Ten illustrations of sexual positions involving penile-vaginal penetration

A sex position is a positioning of the bodies that people use to engage in 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 non-penetrative sexual activities.

Three broad and overlapping categories of sexual activity are commonly practiced: vaginal sex, anal sex, and oral sex (mouth-on-genital or mouth-on-anus).[1] Sex acts may also be part of a fourth category, manual sex, which is stimulating the genitals or anus by using fingers or hands. Some acts may include stimulation by a device (sex toy), such as a dildo or vibrator. There are numerous sex positions that participants may adopt in any of these types of sex acts, and some authors have argued that the number of sex positions is essentially limitless.[2]


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).[3] 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,[4] 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.[5][6]

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

Penetrating partner on top with front entry

See also: Missionary position

The most used sex position is the missionary position[citation needed]. 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'
Doggy style in the lying position

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

In the spoons position both partners lie on their side, facing the same direction.[13] 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:

Sitting and kneeling

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

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 and Ekiben in Japanese

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

Anal sex between two men in the missionary position

See also: Anal sex

These positions involve anal penetration:

Less common positions

The T-square position
A man and a woman having sex in the piledriver position

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


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.[21]

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.[22]


Modern drawing of fellatio

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


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

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


The 69 position

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


Woman performing anilingus on another woman

Anilingus is oral sex performed on the anus. Positions for anilingus are often variants on those for genital-oral sex. Possible positions include:

Other positions


Main article: Non-penetrative sex

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 ubiquitous behavior among female bonobos[26][27]) is the sexual act of mutually rubbing genitals; it is commonly grouped with frottage, as well as other terms, such as non-penetrative sex or outercourse:

Group sex

Main article: Group sex

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.[28]

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


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:


Main article: Foursome (group sex)

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).[41] Double penetration of the vagina, anus, or mouth can involve:

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.[43][44]

See also


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  3. ^ Sanders, E.; Thumiger, C.; Carey, C.; Lowe, N. (2013). Erôs in Ancient Greece. OUP Oxford. p. 287. ISBN 9780199605507. Archived from the original on 2016-09-12. Retrieved 2014-12-07.
  4. ^ 6 Positions For Sexual Intercourse - In Order Of Popularity - Sex, Love And Marriage - Book of Lists - Canongate Home
  5. ^ Michael R. Solomon, editor (1986). Text and Concordance of Speculum al foderi, Biblioteca Nacional MS. 3356. ISBN 0-942260-60-0
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Further reading