Missionary is the name of common a partner sex position in which two people lie while facing each other, typically with one on top of the other. This act often includes penetration.
The missionary position is one of the most common partner sex positions. While it was orginally used as a term to describe heterosexual penis-in-vagina (PIV) intercourse with an emphasis on civility and reproduction, it has broadened in its use and is not exclusive to heterosexual sex. Individuals of any gender can partake in missionary position sex. This position can be performed with penetration by a partner’s penis, strap-on dildo, fingers, or without penetration.
Origin and History
Historically, the missionary position has been referred to by many names, including but not limited to the Classical position, Angelic position, the manner of serpents, the beast with two backs, the Mama-Papa position, the English-American position, and the male superior position.
While the term may evoke connections to the notion of Christian missionaries who may have encouraged heterosexual sex for reproduction as a means of growing the convert congregations, it is much more likely a mid-20th century term associated with a mistake made by Alfred Kinsey’s during his years of sexological research. In 2001, Robert Priest’s 2001 investigation concluded that through a series of misinterpretations, Kinsey accidentally coined the term. No one has found record of the use of 'missionary position' before Kinsey published Sexual Behavior in the Human Male in 1948.
In the decades that followed Kinsey’s unintentional error, the term was adopted by other writers to describe face-to-face sexual intercourse until it reached widespread use, was added to the dictionary, and ultimately infiltrated other languages.
Assuming the Missionary Position
Typically, the missionary position is performed with both partners facing one another, which allows for full frontal contact and physical closeness. For this reason, it can be a very intimate position for partners to take. Many people find the easy option of full body skin-to-skin, eye contact, deep kissing, and freedom to caress or hold each other close an enjoyable way to experience or enhance intimacy with their partner.
The receptive partner lies on their back while the insertive partner positions themselves on top. As a result, the insertive partner has more range of motion and tends to set the rhythm, speed, and depth of vaginal or anal penetration. The receptive partner can adjust their hips and pelvic tilt to meet their partner’s rhythms and manipulate the internal sensations during the act.
To further adjust the experience, the insertive partner can either hold themselves up on their hands or forearms, or let more of their body weight rest on their partner. For some people, this kind of compression is very enjoyable while others may feel smothered by it. The position is less suitable for late stages of pregnancy as it can be uncomfortable for the receptive partner to take that much weight, as well as insertive partners who cannot bear weight on their wrists and arms. Individual modifications and adjustments may be necessary in light of any personal comfort needs.
Comparatively, the receiving partner’s can be quite free to move, allowing for freedom to stimulate their partner or self-stimulate to optimize orgasmic potential. For example, using a hand or holding a vibrator to apply clitoral stimulation during vaginal penetration.
The receptive partner’s legs can be in a variety of different positions, as long as it allows for the insertive partner to be nestled between them and crotch regions can align. Leg position can be adjusted for comfort as well as to help control the angle of penetration. This can affect and enhance the potential pleasure for both partners.
The receptive partner’s legs can lie flat, be raised with bent knees or legs straight. The raised legs can be held by the insertive partner or rest on their shoulders. The receptive partner can also be wrapped around the penetrating partner at the back of their legs, at the buttocks, or lower back. Flexibility permitting, the receptive partner could raise their legs above and behind their head.
The higher the receptive partner’s legs are raised, the more support they may need. This may be achieved by being held or resting the legs somewhere on the insertive partner’s body. Support and adjustments can be made by use of a soft implement. A pillow, cushion, wedge, or sex pillow can be placed under the receiver’s lower back, hips, or buttocks to gently raise or tilt their pelvis. This can adjust the angle for penetration as well as support the receiving partner by reducing the strain on the lower back during the act.
Vaginal Penetration and Anal Penetration
Where vaginal penetration is concerned, the missionary position can be very pleasurable. Many people can reach a pleasurable angle in this position. When the receptive partner’s legs are raised or positioned over the insertive partner’s shoulders, the deepest penetration is possible.
Depending on the angle, these variations in leg position can optimize the possibility of stimulating against the deep vaginal erogenous zones including the urethral sponge (also called the G-Spot), and A-Spot, and cervix. However, many are unable to orgasm from vaginally penetrative sex alone and require the act to be complimented with clitoral stimulation to achieve sexual climax.
The same can be applied to anal penetration. As the angle is adjusted, the depth of penetration can be increased. Prostate stimulation can therefore also occur in this position.
Missionary Without Penetration
While it is typically associated with penetrative sex, the missionary position can be assumed for non-penetrative sex (also known as outercourse) like hand stimulation, frottage or dry humping, or intercrural sex (when the penis is thrust between the receptive partner’s thighs or folds of skin rather than an orifice).