Oral Sex 101

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Oral Sex

Written by Kait Scalisi, MPH

BJ (blowjob). Eating out. Going down. Tossing salad. There’s lots of nicknames for oral sex – and lots of mixed feelings about it. Whether you think it’s empowering or degrading, intimate AF or kind of ick, here’s the answers to all your questions around putting your mouth on someone’s genitals – and vice versa.

What is oral sex? Are there different types?

Oral sex is stimulating someone’s genitals – their vulva, penis, or butt – with the mouth, lips, throat, and/or tongue. There are three types:

  1. Fellatio: oral sex on a penis

  2. Cunnilingus: oral sex on a vulva

  3. Analingus: oral sex involving the butt

Can I get pregnant from getting or giving oral sex?

Nope, you cannot get pregnant if someone ejaculates in your mouth. Pregnancy only occurs if a sperm cell swims up through the cervix and uterus, and meets an egg through the fallopian tubes.

Do I need to/how do I protect myself from STIs?

You can get STIs from oral sex, on either your mouth or genitals, whether you swallow or not.

Going down on someone puts you at risk for: chancroid, chlamydia, cytomegalovirus (CMV), genital warts, gonorrhea, hepatitis A, B, and C, herpes type 1 and 2, HIV (rare), HPV, molluscum contagiosum, nongonococcal urethritis (NGU), syphilis (rare), and yeast/thrush

The risk & frequency varies, so protection is key. Use barriers – condoms for oral sex on a penis and dental dams for anuses & vulvas – and get yourself tested regularly!

Won’t using a condom/dental dam make oral sex not feel as good?

Studies show that using a barrier won’t decrease your overall sexual satisfaction – it’s negative stereotypes that cause people to think barriers make sex less fun!

Some people do find that using a barrier decreases how much they feel during oral sex. This can actually help people with penises who typically climax more quickly than they want. If you do want to increase sensation, there’s an easy fix: put a few drops of silicone or water-based lube on the genitals underneath the barrier (inside a condom, directly on the penis, or on a vulva).

Am I still a virgin if I get or give oral sex?

“Virginity” is an idea created by society mostly to suppress and control (female) sexuality. Different people define sex differently, and it is up to you to determine if or how oral sex fits into your sex life. Regardless, as with any type of sexual activity, giving or receiving oral doesn’t change anything about who you are.

Is oral sex gross?

Nope – unless someone involved doesn’t want to be doing it. Otherwise, oral sex is a natural way to be physically intimate with your partner.

It’s okay to not be interested in oral sex, as long as you and your partner discuss and maintain mutual respect and expectations.

Do I have to have oral sex?

You don’t have to like or dislike any sex act.

It’s obviously a bummer if bae loves oral and you don’t – but one differing opinion shouldn’t tank your relationship. See if there’s a way to compromise, but be careful not to pressure each other. And remember, sexual likes and dislikes can evolve over time (however, it is important to not hold out for someone’s preferences to change).

If someone goes down on me do I have to do it back?

The best oral sex is mutually desired. If you’re concerned about going down on your partner or receiving oral, talk about what makes you nervous and what your boundaries are. Consent is ongoing, so it’s also ok to change your mind at any time!

Spit or swallow?

If you use barriers – and you should to decrease your risk of oral-genital transmission of STIs – this isn’t something you have to worry about.

If not, do whatever you and your partner are comfortable with! “Neither” is also an option. Some people find it really hot to cum in their hand, on their partner’s body, or in a tissue. Regardless, it’s important for the person getting the blowjob to give a heads up before climaxing. You and your partner can even choose a signal for when the climax is coming.

It’s wise to talk about your preferences beforehand. If you’re getting a blowjob, ask something like, “where would you like me to cum?” If giving the blowjob, think about what you’re comfortable with and communicate that. It’s also totally okay to change your mind or do different things at different times or with different people. As always, respect and communication are key!

What about kissing my partner after going down on them or having them go down on me?

Some people find this incredibly hot; others, not so much.

If you’re concerned about taste, you won’t know until you try. If hygiene is your concern, some STIs including herpes can be transmitted from the genitals to the mouth. Using a barrier not only protects you, but also means that you don’t have to worry about either of these concerns!

Ultimately, it’s about personal preference – do what you’re both comfortable with. When in doubt, just ask!

What if my partner pushes my head down?

Some people find this sexy. For others, it feels degrading. And for others, it depends on their partner and situation. No one should push your head down without your consent.

Talk about whether this is something you’re open to before sex. It’s ok to change your mind. And if you or your partner get uncomfortable with any part of oral STOP.

Do I have to shave before my partner goes down on me?

The decision to groom is personal. Some people prefer having less (or no) hair. Others love rocking full bush. Your partner should never pressure you to change your pubic hair or shame you about it.

My partner’s pubic hair really bothers me during oral sex. How can I ask them to shave?

Gently! It’s less vulnerable to talk when you aren’t being intimate. Say something like, “I love going down on you, but your hair makes it less comfortable for me. How do you feel about grooming?”

Use your own words, be open to giving them some time to think about it, and keep in mind that there are that there are many ways to groom – shaving, waxing, trimming, etc.

Also, no double standards please! If you aren’t open to grooming, you should not expect your partner to either.

I don’t like the way my partner’s genitals taste/smell…what do I do?

You can shower together before sex, go down on them in the shower, or use a flavored lube, condom, and/or dental dam. Look for a water-based lube that’s free of sugar, glycerin, parabens, and propylene glycol. To learn more, check out our lube basic!

I’m nervous about my partner going down on me because of how I smell. What can I do?

Genitals have their own unique scent – and it isn’t like a forest or garden!

Basic hygiene is important. Bathe regularly, washing your external genitals with a gentle soap. Get to know your normal scent(s) so that you can more quickly figure out if something is off. Avoid douching – it increases your risk of infections and can make your scent more pungent. And take care of your sexual health by getting tested for STIs and seeing your sexual healthcare provider regularly.

How can I make oral better for my partner?

  1. Start slow. Kiss, lick, nibble, suck, stroke, and massage your partner’s lower belly, inner thighs, butt cheeks, and everywhere but their genitals.
  2. Don’t forget about your hands. Use them to gently cradle your partner’s balls, stroke their clitoris, and massage their chest, hips, inner thighs, and butt.
  3. Check-in throughout. When trying something new, ask “May I…” or “are you ok with this?” While you’re pleasuring them, ask things like “does this feel good?” and “where do you want me to go next?”
  4. Be comfortable. If, for example, kneeling or sitting on their face hurts, try another position. You’ll both enjoy it more if you’re comfortable!

What do I do while someone goes down on me?

Lie back and enjoy yourself!

Want to be more involved? Use your hands to stimulate your body or theirs, or reciprocate oral in the 69 position. It’s always nice to give a (genuine) moan or let your partner know how good it feels.

Being on the receiving end is also a great time to practice asking for what you want and giving direction. Say something like, “it would feel so good if you…”

Feel self-conscious or tend to get caught up in thoughts? Focus on the sensation. What do you feel? Taste? See? Smell? Hear? Remember, pleasure happens both physically and mentally, so to truly release, you also need to let go of your thoughts. For more on this, check out our article on Mindful Sex!

tabú tip!

Oral sex can be a fun & intimate way to experience or give pleasure. Be safe, be comfortable, enjoy yourself, and make sure everyone involved agrees on what’s going down while going down!

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