When I was 14, my mom gave me a piece of advice that stuck with me.
"Don't do anything with a guy if he won't reciprocate," she warned. "Boys might pressure you into giving them a handjob or blowjob, but make sure that they return the favor."
At the time, I hadn't yet come close to doing either; I had barely even kissed a boy. But even though I was slightly unnerved that my mom was giving me sex advice (my family isn't great at maintaining boundaries), I didn't ask why she had told me that, and she didn't have to explain. On some level, I understood that blowing a guy without getting any pleasure in return wouldn't do me any favors.
Since I've grown older, I've come to realize that my mom's advice doesn't quite hold true. Sex isn't so much a tit-for-tat transaction as it is about mutual pleasure. But she was absolutely right about one thing: If a man categorically refuses to eat your pussy, it's probably not worth having sex with him at all.
A double standard we need to be talking about: I was reminded of my mother's words recently when a dude named William Lloyd penned an essay for the Tab called "Why I don't go down on girls." In the piece, Lloyd claims that the reason he doesn't give head is because a woman ejaculated "a hot, sticky, wet jet of piss" the first time he did it. (Which might well be true, given that research has shown that female ejaculate might contain pee, but either way, get over it, dude.)
Lloyd's article has been compared to Alison Stevenson's "Why I Don't Give Blowjobs," which was published on Vice earlier this year. Unlike Lloyd, however, Stevenson's reasons for not partaking in oral had little to do with her finding it inherently "gross." Instead, as she told readers, she doesn't give head because for many years she had "sexual encounters with men who rarely ate me out," and the ones that did "never bothered to do it long enough for me to actually come."
Stevenson's article caused a massive backlash on the Internet, with many (predominantly) male commenters accusing her of being a "hypocrite," a "bitch" and a "cunt." Although Llloyd's piece sparked similar backlash, particularly in the feminist blogosphere, many of the comments were utterly supportive of his thesis."I don't go down on girls too, because I almost throw up — it smells and tastes like rotten fish down there, even after they've taken a fresh shower," one commenter wrote.
While this anonymous troll is obviously very, very wrong — any doctor will tell you that a healthy vulva should not smell or taste "fishy," a symptom that usually only accompanies a yeast or bacterial infection — they raise a not -unimportant question about sexual politics in the so-called hookup era. At a time when women are increasingly voicing their sexual desires and celebrities like Amy Schumer are introducing men to the importance of the clit, why are 20-something men still expecting to get head, without giving it in return?
For many, oral sex has a complicated history: While no one should be forced to perform a sexual act that makes them feel uncomfortable or unsafe, Lloyd's assertion that the act of giving head is necessarily "gross and traumatic" is pretty nuts — especially because almost every straight woman Mic spoke with had equally bad experiences giving head to men for the first time.
For instance, Sarah*, 38, told Mic that she was pressured into giving her first blowjob right after high school, when a boy told her that people at college were going to expect her to know how to give head. "He said I should definitely practice before I got there, and he would do me the favor and let me give him a blowjob," she recounted. But even though she was coerced into giving a blowjob for the first time, Sarah wasn't permanently turned off by the experience, as Lloyd claims he was.
Dolores*, 22, told Mic that the first time she gave head, "I don't think he ever touched me in a foreplay manner ... It was a shirt-off, pants-off, dick-in-mouth kind of deal." Between the ages of 18 and 21, Dolores gave oral sex to every man she hooked up with and never received it in return. In fact, every woman Mic interviewed for this article first gave oral sex before she received it, and all the men Mic interviewed — except for one — first received oral sex before they gave it.
"He said he would do me the favor and let me give him a blowjob."
Even when their partners do try to reciprocate, many women reported that they felt too self-conscious to consent to receiving oral sex, due to rampant cultural myths that they smell bad or are just generally gross. Dolores, for instance, said she was initially resistant to receive cunnilingus because she "felt nervous about how I would taste or look." Leah, 25, echoed that concern, telling Mic: "I was worried that my vagina would smell weird, or taste bad or something, so for a long time I declined oral sex from the many dudes who offered it."
According to Timaree Schmit, a sexologist with a doctoral degree from Widener University, this is not uncommon. Not only are women "socialized to think their bodies are gross," but they're also conditioned to believe "their pleasure and interests should be put second."
In short, many women are conditioned not to ask for oral sex simply because they feel they're not entitled to it.
Falling into the "orgasm gap": Ian Kerner, psychotherapist and author of She Comes First, told Mic that often, many men don't even consider the possibility of giving their partners head. "Men think of getting blowjobs as a main course that should be part of every sex menu, but regard going down on their partners as a morsel on a seasonal tasting menu," he said.
This lack of reciprocity is particularly galling because statistically speaking, women have much more difficulty getting off than men do during penetrative sex, a discrepancy widely known as the "orgasm gap."
According to a survey of American adults, women have one orgasm for approximately every three that a man has during sex. That's because while most men can easily be brought to orgasm via penetrative sex, nearly 75% of women need clitoral stimulation to reach orgasm, making it difficult, if not impossible, for them to climax via penetrative sex alone.
But men can't take all the blame for not going down on their partners. Many are reluctant to give oral sex simply because they fear they won't be any good at it. "Our culture expects men to be sex gods from day one, that they know anatomy perfectly and understand the techniques that will please every female," Schmit said.
When women do receive oral sex, they're often left unsatisfied because their partners aren't sure how to get them off. According to Kerner, one woman told him that receiving cunnilingus from her "ill-cliterate" partner was "like the running of the bull in Spain: a mad stampede for the clit." Another likened her partner's oral sex style to "a cobra defending itself from a rabid mongoose."
A rapidly closing gap: Thankfully, it seems like the orgasm gap in general is slowly disappearing. According to Debby Herbenick, an associate professor at Indiana University and author of The Coregasm Workout, data from the National Survey of Sexual Health and Behavior revealed that the majority of millennial men performed cunnilingus on their partners during their last sexual encounter. "There [is] a relatively small gap between fellatio and cunnilingus these days," Herbenick told Mic.
Part of the reason why men are increasingly going down on their partners is likely the result of the maturity that comes with age. But the growing visibility of the sex-positive movement is also likely playing a role in closing the gap. Schmit told Mic that the feminist movement has helped level the playing field. "Younger and younger people are getting the message" that mutual pleasure should be a priority, she told Mic.
But Herbenick said that the "orgasm gap" is still alive and well among some demographics, emphasizing that the context of the sexual encounter is extremely important. In one as yet unpublished research study about college hookup culture, Herbenick reported that some male students said "that they frankly didn't care whether their partner had an orgasm, so they were less likely to initiate the kinds of sex (e.g., oral sex, finger stimulation, vibrator stimulation) more likely to lead to female orgasm."
Fortunately, it seems that when both men and women communicate their desires and overcome their anxieties about oral sex, it can be a mutually fulfilling (not to mention pleasurable) experience for both parties. In fact, many of the adult men I interviewed were all too eager to tell me how much they love to give cunnilingus now as adults. After he got over the initial anxiety of trying a new sex act, Mark*, 30, told Mic giving head was "all I did for a year, all the time." Take note, William Lloyd.
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