Ever had a friend tell you about their latest encounter and say “we only had oral, so that doesn’t count!”? Or maybe you yourself consider oral sex in a different light to ‘real sex’? So what significance does oral sex have in modern society and what weighting does it have when compared to ‘penetrative’ sex?

Oral sex

Blow job, going down, giving head, 69-er, or if you want to get really technical – ‘cunnilingus’ (mouth to vulva/vagina), ‘fellatio’ (mouth to penis), or ‘anilingus’ (mouth to anus) – are just some of the numerous names for the act of stimulating ones genitals with the mouth and tongue for sexual pleasure, or in other words – oral sex.

People may choose to have oral sex for many reasons. It might be as a way to be intimate with a partner, or they’re not ready to have penetrative sex, or as a form of contraception. It could even be as a part of foreplay, or just because it can feel good! And as long as both people are consenting, this is all totally cool. However, the big question is: why has this extremely intimate act of licking, kissing and sucking another person’s genitals ended up being considered any less significant than having ‘penetrative’ sex in today’s world?

The history

Many people might be surprised to find out that oral sex has been around since the beginning of time. In fact many ancient art works and texts document it in great detail – the Karma Sutra for example. Oral sex has also had a bit of a bad rap at various times through history, resulting in it sometimes being banned and/or seen as taboo with serious consequences if one was caught involved in such ‘unconventional behaviours’. In today’s world with our freedom to participate in the sexual behaviours we choose, oral sex is now legally ok. Interestingly, however, oral sex now seems to be the sexual act with the least significance to young people, with many not considering it to be classified as ‘real sex’ at all.

Weighing it up

When you think about it, oral sex is all about giving and/or receiving sexual pleasure. Legally you have to be over the age of 16 to consent to oral sex; you and your partner/s need to have  consented to be involved in the oral sex whether that’s giving or receiving; and you need to take the necessary precautions to prevent the chance of getting or passing on sexually transmissible infections (STIs).

All of which is exactly the same as penetrative sex (whether that’s vaginal, anal, fingering or sharing sex toys).

But doesn’t oral sex have fewer risks, you ask? Well yes, in terms of risks, oral sex has a much lower risk of STI transmission compared to penetrative sex (vaginal and anal). And compared to vaginal sex, there is no risk of pregnancy; however, it’s important to realise that law and health professionals all agree that oral sex is very much classified as ‘sex’.

The verdict

Ultimately in the eyes of the law and health professionals, oral sex does count as sex. As to what it means personally to you – the ball’s in your court. Whether you feel it counts as sex or not, remember that there are still risks of STIs such as herpes, chlamydia, gonorrhoea and syphilis, so it’s important to know how to stay safe.

Tip for safe oral sex

It’s essential that both partners consent, are enthusiastic about having oral sex (giving or receiving), and don’t feel pressured into it.

If you’re having (or have had) unprotected oral sex, make sure you get regular sexual health check-ups, and ask your doctor if they should include a throat swab in your STI tests.

Even though the risks of STI transmission through oral sex are lower, you may still like to consider using protection to minimise skin-to-skin contact and exchanging bodily fluids. A condom can be used for oral sex involving a penis, or a dam can be used for mouth to vagina or mouth to anus oral sex – both condoms and dams come in a range of flavours.

Alternatively, you can avoid having oral sex if your partner has, or is about to have, a herpes outbreak (you can usually feel when one is coming on), as this is when the virus is most active and most contagious. Also avoid having oral sex if your partner has an STI, like chlamydia, gonorrhoea or syphilis, until it has been treated and cured.

Finally, it’s important you and your partner not only stay safe, but have fun – communicate with each other about what you do and don’t like and what feels good.

Frank – Talk. Test. Enjoy.