a feminist defense of blowjobs

Monica in the sheets, Hillary in the streets

“Whenever I’m doing it, I’m usually planning my next meal.”

So began Selkie* in the first of several conversations I had this week with friends who ‘fessed up to having mixed feelings about giving oral sex to penis-owning humans.

“I don’t know a single woman who openly enjoys giving head, ” contributed Wags, as I sat cross-legged on her bed, watching her draw perfect cat-eyes for a party later that night. “[My boyfriend] doesn’t know this—because if I’m gonna do it, I’m gonna look like I’m into it—but sometimes I just feel like I’m being used.”

Another friend, Piglet, told me of his recent late-night study break: “Last weekend in Faunce, I gave a blowjob to this guy who aggressively thrusted into my face the entire time. Besides the fact that my knees were scratching on the carpet, I found it totally hot.”

When I congratulated him on his risky business, he responded, “I guess—I just wonder, can I enjoy being a dick receptacle and still vote for Hillary Clinton?”

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In the infamous porno Deep Throat (1972), actress Linda Lovelace (pseudonym of Linda Boreman) plays a woman who finds out that her clitoris is located in her throat. Cue montage of various erect penises disappearing into her mouth—Lovelace’s character informs us that this helps her “untangle her tingle.” The film was banned in large parts of the U.S. and was the subject of many obscenity trials.

Boreman later quit the porn industry to speak at anti-porn rallies alongside militant feminists like Andrea Dworkin and Catharine MacKinnon. She claimed that she had not consented to the film’s explicit scenes, and that she had been forced to act at gun-point by her abusive husband. In a testimony to the Attorney General’s Report on Pornography commissioned by the Reagan administration, Boreman claims, “Every time someone watches that movie, they are watching me being raped.”

Such narratives have contributed to our cultural view of fellatio as degrading and humiliating, committed at least in part against the giver’s will. But is this too reductive?

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Observe our language about blowjobs. We “give head,” with the presumption that we gain little in return. Fellatio is labeled a “job,” a necessity, as opposed to a form of enjoyment. “Steak and blowjob day” is framed as a “man’s holiday.” It is situated a week following Valentine’s day (supposedly a woman’s holiday)—the assumption being that women, having been pampered, must now deliver their end of the deal.

Back in the 1980s, radical second-wave feminists and the rising extreme right allied in a crusade against sex-positivism. Both decried pornography, promiscuity, and “explicit” sexual practices as forces of societal corruption. These attitudes have resurfaced in our modern culture war over sex. In the past few years, we have been excoriated for sexting, waxing, public nudity, polygamy, porn addictions, butt-fucking, “whatever it is that lesbians do,” and, of course, giving head (and enjoying it), by those who identify as sexual progressives and traditionalists alike.

Platforms that seek to restrict sexual behavior are problematic as they consistently frame the issue in incredibly narrow terms. We have seen rad-fem camps deploy the moralist rhetoric and the classic gender double-standard in their smear-campaign of the blowjob as a tool of male control. Conversely, we’ve had right-wingers approach the debate with a set sexual vocabulary that excludes the queer perspective. Both arguments are alike in that they’ve wrongly framed their issue with blowjobs within the narrow context of the feminine experience in heterosexual interaction.

This framing of sexual disempowerment as a woman’s experience is problematic for several reasons. 1) It places sexual pleasure in the domain of masculinity. The active masculine demands sex, while the passive feminine “lies back and thinks of England.” 2) It denies the already marginalized perspectives of male victims of sexual assault and degradation. 3) It classifies certain sexual acts as inherently degrading without considering what’s most important—context and consent.

If you believe that feminism is a battle between women and men, then yes, anything that praises men or gives them pleasure is a kind of submission. However, if we step back and realize that we’re living in a highly judgmental sexual culture that profits from making people feel confused and ashamed of their desires, we’ll see that it’s not just cis-women who are bombarded with messages of how to be sexual.

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Whether blowjobs are, in and of themselves, empowering or disempowering, is an idiotic question.

The debate goes beyond celebrating or even defending sucking dick. It is part of the larger idea that there is a “right way” to be sexual. And as much as we debate what constitutes the most politically correct orgasm (no matter how well-meaning we may be), such a thing does not exist.

So, to sum things up, if you don’t like it, don’t do it. If you like it, don’t feel ashamed of it. If you feel shame, guilt, or discomfort, talk it over with a good friend and talk it over with your respectful partner. Have a respectful partner in the first place.

Consent is empowering. Joyful, safe sex is empowering. Claiming your desires is empowering. Sexual empowerment doesn’t entail a mandate of acceptable positions, approved dirty-talk, and enlightened fetishes. It can only be defined generally, by the widespread implementation of sex-ed that promotes acceptance, openness, and communication, and the allowance of room for fantasy and safe experimentation.

Tits

dr.titsmcgee.phd@gmail.com

Tits McGee writes good shit weekly for Post- Online on topics such as why relationships are like cows, engineering a happy hook-up, and the Legally Blonde revolution.

*The names of Brown students in this article have been changed.