The Missionary Position

Medically Reviewed by Poonam Sachdev on December 26, 2023
7 min read

photo of Missionary sexual position

The missionary position is a sex position in which one partner is on top of the other so that they're face to face. The penetrating partner is on top and usually has more control than the partner underneath them.

The term was used in the late 1960s or early 1970s to describe heterosexual intercourse in which the man is on the top and the woman on the bottom. Today, the term has a broader meaning that goes beyond heterosexuality.

According to popular lore, the missionary sex position got its name because long ago Christian missionaries taught that the male-dominant position was the proper way to have sex. But some scholars believe this to be an urban legend. Whatever the case, the term has sexist and racist connotations to many people. 

Generally, this position is described as the receiving partner lying flat on their back with the penetrating partner on top, facing them.

It can be done similarly even if the couple isn’t heterosexual. This creates close contact between the partners for vaginal or anal penetration, either with a penis or a strap-on sex toy.

The partner on top usually has more control over the speed and depth of penetration. But the partner on the bottom can change the position of their hips and legs to create different sensations for both partners.

The partner on top can prop themselves up on their arms, or they can lie down a bit and put more of their weight on their partner.

 

 

As popular as it may be, even the missionary position has some myths and misconceptions surrounding it. Some of the myths are:

It’s boring

The missionary position might be one of the most intimate sexual positions you can try with a partner.

As you’re face to face, you can maintain eye contact with them throughout intercourse. As both partners are quite close, this means that you can easily kiss or touch your partner and maintain skin-to-skin contact.

This position remains popular because it is low-effort and doesn't require a lot of skill or experience. It’s comfortable and not intimidating. And since one partner is lying down and doesn’t need to move much, it can be relaxing.

You're more likely to conceive in missionary

There's no scientific evidence that any particular sex position increases your chance of pregnancy. Whatever position you use, sperm get to the fallopian tubes in a matter of minutes.

There’s only one way to do It

The missionary position is defined as the penetrating partner on top of the other partner. But there are many different ways that you or your partner can position yourselves to create different sensations and angles.

For example, the partner on the bottom can rotate their hips up or down to create different points of stimulation. They can also try adding a pillow under their bottom, which creates deeper penetration. Many couples find that starting in the missionary position can lead to trying other positions throughout intercourse.

While missionary position may have a reputation as basic and boring, it doesn't have to be. Some of the many missionary position variations include:

Basic position

In the classic version, the penetrating partner lies on top of the receiving partner as the two face each other. The penetrating partner's legs are together. The receiving partner's legs are apart and positioned on the sides of the other partner's legs, with knees bent.

 Try these tweaks to see what's most pleasurable for you and your partner:

  • The receiving partner puts one or both legs on the shoulders or behind the back of the other partner.
  • The person on the bottom puts one or both feet against the chest of the partner on top.
  • Both partners keep their legs together and grind or wiggle their hips. Or the receiving partner keeps their legs together, while the penetrating partner has their legs parted. 
  • The receiving partner spreads their legs very wide apart for deeper penetration. 
  • The partner on top holds part of their weight on their arms in a “plank” position, allowing the other partner to use their hands or a sex toy for extra stimulation.
  • Couples can do the position with a strap-on sex toy and/or by rubbing against each other without penetration.

Coital alignment technique

In this version, the penetrating partner shifts their pelvis upward to “ride high in the saddle” as they move in a grinding manner. This allows their penis or strap-on sex toy to stimulate the clitoris and/or groin area of the receiving partner. Some research indicates that this variation could help women reach orgasm more easily.

Butterfly position

In this position, the penetrating partner stands or kneels in front of the receiving partner, who lies with their hips at the end of the bed. This allows deep penetration while providing enough room to use hands or toys for further stimulation.

There are several variations of the butterfly. The bottom partner may hold their legs open wide or up in the air. They might place one or both ankles or feet on the other partner's shoulders or chest.

Viennese oyster position

The bottom partner must be very flexible to do this position. Here's how it works:

  • The receiving partner lies on their back, takes hold of both their legs, and spreads them while pulling them back toward their head.
  • In the full position, the bottom person's knees nearly touch the bed on either side of their head while the other partner penetrates them. The bottom partner may use their arms to keep their legs in place.
  • If they're super-flexible, they could even put their feet behind their head.

This position requires a great deal of trust as the receiving partner has little control over penetration or movement.

If you enjoy the face-to-face intimacy of missionary but want to keep things interesting, try these other tricks:

  • Prop a pillow (maybe even a special "sex pillow”) under the hips of the bottom partner to change the angle of penetration.
  • Play with sex toys, such as a vibrator (try a touchless one or the type made for couples), penis ring, or butt plug.
  • Experiment with anal sex.
  • Use lots of lube to keep things comfortable, especially during anal.
  • Try a change of venue -- get frisky standing up against a wall, on the kitchen counter, or in the backseat of your car.
  • If you're both into it, try a little light bondage with fuzzy handcuffs or a silk scarf. Or go all-in with a sex swing or spreader bars (ankle cuffs).

If you want to try the missionary position with your partner, the first thing you need to do is talk with them. This position is quite intimate. The top partner also has more control over the pace and depth of penetration, so both partners need to be on the same page.

In any sex position that's new to you as a couple, start slowly and gently. Communication is key. Show or tell your partner what you like, and check in with them to make sure they're comfortable and enjoying themselves.

You may want to establish a “safe” word that tells your partner you want to stop doing something during sex without breaking the mood. This should be a word you wouldn't normally use during sex, like “strawberry” or “sunshine.”

If you have pain or mobility issues

This position is so popular because it’s one of the easiest to do. But if you have back pain, you may want to be the one lying on your back. If you can, hold your legs at a 90-degree. This can help keep your back muscles relaxed.

The missionary position can be adapted for those with limited mobility or disabilities. The partner with mobility issues lies on their back with their buttocks close to the edge of the bed. The penetrating partner raises the disabled partner's legs and places their ankles atop their own shoulders. You can use pillows to adjust the position for comfort and pleasure.

For those with bigger body types

A pillow, sex wedge, or ramp could also make the missionary position more comfortable for people with bigger body types. The butterfly variation is another good option, especially if the penetrating partner is a lot heavier than the other partner or has trouble supporting their weight on their arms.

The missionary position is a sex position in which one partner is on top of the other while they're face to face. It can be adapted in many ways and can be used by a variety of types of couples. Because it's such an intimate position, communication before and during sex in this position is very important.

What is the position of the woman in missionary?

The missionary position was once thought of as a heterosexual sex position in which the woman would lay on her back while the man would be on top, facing her. But the face-to-face sex position can be used by gay or straight couples, during vaginal or anal sex, and even without penetration.

What is the missionary position on the wall? 

It takes a lot of leg strength, but you can do the missionary position standing up. Here's how it works:

  • The penetrating partner lifts the other partner's legs to waist height and presses their back against the wall.
  • The receiving partner leans back against the wall and wraps their legs around their partner's hips.