Is Oral Sex Really Sex?

by Eileen Bailey Health Writer

Sex, as defined in the Merriam Webster Dictionary, is "sexually motivated phenomena or behavior." According to that definition, oral sex would be considered sex. After all, it is certainly sexually motivated behavior. But not everyone thinks so. Many teens and young adults don’t consider oral sex to really be sex. One study found that only about 20 percent of college students classified oral sex as sex. Most saw it as foreplay; actual penetration, whether vaginally or anally, was considered sex.

But according to Planned Parenthood, most sexperts see sex in a much broader way. They include a number of sexual activities under the umbrella term of sex:

  • Vaginal sex

  • Oral sex

  • Anal sex

  • Genital rubbing

  • Genital fingering of the vagina or "hand jobs" (i.e., manipulating the penis by hand to reach orgasm)

  • Masturbation

Does it matter?

In some ways, it doesn’t matter whether you consider oral sex to be sex as long as you and your partner, if you are in a relationship, see it the same way. While many people see any type of sexual activities with someone other than your partner as cheating, some also consider there to be different levels, or seriousness, of cheating. If your partner kissed someone else, would that be as bad as if they had sex with someone? And if there are different levels of seriousness, where does oral sex fall in that line? Could you forgive your partner for having oral sex but not for having penetrative sex?

In this context, whether or not you believe oral sex is sex isn’t as important as communicating with your partner about your own relationship expectations and listening to what theirs are.

Oral sex still has risks

You won’t get pregnant from oral sex, and the risk of contracting an STD is lower than with vaginal or anal sex, but there is still risk. The American Sexual Health Association states that many STDs can be transmitted via oral sex, including:

  • Chlamydia

  • Gonorrhea

  • Syphilis

  • Herpes

  • HPV

  • HIV

When you see oral sex as foreplay and not actually sex, you might also downplay the risks or see it as harmless. You might believe you can forego protection because “it is only oral sex.” In this way, however, oral sex is no different than vaginal or anal sex. It is important to use protection — every time.

Are you still a virgin if you have had oral sex?

If you define sex as vaginal intercourse, then having oral sex doesn’t affect whether you are a virgin. But if you are more inclusive in your definition, not having penetrative sex is not the only criterion.

For example, lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people don’t necessarily have vaginal/penile intercourse, but those who have been intimate with another person would probably no longer consider themselves a virgin.

Whether you are a virgin depends on your definition of virginity and definition of sex. Not everyone has the same interpretation of what those terms mean.

More importantly than whether you consider oral sex to be sex or foreplay is whether you are happy with yourself. Are you content with the sexual decisions you have made (either choosing to or choosing not to engage in sexual behavior)?

Rather than fretting about whether you are still a virgin, decide what is important to you in a sexual relationship and take steps to make sure that you are safe in any future relationship by using protection and having regular STD screenings.

Eileen Bailey
Meet Our Writer
Eileen Bailey

Eileen Bailey is an award-winning author of six books on health and parenting topics and freelance writer specializing in health topics including ADHD, Anxiety, Sexual Health, Skin Care, Psoriasis and Skin Cancer. Her wish is to provide readers with relevant and practical information on health conditions to help them make informed decisions regarding their health care.