Everything You Need to Know About Oral Sex

Learn how to give and receive oral sex as safely as possible.

Oral sex is a sexual act that involves using your mouth to touch another person’s genitals. It can be performed on any part of the genitals or anus.

Anytime you use your tongue, lips, throat, or teeth to consensually pleasure another person’s vulva, vagina, pubic mound, perineum, penis, anal canal, or anal opening, you're having oral sex.

Sometimes oral sex is the foreplay to penetrative intercourse. Other times, it’s the main action. Keep reading to find out how and when to give oral sex as safely as possible. 

When to Have Oral Sex

"Many people use [oral] sex as a part of foreplay," Sarah Melancon, Ph.D., sociologist and clinical sexologist with The Sex Toy Collective, told Health. "It takes time for the genital tissues to become fully engorged and ready to penetrate or be penetrated.” 

If you go from zero to penetration, it's not going to be as comfortable and there is a greater risk of tearing." Therefore, having oral sex before other kinds of sex can make the activities that follow better for all people involved.

It's common for people who experience pain during penetration to actually prefer oral sex to other kinds of sex. 

Worth mentioning: Some people use oral sex as a segue to insertive play (vaginal fingering, anal fingering, penile intercourse, or toy use). However, you should be careful. Ultimately, saliva is not lube

Unlike lube, which is designed to be long-lasting and moisturizing, spit is actually drying to the genital tissues, said Melancon. The good news is that there are plenty of store-bought lubricants on the market that are safe to ingest — including, but not limited to, flavored lubes.

Types of Oral Sex

Broadly speaking, oral sex is sexual activity in which the mouth and tongue give sexual stimulation. And there are a lot of forms it can take. The types of oral sex can be broken down based on where it’s performed.  

  • Fellatio: Commonly known as a “blow job,” fellatio involves pleasuring a penis and testicles with your mouth. Sometimes this is also known as oral-penile play.
  • Cunnilingus: Also referred to as “going down on someone,” “eating someone out,” or “giving them head,” cunnilingus involves using the mouth to stimulate the vulva (the external portion of the genitals) and the vagina, or clitoris Occasionally, you'll hear cunnilingus referred to as oral-vaginal sex.
  • Analingus: Also known as “rimming,” “tossing the salad,” and “eating ass,” analingus refers to contact between a mouth and an anus. "There is a wide range of activities that qualify as oral-anal [sex], all of which can be enjoyable," Melancon said. "The anal canal, anal opening, and butt cheeks all contain nerve endings that can deliver pleasure when they're being stimulated."

Does Oral Sex Count as Sex?

Yes. Oral sex qualifies as sex, regardless of whether or not vaginal or anal intercourse proceeds or follows it. If you and your partner consider oral sex a type of sex, then it counts – regardless of whether you orgasm or not. 

"The myth that oral sex isn't sex is a heteronormative understanding of sex," Wright said. It delegitimizes other forms of sex that don't involve a penis going into a vagina or anus, which may not be possible (or preferable) for people in certain relational dynamics.

This misconception can also create a false sense of safety. "You can't get pregnant during any kind of oral sex," Melancon said. However, there are other potential risks such as sexually transmitted infections.

Oral Sex and STI Risk

Penetrative intercourse isn’t the only kind of sex that comes with a risk of STIs. Without proper protection, oral sex can also lead to an STI. 

"Someone with a genital STI can transmit that STI to the giver’s mouth, and someone with an oral STI can transmit it to the receiver's genitals," explains Melancon.

The STIs most commonly transmitted through oral sex include:

  • HSV (herpes)
  • Gonorrhea
  • Syphilis
  • HPV
  • Trichomoniasis

Chlamydia, HIV, hepatitis A, hepatitis B, and hepatitis C can also be transmitted via oral sex, but are less likely.

Oral sex can also led to pubic lice. Although uncommon, pubic lice can jump from pubic hair to facial hair.

Symptoms of an STI

Unfortunately, you can't rely on obvious symptoms to clue you into your genital or oral STI status since most people with STIs don’t experience any noticeable symptoms.

When symptoms are present, they may appear as:

  • Unusual discharge
  • Pain while peeing
  • Bumps, sore, or warts on or around the genitals 
  • Rash
  • Itching

If you think you've been exposed to an STI or are experiencing symptoms, schedule an STI testing appointment. You can also take an at-home STI test.

STIs aside, oral-anal play poses additional risks. Analingus can lead to the ingestion of intestinal parasites like Giardia and bacteria like E.coli and Shigella.

How to Have Safer Oral Sex

STI transmission during oral sex can happen — as is true with all kinds of sex. However, there are ways to practice safer oral sex that can reduce the risk of STIs.

"The key to reducing STI transmission risk during sex is knowing your own status, knowing the status of your current and potential partners, and then using that information to make informed decisions about barrier usage," Melancon said.

The CDC recommends getting tested for STIs once a year. But it's wise to get tested more frequently if you have multiple sexual partners, Searah Deysach, sex educator and owner of pleasure product company Early to Bed, told Health. It is always safest to use a barrier while engaging in oral sex to reduce the risk of STI transmission.

You can place a condom on a penis, or a dental dam over a vulva or anus to create a physical barrier between the mouth and body part. That will help keep any bacteria and infectious diseases from being transferred from person to person.

If you don't have a dental dam handy, you can take a condom and carefully cut it up the side to create a square shape. "Flavored condoms are a great way to make safer oral sex more fun and most dams come flavored, as well," Deysach said.

A Quick Review

All kinds of oral sex can be pleasurable! However, despite common misconceptions, oral sex isn't risk-free. Sexually transmitted infections and intestinal infections can be transmitted during oral play.

Luckily, regular testing and barrier use can reduce the risk of STIs, allowing you to enjoy oral sex, stress-free.

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Sources
Health.com 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.
  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. STD risk and oral sex – CDC fact sheet.

  2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Pubic "crab" lice.

  3. UpToDate. Screening for sexually transmitted infections.

  4. National Institute of Health. What are the symptoms of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) or sexually transmitted infections (STIs)?

  5. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. What STD tests should I get?

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