What Is Oral Sex?

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Oral sex refers to a range of sexual activities where people use their mouth and tongue to stimulate a partner's genitals. Oral sex can be fun for people of any sexual orientation and gender identity.

Many people enjoy both giving and receiving different types of oral sex. Some people like one but not the other. Still others prefer that oral sex not be on the sexual menu at all. As with all sexual activities, it's important to make certain you have your partner's consent before engaging in oral sex.

Two people touching tongues
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Types of Oral Sex

The types of oral sex that are most commonly discussed include:

  • Cunnilingus: Oral stimulation of the vulva, clitoris, and/or vagina
  • Fellatio: Oral stimulation of the penis and/or testicles; sometimes also called a blow job
  • Rimming: Oral stimulation of the anus

Oral stimulation of other body parts, such as the breasts and nipples is not generally considered to be oral sex, although it can occur during oral sex. Fingering and manual stimulation may also be part of oral sex.

Oral sex can be enjoyed on its own or in the context of other sexual activities, including vaginal and anal intercourse.

Did You Know

Going down on someone and giving head are two synonyms for performing oral sex. Other phrases used to describe oral sex include:

  • Sixty nine, or sixty nining is when two people are performing oral sex on each other. Mutual oral sex is called this because the partners' bodies form the shape of a six and a nine.
  • Blow job is another term for fellatio, although fellatio doesn't necessarily involve blowing
  • Eating out may be used to describe cunnilingus or rimming

Oral Sex Safety

Although there is no pregnancy risk from oral sex, it is possible for oral sex to transmit several different sexually transmitted diseases (STD) including:

Not all oral sex is equally risky for both partners. STDs transmitted by bodily fluids, such as HIV, are more likely to be transmitted to the person performing oral sex than the person receiving it. In contrast, STDs transmitted from skin to skin, are more likely to be transmitted in either direction.

Using condoms and other barriers is a good way to make oral sex safer. Condoms can be used when performing oral sex on a penis. Dental dams, or barriers made from condoms, can be used for cunnilingus and rimming.\

In addition to STDs, rimming can potentially expose people performing it to other diseases transmitted via the fecal-oral route. When negotiating sexual activity with a new partner, it's important to discuss your feelings about unprotected oral sex.

Medical Significance of Oral Sex

There has been a growing awareness of the possible health risks of oral sex. Much of this is the result of the rise in oral cancer in young people that has been linked to HPV infection through oral sex. Research has also suggested that unrecognized oral syphilis infections may be related to recent increases in the disease seen in men who have sex with men.

Oral sex is certainly a safer sexual activity than unprotected intercourse, but it is not without its risks. Because of this, if you practice unprotected oral sex, it may be worth discussing that with your doctor.

Depending on your risk factors, your doctor may think it is important to screen you for oral STD symptoms or order oral STD tests. This is similar to the need to test specifically for certain anal STDs, which are not necessarily detected during the standard testing regimen.

Your dentist may also ask you about your oral sex practices if they notice oral or throat symptoms that could be related to an infection. Dentists play an important role in diagnosing potentially serious problems associated with certain STDs, such as oral and throat cancers.

Vaginal Odor and Discomfort With Oral Sex

People are often taught that vaginas smell "bad" or "fishy", which may make them reluctant to explore cunnilingus. While it's true that not everyone enjoys or is aroused by the scent and taste of vaginal secretions, many people find them both pleasurable and highly erotic. Normal vaginal odor isn't something to be ashamed or embarrassed by.

If find that your vaginal odor has changed or become unpleasant, it's a good idea to talk to your doctor. Vaginal odor changes can be caused by sexually transmitted diseases and other infections. In fact, changes in the smell of the vagina and vaginal discharge are often the most noticeable signs of certain infections.

A Word From Verywell

Oral sex is sometimes seen as a sexual behavior that is less important, or less serious, than other forms of sexual behavior such as vaginal or anal intercourse. However, that's not necessarily true.

Oral sex can be incredibly intimate, sometimes more intimate than other forms of sexual interaction. It can bring up strong feelings and strong reactions that not everyone is comfortable with.

For some people, it's something fun that has a relatively low risk of serious consequences. For others, it can be overwhelming, in ways that are both good and bad. Everyone gets to decide their own relationship to oral sex, and whether they want it to be part of their sexual interactions with any given partner.

Not everyone likes performing oral sex. Not everyone likes receiving it. Feeling either way is just as normal as liking oral sex from all directions. In addition, as with other types of sexual activity, people like different types of oral stimulation. Some people might prefer light touches while others enjoy strong suction.

There is no right way to have oral sex. The important thing is to communicate with your partner to figure out what both of you enjoy.

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