Missionary, the most commonly practiced sex position[1][2]
Missionary, the most commonly practiced sex position[1][2]

A sex position is a position of the body that people use for sexual intercourse or other sexual activities. Sexual acts are generally described by the positions the participants adopt in order to perform those acts. Though sexual intercourse generally involves penetration of the body of one person by another, sex positions commonly involve penetrative or non-penetrative sexual activities.

Three categories of sexual intercourse are commonly practiced: vaginal intercourse (involving vaginal penetration), anal penetration, and oral sex (especially mouth-on-genital stimulation).[3] Sex acts may also involve other forms of genital stimulation, such as solo or mutual masturbation, which may involve rubbing or penetration by the use of fingers or hands or by a device (sex toy), such as a dildo or vibrator. The act may also involve anilingus. There are numerous sex positions that participants may adopt in any of these types of sexual intercourse or acts; some authors have argued that the number of sex positions is essentially limitless.[4]

History

A love scene sculpture from the Sunga period (c. 1st century BCE)
A love scene sculpture from the Sunga period (c. 1st century BCE)

Sex manuals typically present a guide to sex positions. They have a long history. In the Greco-Roman era, a sex manual was written by Philaenis of Samos, possibly a hetaira (courtesan) of the Hellenistic period (3rd–1st century BC).[5] The Kama Sutra of Vatsyayana, believed to have been written in the 1st to 6th centuries, has a notorious reputation as a sex manual. Different sex positions result in differences in the depth and angle of sexual penetration. Alfred Kinsey categorized six primary positions,[6] The earliest known European medieval text dedicated to sexual positions is the Speculum al foderi, (The Mirror of Coitus) a 15th-century Catalan text discovered in the 1970s.[7][8]

Exclusively penetrative

These positions involve the insertion of a phallic object(s) (such as a penis, strap-on dildo, plug, or other nonporous object(s)) into a vagina, anus or mouth.

Tondo of an Attic red-figure kylix by the Triptolemos Painter, c. 470 BC, Tarquinia National Museum
Tondo of an Attic red-figure kylix by the Triptolemos Painter, c. 470 BC, Tarquinia National Museum

Penetrating partner on top with front entry

See also: Missionary position

The most used sex position is the missionary position. In this position, the participants face each other. The receiving partner lies on their back with legs apart, while the penetrating partner lies on top. This position and the following variations may be used for vaginal or anal intercourse.

Penetrating from behind

A rear-penetration position, commonly referred to as 'doggy style'. The receiving partner can be penetrated either vaginally or anally.
A rear-penetration position, commonly referred to as 'doggy style'. The receiving partner can be penetrated either vaginally or anally.

See also: Doggy style

Most of these positions can be used for either vaginal or anal penetration. Variants of the doggy style or doggy position include:

In the spoons position both partners lie on their side, facing the same direction.[15] Variants of this technique include the following:

Receiving partner on top

See also: Woman on top

The 'cowgirl' position

Most of these positions can be used for either vaginal or anal penetration. When the receiving partner is a woman, these positions are sometimes called the woman on top, or cowgirl positions.

A feature of these positions is that the penetrating partner lies on their back with the receiving partner on top:

A couple performing sexual intercourse from a seated position, called the lotus position or lotus flower
A couple performing sexual intercourse from a seated position, called the lotus position or lotus flower

Sitting and kneeling

Most of these positions can be used for either vaginal or anal penetration.

One partner stands while holding up the other without a support, called the Suspended Congress in the Kama Sutra
One partner stands while holding up the other without a support, called the Suspended Congress in the Kama Sutra

Standing

Most of these positions can be used for either vaginal or anal penetration. In the basic standing position, both partners stand facing each other. The following variations are possible:

Anal sex positions

See also: Anal sex

These positions involve anal penetration:

Less common positions

The T-square position
The T-square position

These positions are more innovative, and perhaps not as widely known or practiced as the ones listed above.

Others

Using furniture or special apparatus

Most sex acts are typically performed on a bed or other simple platform. As the range of supports available increases, so does the range of positions that are possible. Ordinary furniture can be used for this purpose. Also, various forms of erotic furniture and other apparatus such as fisting slings and trapezes have been used to facilitate even more exotic sexual positions.

Positions to promote or prevent conception

See also: Birth control § Misconceptions

Pregnancy is a potential result of any form of sexual activity where sperm comes in contact with the vagina; this is typically during vaginal sex, but pregnancy can result from anal sex, digital sex (fingering), oral sex, or by another body part, if sperm is transferred from one area to the vagina between a fertile female and a fertile male. Men and women are typically fertile during puberty. Though certain sexual positions are believed to produce more favorable results than others, none of these are effective means of contraception.

Positions during pregnancy

The goal is to prevent excessive pressure on the belly and to restrict penetration as required by the particular partners. Some of the positions below are popular positions for sex during pregnancy.[23]

Non-exclusively penetrative

Oral sex positions

Oral sex is genital stimulation by the mouth. It may be penetrative or non-penetrative, and may take place before, during, as, or following intercourse. It may also be performed simultaneously (for example, when one partner performs cunnilingus, while the other partner performs fellatio), or only one partner may perform upon the other; this creates a multitude of variations.[24]

Fellatio

Modern drawing of fellatio
Modern drawing of fellatio

Fellatio is oral sex performed on a penis. Possible positions include:

Cunnilingus

19th-century depiction of cunnilingus (detail) by Paul Avril
19th-century depiction of cunnilingus (detail) by Paul Avril

Cunnilingus is oral sex performed on the vulva and vagina. Possible positions include:

Sixty-nine

The 69 position
The 69 position

Simultaneous oral sex between two people is called 69. Partners may be female or male. They can lie side-by-side, lie one on top of the other, or stand with one partner holding the other upside down.

Anilingus

Woman performing anilingus on another woman
Woman performing anilingus on another woman

Positions for anilingus, also known as butt licking, rimming, anal-oral sex, rimjob, or tossing the salad, are often variants on those for genital-oral sex. Anilingus can be performed in a number of sex positions including:

Other positions

Non-penetrative

Main article: Non-penetrative sex

Drawing by Franz von Bayros showing an act of fingering
Drawing by Franz von Bayros showing an act of fingering

Non-penetrative sex or frottage generally refers to a sexual activity that excludes penetration, and often includes rubbing one's genitals on one's sexual partner. This may include the partner's genitals or buttocks, and can involve different sex positions. As part of foreplay or to avoid penetrative sex, people engage in a variety of non-penetrative sexual behavior, which may or may not lead to orgasm.

The slang term humping may refer to masturbation—thrusting one's genitals against the surface of non-sexual objects, clothed or unclothed; or it may refer to penetrative sex.

Genital-genital rubbing

Main articles: Intercrural sex, Frot, and Tribadism

Genital-genital rubbing (often termed GG rubbing by primatologists to describe the behavior among female bonobos[34][35]) is the sexual act of mutually rubbing genitals; it is sometimes grouped with frottage, but other terms, such as non-penetrative sex or outercourse, are also used:

Group sex

Main article: Group sex

A double penetration
A double penetration

People may participate in group sex. While group sex does not imply that all participants must be in sexual contact with all others simultaneously, some positions are only possible with three or more people.[36]

As with the positions listed above, more group sex positions become practical if erotic furniture is used.

Threesomes

Main article: Threesome

When three people have sex with each other, it is called a threesome. Possible ways of having all partners in sexual contact with each include some of the following:

Foursomes

Two men and two women ringed in a circular foursome sex position performing four combinations of oral sex: M–F, F–F, F–M, M–M
Two men and two women ringed in a circular foursome sex position performing four combinations of oral sex: M–F, F–F, F–M, M–M

With many participants

These positions can be expanded to accommodate any number of participants:

Multiple penetration

A person may be sexually penetrated multiple times simultaneously. Penetration may involve use of fingers, toes, sex toys, or penises. Scenes of multiple penetration are common in pornography.

If one person is penetrated by two objects, it is generically called double penetration (DP).[44] Double penetration of the vagina, anus, or mouth can involve:

Number of positions, and effects on physical abilities

In 1974, Alex Comfort categorized more than 600[46] and Gershon Legman categorized 3,780.[47] However, the suggestion that the number of positions that can be used for sex is essentially limitless also exists.[4]

Some people are limited by physical disabilities in the sex positions which they may use without pain or other discomfort. Other physical limitations of one or both participants also limit the sex positions which they may adopt. For example, the spoons position is recommended when either partner has back problems; the starfish position is recommended to achieve orgasms more easily and the missionary position may be uncomfortable for the receiving partner if the weight of the inserting partner, relative to the receiving partner's, is a problem. Also, the standing positions may be unsuitable if there is a significant height difference between the participants, unless the female is being carried.

Cultural differences and preferences

Sexual practices vary between cultures. Latin American couples that recorded their sexual activities do not practice the missionary position as much as couples from United States reported.

The duration of sexual intercourse seems to be similar amongst European and Latin American couples. The duration of sexual intercourse can vary between 7-16 minutes.[48][49]

References

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Further reading

Historical
Modern

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