Oral Sex: What It Is and How To Do It Safely

There's a lot more to know about oral sex than you might think.

Oral sex is a type of sexual activity for all kinds of couples. To give you an idea of just how common it is—85% of sexually active adults have had oral sex with someone, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Oral sex has benefits beyond physical pleasure: A study from 2019 in The Journals of Gerontology Series B: Psychological Sciences and Social Sciences suggested that older couples who engaged in oral sex were happier and more satisfied with the quality of their relationship than those who did not.

Still, not everyone understands the full range of what oral sex is, how to do it safely, and the variety of positions that can make it more exciting and novel. Here's everything you need to know.

What Is Oral Sex?

Oral sex is when you stimulate your partner's genitals with your mouth, lips, or tongue, or they stimulate your genitals using these body parts, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). This might involve fellatio (sucking or licking the penis), cunnilingus (sucking or licking the vagina, vulva, or clitoris, or anilingus (sucking or licking the anus).

Oral sex is often considered foreplay, meaning it happens before penetration with a penis or sex toy. It might also occur after sexual intercourse or replace intercourse entirely. Everyone has their preferences, and there are no rules, provided both parties consent to the activity.

How To Start

There's no one way to have oral sex, but a good place to start is by asking your partner for their consent to kiss, lick, nibble, or stroke their genitals with your mouth, lips, or tongue. If you get the go-ahead, start slowly and experiment with different moves, such as soft kisses or firmer tongue swirls.

Pay attention to their response. If your partner becomes more aroused and doesn't ask you to stop, keep going. If you sense that a move you're doing doesn't have the desired effect, switch it up and try something else. As long as it feels good to give and receive, you're doing it right.

How Sexually Transmitted Infections Spread Through Oral Sex

While oral sex can offer deep physical and emotional pleasure, it also has one of the same dangers as intercourse. Whether you're the giver or receiver of oral sex, you can contract and/or spread sexually transmitted infections (STIs) such as chlamydia, gonorrhea, herpes, syphilis, HIV, trichomoniasis, and HPV, according to the CDC. Other than the mouth, it's possible to get an STI in your genitals, rectum, or throat. It is also possible to have an STI in more than one of these locations at one time.

"Many people are surprised to learn how dangerous it can be to have oral sex when it comes to STIs," said Sherry A. Ross, MD, ob-gyn, women's health expert, and author of She-ology: The Definitive Guide to Women's Intimate Health and She-ology: The She-quel.

If left untreated, STIs can lead to different complications. According to the CDC, an HPV infection can lead to throat, cervical, vaginal, anal, or penile cancer. Additionally, HIV can lead to an increased risk of developing certain infections and cancer. The complications of these STIs can be harmful, which is why it's important to protect yourself during oral sex.

Protecting Against STIs

The only way to fully avoid STIs is by not engaging in vaginal, anal, or oral sex, according to the CDC. There are, however, ways to lower your chances of getting an STI if you engage in these activities.

Get Tested

To protect yourself, make sure you and your partner are STI-tested. This is especially important because many STIs don't present with symptoms, according to the CDC. So, you or your partner may be unaware that you have an STI.

Use Protection

If you're not sure about your partner's status, you should use a barrier method every time you have oral sex, according to the CDC. For oral sex with a penis, you should cover the penis with a condom. For oral sex with a vagina or anus, you should use a dental dam (a thin piece of latex). It is important to use these methods properly every time to increase your protection.


Another way to reduce the risk of getting an STI is by being in a long-term monogamous relationship (a relationship with only one partner), according to the CDC. As long as you and your partner have been tested for STIs and agree to be in a monogamous relationship, you significantly reduce the risk of developing an STI.

Ask Your Partner What They Like

Great sex is all about communication, and that goes for oral sex as well. So don't hesitate to ask your partner what they like and what you can do to make them feel good. "This is especially helpful with a new partner," sex and intimacy expert, certified sex educator, and author Gigi Engle said. "Something that worked with one woman may not work with another. The vulva is as unique as a snowflake, and no two are the same."

What exactly should you ask? Here are a few questions: Does she like internal stimulation while she receives oral sex? Does she enjoy having her labia licked? Is her vaginal opening particularly sensitive? "Being able to communicate with your partner is extremely hot," Engle said. "She'll appreciate that you care enough to find out what brings her pleasure."

Oral Sex Positions and Tips

There are as many positions for oral sex as there are for intercourse. But often, the most comfortable way to do it is for the receiver to lie back with their legs open either a little bit or all the way and for the giver to sit or stretch out over them.

Propping a pillow or two under your partner's hips can give you better access to their genitals, though not everyone enjoys this because it makes them feel more exposed. Oral sex can also be performed from behind, with the receiver in the doggie-style position. Another popular oral sex style is called '69'—when both partners lie down, their bodies form a 69 shape, and they can give and receive oral sex simultaneously.

Don't Ignore the Testicles

Testicles can be very sexually sensitive, so to get them in on the oral action, a vibrator is your best sex accessory. "Sex toys aren't just for clit stimulation," Engle said. Grab a vibrator and hold it in your hand to massage the balls. You can also press a vibrator into the perineum, the patch of skin between the balls and anus or anus and vagina, according to the National Cancer Institute. "Sex toys up the sense of eroticism during oral sex; it can be extremely intense—in a good way," Engle added. Just make sure to ask your partner if they like what you're doing.

Make Sure the Clitoris Is Involved

A study published in 2017 in the Journal of Sex and Marital Therapy found that 37% of participants need clitoral stimulation to reach orgasm. Another 36% said that clitoral stimulation isn't necessary to have an orgasm but improves the experience.

Still, for many, direct clitoral stimulation can be too intense, especially at the onset of oral sex. Engle suggested touching it through the clitoral hood; another idea is to perform oral sex with a thin piece of fabric, like underwear, between your tongue and your partner's body. "This will provide just the right amount of pleasure without causing discomfort," Engle said.

Try G-Spot Stimulation

If your female partner enjoys internal stimulation during oral sex, use your finger or a vibrator to play with her G-spot while kissing, licking, or sucking the vulva. How do you know when you've found the G-spot? Work your finger an inch or two inside the vagina along the front wall, and feel around for an area that can be slightly spongier than the rest of the vagina. "When stimulated, you're accessing the root of the clitoris, the back end that you can't see externally," says Engle.

Press around the area to offer pressure-based stimulation, or move your fingers in a grounded, circular motion. "Don't forget to pay attention," Engle said. "G-spot stimulation isn't every woman's cup of tea. Experimenting is great, but be willing to learn and hone your skills with each new partner."


Face-sitting is an oral sex position with the receiver sitting on or straddling the giver's face. The close contact makes this a very intimate position, and it's not something everyone is comfortable with. But it allows for deeper access to your partner's vulva and vagina.

A Quick Review

Oral sex can be a great way to bring pleasure into a sexual relationship. You can try countless positions with a partner, but it's important to figure out what you are both comfortable with. As with any sexual encounter, it is important to protect yourself from STIs. Whether that means getting STI tested, using a condom or dental dam, or maintaining a monogamous relationship, there are ways to protect yourself and your partner from a sexually transmitted disease.

Was this page helpful?
Related Articles