I was 16 the first time a guy went down on me. And I really loved it—for the first three minutes. Then I started to feel guilty: guilty that my boyfriend wasn’t being pleasured; guilty, specifically, because I wasn’t doing anything to give him pleasure. So I pulled him up and went down on him instead. It wasn’t until I was well into my twenties, after a lot of practice, that I was able to let go and just enjoy it. Many women I know have had similar experiences, and some are still uncomfortable with receiving without providing any service in return.
Artist Alexandra Rubinstein argues one of the reasons women—and men—prioritize male pleasure in heterosexual hookups is because it’s usually the man’s erotic perspective that’s represented in pop culture. Even Fifty Shades of Grey, a movie that was supposedly about female fantasy, only showed Anastasia Steele’s climaxes and never Christian Grey’s. My biggest complaint about that film—and I have many—was that I never got to see him come. What does his orgasm face look like? Will they show me in the second movie? Over time, that dominant male perspective has conditioned us to believe that sex is a man’s domain, that sex belongs to men. Which, obviously, is bullshit. To challenge that norm, Rubinstein is creating a series of paintings called A Dream Come True: Celebrity Cunnilingus (2015–), depicting, as explained on her website, “the work of the male eating pussy.” These pieces are not particularly lifelike, but they are still more convincing than anything I saw in Fifty Shades. There’s Robert Pattinson, his mouth buried in a bushy vulva, his eyes dark and intense, looking up at his partner. Also Justin Bieber, his full lips prepared to lick some labia, with three fingers pulling aside her underwear, his expression beseeching, as if to say, “Let me do this. I want to do this so bad.” And then there’s everyone’s imaginary BF, Ryan Gosling, his top lip curled up against a fair-haired mound, unquestionably committed to the act of devouring pussy.
Gosling also devoured Michelle Williams’ pussy in the 2010 film Blue Valentine. It ended up with an NC-17 rating because of that scene. He protested the decision, pointing out that “there’s plenty of oral sex scenes in a lot of movies, where it’s a man receiving it from a woman—and they’re R-rated. Ours is reversed, and somehow it’s perceived as pornographic.”
Since then, the Motion Picture Association of America has relaxed somewhat; Ben Affleck got Rosamund Pike off in Gone Girl and Michael Fassbender did the same to Penélope Cruz in The Counselor, with both films rated R. At the same time, Shia LaBeouf and Evan Rachel Wood’s Charlie Countryman was hit with an NC-17 until the scene in which his character went down on her was cut. So cunnilingus still often remains less acceptable than fellatio at the movies. Even in slang, male oral seems to have the upper hand. A blowjob combines two uncomplicated words. A “blowjob” should really be a “suckjob,” but blowing is a lot more benign than sucking, an act that immediately conjures audiovisual effects in your mind, so we’ve never bothered to correct it. The term “blowjob” is still widely used and understood, legitimizing the act of fellatio in everyday language.
Female oral, however, does not have a counterpart. There is no one word in the vernacular that describes it, that takes away its foreignness. Instead, we have expressions, many of them ridiculous—muff diving, box licking, clam digging—all of them turning cunnilingus into a joke. And if the act is not described farcically, it’s phrased in graphic terms: eating her out, eating pussy. Like a blowjob, technically no one’s eating anything, but this inaccuracy has the opposite effect: instead of making the act more benign and less intimidating, it attaches an explicitness to cunnilingus that feels personal and messy.
Even though our culture and our language have turned it into a dirty secret, many men do truly love eating pussy. They should admit it and celebrate it as enthusiastically as they talk about getting it. And women also need to ask for head as often as they are asked to give head. Because if it’s happening more in real life, then it will happen more on-screen. And the more we see it on-screen, the more we’ll do it in real life.
I have a guy friend who told me that back in high school, he was part of an unofficial club called The Clit Guys. I asked him whether it was kinda gross and sexist for a group of boys to walk around calling themselves that. His reply? “Whatever. We wanted to let girls know we were down with going down and we felt good making them feel good,” he said. “So if you want to call that sexist, go ahead.” It wasn’t sexist or gross: they were being good oral advocates. If only my younger self had listened and had known—really known—that guys wanted, and should want, to indulge my pussy. It would have been a lot happier, a lot sooner.
Elaine Lui appears on The Social and eTalk, is the founder of Lainey Gossip and the author of Listen to the Squawking Chicken.
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