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Mouthing Off on Oral Sex

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It might sound dumb but, what exactly is oral sex? - Flame, 15

Oral sex is a term we usually use to describe any sexual genital (to the vulva, penis or anus) stimulation (touch) via someone's mouth, lips, throat and/or tongue (and often combined with use of the hands, too). Cunnilingus is the big word for oral sex when a vulva is involved, and fellatio, for oral sex with a penis. Analingus is a term used to describe oral-anal sex for anyone.

Fellatio is sometimes called: a blow job, giving/getting head, sucking off, gobbing the knob, giving/getting a hummer, sucking the root, and many more terms even I probably don't know. Cunnilingus is also colloquially called eating out, going down on, carpet munching, rug munching, muff diving, and again, other new slang you may know about better than I.

Many people engage in oral sex (and so do some animals), and plenty find it to be a favorite sexual activity. So long as you engage in it responsibly, and it's what you want, it's as normal, healthy, safe and natural as any other kind of sex, even though for a long time in many cultures, it was considered taboo, much like anal intercourse or homosexuality often still is among certain cultures and groups. As well, oral sex isn't a secret sect with mysterious practices people can't figure out on their own,: you're not going to hear about "Oral Sex Secrets That'll Drive Your Partner Wild!" here. That stuff is for people who want to sell you something, and is usually based on things that someone discovered their partner likes through trial and error, something everyone can do with their own partners. (Also, those "secrets" are usually manufactured year after year with very little variation, and aren't secrets to anyone who has read the same magazine or website for more than a year or two.)

Figuring out oral sex isn't brain surgery: it's pretty uncomplicated, and doing it "right" for a partner just has to do with listening, being responsive, and being willing to experiment, just like any other kind of sex.

Here are the basics, and the answers to your most common questions -- no secrets, no flashing lights and sirens, just the raw skinny on what goes on when you or someone else are going down.


Can you get pregnant from oral sex (by giving head)? - Wild, 14

My boyfriend wants me to go "down there" and he wants me to "swallow." I'm willing to, but I heard some stories that scared me and I was wondering what the real story is. I know you can't get pregnant from doing that so I'm not worried about that. I'm not worried about any STDs because we have both recently been tested for STDs and all, and both our tests were negative, so my main concern is if you can swallow it with no problems or side effects? - Shortie, 16

You can't get pregnant from swallowing semen or sperm, but only by semen and sperm entering your vagina directly. Oral sex, by itself, does not pose any risk of pregnancy.

You can, however, get STIs from oral sex, either orally or genitally, whether you swallow or not. With fluid-borne infections -- like HIV or Chlamydia -- swallowing fluids create those risks. With skin-to-skin transmitted infections like HPV or Herpes, no fluid needs even be present for an infection to be transmitted, so a person who didn't swallow and who was giving oral sex to a partner with one of those infections could still get the infection themselves that way.

Many diseases and infections you can catch from or transmit through intercourse (vaginal or anal sex) you can also get from oral sex. Just because a lot of people don't consider oral sex "real sex" doesn't mean it's without risk (or that they're right: it's as much sex as vaginal intercourse is, after all). Oral sex poses a lower risk of all STIs than vaginal or anal intercourse, but it does still carry STI risks.

To reduce those risks, you can use latex barriers like you would to reduce risks with intercourse. For fellatio, you use a condom to reduce STI risks, and for cunnilingus or analingus, STI risks can be reduced by using a dental dam. And just like with other kinds of sex, barrier use is only one part of safer sex: everyone having regular STI testing is just as important, especially for people who have engaged in any kind of genital sex with people before you and who has not always or consistently used barriers, including with oral sex. (The same goes for you if you're the person who has had partners before.) For more information on safer sex practices we know reduce risks, have a look at this: Safe, Sound & Sexy: A Safer Sex How-To.

Some people find they don't like the taste of latex, even though after a minute or two, it usually doesn't taste like anything but the inside of your mouth. Should that be true for you or your partners, flavored condoms or dams are another option to reduce your STI risks. And for yourself or partners who find or are concerned that oral sex won't feel as good with a barrier, remember that putting a few drops of lube on the genitals of the person receiving oral sex before putting the barrier on makes a big difference. And don't forget, one thing we know from studies about condoms and other barriers is that they don't reduce sensation by much (which makes a lot of sense when you hear about all the people who had them slip off without noticing): it's negative attitudes about barriers that tend to cause them to be a drag more than the barriers themselves.

Even if you're oh-so-very-sure you and your partner are safe, unless you've been together six months or more with no other partners, and have both tested negative for at least that amount of time twice, chances are, you're taking a potential risk of STIs, especially if one or both of you are in the habit of engaging in oral or other kinds of sex without using barriers.

Regardless, so long as there are no STIs present, "swallowing" semen or vaginal fluids cannot make you ill and does not pose other risks. Some people have allergies to semen or vaginal fluids, but that is very rare. For most people, genital fluids all by themselves -- so long as they aren't carrying viruses or bacteria because of an infection -- are healthy to ingest. However, everyone has their own preferences when it comes to whether or not they want to and enjoy swallowing genital fluids. So, it's up to you what you do, and you get to choose what you feel best about even if your partner would prefer you swallow: any kind of sex between two people should be about both people and what works for both, not just what one person wants.

Is oral sex sinful or nasty? - Luke, 14

It certainly isn't nasty, unless, like with anything else, either person involved is doing it when they just don't want to -- it feels pretty nasty to be doing something sexual when it isn't what you want to do.

But oral sex is perfectly natural and has been done for ages and ages, all around the world. Again, it used to be much more taboo than it is now, and a few religions still don't approve of or endorse different forms of sex than intercourse, primarily because you cannot get pregnant from them, and those groups believe that sex should only be for the purposes of procreation in marriage, so for certain groups who believe that, and subscribe to the idea of sin, it may be considered sinful.

However, many of those traditions have formed different beliefs to adapt to our more modern culture, and plenty of people within those traditions do engage in oral sex and sex for motivations other than procreation. Ultimately you need to think about how your religious beliefs work into your sexuality on any level, regardless of the particular practice. When in doubt, if making sure whatever sex you're having is in line with your faith, just ask your religious leader. Of course, the religions that state that oral sex is sinful also tend to state that sex outside of marriage is sinful, too, and if you're a teenager engaging in any kind of sex, chances are good you're not married.

Too, culturally, a lot of people are wigged out by genitals, and consider that sex as up-close-and-personal with them as oral sex is must, thus, be gross. But truth be told, if you're yucked out by your genitals or someone else's, it probably isn't so smart to be having ANY sort of sex with those genitals until you do NOT feel that way about them. If sex feels like something we have to do with the lights off, with no one seeing or tasting genitals, or where we don't communicate, that's usually a signal that someone involved in that sex isn't actually comfortable engaging in it. For more on that and other readiness issues, take a look over here.

Often, people will say all kinds of sex are "nasty" because they think our genitals or sex itself is nasty or dirty. But we don't take that view: we think all body parts are okay, no one more or less than another, and mutually wanted, consensual sex, of any kind, that feels physically and emotionally good for everyone and anyone involved is as healthy an endeavor as anything else in life.

What is a "blow job?" - Candy, 15

What sort of things are expected of a girl during oral sex? You see, I want to give my boyfriend a blow-job, but I don't know what's expected of me, what I am supposed to do. - Becca, 16.

I'm 17 and I've been dating my boyfriend for one month. He is able to pleasure me in so many ways, but I am too afraid to go down on him because I don't know how. Can you please advise me on how to give a blow job and/or a handjob? - Cloudy, 17.

Like most sex, oral sex can't really be summed up into a "put tab A into slot B" sort of instruction, because we're all different! Though our body parts may be the same, how we experience their stimulation is all over the map. So, what one partner likes may be totally different from what another does. Just because people have some of the same parts doesn't mean they like the same things. That not only can be different from person to person, people also may enjoy oral sex -- or any other kind -- one way with one partner, but find that with a a different partner, they like things done different ways. But here are a few basics:

Fellatio

For starters, a blow job doesn't really involve blowing (well, unless that feels good and seems interesting. It certainly won't hurt anyone to try if you wanted.).

Giving a partner fellatio, or "head," most simply is just sucking on or licking the penis while also stimulating it with your hand. People don't have to fit a whole penis in their mouths if that doesn't feel good or comfortable, and many people can't without tickling the back of the throat, which can make a person gag. You can ask a partner to help you please them best by asking them to show you how they like to masturbate, can ask for them to tell you, as you're experimenting, what feels good for them and doesn't. And you matter in this, too: what feels good to your mouth, lips, tongue and hand matters, as does what feels good to you emotionally. As with any other kind of sex, no one should have to hurt themselves or be in pain or discomfort in order for people to experience pleasure.

Whether we're talking about fellatio, cunnlingus or analingus, we do always want to remember that our mouths have teeth in them, and genitals are delicate. So, while people can sometimes enjoy light stimulation with teeth, it's smart to be careful of your teeth to be sure you're not hurting anyone.

I was reading an article in one of my friend's magazines and it said something about "tea bagging." I was just wondering what the author meant when they brought up that subject. - Princess, 17

Some people like their testicles ("balls"), perineum (the space between the testicles and anus) or anus stimulated. "Tea bagging" is a term that refers to licking or sucking testicles.

Cunnilingus

Cunnilingus involves licking and sucking the vulva: the inner and outer labia, the external clitoris, and can also involve the tongue and the vaginal opening and other areas. Like with fellatio, some people also like to combine it with manual sex, too, getting their hands or fingers involved at the same time. What parts of the vulva someone likes having stimulated during oral sex and how they like that stimulation is -- I know, here we go again! -- going to vary from person to person. For instance, while plenty of people really like having their clitoral glans and hood directly stimulated during oral sex, for others, that feels like too much stimulation and tickles instead of feeling good. And some people will prefer sucking rather than licking, some the other way around, some both: it's all over the map. Just like with fellatio, the best way to find out what you or your partner likes is to explore, experiment and communicate, keeping each other filled in with what feels good and what doesn't.

Ask questions, and pay attention to body language: if your partner likes what you're doing, that's what you keep doing if it also feels good to you. All in all, the best sex tip anyone can give you when it comes to a technique or practice like oral sex or intercourse is to learn to communicate with your partner. There isn't anything else that can help out as much as simply learning to voice our likes and dislikes, and hear and be responsive to what our partners tell us.

On that note, no matter who is doing what to who, some people have a hard time hearing what someone doesn't like, and feel very upset about getting what they take to be criticism during sex. It's a good idea to try not to take that kind of feedback personally, and to remember that someone telling us what they don't like is one of the ways we find out what they do like. As well, sex of any kind is always a place where we might here no just as often as yes. It always needs to be okay for anyone involved in any kind of sex to set a limit or to ask for a partner not to do something, whether that's because they don't want to do that thing or just because it doesn't feel good to them.

Note: With any kind of oral sex, sometimes people can get very excited and use their hands on a partner's head, perhaps moving them more towards the area they'd like stimulated, or pushing a partner to do whatever they're doing more intensely. If you or a partner are going to do this, just don't forget there's a person there, someone who can gag or choke, or who might not like having their head held. Just like you can do with everything that we might want during sex, it's always a good idea to ask someone what they like and feel comfortable with, and check in with them now and then to make sure something that felt good two minutes ago is still feeling good twenty minutes later.

I'm nervous about having my boyfriend go down on me because I don't like my smell. What can I do? - Val, 16

Bathe regularly, and take good care of your sexual health. That's it, for real!

The scent of a healthy vulva and vagina -- just like the scent of a healthy penis -- is normal, and not unpleasant. By all means, it's a scent of genitals, not of a pine forest or flower garden, because genitals aren't either of those things. Just like our armpits or the inside of our mouths, genitals small like bodies, which can be a little bit salty or musty. But when people really like each other and feel sexually attracted to one another, they usually really like each other's natural smells, rather than feel turned off by them. So, you might not like your own smell, but chances are that a boyfriend who's into you is going to feel differently: he's pretty likely to like it.

You want to just wash your external genitals with a gentle soap like you do the rest of your body, and avoid douching. Douching is bad for you, and upsets your pH balance, therefore only removing your natural scent shortly, and not long thereafter, often making that smell stronger, or giving you a vaginal infection which not only will smell yucky, but it'll make you itch and have masses of discharge instead. Just because a store will sell you something doesn't mean it's good for you -- it just means someone is making enough money not to care. The vagina is a self-cleaning organ, so if you don't currently have a vaginal infection, you probably smell the way you ought to, which is just fine.

If you're not sure if your vulva and vagina are currently healthy or not, just schedule a checkup with your gynecologist or sexual healthcare provider -- that's something we all should be doing at least once a year, even if our vulvas smell like a rose garden (which they really shouldn't, and would be pretty weird, when you think about it).

What is "69?" - Joe, 14

Sixty-nine is a term to describe when two people are giving each other oral sex at the same time. Some people enjoy that, others prefer to take turns so as not to get distracted, and plenty of people want that sometimes, but not at others.

Will giving or getting oral sex take away my virginity? - Baby Girl, 15

As usual, it depends on what that means to you. Virginity is not a medical term, it is a social one. Whether you consider yourself a virgin or not isn't up to anyone but you.

Ultimately, oral sex is just like any other form of sexual intimacy. It is a kind of sex (no matter what people tend to say who want to convince others they didn't have affairs or sex when they did). So, if virginity, to you, means not having engaged in any kind of genital sex, then oral sex would probably be something which would mean you are not a virgin. But this is all up to you. If you're going to use a term like virginity in your life, and that's very meaningful to you, you'll want to figure out what it means to you before engaging in any kind of sex, including oral sex, so you can make sexual choices you feel best about.

Knowing how to do oral sex is all about how you -- and if! -- and your partner enjoy having it done. It requires precautions and protection just like other forms of sex, and you have the right to voice your likes, dislikes, desires and limitations to your partner just like you do with intercourse. There's nothing wrong with it unless you or your partner don't really want to be doing it, or unless you don't do it in alignment with your own physical or mental health.

written 25 Apr 2007 . updated 17 Sep 2013

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