Cunnilingus is a form of oral sex involving mouth contact with the vagina. The term cunnilingus comes from an alternative Latin word for vulva (external female genitals), cunnus, and from the Latin word for licking, lingere.

In cunnilingus, the labia, the clitoris and/or the vaginal area are licked, kissed or gently sucked. The feeling of the mouth and tongue on the genitals can be very pleasurable for some people.

Cunnilingus can be a part of couples' foreplay, meant to heighten sexual arousal, or it can be the sole activity. Some women also experience orgasm by means of cunnilingus.

Though cunnilingus is common among heterosexual and homosexual couples, not everyone engages in it. Some people, men and women, simply do not feel comfortable with it. Most reservations tend to center around three issues: first, that cunnilingus in unhygienic; second, that it is taboo; third, that cunnilingus is not a true expression of femininity or masculinity.

  • Hygiene: Women sometimes worry that their genitals will have an unpleasant odor or that there may be germs on their genitals which would be passed on to their partners. Genital odor can be taken care of by routine washing and many people find natural genital scents stimulating. As far as transmission of germs or disease, cunnilingus between healthy, disease-free people is entirely safe and clean. No disease is passed by cunnilingus that wouldn't be transmitted by any other kind of sexual contact.
  • Taboo: Historically and currently, oral sex, including cunnilingus, has been frowned upon in some cultures and by some religions. It is prohibited in some cultures and even illegal. Underlying the social disapproval and legal strictures are powerful age-old religious prohibitions against oral-genital contact. Centuries of religious scholars have believed and preached that oral sex is unnatural and against divine law. Whether because genital-mouth contact was not a procreative act or because it was erroneously believed to be strictly a lesbian activity, cunnilingus was officially prohibited. In our culture the non-procreative aspect is the most pertinent in that it is the procreative potential of sex that has traditionally transformed it from bad to good in the eyes of many religions. The weight of religious teachings throughout history has had a strong influence on legal and social rules. Many states in the United States still have laws about what are termed "unnatural acts" which include prohibitions on mouth-genital contact. Technically these laws still remain on the books in some states, but are rarely enforced. As the influences of religion on government have diminished, society's experiences with sexual practices have shown that these prohibitions were unnecessary and that cunnilingus is a safe and natural sexual practice between consenting adults.
  • Femininity and Masculinity: Some heterosexual people believe that the only real and proper way to express their sexuality is by having intercourse with the penis in the vagina. Others feel threatened by the age-old myth associating oral sex and homosexuality and fear participation in mouth-genital contact may be a sign of their deep-seated homosexuality. There is, of course, no evidence that those who practice oral sexual acts are inclined toward homosexuality.

If couples feel comfortable in incorporating cunnilingus into their sexual relationship, communication about their concerns and preferences and experimentation with different positions and techniques can help them learn what is pleasing to both partners.

Those who feel uncertain about how to perform cunnilingus or wish to learn more about this topic may want to review the "The Joy Of Sex" and "More Joy of Sex" by Alex Comfort or "The Ultimate Sex Book" by Anne Hooper.

Copyright 2002 Sinclair Intimacy Institute