Cunnilingus is an oral sex act performed on a female. It involves the use by a sex partner of the mouth, lips, and tongue to stimulate the female's clitoris, vulva, or vagina. The clitoris is the most sexually sensitive erogenous zone for most women, the stimulation of which may result in the production of erotic sensations or sexual excitement. A female may receive cunnilingus as part of foreplay to produce sexual arousal. Sufficient oral clitoral stimulation can result in an orgasm.
Though the person receiving cunnilingus must be female, her sex partner may be of either gender. Oral sex when the receiving partner is male is called fellatio. Laws of some jurisdictions regard cunnilingus as penetrative sex for sexual offense purposes, but no laws ban the practice itself, as in the case of anal sex or extramarital sex. Most people do not regard cunnilingus as affecting the virginity of either partner.
The receiving female's partner may use fingers to open the vagina lips to enable the tongue to better stimulate the clitoris, or the female may separate the vagina lips for her partner. Separating the legs wide would also usually open the vagina sufficiently for the partner to orally reach the clitoris.
Some sex manuals recommend beginning with a gentler, less focused stimulation of the labia and the whole genital area. The tip, blade, or underside of the tongue may be used, as can the nose, chin, teeth and lips. Movements can be slow or fast, regular or erratic, firm or soft, according to the participants' preferences. The tongue can be inserted into the vagina, either stiffened or moving. The performing partner may also hum to produce vibration.
Personal hygiene is important as poor hygiene may lead to bad odors, accumulation of sweat and micro-residue (such as lint, urine or menstrual blood), which the cunnilinguist may find unpleasant or nauseating. Some women remove or trim pubic hair, which may also enhance their oral sex experience.
Any position which offers a sex partner oral access to a female's crotch area is suitable for cunnilingus, including:
- Doggy style – the female crouches on all fours, while her partner performs oral sex from behind or from below.
- Face-sitting – the female sits on or above the partner's face. In this position she has more control over her body movements and can guide her partner or auto-stimulate against the partner's face.
- Missionary – the female lies on her back, with her legs spread, pulled up to her chest, on her partner or raised. The female can lay on any surface, such as a table, floor, etc.
- Mutual stimulation – such as in the 69 position.
- Sitting – the female sits on a chair or uses some other support.
- Spreadeagle – similar to the missionary position except that the arms and legs are spread wide, and that physical restraints may be used.
- Standing – the female stands while her partner is either sitting or on the knees. However, in this position the clitoris is more difficult to reach and stimulate orally. The female may lean against a wall or hold onto some furniture for support.
There are numerous slang terms for cunnilingus, including "drinking from the furry cup" "carpet munching", and "muff-diving". Several common slang terms used are "giving lip", "lip service", or "tipping the velvet", an expression that novelist Sarah Waters claims to have "plucked from the relative obscurity of Victorian porn". A person who performs cunnilingus may be referred to as a "cunnilinguist".
Sexually transmitted infections
Chlamydia, human papillomavirus (HPV), gonorrhea, herpes, hepatitis (multiple strains), and other sexually transmitted infections (STIs/STDs) — including HIV — can be transmitted through oral sex. The documented risk of HIV transmission through cunnilingus is considered to be extremely small, and far lower than that associated with fellatio, vaginal, or anal sex. There have only ever been 2 documented cases of HIV transmission through cunnilingus. If the receiving partner has wounds or open sores on her genitals, or if the giving partner has wounds or open sores on or in his or her mouth, or bleeding gums, this poses an increased risk of STI transmission. Brushing the teeth, flossing, undergoing dental work, or eating crunchy foods such as potato chips relatively soon before or after performing cunnilingus can also increase the risk of disease transmission, because all of these activities can cause small scratches in the lining of the mouth. These wounds, even when they are microscopic, increase the chances of contracting STIs that can be transmitted orally under these conditions. Such contact can also lead to more mundane infections from common bacteria and viruses found in, around, and secreted from the genital regions.
HPV and oral cancer
Links have been reported between oral sex and oral cancer with human papillomavirus (HPV)-infected people. In 2005, a research study at Malmö University's Faculty of Odontology suggested that performing unprotected oral sex on a person infected with HPV might increase the risk of oral cancer. The study found that 36 percent of the cancer patients had HPV compared to only 1 percent of the healthy control group.
Another recent study in The New England Journal of Medicine suggests a correlation between oral sex and throat cancer. It is believed that this is due to the transmission of HPV, a virus that has been implicated in the majority of cervical cancers and which has been detected in throat cancer tissue in numerous studies. The study concludes that people who had one to five oral sex partners in their lifetime had approximately a doubled risk of throat cancer compared with those who never engaged in this activity and those with more than five oral sex partners had a 250 percent increased risk.
Cultural attitudes towards giving or receiving cunnilingus range from disgust to reverence. It has been considered taboo, or at least frowned upon, in many cultures and parts of the world. In Chinese Taoism, cunnilingus is revered as a spiritually fulfilling practice that is believed to enhance longevity. There is some anthropological evidence for cunnilingus as a widespread activity amongst Australian aboriginals. In modern Western culture, oral sex is widely practiced among adolescents and adults.
People give various reasons for their dislike or reluctance to perform cunnilingus, or having cunnilingus performed on them. Some regard cunnilingus unnatural because it does not lead to procreation. Some cultures attach symbolism to different parts of the body, leading some people to believe that cunnilingus is ritually unclean or humiliating. This has been more or less the case in Christian and Sub-Saharan African cultures and other modern religions. Some people view all or some sexual acts in terms of submission and control.
While commonly believed that lesbian sexual practices include cunnilingus, some lesbian or bisexual women dislike receiving it due to not liking the experience or due to psychological or social factors, such as finding it unclean. Other lesbian or bisexual women believe that it is a necessity or largely defines lesbian sexual activity, attributing lesbian or bisexual women who dislike oral sex as a problem. Often, lesbian couples are likely to define a woman's dislike of oral sex as a problem more than heterosexual couples are, and commonly seek therapy to overcome inhibitions regarding oral sex.
The religious historian Mircea Eliade speaks of a similar desire to transcend old age and death, and achieve a state of nirvana, in the Hindu practice of Tantric yoga. In Tantric yoga, the same emphasis is placed on the retention and absorption of vital liquids and Sanskrit texts describe how the male semen must not be emitted if the yogi is to avoid falling under law of time and death.
Cunnilingus is accorded a revered place in Taoism. This is because the practice was believed to achieve longevity, and the loss of semen, vaginal, and other bodily liquids is believed to bring about a corresponding loss of vitality. Conversely, by either semen retention or ingesting the secretions from the vagina, a male or female can conserve and increase his/her ch'i, or original vital breath. In Taoism:
The Great Medicine of the Three Mountain Peaks is to be found in the body of the woman and is composed of three juices, or essences: one from the woman's mouth, another from her breasts, and the third, the most powerful, from the Grotto of the White Tiger, which is at the Peak of the Purple Mushroom (the mons veneris).
According to Philip Rawson (in Paz, p. 97), these half-poetic, half-medicinal metaphors explain the popularity of cunnilingus among people: "The practice was an excellent method of imbibing the precious feminine fluid" (Paz, p. 97). But the Taoist ideal is not just about the male being enriched by female secretions; the female also benefits from her communion with the male, a feature that has led the sinologist, Kristofer Schipper, to denounce the ancient handbooks on the "Art of the Bedroom" as embracing a "kind of glorified male vampirism" that is not truly Taoist at all. Ideally, by mingling the male and female liquids the Taoist aims to reconcile opposites and to recapture the mythical time that existed before the division of the sexes, the primordial time of the original ch'i.
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