By Charlotte Shane
As a thoroughly modern straight woman, I understand the political allure of demanding that a man go down on me. To insist on sexual pleasure—empowering! To tell a man to put his face in my ostensibly shameful genitals—transgressive! The vision of a woman, at long last, being the one to authoritatively order a man to get on his knees? Yeah, I see how that might look like sweet, sweet sexual parity. But after many years and a wide variety of partners, I feel more and more a part of the sorority of women who are ambivalent on receiving oral sex.*
And from all the evidence I’ve found, I’m far from alone. “Too slimy and soft/mushy,” one of my friends declared. “I hate it,” another texted me, not deigning to elaborate. “Too slobbery, too intense, too much gratitude expected,” said one commenter under an anti-pussy-eating confessional. One anti-oral crusader emailed me to complain: “Instead of learning useful hand techniques, most men smush their faces into my pussy and think I’ll be impressed with the effort.” Amen, sister. I’ve lamented the epidemic of fingering-phobia with more friends than I can count, as we wondered what should be done about the many men who’d love to use their mouths for 30 minutes but not their hands for five. And these are the same complaints echoed again and again when women write about why they’re not as enthusiastic about being eaten out as pop culture tells them they should be. One pro-head propagandist asserts it’s only done well about a third of the time. (A pretty generous estimate, in my, and others’, opinions.)
And bad oral is really, really bad. Like, not even worth the considerable risk of complete libido shut down if all does not go well. Where do I begin? There’s the exaggerated head movements. The humming. The saliva application so excessive I start worrying I’m experiencing anal leakage. Not only is it often performative and clueless—all show, no technique—but, for me anyway, stimulation that doesn’t actually feel good ruins me for stimulation that does. Under normal circumstances I might be really hot for that D, but if it’s delivered after ten minutes of bad head? Forget it.
There’s a reason for this recent proliferation of anti-oral screeds, mine included: Modern men are relentless in insisting they do it to us.
It didn’t always used to be this way. In the (very recent) bad old days, not only was women’s sexual pleasure emphatically not a priority, but the only acceptable way for her to derive any was supposed to be penis-in-vagina intercourse. But gradually, thanks to the sexual revolution and pro-clit feminism, men began to adopt a different attitude. Today, books like She Comes First are seminal sex manuals and sites like Bro Bible and Men’s Health share tips about how to better go down on a woman without making it out to be a big deal. American Pie, the movie that (ugh) defined a generation featured one man passing down the crucial skill to another, and getting him properly laid—i.e. “real” sex—as a direct result of his skill. And the rough, crying girl, Max Hardcore-lite gonzo porn of the early aughts has given way to the Kink.com trend of performers trembling through numerous orgasmic seizures, sometimes forced out of them by the infamous Hitachi magic wand.
There’s no doubt that some straight guys still deride women’s genitals as gross or dirty, and refuse to reciprocate the oral sex they inevitably receive, but we’re at the point where even hugely popular rappers brag about doing it. Straight masculinity has been reframed as establishing dominance through “giving” a woman orgasms, even if those orgasms are not—contrary to previous priorities—strictly penis-induced.
So in 2016, pussy eaters are far from rarities. There’s a good chance that by now, men who like doing it vastly outnumber those who refuse. Take the word of women who hate receiving; we pretty much have to physically fight guys off to stop them from latching onto us with their mouths. If you don’t respond positively to the basic experience of being eaten out, even competent oral is pretty icky.
But certain men aren’t willing to hear this. They often won’t listen to our clear statements that we’re not into it, because they’re going to be the special slobbery snowflakes who finally convince us how wrong we are about our own bodies. For men who appear to be in it only for their own ego—like Cosmo Frank—eating a woman out is far from proof positive of respecting her as an equal human being. It’s all about establishing how sexually accomplished and maybe even how feminist (!) they are.
Certainly, this is an improvement from a time when the entire Western world seemed to have agreed to pretend the clitoris didn’t exist. But patriarchy and the cis-het norms inherent to it have a nasty way of reasserting themselves inside new, ostensibly progressive forms. Dan Savage’s widely embraced “GGG” (good, giving, game) mantra is today’s shorthand for being sexy, which means a wide variety of physical intimacy “within reason” should be on the table no matter what an individual’s own tastes. (Savage bestows a Get Out of Jail Free Card to partners with “fetish-too-far” requests like puke, excrement, and “extreme” bondage.)
Our current social standard for savvy young men and women is the sort of judgment-free fluidity—often called “open-mindedness”—that precludes people of all genders from expressing distaste for any sexual activity, lest they seem prudish and inexperienced. We’ve made oral sex de rigueur for progressive, or simply “standard,” sex—Dan Savage’s decree that you should dump someone who won’t do it to you, for instance, presumes universality of enjoyment.
We’ve gone so far that we’re back in a place where many women are pressured into pretending they enjoy something that doesn’t feel that good to them or else be shamed when they turn it down. It looks a lot like the same situation we were in before when vaginal, PIV-induced orgasms reigned supreme, right down to the outspokenly progressive, allegedly enlightened dudes accusing any woman resistant to a certain type of sex (oral, casual, or simply with them) as standing in the way of revolution.
If you believe the smear campaign against women who don’t like receiving oral, the reason for any distaste is elementary: The chick is just too insecure to enjoy it. Pop psychology says that if a woman doesn’t like a guy tonguing her, it’s because she’s neurotic and hates her own body. “A lot of women don’t like getting eaten out because they’re insecure about how their pussies look,” one site confidently states. “A lot of women have hangups about oral sex,” says another, which goes on enumerate these as “genital shame” and “trust issues.” One doctor’s advice column characterized a typical internal monologue as “good girls don’t have sex just for their own pleasure…”
In other words, uptight, fretful broads can’t relax enough to enjoy this premium sex thing—which obviously always feels amazing just by virtue of it involving her junk—and so the lack of enjoyment is almost entirely on her and not her partner. This rhetoric is not progress.
Many straight women are sexually experienced, sexually voracious, self-assured people who know what they like in bed. Some of them know that they don’t like laying back and taking a licking. Yet there’s a micro-industry that equates self-confidence with enjoying oral, while tacitly admitting that enjoying it may not be the norm. Articles purporting to help women learn to love being eaten out often suggest recipients are self-conscious of how long it takes them to come, worried that the man administering the oh-so-progressive mouth love is getting bored.
Folks, we aren’t worried about the guy. We know he’s loving it. We’re the ones who are bored. Because in spite of all the hype, some sex educators have found that only about 14% of women report that receiving oral sex is the easiest way for them to get off. And if we do take a long time to come (whatever that means, by whoever’s arbitrary standards) it’s likely because the stimulation isn’t that successful. Women’s orgasms don’t take any longer than men’s—if they’re masturbating. Look it up.
Ultimately, the reason why some women don’t like oral sex is irrelevant. So what if someone is too self-conscious to enjoy it? She should endure an unspecified number of uncomfortable and unsexy sessions in the hope of forcefully changing her own mind? Since when does it show more confidence to allow a man to do whatever he want to your body than it does to speak up about what you actually enjoy? Or to suffer through something sexually unsatisfying to prove some larger point?
And for the record, the number one impediment to men being any good at crooning to the conch is their conviction that showing up is the only effort required. Going down on a woman is like any skill; it takes intelligence, attention, and practice. Putting your face in the general vicinity of someone else’s genitals is simply not sufficient. Combine baseless, wrongful self-congratulation with the already inflated yet desperate male ego, and it’s a recipe for very bad sex indeed. If you’re a guy reading this, and you’re feeling exasperated, please don’t. There’s a very simple rule: Be as effusive about going down on a girl as you want to be, but don’t let your own excitement for it manifest as ignoring her disinterest.
The big secret about eating pussy is that it’s really fun to do. As someone who has tongue-tickled the pearly boat—people call it that, right?—on more than one occasion, I can report that it’s extremely sexy. No man, and dare I say no human, deserves a gold star just because they’re willing to put lips to labia. Such a notion is just another part of the patriarchal conspiracy to keep women’s sexual standards low.
So go forth with your hatred of being dined upon, my fellow harlots. A sexual revolution that requires we endure head when we don’t want it is a revolution that comes at too high a price.
*This article primarily addresses het sex because the vast amount of pro-head propaganda out there presumes the women it addresses are straight, and I’ve not come across forums of queer women speculating that their female partners aren’t wild about being eaten out because they hate their bodies. But if you’re a queer woman pressuring your partner to submit to oral sex when you know they don’t like it, you should feel bad, too!
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