Increasing Popularity of Oral Sex in the United States

In the decades since the “Sexual Revolution” of the 1960s, oral sex has become more popular and common with every generation. Oral sex was formerly a social and sexual taboo considering that previous prevailing notion in the United States was that sexual behavior as a whole should be solely for procreation. Contradicting these views, the sexual revolution reduced stigmas against participating in sex for pleasure and increased the demand for and accessibility of contraception.People’s changing perspectives and newfound freedom to engage in sexual behavior for pleasure has likely had a huge influence on the increasing popularity of oral sex. Thisarticle focuses on who is currently engaging in oral sex, what factors affect couple’s oral sexual behaviors and expectations, the potential risks of unprotected oral sex, and ways to reduce these risks.

 

Who is Engaging in Oral Sex

According to recent studies on differences in current sexual behaviors in the United States, the majority of men and women between the ages of 20 and 69 have engaged in oral sex (cunnilingus, fellatio, or annilingus) on at least one occasion.The report also cited an overall increase in consensual oral-genital contacts in recent decades across all ethnic groups in both urban and rural environments without regard to age or gender.This supports the idea that the sexual revolution has caused an increase in the popularity of oral sex amongst all groups, as it is becoming less and less taboo.

Regardless of age and race, men tend to have a higher number of oral sexual partners over their lifetimes than women.Nevertheless, nearly equal percentages of men and women report having performed oral sex on a partner (85.4% of men and 83.2% of women).It is commonly assumed that when oral sex occurs, it is more likely that a heterosexual female is performing oral sex on a male (fellatio) than it is a heterosexual male performing oral sex on a female (cunnilingus). According recent studies based in the United States, however, there is little to no gender difference in the prevalence of oral sex, indicating that males and females give and receive oral sex at about the same rate.This reciprocal “give and take” behavior counters the stigmas and stereotypes surrounding heterosexual oral sex, in that women do not actually give oral sex more than they receive and men are more open to performing cunnilingus.

Age is a significant predictor for frequency of oral sex between partners. Though the majority of people have engaged in oral sex overall, as age increases the likelihood that an individual has ever performed oral sex decreases.The senior age group (age 60-69) has latest age of sexual debut and lowest likelihood of having five or more oral sex partners throughout their lifetime.Nevertheless, 72% of seniors have performed oral sex, which is still a large majority.3 Conversely, younger age groups are more likely to have a greater number of oral sex partners throughout their lifetimes. Of the 90.3% of young adults who have performed oral sex, it is more likely that oral sex was incorporated into their first sexual experience (their sexual debut).In younger age groups, the increased acceptance of “hook ups,” which are defined in this study as sexual relations between individuals who are not participating in a committed or romantic relationship, has also increased the acceptance or oral sex out of convenience.2

The difference between the experiences of the senior age group in comparison to the  young adult’s oral sex experiences is another indicator that the popularity of oral sex is increasing in recent years. 

Race also plays a role in oral sex demographics. Across all age groups, young white men and women are most likely to have experienced oral sex either over their lifetime and during their sexual debut than black and Hispanic men and women in the United States.3

 

Influence of Media and Pornography

In the past few decades, increased internet access as well as increases in sexually explicit imagery and behavior depicted in mass media has played a major role in the increased popularity of oral sex, especially among adolescent and young adults.

Since oral sex is most prevalent in younger age groups and is featured in pornography, researchers in Canada conducted a study on how porn influences college-age students’ perceptions of what is “normal” oral sexual behavior.The study found that the more frequently both men or women viewed heterosexual oral sex in pornography, the more likely they were to overestimate the frequency their same-sex peers were actively receiving and giving oral sex.The private nature of sexual behavior is likely responsible for this biased perception, since the only point of reference the students could compare behavior viewed in pornography is to their own personal sexual experience; this caused them to assume that the high frequency of oral sex behaviors depicted in porn is the norm for their age group, though this may not match reality.The overestimation of the peer group influences how interested adolescents are in preforming or receiving oral sex themselves and how often they expect to engage in this sexual activity.4

Due to social fears and stigmas concerning intimate acts of sexual behavior, hesitation to ask to receive oral sex, especially among heterosexual females, also affects the frequency individuals engage in oral sex.In these cases, the perception of how often a partner will initiate could also be biased by pornography-based overestimations, which can deter individuals from directly asking their partners for oral sex and can result in disappointment if their expectations are not met in reality.4

Viewing pornographic or sexually explicit material in the media can present a skewed view of what is typical regarding oral sex and can lead to unrealistic expectation and pressures surrounding oral sex. However, the idea that oral sex is more common in one’s peer group can also have a positive role in normalizing oral sex and reducing partners’ inhibitions about giving or receiving fellatio, cunnilingus, or annilingus.4

 

Esteem, Satisfaction, and Oral Sex 

In young adults and adolescents, oral sex is viewed as a more favorable sexual behavior than it was in the past. Compared to penile/vaginal intercourse, oral sex has a lower risk of sexually transmitted infection (STI) transmission and zero risk of pregnancy, which relieves some anxieties participants may have following the sexual encounter.For females in particular, studies show that oral sex mitigates fears of pregnancy and is less likely to result in regret afterwards compared to penile/vaginal intercourse.6

According to recent studies about adolescents and sexual esteem, adolescents also believe that oral sex has less negative emotional consequences (guilt, feeling used, etc.), doesn’t interfere with their values and religious beliefs as strongly as  penile/vaginal sex, and is more socially prevalent and acceptable than penetrative sex.For young adults, oral sex provides a different form of pleasure and intimacy with partner, while minimizing health, social, and emotional attachment risks.Adolescents reported that they were also more likely to be willing to have oral sex in dating and non-dating relationships than penetrative sex.Though oral sex reduces stressful consequences of sexual behavior (guilt, worry about health, pregnancy) in participants of both genders, studies of first-year college students also indicate that positive consequences (intimacy, physical satisfaction, etc.) following oral sex are also reduced in comparison to penile/vaginal intercourse.7

 While it is commonly assumed that men have a greater interest in oral sex than women, the majority of women are more likely to orgasm from clitoral stimulation, which can be accomplished through manual stimulation and cunnilingus, than from penile-vaginal intercourse alone.According to a U.S. study conducted on women of ages 18-94, 18.4% women achieved orgasm from penetrative intercourse alone whereas 36% of women achieved orgasm from clitoral stimulation and 36% indicated that their orgasms felt better when clitoral stimulation was incorporated into intercourse.8

As the age of sexual debut is decreasing, more adolescents are performing oral sex prior to their first penetrative sexual experience; 70% of males performed oral sex at least once prior to their sexual debut, while 57% of females performed oral sex at least once prior to their first penetrative sexual experience.3

 The increase in open perceptions about oral sexual activity and growing percentages of adolescent and young adults currently engaging in oral sex indicates that behaviors such as fellatio, cunnilingus, or annilingus are becoming more normative in young people’s sexual repertoires in recent years. 

 

Sexually Transmitted Infection (STI) Transmission and Risk:

With the evident increase in the rate of oral sex, some are concerned that the prevalence of sexually transmitted infection (STI) will also rise. The risk of acquiring an STI through engaging in oral sex is substantially less than other sexual behaviors (e.g. vaginal or anal intercourse).However, unprotected oral sex can spread STIs via direct transmission of bodily fluids between the genitals and the mouth. Sexual contact with infected partner’s genitals or rectum can spread STIs to the mouth and throat, and vice versa.According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), the risk of STI transmission from oral sex is dependent on the type of oral sex performed, the number of times this sex act occurred, the typeof STI being transmitted, and how common this STI is in the population performing the sex act.Chlamydia, gonorrhea, syphilis, herpes, human papillomavirus (HPV), trichomoniasis, and Human Immunodeficiency virus (HIV) are all able to be transmitted through oral sex; the risk of HIV infection through oral contact is much lower than the risk of HIV from anal or vaginal penetrative sex.6  

Adolescents and young adults are particularly at risk for STI transmission through oral sex, because these age groups tend to have a greater number of sexual partners and do not utilize safe sex practices as much as older age groups.Due to the strong influence of teen peer groups, friends are often the most available and relevant reference group and the most likely source of information for teens on the practices, norms, and risks associated with sexual behavior. Adolescents are also likely to assess the risks associated with specific sexual behaviors through social comparisons with close friends, which can cause them to misevaluate the situation and make uniformed decisions for their sexual health .That being said, by using a barrier methodof protection, such as a condom or dental damcommunicating openly, and getting tested for STIs regularly, consenting partners can engage in oral sex safely and enjoyably. 

 

How to Reduce the Risks of Oral Sex

Oral sex does not have to be a risky behavior if proper protection is used. The CDC states that the risk of STI transmission decreases significantly if protection is used during every oral sexual envounter.9

Non-lubricated latex condoms should be used while performing fellatio to prevent contact with any ejaculate; if you or your partner has a latex allergy, plastic (polyurethane) condoms are also available and effective.Dental dams should be used performing cunnilingus and anilingus. Condoms can also be cut into a square to make a dental dam (click this link for instructions). 

Using flavored condoms or dental damns is another option to experiment with safe and pleasurable oral sex!

Being involved in a long-term monogamous relationship is also shown to decrease the risk of STI transmission.Regardless of whether one’s relationship is long-term or casual, however, studies have shown that use of protection while engaging in oral sex not only minimizes risk of transmission, but also reduces anxiety and regret concerning one’s sexual health after the sexual encounter.5

Another method to address concerns about STI transmission is to discuss with your partner when each of you were most recently tested for sexually transmitted infections if possible. The CDC recommends that any sexually active individual should regularly get tested for STIs and STDs to ensure sexual health and wellbeing.9

Other steps for STI prevention include increased  sexual education (especially for adolescents) concerning the reduced but significant risks associated with oral sex, as well as protection options.

We do not endorse any of these behaviors as dangerous; rather, we inform about the necessity of protection to ensure the most rewarding sexual experiences possible. Just because an act like oral sex is popular does not mean it is safe without precautionary measures. Please make informed decisions about engagement in and use of protection during oral sex to ensure enjoyable and safe experiences for you and your partners.

Concluding Remarks:

In the decades since the sexual revolution, oral sex has become an increasing popular in each younger generation, regardless of race or gender, in the United States. This is in part due to lessened taboos against sex for pleasure, trends towards earlier first sexual experiences, media and pornographic influences, and the role of peer groups on sexual esteem and decision making, especially in adolescents. Like any other form of sex, oral sex should be practice using protective barrier methods, such as male condoms or dental dams, to reduce the risk of STI transmission. Use of proper protection and clear communication between consenting partners is key to ensuring that oral sex is a positive and pleasurable addition to one’s sex life. 

References:

  1. Herbenick, Debby, et al. “Women’s Experiences With Genital Touching, Sexual Pleasure, and Orgasm: Results From a U.S. Probability Sample of Women Ages 18 to 94.” Journal of Sex & Marital Therapy, vol. 44, no. 2, Feb. 2018, pp. 201–12. PubMed.
  2. D’Souza, Gypsyamber, Kevin Cullen, Janice Bowie, Roland Thorpe, and Carole Fakhry. “Differences in Oral Sexual Behaviors by Gender, Age, and Race Explain Observed Differences in Prevalence of Oral Human Papillomavirus Infection” edited by Xuefeng Liu. Vol 9.  PLoS ONE: 2014.  Date Accessed: 10 Apr. 2019.
  3. Emily A. Vogels, Lucia F. O’Sullivan. “Porn, Peers, and Performing Oral Sex: The Mediating Role of Peer Norms on Pornography’s Influence Regarding Oral Sex.” Vol. 21. No. 4. Media Psychology. 2018. Date accessed: 13 Apr. 2019.
  4. Megan Maas, M.S. , Eva Lefkowitz, Ph.D. “Sexual Esteem in Emerging Adulthood: Associations with Sexual Behavior, Contraception Use, and Romantic Relationships.” Vol. 52. No. 7. Journal of Sex Research. 2016. Date Accessed: 11 Apr. 2019.
  5. Eva S. LefkowitzSara A. Vasilenko, Chelom E. Leavitt. “Oral vs. Vaginal Sex Experiences and Consequences Among First-Year College Students”. Springer Science+Business Media: New York, 2015. Date Accessed: 11 Apr. 2019.
  6. “STD Risk and Oral Sex – CDC Fact Sheet.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention,1 Dec. 2016. Web. 14 Apr. 2019.
  7. Rose Wesche, Eva S. Lefkowitx, Sara A. Vasilenko. "Latent Classes of Sexual Behaviors: Prevalence, Predictors, and Consequences." Springer Sceince + Business Media: New York, 2016. Date Accessed: 15 Apr. 2019.
  8. “Which STD Tests Should I Get? | Prevention | STDs | CDC.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, 30 June 2014, www.cdc.gov/std/prevention/screeningreccs.htm.

Last Updated: 16 April 2019.

 

Category: