Inequality in Oral Sex: Why We Need to Rethink Lady Head

Jennifer Bui/Thrillist
Jennifer Bui/Thrillist

Last month a guy writing for the Tab emphatically declared he wasn’t going down on the ladies anymore. He had a bad experience with his girlfriend’s squirting, and he was quitting the cunnilingus game forever. This guy’s proclamation wasn’t particularly novel or even that offensive: most generally, it’s perfectly acceptable for a man to not go down on a woman.

I’m not here to tell anyone what sexual acts they should or should not perform. I know one person’s golden shower is another’s analingus. The golden rule? Not to yuck anyone’s kinky yum... or force anyone to embrace your yum if they find it yuck. 

That said, I would like us all to take a beat, and think about why lady head is an optional and potentially “icky” sex act while blow jobs are treated as the norm.

The blow-job-trumps-cunnilingus status quo can be seen most obviously in porn. Studies examining the occurrence of sexual behaviors in porn have found blow jobs happen twice as often as cunnilingus. One study even found that anal sex occurs more often than cunnilingus in porn.

Although most of us don’t follow porn as our sex bibles, we absorb sexual norms from those sassy red tubes whether we admit it or not. It is no surprise that the blow job is seen as an essential part of sexy time while eating a woman out is seen as a rare treat. Men can -- and do -- opt out of orally visiting lady bits or just ignore the fact that it is an option altogether. Women don't usually have this option. Blow jobs are part of the sex deal.

There is nothing inherently dirty about a woman’s hoo-ha; there is only the dirty connotation we have attached to it by centuries of shaming.

The other side of the “I don’t want to” argument is that cunnilingus is dirty. Inevitably there will be someone clamoring that the warm, wet lady bits are just teeming cesspools of bacteria that need to stay isolated from any tongue interaction. So yes, for the record bacteria do exist on the vulva... just as they do on the penis, and on our skin, and on a thousand other things we eagerly shove into our precious mouths. The vagina is filled with healthy bacteria that when kept in balance keeps vaginas in tip-top sexual condition. There is nothing inherently dirty about a woman’s hoo-ha; there is only the dirty connotation we have attached to it by centuries of shaming.

Beyond porny influences and dirty misconceptions, our society in general tends to prioritize male pleasure over female. Men enjoying sex is seen as natural -- and essential! -- to the proliferation of the human gene pool. Men have to enjoy sex for the good of humanity! But women’s pleasure is at best a happy little accident; and at worst, vilified as slutty and shame-worthy.

We can see this at play throughout TV shows and movies. Movies that dare to show cunnilingus or an actual female orgasm are slapped with NC-17 labels. A woman’s “O” face is seen as more transgressive than rape scenes, shooting sprees and any f-bomb a movie could drop.

The pleasure disparity doesn’t stop once the curtain comes down. During a fairly routine argument about oral sex, a boyfriend once told me with evangelical conviction that “men need to be hard but women don’t need to be wet to have sex.” The ease with which he dismissed the role of female pleasure only half points to him being a selfish dick. The rest of that equation is the society in which that d-bag lived; one revolving around hard penises. I personally think hard penises are lovely -- but we also need to give some time and attention the warm (and hopefully wet!) lady bits that envelope said penises.

Everyone has the right to his or her own lingual preference. But we should consider from where these titillating tastes come.

Cunnilingus does seem to be just as popular as blowjobs for people in their 20s, according to the National Survey of Sexual Health and Behavior. Sixty to 70% of women in their 20s reported receiving the gift of tongue in the past year. These are similar numbers the men in the same age group who reportedly received oral sex. Progress!

Of course, your decision to go down on a woman is always your choice. Just like some men don’t like to give women head, some women don’t like to get it. Just like someone women don’t like to give blow jobs. Everyone has the right to his or her own lingual preference. But we should consider from where these titillating tastes come -- and perhaps even defy some oral-sex norms.

A full 70% of women claim to need clitoral stimulation to orgasm, according to the Kinsey Institute. So if you decide going down on a woman isn’t your thing, cool; but it’s time to get creative in other ways in order to deliver the all-important clitoral stimulation. And this doesn’t necessarily have to come from a tongue. Some advanced and well-lubricated digital stimulation is always lovely whether it is delivered from a partner, toy or a woman’s own hand. There is nothing sexier than a confident man who isn’t intimidated by any of these three options.

All sexual acts should ideally be given freely and out of sheer joy and horniness. But the reality is that we live in a world filled with societal expectations and norms that shape and constrict how freely we sex. It would be nice to think our sexual lives are free from societal influences. They are not. So instead of just nixing the lady head because it seems “weird,” it’s time to challenge that persistent little social norm. Challenging the status quo may just blow your mind -- and, hopefully, your load.

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Niki Fritz is a Thrillist contributor who studies pornography at Indiana University. Her research there has left her painfully aware of the sexist, oral divide.