What is the missionary position?

Originally Published: May 3, 1996 - Last Updated / Reviewed On: July 17, 2008
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Dear Alice,

What exactly is the missionary position?

Dear Reader,

The term "missionary position" is generally used as slang for the heterosexual intercourse position in which a man is on top of a woman and they are face-to-face. In the missionary position, the woman lies on her back and the man supports himself with his arms on top of her and with his legs between hers. Though Christian missionaries didn't invent this position (evidence of it exists in art that long predates the Christian era), they were the inspiration for the name. Early Christian teachings said women needed to be subordinate to men (even during sex), and that other positions were sinful and unclean. Ancient missionaries taught this position as the only and proper way to have sex. The early Greeks, Romans, Peruvians, Indians, Chinese, and Japanese also associated this position with the dominant status of men over women in their societies. Fortunately, people are now more open and creative than this.

Despite its heterosexual connotations, the missionary position can also be used by lesbian and gay couples. Lesbians can use their bodies, fingers, sex toys, and other pleasurable items on a woman's clitoris, while one partner is on top of the other. Some couples also have anal sex in this position.

While some men find the missionary position satisfying, possibly because they feel in control, it seems like "the right way," and/or because they believe they're less likely to lose their erection, some women find that penetration while in this position doesn't rub or press their clitoris (the hot button of their pleasure) directly or sufficiently to trigger orgasm. In this case, a partner or a woman herself can touch, rub, and/or press her love button during missionary position sex as a way to make the position more pleasing to both.

Alice