok), but some practices have still managed to avoid the mainstream spotlight—including pegging. For the uninitiated, it might sound like a technique for drying your laundry, but it's actually more about what you do between the sheets than what you do with them.

Pegging Explainer , Back view of businessman bending over on pavement looking through his legs
Credit: Getty Images

The term pegging itself is attributed to Dan Savage's Savage Love sex advice column when it was the winning entry in a contest to find a term for strap-on sex between women and men who identify as straight. Essentially, it was created to distance the act from anal sex, which many straight, cisgender men stigmatize and associate with being gay. "This is just straight up (pun intended) homophobia," Engle says.

"Pegging is anally penetrating someone with a strap-on, which is a dildo secured in place by a harness," says Gigi Engle, SKYN sex and intimacy expert, certified sex coach, sexologist, and author. However, while the term was coined to refer to a sex act that involves a woman penetrating a man, that's not always the setup; it's basically just a fancy word for anal sex. "It's a sex act available to one and all, regardless of gender or body parts," Engle tells Health

What's the appeal of pegging?

Woman wearing strap-on in bed above man
Credit: KAILEY WHITMAN

At its heart, pegging is about exploration. "Even if you're wearing [the] strap-on, this isn't about you; it's about the 'we,'" Engle explains. "So you should want to explore it as someone interested in being the giver, but also as someone who is excited to have their partner be the receiver."

The role reversal of pegging for straight-identified cisgender partners can be highly erotic, Toronto-based sexologist Jessica O'Reilley, PhD, tells Health. "If you're a person with a vagina who has always been penetrated by a penis, you get the opportunity to learn what it feels like to thrust and experience new sensations," she says. "If you have a penis and you're used to doing the penetration, pegging gives you a chance to learn about your body's response to being penetrated."

Of course, there's also pleasure for the receiver from anal stimulation. "The butt is an obvious erogenous zone and many people enjoy orgasms from anal penetration," says O'Reilley. "If you have a prostate, you may find that stimulation through the butt leads to more full bodied sensations and full body and/or multiple orgasms."

If that sounds good to you, check out these pegging tips from the pros.

The right accessories are crucial

Strap-on harness, dildo, and sex toy cleaner
Credit: KAILEY WHITMAN

Before anything goes near anybody's butt, get yourself some reliable water-based or silicone-based lubricant. Silicone lube is more slippery, so it tends to last longer. However, Engle warns that if you use silicone lube with silicone toys, they can break down and become more porous, which allows bacteria to stick around and can become dangerous. For silicone toys, you'll want to use a water-based lube (like this one from Astroglide), which also works well with condoms. Oil-based lubes can also work well with silicone toys, but keep in mind that they break down latex condoms. When using toys that are compatible with a silicone-based formula, Engle recommends SKYN's All Night Long lube. 

Speaking of toys, O'Reilley says most people use a phallic-shaped dildo with a harness, but suggests starting with a smaller dildo that's smooth and doesn't have a bulbous head. She recommends the Aslan Simple Nylon Harness from Good For Her and the Silk Small range of dildos from Tantus. 

Pegging newbies could also opt for an anal training kit, says Engle. "These dildos gradually increase in size and help you to take larger objects in a safe, comfortable way," she explains. She suggests checking out the b-Vibe "pegging set," which comes with a strap-on, harness, and dildo.

If you buy a separate strap-on, Engle recommends going for the Spareparts Hardwear Unisex Joque Strap-On Harness, because you can toss it right into the washing machine post-play (just be sure to remove the dildo beforehand). To get used to your pegging kit, O'Reilley suggests wearing it around your house or in the shower.

Don't forget to look after your kit, using the most appropriate cleaning materials for whatever you're working with. Some toys, like those made with silicone and glass, can be cleaned with soap and water, according to O'Reilley. Porous toys (like those made with jelly, plastic, rubber, and PVC) are harder to deep clean due to their tiny pores. Even if you clean them with an anti-bacterial sex toy cleaner, bacteria can still get trapped in the pores, so O'Reilley suggests using a condom with them. 

High-grade silicone toys can be cleaned with sex toy cleaner or simply washed with warm water and soap. Allow them to air dry to avoid lint from a towel sticking to them while wet. 

Now you're kitted out, start slowly

Man in shower using butt plug
Credit: KAILEY WHITMAN

The slower the better with anal play. "The anus is a set of muscles—it doesn't naturally stretch or lubricate the way a vagina does," Engle explains. She recommends beginning anal play with fingers and smaller anal toys before working up to pegging. You might even want to do this when you're alone to get an idea of how it might feel before trying it out with a partner.

"The next time you're in the shower and feeling relaxed, gently slide a lubed finger inside to get to know your sphincter muscles, which are ring-like oval structures that help to hold the canal in shape," O'Reilley suggests. Note: you don't have to reach great depths to find these muscles—you'll feel the external sphincter, which you can contract and release at will (the way you might flex and relax your biceps) less than an inch beyond the opening.

"The internal sphincter is just a little deeper, but because this smooth muscle ring is controlled by the autonomic nervous system, which manages automatic bodily functions like heartbeat and perspiration, it remains in a state of contraction," O'Reilley explains. "You can't exercise complete control over your internal sphincter, but just as you can slow your heart rate through breathing and mindfulness, so too can you help relax this sensitive muscle through relaxation and deep breaths."

A good exercise for newbies is to learn to enjoy anal play (licking, sucking, massaging, kissing, etc.) with the promise of no penetration at first to build trust and become familiar with new sensations, O'Reilley adds. And if you decide that's where anal begins and ends for you, that's absolutely fine. There's no rule book!

Venturing inside

Illustration of woman wearing strap-on penetrating man
Credit: KAILEY WHITMAN

When you feel ready to take the plunge (so to speak), the giver will enter the anal canal. "This is less than a few inches long and rich in highly-responsive nerve endings," O'Reilley explains. "Comprised of soft tissue folds, this area has a good capacity for expansion and is sensitive to touch, pressure, and temperature."

At all times, communication is crucial—particularly if pegging is a new exploration for one or both parties. "Just as other types of penetrative sex require ongoing communication, so too does pegging," O'Reilley says. She suggests asking questions like "How does that feel?" and "Does that feel good?" as well as checking that speed, depth, and pressure are comfortable and enjoyable. 

"If you're new to being penetrated or penetrating a partner, consider allowing the penetrated partner to control the angle, depth, and speed to begin with," she adds. 

Anal penetration shouldn't hurt, so if there's pain at any point, stop and regroup. If you're the receiver, Engle advises taking deep breaths to relax the anal muscles—this helps you "unclench" to take the dildo.

"Proceeding gradually in terms of speed, depth, and the size of an inserted object is of paramount importance," O'Reilley agrees. "Take time to deepen your breathing and begin with a very small object like your pinky finger before increasing the size gradually. Sex is not a race to the finish line and incremental experimentation can lead to mind-blowing results."

At the same time, don't get hung up exclusively on the butt. It's normal to get fixated on one singular body part or sex act when we're excited, nervous, or trying something out for the first time, but you can increase your partner's arousal (as well as your own) during pegging by stimulating other areas, as well.

It's a good idea to hold off on penetration until both partners are ready and excited, as arousal can help you relax and have a palliative effect on your body. "Get yourself all riled up using the techniques and body parts you normally play with before introducing new moves or exploring new regions of the body," O'Reilley says.

Taking pegging to another level

Nighstand with sex toys
Credit: KAILEY WHITMAN

If you feel you've mastered the basics of pegging and want to go further, there are no limits. O'Reilley suggests trying different types of harnesses and experimenting with different toys and positions.

In general, remember that you don't have to view pegging as inherently different than other types of sex. "Just as you add spice to your sexual routine with new props, positions, locations, lubes, dirty talk, and kinky approaches, so too can you add these elements into your pegging play," O'Reilley says.

And remember, as with all sexual acts, consent is key. So if your partner says no to pegging and isn't willing to even entertain the possibility of anal penetration, you need to be okay with that. As Engle says, good sexual experiences are built on pleasure, trust, and communication.

Another important aspect of pegging is aftercare, Engle adds, because of the subversion of socially expected roles we find ourselves in. "While pegging is not shameful and should be enjoyed safely by one and all, it can sometimes bring up feelings of shame due to the sex-negative messages many of us faced growing up, and gender norms that have pigeonholed us into brackets of what it means to be a 'man' or a 'woman'," she explains. 

Aftercare comes in many forms—talking about the shared sexual experience, snuggling, enjoying a meal together, or spending time alone. "Talking about aftercare before you get to it can be helpful so that you understand your partner's desires and boundaries," O'Reilley says. "You can't make assumptions about what they want and you don't want to misinterpret their behavior based on your own expectations."  

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