What Is Oral Sex?

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Oral sex is a type of sexual activity in which the mouth and tongue are used to give or receive sexual stimulation. This may involve the stimulation of a partner's genitals or anus.

Many people enjoy oral sex. It may be used as a prelude to sexual intercourse to arouse and lubricate the anus, penis, or vagina. Or, it may be used on its own as a satisfying form of sex.

There are some people, particularly teens, who believe that oral sex doesn't count as "real sex" (in part because you can't get pregnant). This is why some people refer to oral sex as "getting to third base." These kinds of beliefs fuel risky behaviors that can lead to sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) and other transmittable infections.

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This article looks at the different forms of oral sex that people engage in. It also explains some of the health risks associated with oral sex as well as ways to protect yourself and your partner when either giving or receiving oral sex.

Types of Oral Sex

Oral sex can take several forms. It involves both a receptive partner (the person receiving oral sex) and the giving partner (sometimes referred to as the insertive partner).

There are three types of oral sex:

  • Anilingus: Also known as "rimming," anilingus involves the sexual stimulation of the anus with the mouth and tongue (oral-anal sex).
  • Cunnilingus: Sometimes described as "eating someone out," cunnilingus involves the use of the mouth and tongue to stimulate the vulva, clitoris, and/or vagina (oral-vaginal sex).
  • Fellatio; Commonly referred to as a "blowjob," fellatio involves the stimulation of the penis and/or testicles with the mouth and tongue (oral-penile sex).

When sexual partners perform oral sex on each other simultaneously, the practice is commonly referred to as "sixty-nining" or "doing 69."

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.

Recap

Oral sex may take the form of anilingus ("rimming"), cunnilingus ("eating someone out"), or fellatio ("blowjobs").

Possible Risks of Oral Sex

Oral sex is considered by some to be "safer" than sexual intercourse, and in some ways this is right. Pregnancy cannot occur with oral sex, and certain STDs like HIV are highly unlikely to be passed by oral sex.

But the attitude that oral sex is "safe" is not only misguided but exposes people to a host of otherwise avoidable sexually and non-sexually transmitted infections.

 Anilingus  Cunnilingus  Fellatio
Chlamydia
Fecal-oral infections, like Salmonella, Shigella, and Campylobacter
Gonorrhea    
Hepatitis A
Hepatitis B
Herpes
Human papillomavirus (HPV)
Intestinal parasites, like AmoebaGiardia, and Cryptosporidia    
Non-specific urethritis (NSU)
Syphilis

Some of these infections have long-term consequences.

For example, human papillomavirus (HPV) is an STD closely linked to certain cancers. An oral HPV infection can cause changes in cells that lead to mouth or throat cancer in some people. If the oral infection is passed to the vagina, penis, or anus, it can similarly increase the risk of cervical, vulvar, vaginal, penile, or anal cancer.

Recap

Oral sex can place a person at risk of both sexually transmitted diseases (like chlamydia, gonorrhea, herpes, and HPV) and non-sexually transmitted diseases (like intestinal parasites and fecal-oral infections).

Other Health Concerns

Oral sex also poses other health concerns, particularly with respect to genital or urinary tract infections.

As a general rule, you should avoid oral sex when you or your partner has a urinary tract infection (UTI). This is especially true for female partners with a UTI due to the shorter length of their urethra (urinary tube). Having oral sex can introduce new bacteria into the urethra and prolong or worsen the infection.

It is also a good idea to avoid oral sex if either partner has a yeast infection. This can also prolong the infection and aggravate symptoms. This not only includes vaginal yeast infections but also anal and penile yeast infections. (With that said, there is little to no evidence that a yeast infection can be passed during sex.)

On the other hand, a cold sore—mainly caused by the herpes simplex virus type 1 (HSV-1)—can be passed to the penis, anus, or vagina during oral sex, leading to genital herpes. Although genital herpes is mainly caused by herpes simplex virus type 2 (HSV-2), an HSV-1 or HSV-2 outbreak on the genitals is indistinguishable.

Recap

Oral sex should be avoided if a partner has a UTI or yeast infection as it can prolong the infection. You should also avoid oral sex if you have a cold sore as the virus can be passed to the anus or genitals, causing genital herpes.

Prevention

Oral sex may be "safer" than condomless sexual intercourse, but it is not without its risks. It is important, therefore, to find ways to reduce your risk whether you are the receptive partner or the insertive/giving partner.

Short of complete sexual abstinence, this includes:

  • Consistent use of condoms: This includes both external (male) condoms and internal (female) condoms.
  • Dental dams: These are thin squares of latex or polyurethane that provide a barrier between the mouth and a partner's vagina or anus. If a dental dam is not available, a condom can be cut lengthwise and opened flat. Kitchen cling film can also be used.
  • Fewer sex partners: Few partners mean lower risk. By way of example, having 10 or more sexual partners over a lifetime increases the risk of HPV-related cancers by 69% in males and 91% in females compared to having only one partner.
  • STD screenings: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends the routine screening of STDs like chlamydia, gonorrhea, and syphilis for people at high risk of infection or complications. HIV testing is recommended for all people ages 15 to 65 as part of a regular doctor's visit.
  • Vaccination: There are vaccines available to prevent HPV, hepatitis A, and hepatitis B. Ask your healthcare provider if you are a candidate for vaccination.

Recap


You can reduce the risk of oral sex by using condoms and dental dams, reducing your number of sex partners, and getting the recommended STD screenings. You can also ask your healthcare provider if you are a candidate for hepatitis A, hepatitis B, or HPV vaccination.

Summary

Oral sex involves the use of your mouth and tongue for sex. This includes fellatio ("blowjobs"), cunnilingus ("eating someone out"), or anilingus ("rimming').

Oral sex can be intimate and enjoyable, but it poses certain health risks. This includes sexually transmitted diseases like chlamydia, gonorrhea, hepatitis A and B, herpes, HPV, and syphilis. There is also also a risk of intestinal parasites and bacteria infections from rimming.

To reduce the risk, use condoms and dental dams. You should also reduce your number of sex partners to limit your odds of exposure and get the recommended STD screenings. Some people may also be candidates for vaccines that prevent STDs like hepatitis A, hepatitis B, and HPV.

A Word From Verywell

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

In the end, not everyone likes giving or receiving oral sex; it's a highly personal choice. If you are uncertain about how you or your partner feels, be open and honest and talk about it. Even if you are in a long-standing sexual relationship, sexual consent remains important.

Beyond setting boundaries, consent also provides you the opportunity to discuss other aspects of your sexual health, including whether you should get the recommended STD screenings. Good communication is key to good sexual health.

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Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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