Does oral sex count as “having sex”?

Matthew SmithHead of Data Journalism
March 03, 2023, 11:02 AM GMT+0

The generations are divided over whether oral sex, hand jobs, and fingering can be considered sexual intercourse on their own

Questions about sexual intercourse on YouGov surveys – such as our website tracker on how often Britons have sex – are often accompanied by the following explanation that the act of ‘having sex’ includes: “sexual intercourse involving penetration, oral sex, or any other activity with another person typically culminating in orgasm”.

This may not be an adequate description. Research by YouGov’s editorial team has previously shown that – for a third of women at least – sex does not necessarily ‘typically culminate in orgasm’ (at least, not their own).

But what about another contention in the description: that, for instance, oral sex (among other acts) counts as ‘having sex’?

Do blow jobs and cunnilingus count as “having sex”?

New YouGov research shows that Britons are divided on the issue. Whether it be oral sex on a man or oral sex on a woman, the results are the same: 44-45% consider that act, on its own, to not count as ‘having sex’. By contrast, 40-41% disagree, saying that it does count (another 8% are unsure and 7% prefer not to offer a view).

Men are slightly more likely than not to say that both count as having sex, while women are closely split.

Sexuality plays a greater role in people’s opinion, with gay and bisexual men significantly more likely to say a blow job counts as sex (57% say so), with lesbian and bisexual women likewise saying so of cunnilingus (54%).

There is also a noticeable generational divide. Attitudes among younger Britons are largely consistent until around the age of 50, at which point they flip. Britons over 50 consider oral sex to count as having sex: 54-56% say it is whether it be on a man or a woman, compared to 29% who say it is not. These figures are effectively reversed for those under 50.

Do hand jobs and fingering count as having sex?

Fewer people see getting your hands dirty as constituting having sex. Hand jobs and fingering are both generally seen as not counting as having sex by themselves (52% in the case of the former and 48% for the latter). By contrast, only around a third (34-37%) consider them to be sex in and of themselves.

Unlike the oral examples, men and women are in accord when it comes to whether using hands alone can count as sex. This remains the case regarding hand jobs among gay and bisexual men, although lesbian and bisexual women are more likely to see fingering as sex in its own right (49%).

The generational differences persist, however. Younger Britons are even more emphatic in their view that hand stuff does not count as sex (58% say hand jobs don’t, and 62% say fingering doesn’t), while older generations are more divided, although older Britons do tend to see fingering as sex by 48% to 37%.

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