Oral sex is a type of sexual activity involving the use of the mouth, lips, and tongue to stimulate the vulva, penis, or anus of one’s partner.1 Some people do not enjoy oral sex at all, while others prefer it over any other sexual behavior. Despite its opponents, this sexual activity has become increasingly popular over time, especially among younger people. Research has shown that 83% of females and 88% of males between the ages of 25 and 34 have participated in some type of oral sex.2
If all participants are comfortable with their partner(s), oral sex can be a great way to be intimate and to learn more about each other. It is normal to feel nervous when giving or receiving oral sex for the first time or when engaging in oral sex with a new partner, but with time and practice, it can be a very pleasurable experience for all those involved.
Because engaging in oral sex can be such an intimate activity, it is crucial to remember that communication is always key before, during, and after any sexual encounter. Being vocal and keeping in mind what each partner is comfortable with will help to ensure a more pleasurable experience for all those involved. No one should ever feel pressured to do something they do not want to do, so individuals should always respect the feelings and decisions of their partner(s). Additionally, as with any other sexual behavior, affirmative and continuing consent must be given before and throughout the sexual encounter. Coercion, or pressuring someone into saying “yes,” is not real consent.
Reasons For Oral Sex
Individuals may engage in oral sex for many different reasons. For some heterosexual people, oral sex can be seen as an alternative to penetrative sex, as it is often perceived as less intimate.3 Often, oral sex serves as foreplay before penile-vaginal sex for heterosexual couples. Other individuals similarly engage in oral sex and often incorporate many other sexual behaviors aside from penile-vaginal sex. Oral sex can be a very intimate and pleasurable experience that many different people engage in.
Mouth-to-vulva stimulation is called cunnilingus (“eating out”). During cunnilingus, a partner uses their tongue and mouth to stimulate the clitoris and surrounding areas of the vulva, including the mons, the vaginal opening, and the inner and outer labia. Licking and sucking these areas can provide pleasurable stimulation to the person with the vulva. Many people find cunnilingus pleasurable because the tongue is often softer and more mobile than fingers can be in very sensitive areas like the clitoris or inner labia.2
The clitoris is often the main focus when the “giving” partner is trying to bring their partner to orgasm. This is largely because the clitoris is the most sensitive area of the vulva, containing more than 8,000 nerve endings.4 The organ is so sensitive that many people find cunnilingus is the only way they can reach orgasm with a partner.2
Different people enjoy different activities and techniques, so it is essential to know what your partner’s comfort level is and to communicate before attempting to engage in oral sex or any other sexual behavior. Some people enjoy stimulation solely from the mouth of the giving partner, while others enjoy stimulation from a mixture of the mouth, fingers, and toys during oral sex. Considering the multitude of different preferences, we recommend that you do not hesitate to speak with your partner and to ask them what they enjoy. For the receiver of oral sex, it can also be helpful to give clear, positive affirmations and directions while receiving so that the giving partner can adjust their technique in response to these reactions.
Fellatio is mouth-to-penis stimulation, and it is commonly referred to as a “blowjob” or “giving head.” During fellatio, the giving partner places the penis of their partner into their mouth and moves it with an in-and-out motion, starting gently, and working up to a faster pace. Teeth can cause a great deal of pain and discomfort, so the lips should be the main source of pressure on the penis while a partner moves it in and out of their mouth. The giving partner often focuses on the glans, frenulum, corona, and penile shaft because these regions are highly sensitive.2 Some people also enjoy having their testicles licked and sucked along with their penis.
Giving or receiving fellatio can be both a safe and rewarding sexual experience. Partners should discuss their concerns and preferences prior to engaging in fellatio, and all individuals should feel comfortable talking with each other during oral sex if a problem happens to arise. Common problems that occur during fellatio include (but are not limited to) harming the penis with one’s teeth, the receiving partner forcing their penis too deeply into their partner’s throat or mouth, or the receiving partner ejaculating into the other partner’s mouth without warning.
As the receiving partner gets more aroused, they may want to move their penis deeper into the throat of their partner or to speed up the pace of the in-and-out motion. This is referred to as deep throating, and it is often more pleasurable for the receiver than for the giver.2 Communication between partners is crucial here to ensure that the receiver is not making their partner uncomfortable and that the giver does only what they want to do.
Right before orgasm, an individual can choose to either withdraw their penis from their partner’s mouth or to ejaculate into it. If the latter occurs, the giving partner must decide to either swallow the ejaculate or to spit it out. If the receiving partner withdraws their penis from their partner’s mouth before ejaculation, their partner can continue to stimulate the glans and the shaft of the penis from the side with either their hands or mouth. Both partners can then decide where the receiving partner will ejaculate.
Either one of these scenarios must be pre-determined through clear communication between partners. It may also be beneficial to reaffirm the decision right before ejaculation occurs. These conversations may prevent partners from being caught off guard or from being made to feel uncomfortable. Some people enjoy swallowing their partner’s ejaculate, while others do not, possibly because of the threat of disease transmission or because they simply do not want to.2 However, if a partner is HIV-positive, the ejaculate must not be swallowed, as it can contain the virus and can be transmitted to the other partner.5
Multiple oral-to-genital sexual activities can be performed simultaneously. The term for this sexual behavior is “sixty-nining.” Partners may lay either side by side or with one on top of the other with their mouths facing the other person’s genitals. In these positions, individuals can perform oral sex on each other at the same time. Once again, communication is key during this practice. It is essential that each person understands their partner’s comfort level and likes or dislikes.
Many people enjoy this position and find it exciting, but there are multiple common reasons why some individuals do not enjoy “69ing.” For instance, some people find it hard to focus on their own pleasure while they are spending time pleasuring their partner. Another drawback is that if one partner is giving fellatio, their positioning may result in their tongue being on the upper, less sensitive part of the penis, as opposed to the frenulum.2
Mouth-to-anus stimulation is called anilingus but is more commonly referred to as “rimming,” “salad-tossing,” “eating ass,” or “butt-eating.” Although most people think of cunnilingus and fellatio when considering oral sex, anilingus is also a form of oral sex. Often, many people avoid anilingus because of its taboo nature or because of the fear of disease transmission; however, many others find anilingus pleasurable because of the high number of sensitive nerve endings concentrated around the anus.2
Anilingus can be used as a precursor to anal penetration and is enjoyed by people of all sexualities. Anal play is not for everyone though, as it requires a substantial amount of communication and preparation to ensure safety and cleanliness in order to defend against STIs.
Because anal sex is considered a high-risk behavior for the transmission of HIV/AIDs, it is especially crucial that partners communicate about safety and expectations when engaging in anilingus.5 The risks that anal sex pose to one’s health are very serious, so being educated and taking precautions during anal play is extremely important.
Even though the risk of transmission of sexually transmitted infections (STIs) is often lower with oral sex, people who engage in these activities are still susceptible to contracting or transmitting an STI.1 Individuals who partake in oral sex are still at risk for chlamydia, gonorrhea, syphilis, herpes, HIV, trichomoniasis, and HPV.1 Many factors can increase a person’s risk of contracting or transmitting an STI. Things like poor oral hygiene, having sores in the mouth or on the genitals, and being exposed to the semen of an infected partner can increase risk.1
Because of these factors, it is crucial to practice safe sex by using protection. When giving or receiving fellatio, a new, non-lubricated condom should be used for each new encounter, whereas for cunnilingus or anilingus, a dental dam should be utilized. A condom can easily be turned into a dental dam, if one is not readily available, by cutting the condom open into a square and placing it in between the mouth and genitals during oral sex.1
Additionally, individuals should regularly get tested for STIs and should keep the line of communication open between themselves and their partners to ensure protection against STIs.
Oral sex can be a very intimate and pleasurable experience that many people share with their partner(s). There are many different types of oral sex, and special considerations should be taken for each style to ensure the safety and comfort of every participant. For all forms of sex, oral or otherwise, communication between partners is crucial to guarantee that all participants are consenting and comfortable with any sexual act in which they may engage.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2020, February 27). STD Risk and Oral Sex. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
- LeVay, S., Baldwinn, J., & Baldwinn, J. (2019). Discovering Human Sexuality (4th ed.). Oxford University press.
- Vannier, S. A., & Byers, E. S. (2013). A Qualitative Study of University Students’ Perceptions of Oral Sex, Intercourse, and Intimacy. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 42(8), 1573-81.
- How to have oral sex | AVERT. (2015, May 1). Retrieved April 18, 2016, from Avert.org.
- Greenberg, J. S., Bruess, C. E., & Oswalt, S. B. (2017). Exploring the dimensions of human sexuality. Jones & Bartlett Learning.
Last Updated: 27 May 2021