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Oral sex

Oral sex is using your mouth to stimulate your partner's penis, vulva, or anus.

There are many different words for it, for example, oral sex on a penis is sometimes called 'fellatio', 'blowjob', 'sucking off', 'giving head' or 'going down'. Giving a woman oral sex on her vulva is also known as 'giving head' and 'going down' as well as 'cunnilingus', 'eating out' or 'licking out'. Oral sex on the anus is known as 'analingus' or 'rimming'.

The first thing to know about oral sex is that not everyone has, or wants to have it. Some people find it amazing, others may have tried it and found it doesn’t really turn them on. For others, they just may not like the idea of giving or receiving it at all.

However you feel about oral sex, it really doesn’t matter. Just remember that if you don’t want to give or receive oral sex, make sure you communicate clearly with your partner about it and don’t get pressured into something you’re not happy about. Read our page about dealing with sexual pressure and consent if you’re having trouble with this.

It's a common misconception that you can't get sexually transmitted infections (STIs) from oral sex so if you do want to give or receive it, make sure you've understood the risks to your sexual health. 

And, if you’re nervous about oral sex, why don’t you start by figuring out what feels good to you, on your own? Masturbation is one of the best ways of getting to know your body and what you want from sex and exploring your own body and learning what feels good is a great stepping stone to having good sex with someone else, because you can tell them what you like or don’t like. 

Having safe oral sex

Some people don’t realise that you can get or pass on STIs through oral sex but if you’re exposed to genital fluids or blood (when a woman is on her period or if you have bleeding gums), the risk is always there.

While you’re probably less likely to get an STI through having oral sex than say, vaginal or anal sex, if those fluids come into contact with sores, cuts or inflamed areas on the lips, mouth, genitals or anus. This allows the infection to get into your blood stream. Chlamydia, gonorrhoea, HIV and syphilis can be passed on in this way.

In the case of pubic lice, they can be passed between pubic hair or facial hair (such as beards) during oral sex. The herpes simplex virus that causes genital herpes is also the cause of cold sores. This means that the virus can be passed on through oral sex and can result in cold sores on the mouth as well as blisters on the genitals. Read Gemma’s story of how this happened to her.

So how can you protect yourself? Condoms (male and female) and dental dams are the best ways:

  • Condoms work by providing a barrier between the genitals and mouth, which will help to stop fluids being exchanged. This may not protect you from pubic lice though and if you or your partner has any sores around your mouth or genital area, it’s really not a good idea – even with protection.
  • Dams are squares of latex or polyurethane (a sort of soft plastic) measuring 15cm by 15cm, which you use to cover the anus or female genitals. This acts as a barrier that stops infections being passed between partners.

Having oral sex with condoms or dams may not sound very appealing but both come in different flavours which can help to enhance the experience.

Oral sex and HPV

This may sound extreme but there is research being done into the link between oral sex and head, neck and throat cancer. This is due to the human papilloma virus (HPV) which causes genital warts. There are over 100 types of HPV and a number of these types can be passed on during sexual contact.

Some types of HPV are known to caused cervical cancer, which is why HPV vaccination of girls aged 12 – 13 was introduced.

The link between HPV and head, neck and throat cancers is less well understood but Cancer Research acknowledges there is a link. Read more about this link.

How to give him oral sex

Generally, the most sensitive area of the penis is the head (the 'glans') but this can vary from person to person. Very simply, giving head involves simulating the head of his penis and the shaft.

There are many different techniques to try when giving head and guys like different things. Here are some tips and tricks to try:

  • Position: Make sure he is comfortable and you are in a position where your head is free to move around. He can be standing and you on your knees or he could be on his back and you between his legs or straddled on top. There are many different positions the two of you could be in. Try different ones because the angle the penis enters the mouth can feel different.
  • The seal: Hold your mouth around his penis in a seal where only your lips touch the shaft. Move your mouth and lips up and down the shaft while concentrating on the head of his penis.
  • Variety: As well as moving your mouth up and down his penis, some guys also like a small amount of sucking. Pretend you are sipping through a straw but check to see if he likes it as not all guys do.
  • Teeth: Don't bite or scrape his penis with your teeth unless he asks you to. It would be pretty unusual if he did because the penis is quite sensitive.
  • Hands: You can also hold the base of his penis and move your hand up and down while using your mouth on the rest of the penis. A bit of flavoured lubrication is a good idea as rubbing the penis with a dry hand can cause irritation.
  • Balls: Some guys also like having their balls gently pulled or their perineum (the bit of skin between the anus and the base of the balls) stroked. Some also enjoy having their anus touched. It's probably best to ask him about this before you do any of these things to check whether he'd like it. 
  • Rhythm: The trick to giving head is to go slow at first and try looking out for non-verbal cues that he likes or does not like what you're doing. Possible signs that he's into it may be that his penis is hard, he's breathing deeply, moaning in a pleasurable way or thrusting towards you.

How to give her oral sex

Giving a woman oral sex can be intimidating if you don't have much experience. As with giving a guy head, oral sex on a woman is very individual. It is important to read her body cues and if possible, ask her if she likes what you are doing. Here are some tips and tricks:

  • Position: Have her lay on her back with her legs spread comfortably. A pillow underneath her can help make for better access and comfort.
  • The approach: You can start by licking the opening of her vagina. Be gentle at first as the last thing she wants is furious tongue thrashing down there. Watch the teeth as well.
  • The clitoris: While stimulation all around the vulva can be pleasurable, the area that usually feels the best is the clitoris. The clitoris is a pea sized area on the top of the vulva. It is very sensitive so make sure you go easy on it at first. You can always build the pressure if she wants more.
  • Pressure: The amount of pressure and the part of the clit that's most pleasurable varies from person to person, so don't be afraid to try different things. You could try licking around, applying gentle pressure with your tongue directly to the clit, or on one side or the other. Check out with her if she likes it or wants a bit more or a bit less pressure.
  • Establish your rhythm: Once you know what she likes, try to keep a good rhythm going that she likes. You can speed up or slow down as she likes it.
  • Variety: While maintaining your rhythm, mix it up a bit. For some people concentrating on the clit then licking all the way from the bottom of her vaginal opening back up to her clit again might feel good. Some people like having a finger inside the vagina to stimulate the G-spot at the same time. Some people also like having their anus played with, but check first to see what they're into.

Content reproduced with kind permission from University College London's Sexunzipped website.

Page last reviewed: September 2015
Next review due: September 2016