Cunnilingus

Lesbian couple on bed
Lesbian couple on bed. Tony Garcia/Image Source/Getty Images

Definition:  Cunnilingus is the technical term for oral sex performed on a woman. It can be made safer by using a barrier method.

Also Known As: Cunnilingus is often referred to as going down on a woman, or by other slang terms such as "giving head" or "eating pussy".

Cunnilingus and STDs

Cunnilingus isn't entirely safe sex for either partner. Receiving unprotected oral sex puts a woman at risk of genital herpes infection if her partner has cold sores or even asymptomatic oral herpes.

Performing oral sex on a woman puts that woman's partner at risk of gonorrhea and other bacterial STDs, not to mention  HPV, and the oral and throat cancers it can cause.  The first is probably the bigger risk, for most couples. Although genital herpes is far from life threatening, the associated stigma can be severe.

Reducing the Risks of Cunnlingus

In order to reduce the risks of cunnilingus, partners can use dental dams, which can be made from both gloves and condoms,  or other barriers. The barrier is placed between the mouth and the vulva, and in that location protects both partners from potential STD exposure.

Using barriers for oral sex isn't the most common practice, but it is used by couples who are concerned about STD risk either because they are non-monogamous, because they haven't been tested recently, or because one partner or the other is known to have an STD. Just as with other kinds of protected sex, safe oral sex can be sexy...

and even fun to negotiate.

Ways to spice things up include:

  • using colored or flavored condoms and/or dental dams as barriers
  • getting "safe sex lingerie", which is designed to hold the dam in place and give both partners hands free enjoyment
  • combining cunnilingus with other types of sexual play, including fingering or sex toys.

    That said, people can also make a reasonable, informed choice to have unsafe oral sex, even when the circumstances aren't ideal. The important thing is for everyone involved to be aware of the potential risks, so that they can decide whether or not they are willing to accept them.

    Sources:

    Bachmann LH, Johnson RE, Cheng H, Markowitz LE, Papp JR, Hook EW 3rd. Nucleic acid amplification tests for diagnosis of Neisseria gonorrhoeae oropharyngeal infections. J Clin Microbiol. 2009 Apr;47(4):902-7. doi: 10.1128/JCM.01581-08.

    Moore KA 2nd, Mehta V. The Growing Epidemic of HPV-Positive Oropharyngeal Carcinoma: A Clinical Review for Primary Care Providers. J Am Board Fam Med. 2015 Jul-Aug;28(4):498-503. doi: 10.3122/jabfm.2015.04.140301

    Saini R, Saini S, Sharma S. Oral sex, oral health and orogenital infections. J Glob Infect Dis. 2010 Jan;2(1):57-62. doi: 10.4103/0974-777X.59252.

    Schick V, Rosenberger JG, Herbenick D, Reece M. Sexual behaviour and risk reduction strategies among a multinational sample of women who have sex with women. Sex Transm Infect. 2012 Oct;88(6):407-12.

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