Is Fellatio Finished?

So asks Esquire. Now, if I were a sensible person, I’d just say “no” and take the rest of the day off to watch My Little Pony, but I’m clearly not, so now we are going to have to explain a few facts of life to the Esquire person!

For instance, ten of your friends is not a simple random sample. For instance, I just asked four of my vagina-possessing friends, and three of them agreed that blowjobs are much more fun to give than cunnilingus is to receive, because cunnilingus does not result in orgasms for us. (The fourth has never had sex and thus refused to answer.) Does this mean that all people with vaginas hate cunnilingus and can’t orgasm from it (and that a quarter of American vagina-owners are virgins)? Nope. It means that people are different and a couple of your friends is a crap sample– but apparently enough to build an Esquire trend piece around.

People are different. People’s sexualities are different. I love sucking cock; someone else gags. Cunnilingus leaves me cold; it brings someone else to multiple orgasms. That’s okay! I don’t think any sex act is going to “die,” because if there are people who get off on sex with cars, then there are CERTAINLY people who get off on blowing a dude. I also find it an… interesting… omission that the only people who don’t get to opine about whether the blowjob is dead are people with vaginas.

Nevertheless, I do think Esquire Dude has a tiny bit of a point: in American culture, the Sensitive Man Who Makes A Good Partner is someone who likes giving oral more than receiving it. To the point that I feel bad about mentioning to people that neither of my male partners eat me out because they hate the taste and I don’t enjoy it. Because… for some reason people have to engage in a sex act neither of them wants to get the Feminist Stamp of Approval.

My Academic-Feminist Boyfriend Michael Kimmel actually has a really interesting post exploring the possible reasons behind the cultural shift from the Blowjobs Are Where The Money Is model to the I’m A Good Boyfriend, I Eat Ladies Out model:

In fact, sexuality research suggests that what we might call the phenomenology of oral sex–the meaning of the act from the point of view of the actor–is not in the least symmetrical. When straight men describe their experiences with oral sex, they talk about power. This holds whether receiving fellatio: “I feel so powerful when I see her kneeling in front of me,” or performing cunnilingus: “Being able to get her off with my tongue makes me feel so powerful.” Heterosexual men tend to experience the giving and receiving of oral sex as an expression of their power. By contrast, straight women perceive both giving and receiving oral sex from the position of powerlessness–not necessarily because they are forced into these acts, but because “it makes him happy” to receive oral sex and to perform it. So oral sex, like intercourse, allows him to feel “like a man,” regardless of who does what to whom.

First of all, a caveat: this paragraph (and the rest of this post) is about cultural tendencies, not universal truths. People are different, and there are lots of women who perceive oral as a source of power and men who perceive it as a source of powerlessness. The “hegemonic heterosexuality” model of how sex works is how the culture believes sex is supposed to work, but that doesn’t mean that any given person’s bedroom (or, in fact, that the majority of bedrooms) work that way.

That said: according to hegemonic heterosexuality, sex is supposed to be a victory of men over women. He’s supposed to conquer, she’s supposed to surrender. He’s supposed to give, she’s supposed to get. He’s supposed to be active, she’s supposed to be passive. He’s the initiator, she’s the gatekeeper. If he has sex, he has more status, and she has less (since she’s headed closer to the dreaded status of “slut”).

A while ago, fellatio fit that model perfectly: the man had power over the woman because she was sucking him off, and if he didn’t have to return the favor, more power to him. But then women started demanding reciprocation and, worse, expressing their enjoyment of blowjobs! Sex might be about pleasure and not just about a complicated and non-negotiated power game! What now?

Hegemonic heterosexuality, however, is a tricksy beast and quickly overcame this obstacle. You see, while THOSE hegemonically heterosexual men over there don’t like eating girls out, because they are selfish pigs only concerned with their own pleasure, WE like eating girls out. And we get to show how much power we have over women via our ability to give them So Much Pleasure OMG. Hegemonic heterosexuality can propitiate those silly “feminists” and their “mutual pleasure,” and still keep its incredibly sexist and sex-negative view of sex intact.

…Can I just point out that non-negotiated and universalizing power dynamics make for shit sex? We’re only going to have good sex when people can choose to have the sex that gets them off– whether that happens to be oral, grinding, manual, anal, PIV intercourse, BDSM, footjobs, or whatever. It’s one thing to authentically like giving oral more than receiving it: lots of people do. It’s quite another to have “fads” in sex acts that are rooted in misogynistic, misandric, sex-negative conceptions of how sex should be.

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28 Responses to Is Fellatio Finished?

  1. dancinbojangles says:

    I dunno, I get the feeling this might be running into a chicken/egg type situation, you know? I mean, what Kimmel said matches pretty well with my experience with giving oral sex, but not because I was like OMG into hegemonic heterosexuality and cunnilingus suddenly fits that all-important, overarching model. The two just happen to coincide. A power dynamic in sex doesn’t mean that the it’s oppressive or sexist, I think Holly Pervocracy proves that. And just because hegemonic heterosexuality is generally a bad thing doesn’t mean that all the actions and feelings described in it are bad. For example, we should be able to have sex other than PIV, but it would be just as bad if not worse to condemn PIV because it’s somehow oppressive. If someone, or indeed a large segment of the population, gets off on a power dynamic, why is that in any way bad?

  2. ozymandias42 says:

    I attempted to make it clear in this article that what I’m talking about is a non-negotiated, prescriptive power dynamic. If you get off on the explicit “I have power over you because I’m eating you out” dynamic, cool, but that’s quite different from the assumption that that is How Sex Is Supposed To Work Automatically And For Everyone.

  3. Leah says:

    It’s worth noting that this “trend” is not universal among cultural and age groups, and is particularly variable with relationship type. My experience is with college students–and research on “hookup culture” (I’m thinking specifically of this: http://thesocietypages.org/socimages/2011/06/21/the-promise-and-perils-of-hook-up-culture/ but it’s consistent with other recent behavioral surveys I’ve read, even though Lisa Wade’s sample is fairly small, less than a hundred) says the trend among college students is quite different and has changed over time. Among opposite-sex hookups, oral sex is the dominant choice for sexual contact–and most of it is women performing oral sex on men. Unlike oral sex overall and fellatio, cunnilingus is actually on the decline among college students relative to 20 years ago. These stats are open to much interpretation relative to changing perceptions of sex, risk, commitment, and social valuation of those who are sexually active, but they do represent a very different (though not necessarily contradictory) set of norms and attitudes that those being described in the Esquire piece (with the bullshit being quite effectively cut through by Ozy). I find Lisa’s interpretation to be consistent with my experiences counseling my students (and with my own time in college) but I’d be interested in hearing from others.

  4. Peroxide says:

    I’d be willing to bet that the author, his friends and any readers for whom the esquire piece resonates grew up surrounded by media that praised the blowjob as being this rapturous high point in pleasure, only to find that for the most part it is “little more than a glorified jerkoff.”

    If there is a trend of media dissing the blowjob, it probably has it’s roots in guys being disappointed that the reality of the act doesn’t live up to the hype. Where as cunnilingus is almost underground in how little it is discussed and therefore the first experience surprises and delights.

    Or maybe I’m just projecting.

  5. Birdman says:

    In younger years, it’ll on both was a great fill in for intercourse, and was employed often. As I got older, I found that more and more of the ladies I dated after my divorce loved what skills I offered, yet their response to returning the favor was almost non existent, so maybe that is a power issue going on, in reverse, because I found myself going down on them less and less as a result. Their excuse was they didn’t care for it, while I liked doing them almost always-the taste and smell always did turn me on. So maybe my witholding is a way of getting back so to speak. Never really considered that. Just seemed to be a waning activity in relationship, and sort of lost interest in it. Dang.

  6. monkey says:

    As a small-dicked aging virgin with bisexual attractions… I’m so confused.

    The one time I gave oral to a woman I felt great because I enjoyed it and it made me feel good. Is it wrong that I liked it because it made me feel powerful and, more importantly, confident?

  7. pocketjacks says:

    You say that the Esquire piece was unscientific because it interviewed ten people. How many did Michael Kimmel survey to arrive at his doctrinaire conclusions?

    @Peroxide,

    There was perhaps a time when BJ’s had the lure of being rebellious or countercultural. When I first started reading about sex, which was several years before I actually started having sex, they still had that allure. (Course, all types of sex that allure for me at that age.)

    Nowadays, I hear of women saying that admitting to liking PIV over tongues or fingers (clit stuff, basically) can be rebellious for them.

    Oral’s a fact of life but it’s not better than other types of sex.

  8. L says:

    I fancy myself a sub, so… I don’t think my opinion is quite relevant here. -tiptoes away-

  9. Schala says:

    I like giving blowjobs, and don’t like receiving (something about anorgasmia). I’m also good about it when not drunk.

  10. dancinbojangles says:

    @Ozy: I suppose, but when to draw the line between cultural presumptions and consensus opinion? Kimmel’s article would seem to suggest the latter. Sure, people’s sexual mind-set, for lack of a better phrase, could be influenced by cultural narratives, but presuming that on anything other than an individual basis is overreaching. Hegemonic heterosexuality is a negative thing, I think we all agree, but I’m not entirely convinced this is a part of it.

  11. Danny says:

    I’m guessing that this is just one of those times where I don’t fit in with what is said about guys. I’ve never had oral sex performed on me and I’m not really in a hell bent rush to experience it either. On the other hand I’ve gone down on a woman before and I fucking loved it. But it wasn’t about having power though. I was liking the fact that she was holding my head in place (maybe like she was making me do it?).

    (PS: An afro makes for good handle bars.)

  12. ozymandias42 says:

    Pocketjacks: Well, he DID reference studies on how sexuality tends to work in our culture, so I would say “all things considered, probably more than ten.”

    Monkey: No…?

  13. skzip888 says:

    At some point someone said “asking a poor angelic little woman to do something so heinous is completely out of bounds!!” then adding “…but if you’re a real man you’ll test those boundaries. Nudge nudge.” and it became the brass ring in the “battle of the sexes.” If it didn’t have all thee bragging rights attached, I’m sure it wouldn’t be such a big freaking deal if and how a heterosexual woman likes to bottom.

  14. Mori says:

    I had a quick glance at that Esquire article and ran into abject ridiculousness in the second line: ‘who can really get it up for fellatio these days?’ Um…loads of men? That’s good generalisation right there!

    I noticed the cunnilingus thing with a recent lover who wanted to give it a lot more than I wanted to receive it. I know some guys love giving oral to women because of the act itself, but I also think some default to it a lot because they assume all women love it more than anything else. And that’s just not true, women all like different things and the only way to find out is to ask. (which was pretty much our problem, I was too shy to talk to him and he was very awkward in the bedroom. We are no longer sleeping together, almost entirely for this reason.)

  15. monkey says:

    Ozy: I guess I felt like Kimmel was kind of generalizing. I’m very anxious about the idea of “power over” somebody,

    Maybe reading it wrong, but it seems like Kimmel is implying that whatever men do in the bedroom, they’re still somehow at fault.

    And frankly, gIving oral made me feel more… Feminine.

  16. Sheena says:

    In my general experience, the reasons behind going down on people can get quite diverse, from the whole getting-off-on-power thing, to feeling obliged or that you have to reciprocate, to just not feeling like having sex but your partner is horny. Sex and sexuality is and always has been complex, and while looking into these matters is interesting and educational even, I think we get too caught up on writing off conclusions which obviously have problems generalizing. Personally, I think the main reason to go down on someone is because you want to– you want to make them happy, and you want to make YOU happy.

    Anywho, check out my blog at dudessteering.blogspot.com — it’s all about sex, sexuality, feminism, gender, self image… And my latest post is all about teh penis 🙂

  17. Interesting. I once read this female writer who wrote she loved giving blow-jobs because when doing that she was in complete control of the guy.

  18. ObjectiveReality says:

    Further confusing the issue is the fact that there are completely un-sexual reasons for some people’s preferences – for example: I really don’t enjoy eating girls because I have a tongue-tie and a large-ish nose. That means it’s impossible for me to perform oral on a woman and be able to breathe at the same time – it just ain’t happening.

    I’ve been with people who enjoyed it, and people who weren’t fussed, but for me it’s always a hassle rather than a joy, for purely physiological reasons.

  19. Flyingkal says:

    Giving a vagina-possessing partner pleasure with my tongue, lips (no teeth, hence I refuse to refer to it as “eating”!) and/or fingers, won’t make me feel powerful. It will, however, make my heart all warm and fuzzy for zir. And I haven’t had a partner (‘though there ever was just a small handful of’em) where the taste, smell and view of it wasn’t a huge turn-on for me.
    More sad for me, as they didn’t seem to care all that much for it themselves, even if they got multiple orgasms out of it.
    Blowjobs seem to be something you’re just supposed to do, unsolicited, early in a relation. I can’t remember the last time I got one.

  20. Peroxide: If there is a trend of media dissing the blowjob, it probably has it’s roots in guys being disappointed that the reality of the act doesn’t live up to the hype.

    Giving a blowjob is a skill (honestly, most sex acts are, even “simple” things like PIV), and the techniques of it aren’t always transferable from guy to guy. The first blowjob you get from someone is very rarely the best–they need time to learn what works for you. And similarly, the first blowjob a guy gets, which is usually from someone who hasn’t been giving blowjobs for long, is going to be an inexperienced and imperfect experience. I honestly think it’s a little sad there are guys who’ve written it off completely because of a lousy experience early on.

  21. @FlyingKal: “Blowjobs seem to be something you’re just supposed to do, unsolicited, early in a relation. I can’t remember the last time I got one.”
    Really?
    When I was a teenager (Sweden, the nineties) we regarded oral sex as more “advanced” kind of sex than PIV. Everybody first did PIV, then you moved on to experiment with advanced stuff like oral.
    Eventually I met American exchange students at university, and for them it was sort of the other way around. Like first you had oral, then you moved on to PIV.
    With all the American influences from movies and TV we’ve had since then, I suppose that most Swedish teenagers today think like Americans do.
    Anyway, this is the first time I’ve heard that in the beginning of the relationship it’s normal for there to be fellatio only, no cunnilingus. Weird.

  22. Flyingkal says:

    @Dvärghundspossen: I’m from Sweden too, I just didn’t get to have sex in my teens.
    Anyway, this is the first time I’ve heard that in the beginning of the relationship it’s normal for there to be fellatio only, no cunnilingus. Weird.
    I didn’t mean “fellatio only” early in a relation. I meant that in the beginning, there could be oral sex too. But it seems to be some kind of “honey-trap” (also as being regarded “more advanced”) cause it kinda like fades away with time.

  23. Pingback: What do the 800-pound bride and the Time breastfeeding cover have in common? — The Good Men Project

  24. Okay Flyingkal, then I’m with you. 🙂 Fun to see another Swede here.

  25. Bob says:

    Ok, I am just going to dive right in. as a penis bearing canadian, I love giving head to the ladies.

    I also very much appreciate them giving it to me.
    I think the article in question his way off the point. let’s face it that everyone has her own sexual kinks. some people like vanilla and other peoples like chocolate.

    after all it’s just a preference

    some people like vanilla and much more people like chocolate

  26. d.d says:

    Personally, I love giving oral, it’s a turn-on for me. I don’t think it’s even about any kind of power dynamic or wanting to get achievement points for causing orgasms for me, in fact if anything it’s totally opposite… I see it more as a submissive role, to “service” another person… and I also enjoy the taste I guess. Sadly, my girlfriend doesn’t like it that much so I don’t get to do it often… :/

  27. I try to avoid falling into the trap of always making sure my partner has an orgasm, which I think is partly behind the symbolic (as opposed to actual) interest in performing cunnilingus, at least on the part of men.

    skzip:

    At some point someone said “asking a poor angelic little woman to do something so heinous is completely out of bounds!!” then adding “…but if you’re a real man you’ll test those boundaries. Nudge nudge.” and it became the brass ring in the “battle of the sexes.”

    Yeah, I think that’s shifting to anal now.

    Flyingkal:

    Blowjobs seem to be something you’re just supposed to do, unsolicited, early in a relation. I can’t remember the last time I got one.

    The first (legitimate) first-person stories of performing fellatio I encountered were long before I had any sort of partnered sex, from teenage girls my own age who mentioned it being in quite exploitative contexts. Something like five years later, when someone went down on me for the first time, it was unsolicited (though not non-consensual) and I was afraid she was doing it because she thought she had to.

  28. Flyingkal says:

    Second what d.d. said above.

    Hershele Ostropoler:

    I try to avoid falling into the trap of always making sure my partner has an orgasm, which I think is partly behind the symbolic (as opposed to actual) interest in performing cunnilingus, at least on the part of men.

    Part of the reason (quite a big part actually) I gave up on trying to pursue an active sexlife with my partner, was that there’s just too many symbolics and narratives about the whole deity-darn thing… At a younger age, I thought it was supposed to be easy, like, do what turns you on, feels good, and makes your partner(s) feel(s) good. (Making my partner feel good also makes me feel good, about her and about myself.) But there’s so many why’s and do’s and whatif’s and don’t’s about it! That whatever you do, whether you’re active or passive, you’re supposed to have som dirty, hidden, symbolic motives behind it.

    The first (legitimate) first-person stories of performing fellatio I encountered were long before I had any sort of partnered sex, from teenage girls my own age who mentioned it being in quite exploitative contexts. Something like five years later, when someone went down on me for the first time, it was unsolicited (though not non-consensual) and I was afraid she was doing it because she thought she had to.

    Well, yeah. Adding another disclaimer to my previous post.
    I was talking about my own experiences of sex within a relationship. Like I said earlier, that I was talking exclusively about oral sex doesn’t mean that I see oral and PIV or any other sort as mutually exclusive. Likewise that I was talking about it within a relaionship doesn’t mean to imply that it’s non-existent during ONS or other forms of “casual” encounters.

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