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Oral sex

Oral sex is any type of sexual activity involving someone the stimulation of genitals with someone’s mouth 

What is oral sex?

Oral sex is using your mouth to stimulate someone’s penis, vulva or anus, or having your genitals stimulated by someone using their mouth.  

For people with penises, oral sex usually involves stimulating the head (the ‘glans’) and the shaft of the penis. It can also include using the mouth to touch the testicles, thighs and anus. For people with vulvas, oral sex usually involves stimulating the clitoris, and can also include using the mouth to touch the thighs and 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’. Oral sex on a 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.  

Sex and consent

It’s important that you and your partner feel comfortable and don’t feel pressured into doing anything you don’t want to do. If you feel uncomfortable at any point beforehand, or during sex, you can change your mind and stop. 

For more information about this or if you feel worried, you can read our pages on consent.  

Safe oral sex

If you do want to give or receive oral sex, it is important that you understand the risks to your sexual health and know how to have it safely. 

Oral sex and STIs

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 (for example, when a woman is on her period or if you have bleeding gums) the risk is always there. 

  • If genital fluids come into contact with sores, cuts or inflamed areas on the lips, mouth, genitals or anus, this can allow infections to get into your blood stream.  Chlamydia, gonorrhoea, HIV and syphilis can all 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.  

Oral sex and HPV

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 young people 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 the link between HPV and cancer.  

Analingus also comes with the added risk of digestive bacteria and parasites that pass through the anus, such as E. coli and Salmonella. These can make you sick if you ingest them.

Keeping yourself safe

To stay safe when having oral sex, make sure that you:

  • Never engage in oral sex if there are open sores or lesions on the mouth, anus or genitals. 
  • Communicate honestly and openly with your partner(s) about potential risk of STIs and other infections.
  • Maintain good personal hygiene to minimise the risks of transferring bacteria. This is particularly important for analingus.
  • Use ‘barrier methods’, like condoms (male and female) and dental dams. 
    • Condoms work by providing a barrier between the genitals and mouth, which will help to stop fluids being exchanged.
    • 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. Dams may be useful in preventing sexually transmitted infections (STIs) but there is currently no research into how effective they are. 
    • Remember: barrier methods may not protect you from all STIs, e.g. pubic lice, or bacteria and if you or your partner have any sores around your mouth, anus or genital area you should avoid oral sex even with protection.
  • Avoid sharing sex toys and, if you do, clean them thoroughly in between being used by different people.  
  • Get tested for STIs regularly and each time you have sex with a new partner. Find out more about STI testing here.  

Oral sex and pleasure

As with any type of sex, to enjoy oral sex both partners need to be turned on. As you become more aroused your body will relax and you may feel more sensitive to touch. 

Remember: everyone enjoys different things and has different ‘turn ons’. Understanding what you enjoy when it comes to sex and communicating this to your partner will help you to have great sex that is fun and pleasurable for both of you. 

Read more about having great sex.

You should never feel like you have to have oral sex, or any other type of sex, if you don’t want to. You also shouldn’t force or try to persuade any else into doing anything they don’t want to do. 

Explore on your own

If you’re unsure of what to expect from oral sex, or want to work out what to ask for, you could start by figuring out what feels good to you. 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. 

Find out more about masturbation.

Erogenous zones

An erogenous zone is an area of your body which is very sensitive, and can produce a sexual response when it is touched. An important part of discovering your sexuality is learning which parts of your body feel good to be touched.  
Common examples of erogenous zones for people with penises include the penis, scrotum, anus, prostate and nipples. Common examples of erogenous zones for people with vulvas include the vulva, vagina, anus and nipples. They can also include, but are not limited to, other areas of your body such as your neck, ears, back, hips and thighs. 


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    Real Stories
    Herpes: Gemma’s story
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    Deciding to have sex


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