40 Percent of Women Enjoy "Surfacing" During Sex, but What Is That, Exactly?

Butt play, but make it gentle

PureWow editors select every item that appears on this page, and the company may earn compensation through affiliate links within the story. All prices are accurate upon date of publish. You can learn more about the affiliate process here.

surfacing sex play universal
Getty Images

It was during the pandemic, so maybe you missed this crucial part of public discourse, however, anal play moved into the zeitgeist when actor Dakota Johnson suggested gifting butt plugs as a stocking stuffer. “I know that there are so many people that are curious about it and, you know, there are so many parts of one’s anus that are erogenous zones that I think could just be fun for people to explore,” she told InStyle magazine. The focus here is exploration and experimentation—i.e., there are more ways to enjoy butt stuff (brand Foria calls it “peach play”) than full-on penetration. A 2022 study  surveyed more than 3,017 women aged 18 to 93 who found pleasure in anal play that's more about touch than penetration. We talked to a sexual wellness professional to find out more.

30 of the Best Sex Toys for Women (No Matter What You’re Into)

Meet the Expert

Timothy Ferencz is a regional manager for JO, a manufacturer / retailer of sexual lubricants, serums and toy cleansers.

A Recent Survey Introduced the Terms Surfacing, Shallowing and Anal Pairing. What Are Those?

“There is no surprise people are coining terms for some long-standing practices when it comes to anal play,” Ferencz tells us. “As anal play becomes less and less taboo, more and more women experiment with anal play as they explore the boundaries of their own pleasure. ‘Surfacing’ references stimulation of the outside of the sphincter. The sphincter has a plethora of nerve endings— specifically, the pudendal nerve that branches to supply the external anal sphincter also branches to the dorsal nerve of the clitoris and the dorsal nerve of the penis. This nerve connection is why both men and women can experience pleasure from anal play. ‘Shallowing’ is penetrative anal play only one to two inches deep in the rectum. It can be pleasurable to many and a precursor to full anal sex.  Think of it as ‘try it, you may like it.’ Pairing, I am unfamiliar with.”

Ferencz has definitely noticed an uptick in folks talking about (and trying) anal play. He tells us that on top of her comments to InStyle, Dakota Johnson has partnered with the company Maude as co-creative director. “Gywneth Paltrow also promotes sex toys on her Goop website,” he notes, adding, “Many of the popular online retailers like Spectrum Boutique, Shop Enby or Wildflower Sex promote anal sex toys constantly on their social media feeds.”

What Are Products or Practices to Introduce or Enhance This Kind of Anal Play?

Ferencz explains, “When exploring this kind of play, the term ‘less is more’ applies. Most people are frightened by the idea of anal sex. Just start slow, using a finger or tongue for beginners. Lube is a must, as it makes anal play smoother and lessens potential irritation. Flavored lubes can also enhance the experience making it more enjoyable for both parties. If you are looking to take the next step, a slim bullet or vibrator can up the ante. These toys can provide extra stimulation and pleasure with the added vibration. The slim diameter of the toy will help reduce discomfort for the novices. And, as mentioned, lube will enhance the experience.”

Shop Surfacing Accessories

surfacing sex play hybrid lubricant

The easy cleanup of water-based lube meets the glide of silicone.

Buy It
surfacing sex play booty melts

Insertable relaxation via broad-spectrum hemp-derived CBD and CBG.

Buy It

The 22 Best Places to (Discreetly) Buy Sex Toys Online in 2023

Want to know which buzzy products are *really* worth buying? Sign up for our shopping newsletter to uncover our favorite finds.

Why You Should Trust Us

PureWow is the best friend you never had when it comes to finding the best, most useful lifestyle products online. Founded in 2010, our company’s editors and writers have spent more than a decade shopping online, digging through sales and putting our home goods, beauty finds, wellness picks and more through the wringer—all to help you determine which ones are actually worth your hard-earned cash. From our PureWow100 series, which sees each and every item we test being ranked on a 100-point scale of awesomeness, to the painstakingly curated lists our fashion, beauty, cooking, home and family editors create as vertical experts, you can trust that our recommendations include some of the greatest items you’ll find on the internet. Whether you're looking for travel-size hair dryers you can take on-the-go or women’s walking shoes that won’t hurt your feet, we’ve got you covered.

dana dickey

Senior Editor

Dana Dickey is a PureWow Senior Editor, and during more than a decade in digital media, she has scoped out and tested top products and services across the lifestyle space...