Oral Sex - Questions and Answers
ORAL SEX: WHAT IS IT?
Oral sex refers to oral (mouth and tongue) stimulation of the genitals or other areas of the body. Fellatio refers to oral stimulation of the penis; cunnilingus refers to oral stimulation of the vulva (the external part of the vagina). Anilingus refers to oral stimulation of the anal opening also known as "rimming" or anal oral sex.
The penis is the most sensitive at the tip, or glans, including the frenulum (y-shaped area), the underside of the penis where the glans meets the shaft. The bottom ridge of the glans or the corona is also very sensitive.
The part of the vulva that is frequently stimulated during oral sex is called the clitoris. It’s a small, round lump of tissue about the size of a button, just above the vaginal opening, and is highly sensitive to touch because of the large network of nerve endings. The clitoral glans is covered by a hood when not aroused or when highly aroused. Individuals may prefer to be touched on the hood, which partly covers the clitoris, since the clitoris is highly sensitive to the touch. The clitoris extends into two branches on either side of the vaginal opening about 3.5 inches long and fills with blood when highly aroused.
WHO DOES IT?
Sex surveys and interviews, going back to those conducted by Alfred Kinsey and his colleagues in the 1930s and 1940s, as well as those from recent decades, indicate that this is a sexual behavior practiced by all people across age, race, gender identity, sexual orientation and relationship status.
However, the popularity of oral sex has dramatically increased from the time of Kinsey’s interviews. Results from the National Survey of Sexual Health and Behavior (NSSHB) show 58.9% of Americans 29 and under have ever received oral sex; 83.7% of Americans 30 and over have ever received oral sex (Reece, Herbenick, Fortenberry, Sanders, Schick, Dodge and Middlestadt, 2015).
WHAT PART DOES COMMUNICATION PLAY DURING ORAL SEX?
It’s been said many times before: people need to find a way to communicate with each other in order to enhance their sexual experience. It’s certainly true during oral sex. The receiving partner should communicate their sexual needs. Acknowledging at the beginning that making adjustments is normal and fun. You might find that saying what feels good works well, or you might prefer not to speak but rather to indicate your likes and dislikes in other ways. This could include making sounds or using your hands to help guide or move the person to another place on your body.
ORGASM AND WOMEN
Sex surveys of women report that most achieve orgasm more easily from oral or manual stimulation rather than during penetrative intercourse. Because the tongue is soft, warm and lubricated, a woman may find that this provides such intense stimulation that it becomes the best means for achieving orgasm. Each person is unique. For some women, oral sex will become part of a sexual repertoire. For others, it will become the primary sexual behavior of choice.
ARE THERE RISKS ASSOCIATED WITH ORAL GENITAL CONTACT?
Many people feel safe engaging in this behavior because they know there is no risk of pregnancy. There are, however, other considerations. Some STIs (sexually transmitted infections), such as herpes, chlamydia, gonorrhea, HIV, HPV, trichomoniasis and syphilis can be transmitted through oral-genital contact. For example, oral herpes (cold sores) can be transmitted to the genitals and genital herpes can be transmitted to the mouth. The herpes virus can be transmitted without visible sores or an outbreak. HIV may be transmitted through oral genital sex when HIV is in semen, vaginal secretions, or blood that enters the mucus membranes or abrasions in the mouth and throat. HIV is not spread through saliva.
AND NOW A WORD ABOUT HYGIENE
For most people, cleanliness is an important consideration. Consider showering or bathing prior to sexual activity. It removes the daily dirt, sweat and other materials that accumulate over the course of the day.
Vaginal douching is NOT recommended. Douching is washing or “cleaning” out the inside of the vagina with water or other mixtures of fluids, which can lead to various health problems such as making a person more susceptible to infection due to changing the normal flora in the vagina. Anal douching is also NOT recommended. Using a mild soap and warm water is all that is needed.
For an individual with an uncircumcised penis, pull back the foreskin to wash thoroughly.
Circumcised individuals also need to maintain good hygiene as the absence of foreskin can cause the glans of the penis to come in direct contact with sweat and bacteria.
COMMONLY ASKED QUESTIONS ABOUT ORAL SEX
What if my partner doesn’t want to perform oral sex?
Individuals have different sexual likes and dislikes. These differences should be respected. However, it’s possible that a person’s dislike of this sexual act is based on hygienic concerns. If so, see our section on Hygiene. It’s also possible that a person is concerned about disease transmission. Try talking with your partner about their feelings and why they’re feeling that way. Time and increasing intimacy can help an individual be more comfortable with oral sex.
What is safer oral sex?
It’s possible that the use of a latex barrier such as an oral (dental) dam, a thin square of latex used to cover a person’s body part or a non-lubricated condom cut open placed between the mouth and genitals would make the behavior more appealing, and certainly less risky in terms of STI transmission.
For oral sex on a penis, should I spit or swallow the ejaculate?
This is a personal preference. Some don’t mind swallowing while others may find it unappealing. For others, it might be strictly based on the taste (salty or bitter) and texture (thin or viscous) of the ejaculate. It is important to spit or swallow immediately following to keep the ejaculate from entering any cuts on the inside of the mouth. If your concern about swallowing is about ingesting hormones, rest assured that even though the testicles produce most of the hormones, they are not released into the ejaculate. If the concern is about calories, the approximate teaspoonful of ejaculate is low calorie (about 5 calories). Based on information from the CDC, you can reduce your risk for STIs by not allowing your partner to ejaculate in your mouth.
I’ve never done this before…will I enjoy it?
There is a range of feelings expressed about this sexual behavior. They include those who truly enjoy performing oral sex, to those who don’t find anything particularly special about it but want to do it for their partner, to those who don’t want anything to do with it. Many people would probably say that it indicates a degree of intimacy for another person, intimacy that can’t be expressed in any other way. A person’s feelings can change over time and from one partner to another. If it is something you’re intrigued about, you can find books and other resources with additional information and insight.