Is it good to give head?

(I’ve been thinking about the implications of women performing oral sex on men for a while. I began writing this as a feature, but thought it would be more interesting to open it up for discussion as a shorter version here.)

Fellatio is rarely discussed as an expression of female sexual empowerment, but rather as a form of male dominance. Taking a man’s penis in our mouths is traditionally seen as an act of submission; it is assumed we do it against our will. This makes it a feminist issue. Maybe the slang terminology used to describe oral sex is responsible? We “give head,” implying that in doing so we lose something, gaining nothing in return. That the process of blowing is described as a “job” suggests it is hard work, the antithesis of enjoyment; a necessity to survive; an act requiring such effort that the “giver” should receive some form of remuneration. This probably has its genesis in the historical stereotyping of women who fellate. It was an act performed by prostitutes in brothels. It was done in darkened alleys and kept secret by “morally corrupt sluts.” A married woman who was so bold as to take her husbands cock in her mouth was later called a “whore,” but that she would do it was unlikely. Anne Boleyn was said to have “bewitched” Henry VIII with this “whore trick” cultivated during her time in France. It is claimed she blew herself all the way from social mediocrity to the throne (although her transgressions later catapulted her to the gallows).

Likewise, mainstream pornography has defined the “blow-job” as sexually degrading for women. It is a sex act performed by a woman on a man for his pleasure alone. It is a sex act performed by a woman on a man to sate the longing of horny male voyeurs, eager to see their masturbatory fantasies fulfilled in celluloid if not in reality. In 1972 the infamous American porn film Deep Throat was banned in some countries and became the subject of obscenity trials, with Linda Lovelace (pseudonym of Linda Susan Boreman) hitting the headlines for her ability to take an erect penis completely into her mouth and throat. This was a variation on what was commonly understood to constitute a “blow-job” at the time.

Boreman (who became acquainted with anti-porn activist Andrea Dworkin) later claimed that she did not consent to many of the explicit sexual scenes, and that she had been forced to do this at gun-point by her abusive husband. In 1986 she said that “virtually every time someone watches that movie, they’re watching me being raped,” with the 2005 documentary about the film (Inside Deep Throat), exposing the extent to which Boreman had been savagely exploited sexually, physically, emotionally and financially. This has all fed into our perception of oral sex as a tool of masculine control, designed to humiliate women for the excitement of men, but is this argument too reductive? Can fellating a man, in a mutually consenting situation, be liberating for a woman? Is it an empowered female action, rather than the epitome of misogynistic control? And can we just enjoy it?

Err, I’d say yes to all of the above. A woman can enjoy “giving head” and still proudly self-define as a feminist without having betrayed her belief systems. I view the “blow-job” as a form of male surrender, something requiring a mutual degree of trust and self-restraint. I have never considered it to be anything but empowering for a woman when all involved are amenable. There doesn’t have to be an emotional connection between participants for fellatio to be pleasurable, of course, as the power shift can itself be arousing, and I can understand why some women genuinely want to “give head.” In some instances I believe it can be a more intensely intimate experience than coitus, simply because of the rescinding and reclaiming of control involved. It is one of the only times when a man is completely physically vulnerable, allowing his female partner to have autonomous control over his pleasure and orgasm by manipulating his most sensitive organ (the organ that defines his gender and can offer him mortality through reproduction) using one of her most powerful organs; her mouth. Our enjoyment emanates from the realisation that we can easily control a man’s ecstasy.

The mouth can be an aggressive part of our anatomy, and at the same time as offering gratification by mimicking the vagina we know that it could induce severe pain, placing the male receiver completely at the mercy of the female giver (and her back molars). This has a historical precedent. The vagina dentata (latin for toothed vagina) myth was initially coined to discourage men from having sex with “strange women.” This was explored in the 2007 film Teeth, during which the virgin heroine discovers she has a toothed vagina following her attempted rape (the attacker dies, as do subsequent men who try to rape her). Unlike the original myth, the message is not simply to encourage men to take recourse to sexual self-preservation, but is rather a celebration of female sexuality and sexual power. The toothed vagina enables the female protagonist to protect her chastity, with the knowledge of her unique physical attribute making her grow in confidence from a quiet and meek girl, to a headstrong young woman. Does fellatio not work on the same principle? While men may attempt to verbally denigrate women who perform the act by casting aspersions on their sexual behaviour and morality, is this nothing more than a knee-jerk reaction to the subconscious realisation that we have taken charge? And therefore, is “giving head” just another feminist step along the road to our complete sexual liberation?

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