Sex Ed

10 Things You Should Know About Oral Sex

February 9, 2018 by Justin Lehmiller

How many people have had oral sex? Do men and women have similar feelings about this activity? Does oral sex “count” as sex? In this post, we’ll take a look at the answers to these and other questions about oral sex.

1.) Most adults in the United States have engaged in oral sex before. A recent, nationally representative survey found that 86-87% of men and women say they have done it at least once.

2.) A little over one-third of Americans say they engaged in oral sex during their most recent sexual event. However, men are more likely to say they received it, whereas women are more likely to say that they performed it on a partner.

3.) Oral sex isn’t just a frequently practiced activity—it’s also a popular theme in porn. In fact, research has found that among men and women—both heterosexual and non-heterosexual—oral sex is among the five most-watched porn genres.

4.) Despite how frequently oral sex is practiced, people are really split over whether oral sex actually “counts” as having sex. For example, in a recent study of nearly 600 heterosexual college students, about half of men and women said that oral sex probably isn’t sex, while the other half said it probably is.

5.) Among sexual minorities, lesbian and bisexual women are more likely to say that oral sex “counts” compared to gay and bisexual men. In fact, whereas a majority of lesbian and bi women say that oral sex is “definitely sex,” only about one-third of gay and bi men say the same.

6.) Oral sex (both giving and receiving) is rated as highly pleasurable by men and women alike. However, while men and women rate receiving oral sex as equally pleasurable, men are more likely than women to say that giving oral sex is pleasurable.

7.) Receiving oral sex increases the odds of a woman reaching orgasm during sexual activity, especially during a hookup. For example, in a study of college women, the estimated probability of reaching orgasm during a sexual hookup with intercourse was 24%. If the woman also received oral sex during the encounter, the odds of orgasm doubled to 48%. A similar but smaller orgasm boost was noted in romantic relationships (75% for intercourse alone compared to 83% for intercourse plus oral sex).

8.) Oral sex is not a risk-free sexual activity. For instance, it is possible to spread bacterial infections, such as chlamydia and gonorrhea, as well as viral infections, like herpes and HPV. Oral sex also creates a potential opportunity for pubic lice to spread to moustaches and beards.

9.) Although there are potential risks, few people use condoms or other barriers for protection when they practice oral sex. For example, in one study of 1,373 U.K. students, 56% reported having had oral sex before—of them, however, only 17% had ever used a condom for this act and, moreover, just 2% reported using condoms consistently during oral sex [1].

10.) A recent study suggests that use of antibacterial mouthwash may have the potential to help prevent the spread of oral gonorrhea infections, which you can learn more about here (though, to be clear, much more research is needed before drawing firm conclusions). Incidentally, the company that makes Listerine marketed it as a cure for gonorrhea back in the late 1800s; however, no one actually tested this claim until now.

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[1] Stone, N., Hatherall, B., Ingham, R., & McEachran, J. (2006). Oral sex and condom use among young people in the United Kingdom. Perspectives on Sexual and Reproductive Health, 38(1), 6-12.

Image Source: 123RF/lculig

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Written by
Dr. Justin Lehmiller
Founder & Owner of Sex and Psychology

Dr. Justin Lehmiller is a social psychologist and Research Fellow at The Kinsey Institute. He runs the Sex and Psychology blog and podcast and is author of the popular book Tell Me What You Want. Dr. Lehmiller is an award-winning educator, and a prolific researcher who has published more than 50 academic works.

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