Journal of Youth and Adolescence

, Volume 41, Issue 5, pp 572–582 | Cite as

Who Gives and Who Gets: Why, When, and with Whom Young People Engage in Oral Sex

  • Sarah A. Vannier
  • Lucia F. O’Sullivan
Empirical Research


Surprisingly little is known about oral sex experiences among emerging adults, including the motives behind their participation in this sexual activity. The current study examined the characteristics of emerging adults’ most recent oral sex experience. A total of 431 young people (M age = 21.7 years; 71.7% female) completed an on-line survey assessing their sexual history, context (partner type, co-occurring sexual behaviors), and motives (physical, emotional, goal attainment, and insecurity) for engaging in their most recent heterosexual oral sex interaction. The majority of oral sex encounters occurred within the context of a committed relationship and during an interaction that also included intercourse. Cunnilingus was rare unless reciprocated with fellatio. Overall, both males’ and females’ reports indicate that they were motivated to engage in oral sex by sexual desire and attraction to their partner, or to enhance an emotional connection with their partner. Insecurity and goal attainment motives were uncommon. Males reported more physical motives than did females, and females reported more emotional and insecurity motives than did males. The findings provide insights into youths’ oral sex experiences, and make clear how essential it is to understand the broader sexual and partnership context in which a given sexual activity occurs. These findings have implications for policies aimed at the development of effective sexual health education programs.


Oral sex Motives Emerging adults Gender differences 



We gratefully acknowledge research support from a Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council Doctoral Fellowship awarded to Sarah Vannier and a Canada Research Chair held by Dr. Lucia O’Sullivan. The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest. The authors thank the individuals who participated in the project and Ashley Thompson for assisting with measure development.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PsychologyUniversity of New BrunswickFrederictonCanada

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