Sex Myths: Is Oral Sex Really Sex?

Open mouth in red lipstick. Adrianna Williams / Stone / Getty Images

For my first article in a new series about sex myths, I'm going to start by tackling a pervasive one - that oral sex isn't actually sex. A lot of people would like to blame the origin of this sex myth on Bill Clinton. However, the truth is that people have been arguing about whether oral sex is really sex since long before the late 1990s.

But is it a sex myth? Whether oral sex is sex comes down to how you define sex.

There is no single answer. To figure out whether this is truly a sex myth, we first need to determine what people really want to know when they're asking "Is oral sex really sex?" They might be wondering:

  1. Would having oral sex mean that I was being unfaithful to my romantic partner? Is oral sex cheating?!?!
  2. If I have oral sex, will I still be a virgin?
  3. Does having oral sex put me at risk of getting an STD?
  4. Is oral sex against my religion?

    ... or any one of a number of other questions.

Some of these questions do not have simple answers. Others are more clear cut.

  1. Most people in committed monogamous relationships would consider oral sex to be cheating. However, some partners might consider it to be less of an indiscretion than vaginal intercourse or anal sex.
  2. As for whether oral sex takes away a person's virginity - that is also a subjective question. Some people consider virginity to be solely a question of whether they've engaged in vaginal intercourse. That means they can remain virgins while having oral sex and anal sex as well as other sexual experiences. Other people think that anal intercourse "counts" but oral sex doesn't. Some people even think that masturbation with a dildo makes a girl no longer a virgin because it can disrupt her hymen (if she has one.)

    If remaining a virgin is important to you, then it is up to you to determine what virginity means . Only once you've done that can you decide if oral sex is something you want to explore. However, it is important to keep in mind that virginity means different things to different people. If the word comes up in conversation, its meaning needs to be discussed.
  1. Oral sex isn't safe sex. Although HIV transmission through oral sex isn't very common, it does happen. Oral sex can also spread many other STDs. The risk of getting an STD by oral sex can be reduced by using a condom or other barrier. However, if your definition of sex is something that can spread STDs, then there is no question. Oral sex is most assuredly sex.
  1. This last one can be quite difficult for some religious people to answer. The answer depends not only on the religion in question but on changing interpretations of religious texts.

So is the statement "Oral sex isn't really sex" a sex myth or is it the truth? It all comes down to how you interpret the question. Still, I think that the weight of the evidence is leaning toward...


Some small fraction of the population really does only define sexual behavior as activities that can lead to conception. However, most people who are asking whether oral sex is sex aren't asking whether oral sex can get them pregnant. (Barring extraordinary circumstances, that answer is NO.)

What most people want to know, when they're asking if oral sex is sex, is whether oral sex:

  1. could violate the rules of an exclusive sexual relationship,
  2. might get them in trouble with their parents or their church,
  3. puts them at risk for a sexually transmitted disease or other negative outcome.

To all of those questions, the answer is most assuredly yes.

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