Is Fellatio Finished?

This just in: Blowjobs are out.

That news is via Esquire, which should be an authoritative voice on the subject. In the current issue, British author Geoff Dyer reports that in an informal survey of ten of his male friends, 80 percent preferred cunnilingus to fellatio–that is, they preferred going down on their female partners to having oral sex performed on them. That’s right, 8 of his 10 friends. And the other two? They’re gay, of course.

Now it’s easy for a social scientist to decry the methodology. If I “surveyed” the first ten male names that come up as friends on my Facebook page, for example, I’d find that 50 percent of American males are heterosexual, 80 percent are Jewish, and 100 percent went to Ivy League colleges. OK, bad sampling.

Most serious researchers–as well as legions of commenters on blog sites reporting the piece–have refuted Dyer’s “findings.” After all, a quick “survey” of heterosexual porn sites suggest the blow job is alive and well.

By contrast, in a post on Jezebel.com, self-identified feminist writer Hugo Schwyzer suggests that while the sample leaves a lot to be desired–and a rise in cunnilingus is not necessarily synonymous with an active avoidance of fellatio–there may be some truth to Dyer’s “trend.” Schwyzer argues that a preference for cunnilingus may be due to men’s performance anxieties: The dramatic increase in women’s sense of sexual entitlement often leaves men worried about their own performance. Being “done” may carry little cachet in the sexual competence department; if a guy is going to boast about what a great lover he is, he actually has to do something, and do it well. And he can train his tongue to perform more adequately than he can control the size and response of his penis.

I think Schwyzer is on to something, but his argument rests on a false equivalence. It assumes that giving and receiving head mean the same thing.

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.

This old, sexist model offered a tidy symmetry: He felt powerful whether or not he was giving or receiving, and she felt pretty powerless whether she was giving or receiving. Fellatio was sort of a gift women gave to men–and so much the better if the gift needn’t be reciprocated. In their classic research on sexuality, sociologists Pepper Schwartz and Philip Blumstein interviewed one woman who said:

I like going down on him. It makes him feel good, truly good. I don’t find it unpleasant. I don’t say I wish I could do it all the time. I don’t equate it with a sale at Bloomingdale’s. That I could do all the time. But it’s not like going to the dentist either. It’s between two extremes. Closer to Bloomingdale’s than to the dentist.

What happens to men’s experience when (a) women want some reciprocity, and, even more, (b) they actually want to perform oral sex, actually get off on it? In that traditional masculine phenomenology, could there be anything more detumescent than women’s active desire for oral sex?

Historically, sex was conquest, his victory over her resistance. She gave, he got. If women actively like it, where’s the victory? Where’s the conquest?

Consider these tidbits: Contemporary heterosexual porn certainly makes it evident that men like oral sex, but the thing they seem to like even more is coming on the woman’s face. They assume–rightly in most cases (though certainly not all)–that women’s sexual pleasure is not addressed by ejaculating on their faces. Indeed, it’s seen as a form of humiliation, of punishment, as many of the variations on the practice in porn might suggest. (And let’s be clear: Those same men who profess not to like fellatio anymore are watching facials in great number.)

And remember that disgusting fraternity prank at Yale a couple of years ago? (To refresh: Pledges marched around the first-year students’ dorms shouting “No Means Yes, Yes Means Anal.”) At the time, I argued that while the first part of the chant was noteworthy for sanctioning sexual assault, the second part was equally revealing because it indicated that when women say “yes” to sex they must be humiliated and subordinated. The frat boys clearly think that anal sex is akin to rape, and certainly not pleasurable for women. That is, women’s sexual agency–or even their consent–is a threat, and that they must therefore be subordinated.

Could the real story be that heterosexual men are primed to like fellatio as long as women don’t?

If that’s true, then perhaps the current moment gives us an opportunity to rethink what sex means to us as straight men. Can we both conquer and surrender to pleasure? Or can we dispense with martial metaphors (conquest and surrender) entirely, and simply pleasure and be pleasured? In other words, can heterosexual men embrace the liberatory promise of queer sex–the freeing of sexual pleasure from gender inequality?

So here it is, my defense of the “egalitarian blowjob.” If we can like fellatio because women like it, we’re going to have a lot more fun. Because really, can there be anything sexier than equality, a desire that gives as good as it gets?

Comments

  1. As one who writes about women’s sexuality all day long, I am pleasantly surprised by this article. Though I think that both Dyer and Schwyzer (who is a friend of mine) rubbed up against, but missed the mark, Kimmel is asking the right questions.

    (Wow, wait, that’s three men discussing why women do or don’t give blowjobs…..)

    As a woman who loves to give a good blow job, and has tried to instill that love in many others, I personally will fight to make sure it never goes out of style. That said:

    1. 80% of men would rather give head than receive it? That’s ridiculous. Just as ridiculous the other way around.

    2. Hugo’s idea is probably partly right, people like to feel like they’ve achieved something. Same is true of women. When women have told me they don’t like to give blow jobs, and we drill down on it, it’s usually because they have no idea what they’re doing and feel insecure. Men and women are no different in this regard. I’ve never felt anything but powerful when I know a man has lost all ability to think. Can we move past this idea that men and women are wired THAT fundamentally differently that we don’t both like to feel successful at what we’re doing?

    3. Why do people assume that it is humiliating to women to have men cum on their faces? That’s also getting old. Some women love that. Some women love to roll in the stuff, drink it, see it dripping off of them. Let’s not assume that they are just interested in being humiliated. Perhaps it’s something intimate,natural, powerful, akin to being really sweaty after a workout. Can we retire that one also? That is rooted entirely in the idea that women are not only homogenous in their desires, but unable want things that seem “masculine” and “flithy.” I assure you, a desire for filthy sex exists across the chromosomal spectrum.

    4. Lastly, I’m pretty sure that reciprocal oral sex is very well in fashion. Otherwise we wouldn’t all know what 69 is, and people wouldn’t brag about it so much, and I wouldn’t be able to find so much porn with it.

    Yes, you’re all partly right. YAY, more men than ever are Dining At The “Y” with gusto. More women than ever are realizing that when you have a guy’s cock in your mouth, you have the power. And hopefully, more people than ever are realizing that sex is better when we are equals. There is power in surrender – even in BDSM, it is the sub who ultimately runs the show, as they are the one’s who can say “STOP.” This power-centric approach at analyzing women’s sexual behavior will finally start to fade when we realize that.

    • I agree with a lot of Alyssa’s points. I’m troubled by the implication that women don’t enjoy so many of the sex acts Kimmel details, as well as by the idea that men only enjoy them precisely because women don’t. I especially agree with Alyssa’s point 3). I think perhaps articles like Kimmel’s are unfortunately part of what prevents women from admitting they genuinely like certain sexual acts, because, as you say, wanting to do something ‘filthy’ is seen as an exclusively male tendency. And in my experience, both my own and talking to other women and men, I really don’t think it is!

      I also would like to know where the assumption that men love oral sex because it makes them feel powerful, and women love it because they love to feel powerless, comes from. Don’t people enjoy sex acts simply because it makes them feel HORNY, any more?! I know that’s pretty much always my prime motivation in the bedroom. From my own ‘field research’, it seems to be my partner’s too – and my enjoyment always seems to increase the enjoyment of the man in question. Perhaps I’ve just been lucky not to run into these men Kimmel speaks of, who only get off on disempowering or degrading their partner?

      • I actually did a survey over on my web site (we are a sex-positive site for women,) and the results were interesting. I’ll publish a more complete data set in a bit, but needless to say, the numbers look really different when you ask direct questions. The blowjob is not dead, women do not feel powerless giving them, and most men are not power hungry assholes who want women to feel powerless. Ugh! http://notsosecret.com/2012-04-13/blow-hard-prosper-blowjob-survey-results/

        • I completely agree with your article! It was hilarious but also valuable in its content. I also want disagree with the idea that men enjoy sex acts which women are uncomfortable with or somehow manipulated into giving as a result of power play. In my experience, men and women BOTH enjoy sex acts which their partner is enthusiastic to perform. If my partner isn’t enjoying a sexual act it is unlikely that I will enjoy it as much either. I believe that this is the same for many men and it is a discredit to them to say otherwise.

          • Equalitist says:

            Thanks to all three of you for countering the troubling, discriminatory implications of this article!

    • I could not agree with you more. I love performing oral sex on my husband. I love his physical responses, I love how helpless the pleasure makes him (yeah, let’s turn that power play idea on its head), most of all I love that the whole experience gets me off like a rocket. Sometimes he takes a more dominant role in receiving, taking some control and giving direction, but more often than not I run the show entirely because he’s basically incapacitated. At the same time, he’s definitely no stranger to the lunch menu at the Y. We take turns with power and control in exactly the same way then.

      Sex can be empowering or degrading for anyone, regardless of gender or orientation. What makes the difference are the attitudes and actions of those involved.

    • Does liking something stop it from being oppressive, or a function of male power? You can like being a housewife all you want. But if all you’ve ever been told is that women were born to be housewives, then chances are, you’re gonna be pretty fulfilled as a housewife. That doesn’t stop that upbringing or that desire from being oppressive.

      Thus, enjoying having cum on your face doesn’t change in the slightest whether it’s about humiliation or not. To be sure, as more women are talked into allowing it, more will begin to enjoy it–kinda like fellatio. But that doesn’t change for a millisecond that it’s all about masculine desire. And, as the practice becomes more mainstream, new, scarier humiliations will be devised. Because we live in a patriarchal society and it cannot be escaped. Doom!

  2. This article is interesting, mostly because of the comment that a man receiving fellatio feels powerful. Well, NEWS FLASH! When I give my man head – and I take great pride in my skill set in that area, fyi – it is ME that feels powerful…any woman who can do it (and do it well) can rule the world (or at least the man on the receiving end!)

    • I definitely agree with what you are saying. However, I think the point here is that because of gender role socialization and the ways both sexes have traditionally been thought to view and understand power (men to always possess it, women to surrender and/or possess it cunningly), you have a large percent of males who find the need to pursue power (“conquer”) in the sexual acts they commit with their women. This, however, does not negate the fact that a woman can feel powerful in the process of giving head. It only brings attention to the fact that most men don’t even recognize that pleasure for women as a phenomena–at the least, even appreciate it–BECAUSE they are so busy in their power-hunger hypes.

      • PAUL HARVEY says:

        I recognize that some women do it because it pleases their partner, some becomes it gives them control, some because they enjoy being submissive, some because they want to feel “dirty” or conquer a personal taboo.,,,I understand that my responses, therefor, must be different depending on the woman, but my pleasure is not dependent specifically on their subjugation, there are many reasons that I can enjoy it, and I think , as with all sexual acts, I enjoy it most when I feel it is MUTUALLY pleasurable.

  3. Great article, and great conversation! I think there will always be a power dynamic at play in some sexual relationships and not in others. Some people get off on being in power and/or being submissive, and I don’t necessarily think that’s a bad thing. I think the problem lies if their entire relationship inside and outside the bedroom mirrors that power structure. If power is very unbalanced, it becomes a problem. There’s nothing wrong with a woman wanting to be a submissive one time or the dominator another, and vice versa for their partner. To assume that women like oral sex because it is or is not a power play seems to ignore the fact that it feels f-ing good! And I trust that my partner likes to do it for the same reason I like to give him a blow job–because it feels f-ing good, and I like to make him feel good. I like leaving him so spent he can’t move. It makes me feel good sexually as well as emotionally. I just don’t think one can generalize about sexual politics from such limited info. Of course, I do think there’s something to analyze in observing sexual behavior. For instance, why do some women like men to cum on their faces? Why do their partners like to do that? There can be some deep seated biases coming to play in any sexual preference, but I wouldn’t necessarily jump to conclusions about power.

  4. Natalie says:

    I LOVED this article. Very well written. Additionally, I’ve been thinking that an article on this matter needed to have been written. Sex in a patriarchal culture seems to be inevitably patriarchal sex. I can only go by my personal experiences because this information is, for the most part, kept on the DL. But from what they have revealed, sexual relationships between feminist men and women are pretty weird by patriarchal norms. I had asked the first three partners that I had ever had if I could go down on them — just to experiment with the blow job. All three feminist men denied me the pleasure. I ended up really liking it once I finally did. I truly hope that feminism is able to overcome the norms of patriarchy; yay sexual freedom!

  5. This article raises some interesting points and I think the comments above are, for the most part, spot on. The one part that really jumped out at me though was this:

    “Historically, sex was conquest, his victory over her resistance. She gave, he got. If women actively like it, where’s the victory? Where’s the conquest?”

    As a relatively young heterosexual man with no particular academic interest in the topic, that assessment strikes me the wrong way. Obviously gender roles have changed dramatically over the centuries and there will always be insecure frat boys to say stupid and offensive things. However, among the population of guys like myself (again, terrible sampling and anecdotal evidence), power dynamics in sex are just another form of kink. The only real, pervasive element I’ve encountered that comes close to ‘conquest’ is the ability give her a real honest-to-god knee shaking orgasm. There certainly is some smug satisfaction that goes with that.

    I guess the thrust of my theory would be to suggest that, outside the occasional symptoms of irrational insecurity, most men (as most women) aren’t really assholes when it comes to sex. Everyone is there to have a good time, I don’t know many people that don’t enjoy it a bit nasty now and then, and the hottest thing for most is the satisfaction of a partner.

    But again, I’m just an amateur. Rant off.

  6. I wonder if perhaps we need to rethink what it means to have “power.” Specifically in response to previous comments here, I am wondering exactly what kind of power is being referenced in claims like “when you have a guy’s cock in your mouth, you have the power” and “I take great pride in my skill set [at giving blow jobs] . . . it is Me that feels powerful.” What kind of “power” does one have exactly when they can suck a man’s penis well? The “power” to “cause” a man to ejaculate? The power to “make” a man enjoy having his penis sucked? The “power” to be thought of as a woman who “gives good head?” The “power” to be asked, expected or desired to engage in more occasions of sucking a man’s penis? If we go outside that immediate moment when we feel “powerful” because we are “making” the man think only of how good it feels to have his penis sucked (a difficult feat??), is there any other tangible evidence of our “power?” For most “suckers,” (perhaps excluding the debatable example of that rare, rich porn star), does this “sucking power” translate into any kind of power outside that immediate moment of sucking? If it was indeed true that “any woman who can do it (and do it well) can rule the world,” it seems to me that women would indeed be “ruling the world,” yet, last I checked, they’re not. I find it bone- and soul-wearying that our idea of what it means to have power as a woman is consistently reduced to how well we perform sexual acts, to how well we suck.

  7. I admit, I’m one of those women who has always seen fellatio as a form of powerlessness. I just chalked it up to my past as a rape survivor, since the friends I’d discussed it with disagreed and said “No, head is the ULTIMATE power over your lover’s body. You can make or ruin the entire experience for him.”

    I’ve learned to be good at it… but only in the last few years have I learned to -enjoy- it. Scared me to death at first. I knew I was doing something entirely for my partner’s benefit, and the first half-dozen times, I flashed back to my rape, froze in terror, and that ended the evening. Even years later I had to quell instinctive reactions of the fight-or-flight principle.

    Ironically, what made me finally learn to enjoy it was a partner who didn’t. He was definitely part of this small sample group that prefers to give than receive.

    He didn’t like them because he’d been trained by his lovers that his presence was for THEIR benefit, and thus he didn’t feel comfortable with all attention being focused on his pleasure. This made him one of the most talented lovers I’d ever had, but since I, like most women, have learned to derive pleasure from my partner’s, being the center of attention didn’t cut it for me, either. I was the first lover he’d had who gloried in his body not for what it could do for me, but because daaaaaymn, it was a fabulous body.

    I was able to teach him to enjoy being “spoiled” in bed, taking turns, and to believe in his own beauty. As he put it, I was the first woman he knew who “wanted to fuck him, and not just be fucked by him.”

    Needless to say, when my next partner announced, with a chuckle, that “all he needed was doggy style and a good blow job,” I rolled my eyes. The two most selfish acts in the sexual library? He was all about getting head, I doubt he’d ever even *considered* giving it. Pawed and fumbled at me clumsily like he was a three-day-old puppy. Afterwards announced it was “great.” Well, yeah, dude, *you* were calling on every higher power imaginable…

  8. My experience is that a lot of the reason people (both male and female) don’t like giving head is performance anxiety. BDSM actually can help with this–if someone’s “forcing” you to go down on them, maneuvering your head to where they want it, your skills are not an issue! When you do it that way, the person receiving has the power. When it’s about how skilled you are at bringing off the other person with your tongue, the person giving has the power, but also has to know what they’re doing or get embarrassed. Then there’s the “serve me” power dynamic, which is the worst of both worlds: person giving is both considered subordinate, AND expected to “perform”.

  9. Why is a MAN writing an article for Ms. Magazine and why is he referencing the epic fail that is Hugo Schwyzer? >_>

  10. What a great article; even more nice is that it is written by a man. Kudos to men who do not fear women! Nothing sexier and more desirable than a respectful, confident and caring man.

    • “Even more nice is that it is written by a man”

      A guy writes one flippin’ thing in a feminist space and we’re celebrating. Goddamn this is pathetic. (and personally, I’m sick if reading about what guys have to say about oral treats. Heck, I’m sick of most of the nonsense other women have been saying in this thread!)

  11. Missus Pebble on the Beach says:

    These are the men I just don’t have anything to do with sexually or romanitcally. If he’s into power and not connecting with me as a person–he’s not the man I’m going to want to find as my partner. Period. I’m sorry for the young ladies who will think there’s no one out there for them except this. Have certainly been there at one time in my life. Any man my age (Late Boomer) who is still in this mode is probably a lonely man. Sex is about connecting–as human beings. That is the key to good sex–and once you’ve lived that, you know it and this other stuff is crap. PS–coming around to the human team just takes some VERY learnable skills. Good luck to everyone, including me. It’s not easy to remember how to be one all the time.

    • Missus Pebble on the Beach says:

      PS–I should add: The partners I’ve had in my life who did reach this being a person thing – we didn’t get there instantly. Nothing sexier than knowing someone. If someone likes you well enough to hang in there to grow and be authentic with respect for you, who you feel and show respect for, that’s how it grows. In our society we have some real challenges with self-connection, self-empathy and making that bridge to others. One POV.

      • Missus Pebble on the Beach says:

        And did I say? Va va va voom! Fi-ire! These feelings of respect and really being there WITH someone, really being in the room with him–and he with me–made for continental, incremental, exponential, oh-oh-o yeah sex. Fellatio, cunnilingus, cum here, cum there. What ever. That is the key. Start with the person, start with the relationship. The sex will be A-A-A-Oh-OH-OHHH-KAY_Y_Y!
        Promise!

  12. All this talk about how giving blowjobs is so ~empowering~ and women have all the control ‘cuz they can say “stop” is making me SMDH. Has it ever occurred to any of y’all that the dude could maybe…NOT WANT TO STOP and would just punch you in the fucking mouth if he wanted? Bragging about how “helpless” you can make a man just by sucking his dick or even joking that you could dick-suck us into a utopia is just bull. Men still have all the power, at least physically on average in these sorts of individual situations, so thinking just because your junk is in his mouth means you’re in control is a dangerous lie.

  13. Somehow I missed the traditional female training to submit, make nice-nice, and want to please others. Thank you, Mom. Not that I’m not capable of all of the above, but only when I wanna. While there may be some men who are caught up in the power dynamics of getting and giving head, I’ve somehow managed to avoid most of them. More specifically, I think what researchers need to focus on is the power of porn in shaping young men and women’s fantasies. I’m old enough to have had my first exposure to black & white porn on a reel. Humiliation was largely absent, maybe in direct correlation to the abundance of pubic hair.
    Most modern porn is unsavory, imo. Occasionally, there’s a quick, memorable scene, like when the guy is going down on the girl and he discreetly tries to use a tiny vibrator instead of his tongue. She calls him out on it, something the females rarely do in porn. It’s brief, but it brought me out of porn-induced boredom.

  14. Andrew Bruskin says:

    Hey! I’m on Dr. Kimmel’s facebook page…

    Heterosexual…Check.
    Jewish…Check.
    Ivy-League…uhh…Semi-Check (southern Ivy law school :-) )

    Close enough.

  15. Why all this talk about power games? My wife likes my tongue on her pussy, and I like her lips wrapped around my penis. Can’t sex just be fun?

  16. Why am I still seeing Hugo Schwyzer featured on feminist websites? He tried to kill a woman and there is nothing more twisted and deeply misogynistic than believing that fact should just go away. Honestly, if a woman is called by a sexist slur that is concerning enough for her to end up on the cover of the magazine but if a man tried to kill a woman the best Kimmel can do is vaguely suggest that he is not a real feminist?

  17. This is the dumbest argument ever. I’m sure there are some dudes who like having their dicks sucked because of the power, but normal, sane dudes like it because it feels good. And they like reciprocating (if they do, which not enough dudes do, frankly) because it makes their partners feel good. Sure, some people are stuck in, like, the 1970s or whatever, but we don’t sleep with those people, right?

    Also, the reason porn is all about dudes jizzing all over ladies is not really about humiliation. It’s about the fact that, normally, in the real world, you can’t *see* the “money shot”, because it happens inside the mouth/vagina/anus. So in order to display it for the viewer, porn has turned to this weird artificial technique. I don’t think all that many people routinely do it in real life, however much porn they watch. Why ruin a good orgasm by removing the pleasant sensation right at that moment? There’s just no reason for it if you’re not on camera.

    • Equalitist says:

      Actually, last I checked the numbers for men and women performing oral sex are about the same, with a slightly greater percentage of men willing to perform oral sex than women. I’m sorry that your experience was otherwise.

    • Wow all the women who like jizz on there face must be completely ignorant of what it actually means. It was the answer for pornographers whose consumers wanted to see the woman punched in the face. However, at the time that wasn’t legal. So the facial was born to shame women for having sex, to wreck the bitch, so that bitch knew she was a worthless piece of shit that was only a toilet for penises. The creation of the facial was where misogyny entered the porn industry…..now used so much….not even women can see the hate involved…..wow ignorance must be bliss. The money shot isn’t the 1st porn has shown of ejaculation, that very ignorant of porn history to say that. They used to cum on the vagina, then it moved to the stomach, up to the tits in the 1980′s and into the face almost mid 1990′s……Look up Bob Margold to see who he is because I’m gonna quote him right now……I’d really like to show what I believe the men want to see: violence against women. I firmly believe that we serve a purpose by showing that. The most violent we can get is the cum shot in the face. Men get off behind that, because they get even with the women they can’t have. We try to inundate the world with orgasms in the face.’ — Bob Margold quoted in Coming Attractions: The Making of an X-Rated Video: Yale University Press, 1993 page 22

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