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Fellatio: The Polite Word For The Sex Act So Many People Love

Alexandra Fine, Credentialed Sexologist, M. Psych | Written by Dame

In the days when everyone had a dictionary – not so long ago – it was always a thrill for kids to look up all the “dirty words” they’d ever heard.

Bitch and bastard were real words! F—k and s—t were actually in the dictionary!

We couldn’t find “blowjob,” though. At least, until we learned that there was a nice way to say it: fellatio.

And when we looked up “fellatio,” a lot of what was there looked like gobbledygook:

fel•la•tio: New Latin fellation-, fellatio, from Latin felare, fellare

It’s not much better for today’s kids; here’s part of what they’ll find on Wikipedia:

Etymology: The English noun fellatio comes from the Latin fellātus, the past participle of the verb fellāre. A person who performs fellatio upon another (i.e. who fellates,) may be termed a fellator. The equivalent term for a female is fellatrix.

All that’s missing is the fact that the Spanish translation is felación, although maybe that information is in the thesaurus.

Thankfully, there’s also some paydirt. The dictionary gave us a short and sweet definition: “oral stimulation of the penis.” Wikipedia is more helpful, telling us “fellatio (also known…in slang as blowjob, BJ, giving head, or sucking off) is an oral sex act involving a person stimulating the penis of another person by using the mouth, throat, or both.” (Someone should tell Wikipedia they missed “cock sucking.”)

Boom! That’s what kids want to know – or more accurately, what they want to see and laugh about.

Once we’re adults, fellatio isn’t a subject for curiosity or laughter. For most, it’s a source of great pleasure.

Fellatio in History

Believe it or not, the French author Thierry Leguay has written an exhaustive book detailing the history of fellatio. Its title, not surprisingly, is “History of Fellatio.”

He shared some of his more interesting findings with Salon:

  • A French paleontologist believes that the “first prehistoric woman,” Lucy, was also the first to have performed fellatio.
  • There’s clear evidence that fellatio was practiced in many ancient societies, including Rome, Egypt and China. In Rome, in fact, it was used as a form of punishment, with a criminal sometimes forced to “receive” oral sex from the wronged person.
  • There is an entire chapter in the Kama Sutra devoted to eight different ways that “oral congress” can be enjoyed. (However, the revered Indian sex guide also says that fellatio is primarily a characteristic of eunuchs.)
  • At least one reason for the traditional Islamic veil is to hide women’s mouths, in order to prevent them from being sexualized.
  • Fellatio is taboo in the Native Inuit culture, because they believe it diminishes the penis-haver’s strength.

Leguay also claims that humans are the only mammals who practice fellatio, although that’s apparently not true. Among other species, fruit bats and flying foxes have been observed performing fellatio as a form of foreplay, and a study of two male brown bears in Croatia recorded them engaged in 28 different acts of oral sex. (Cunnilingus, with a female receiving sexual pleasure from a partner’s mouth, is much more common in the animal world.)

Let’s focus on human sexual activity, though.

How Common is Fellatio?

Very common.

Most statistical studies don’t break down oral sex into “fellatio” and “cunnilingus” categories, but the U.S. Centers for Disease Control report that nearly nine out of ten sexually-active adults have reported having oral sex with a sexual partner of the opposite sex, as have nearly half of teens between ages 15-19.

Obviously, those numbers would be even higher if same-sex sexual acts were included. One study, which is representative of many others, found that the most common sex act between gay and bisexual men is fellatio, at nearly 75%.

To help understand those numbers, one study of college students broke down the reported instances of fellatio and cunnilingus; nearly two-thirds of the penis-havers said they’d received oral sex during their most recent sex play, but fewer than half of the vulva-havers were on the receiving end.

Other studies have investigated the reasons why fellatio (and cunnilingus) are so common among teenagers – more common than penetrative sex. The research shows, as do anecdotal interviews, that many teens are doing it to preserve what’s sometimes called their “technical virginity,” believing that oral sex “isn’t sex.” Others choose fellatio (or cunnilingus) to lessen their chances of contracting STIs and STDs, or for religious reasons that are also based on the concept of technical virginity.

One final set of statistics to close out this section: in a U.S. survey asking respondents to describe their feelings about oral sex, 80.7% agreed with the statement “it’s pleasurable,” 73.5% said “it’s fun,” and 55.8% said “it makes me feel close to my partner.” And in stark contrast with the teachings of some mainstream religions, only 11.8% said “it makes me feel dirty” and just 3.5% agreed that “it’s shameful.”

Variations on Fellatio

Less-experienced fellators might think that there’s no “variation” possible when it comes to fellatio. One partner simply takes the other’s penis in their mouth and sucks, possibly moving up and down the shaft or using their tongue to provide additional pleasure. Right?

Most aficionados – and actually, most people who have tried it more than once or twice, know there can be much more to fellatio than that.

The obvious variations are to suck or lick the testicles, or to “deep throat,” which is when the giver slides their mouth all the way down to the base. It does take some practice, however, to overcome the gag reflex as the penis slides down the throat. There’s also the obvious matter of ejaculation, if fellatio culminates in orgasm; the penis-haver can ejaculate onto a nearby surface or into a Kleenex, onto their partner’s body, or into their partner’s mouth.

There are other more subtle possibilities, though. The fellator can use their hands to further stimulate the penis, testicles, or other erogenous zones while they’re performing oral sex. Sex toys can be added to the mix, either ones like cock rings that fit onto the penis, or vibrators used on other parts of the body. Fellatio performed in different positions change the angle of penetration – and the level of satisfaction.

There are also mouth- or vagina-shaped toys like the Fleshlight, which is a “pocket pussy” that allows penis owners to satisfy themselves with simulated fellatio during masturbation. And there’s even autofellatio, in which a very few people (supposedly, only two or three in a thousand) who have very long penises are able to train themselves to be flexible enough to pleasure themselves orally. See also: contortionists. See also: way too much work.