oraleatingpussy

An Oral History of Men Not Eating Pussy

How did this now-basic sex act ascend the sexual food chain from the ultimate taboo to something that’s become an inevitable ying to the blowjob’s yang?

There are a lot of ways one could open up a dialog about the history of eating pussy, but in honor of this grand occasion, I think it would be ceremonious to begin with a poem. Delicately titled “Fuck U, Man,” it’s the intellectual property of two men named Kool G Rap and DJ Polo. Here we go:

Now I’m not a deep-sea diver
But I love it when my dick’s covered and smothered with saliva
Shit, might even straighten out your dentures
Because it’s not just a blow job, honey, it’s an adventure
But sixty-nine, and I ain’t with that
I’ll go to a Chinese restaurant, bitch, if I wanna eat cat
Because you gotta be brave to eat the tuna, G
So when it comes to pussy-lickin’, I’m the chicken of the sea

Thanks, guys. Apparently, you have a problem with eating pussy. Lots of men do — according to the National Survey of Sexual Health and Behavior, roughly 30 to 45 percent of men say they don’t do it often or at all (that number decreases with age). Though men of this species have become increasingly rare in recent decades, their kind has been well-documented everywhere from TV shows like The Sopranos to misogynistic 1990s rap songs, and there’s no shortage of researchers and journalists trying to understand their Rube Goldberg thinking in between. Meanwhile, many women are left hanging — they’re more than twice as likely to go down men than the other way around. This is a particular problem because the vast majority of us don’t cum from penetration alone. Most of us need clit things to get there. Often with your mouth.

Though hardly universal across space or time (many men love it, including The Rock), the trend of men refusing to go down on women is actually an ancient one. How did this now-basic sex act ascend the sexual food chain from the ultimate taboo to something that’s become an inevitable ying to the blowjob’s yang? A few experts, and myself, weigh in below.  

Jon Knowles, author of How Sex Got Screwed Up — The Ghosts That Haunt Our Sexual Pleasure: The idea that men shouldn’t perform cunnilingus on women is an ancient one that can be seen in many cultures around the world. The Romans, for example, had a very strict taboo against men performing oral sex on women. Ironically, there were paintings of men performing cunnilingus on women on the walls of whorehouses in Rome, though, which really speaks to the excitement of the taboo. Clearly, it was on some people’s minds for it to make its way into art, but very few average citizens were actually practicing it.

Female pleasure was very rare in Rome — they even had a taboo against using their right hand to touch a woman. Men were supposed to use their left hands; the hands they cleaned their ass with. Not surprisingly, most women weren’t seen as equal to men during that era, an imbalance that has pervaded since. Though this was long ago, there’s still an idea that female pleasure is taboo.

Madeleine Holden, sex journalist and author of the internet’s most-cited piece about cunnilingus in rap: The taboo around female pleasure has a lot to do with the belief that men and women are different species, and that a woman is the “inverse” of a man (beliefs that can be traced all the way back to Hippocrates and Ancient Greek society).  However, inherent in those beliefs is the assumption that being a man should also mean you’re “anti-woman.” A good way to demonstrate just how not womanly you are is to ignore or deliberately prevent female pleasure, while also prioritizing your own, which was the norm throughout much of Western history. This has led to quite a precedent of misogyny and homophobia, the likes of which trickle down into men’s sexual habits today.

Me: Men’s penises have also always been the ultimate symbol of masculinity, something we can see signs of as early as 6,000 BC, when people were making Stone Age dildos (though it’s not clear whether they were being used for sex or they were just using all the free time they had without Instagram to carve stuff out of rocks). There are examples of phallic art all throughout ancient history, and in many cultures, it symbolized virility, manhood and strength. However, because cunnilingus involves exactly no penises, it’s easy to see how it could be seen as emasculating. To some people, no penis = no man.

Knowles: In more recent history, the Christians perpetuated the idea that sex shouldn’t be pleasurable for women (or anyone, for that matter). The Christians hated sex. They taught for 2,000 years that any non-reproductive sex act was a sin. And since it’s hard to get pregnant from cunnilingus, it was definitely off the table.

After the fall of the Roman empire in the early 400s, the next event that influenced people’s oral sex habits on a large scale was the Black Plague. Though the worst of it only lasted five years (1347 to 1352), the fallout persisted for decades. People stopped bathing because they thought that’s how the plague was spread. During that time, there was such a lack of hygiene that oral sex became explicitly frowned upon for hundreds of years until people started bathing regularly again. It was a pretty smelly affair. (Funny enough, the early Christians didn’t believe in bathing, either — it was too sexual for them.)

Moving into the 19th century, the dichotomy of the Madonna-whore was going so strong that even scientists began to believe that it was impossible for women to orgasm, and that a “good woman” wasn’t interested in sex at all. That belief led people to overlook behaviors that may have given them pleasure. To many Victorians living in that era, cunnilingus probably seemed sinful and wildly extraneous.

Meanwhile, the rise of private homes and property led to people believing their bodies were private entities, too. That got them thinking their genitals were shameful, and that they should be embarrassed if they were seen. This is a big departure from earlier centuries, where Elizabethan architecture — think houses with no doors and just one long, continuous series of rooms — made it so everyone was in everyone’s business all the time. In these homes, there were no private spaces, and therefore, private parts. However, when people started to build private homes, the concept of personal space inspired them to build architectural spaces that separated people from each other. Suddenly, there were girls’ rooms and boys’ rooms, and the privacy of either made it seem like they should be kept separate. It also made it seem like they were inherently different from each other, which also made each other mysterious. An indirect result of this may have been that men developed a much more confused or standoffish attitude about female sexuality.

Things start to change in the 20th century. For one, the advent and popularization of indoor plumbing made it so people could be as fresh and clean as they wanted to be, which also meant they could have the kinds of sex that had previously felt unsanitary. Increased globalization and wars helped, too. During the two World Wars, American soldiers abroad in Europe and Asia started having sex with prostitutes, which widened their sexual experience and introduced them to cunnilingus (if they didn’t know about it already). All of a sudden, there was this acceptance of female pleasure by male soldiers who felt going down on women was a good thing.

This was reinforced during the sexual revolution of the 1960s and 1970s. Around that time, the Kama Sutra became a sex education tool among hippies. Everybody read the Kama Sutra. It was all about different sexual positions, giving and receiving, for both partners. There were instructions for oral sex, and so oral sex became a more common occurrence. It was big among college kids — they were really trying to get rid of the Christian heritage of their parents when it came to sex (monogamy and all that stuff). They really raised hell. Women also started having consciousness-raising groups around that time, and people like Betty Dodson travelled the country showing people what their genitals looked like and how to use them. Once cunnilingus started to be associated with the feminism and sexual liberation of that area, it became more of a desirable activity for all involved. Though at that point, it still had a ways to go.

Shannon Chavez, psychologist and sex therapist: Trends in pubic hair throughout the past century have also had a lot to do with men’s willingness to perform (or not perform) cunnilingus. For many men, hair is related to smell and hygiene and is viewed with this sort of immature, locker room-esque “gross factor” (though how hairy a vulva is has very little to with either of those things). Once women started to shave it off in the 1980s, and magazines like Playboy and Hustler started to proliferate the bare look, cunnilingus suddenly became more desirable — people assumed it was somehow cleaner and more hygienic. It’s likely that this changed some men’s minds about whether or not they were willing to give their female partners oral.

Holden: Moving into the 1980s and 1990s, hyper-masculinity started to become very “in,” and nowhere was that more apparent than on The Sopranos. There was one episode from 1999 called “Boca” that showed just how emasculating men thought eating pussy was. In the show, Uncle Junior’s lover tells him he’s a “real artist” at “kissing down there,” but instead of accepting the compliment or being proud of his handiwork, he freaks out and tells her to keep her mouth shut about his oral talents. “They think if you suck pussy you’ll suck anything,” he tells her. “It’s a sign of weakness and possibly a sign that you’re a fanook.” I don’t know what a “fanook” is [Italian-American slang for “faggot”], but later in the episode, Tony finds out and totally humiliates his Uncle Junior. It’s a salient example of how unmanly and how stigmatized cunnilingus was still seen.

Me: Another notable and impactful example of this stigma came from hearings surrounding Justice Clarence Thomas alleged sexual harassment of Anita Hill. During the hearings, it was purported that Thomas had bragged about his cunnilingus skills to Hill, a finding that the Telegraph claims to have garnered more backlash and stigma than the fact he’d been accused of sexual assault.

Some men, however, go the opposite route and brag about how much they hate eating pussy. In 2015, VICE writer Davide Lomino wrote an article called “I’m a Straight Man and I Hate Giving Oral Sex” in which he calls the vulva a “wound in an otherwise perfect hole” and whines that it’s “practically impossible to get over a bad session of oral sex.” Smell, neck pain and not having control while your “head is squashed between someone’s thighs” are all cited as reasons.

Chavez: Most of men’s reluctance to give head centers around their own insecurities. I definitely see a lot of men reporting they feel very self-conscious about technique. They’re also so focused on giving a woman an orgasm that if they don’t, they just stop altogether. There’s this idea of, “Why should I put those efforts forward if I’m not going to be able to make my partner come?” Instead of really focusing on what feels good for her, or technique, communicating or slowing down and understanding her anatomy, it’s this goal-oriented activity they can “fail” at.

Me: Remember that scene in Chasing Amy where Jason Lee’s character Banky Edwards says he refuses to go down on women because he sucks at it? If you need a refresher:

Banky: “My mother brought me up to believe that if I can’t do something right, I shouldn’t do it at all.”

Amy: “Well, at least you blame yourself for your sexual inadequacies.”

Banky: “No, I blame them. Chicks never help you out. They never tell you what to do, right? And most of them are all self-conscious about the smell factor, and so most of the time, they just lay there, frozen, like a deer in headlights.”

Holden: Disdain for eating pussy really picked up in the 1990s (or at least became more visible as more songs, TV shows and films began to show and discuss sex than ever before). Around this time, men’s lingering aversion to cunnilingus was hyper-visible in the rap world. There are tons of examples of this, but one that sticks out it is DJ Quik’s bullshit song “Can I Eat It,” in which he spends five minutes spinning some cautionary tale about the hassles and dangers of cunnilingus. These include, but are not limited to, that you’ll “leave with a full pair of nuts,” that you’ll “catch HIV” and that she’ll never want to have sex with your penis again. The chorus, of course, is “don’t eat the coochie.”

There are so many other songs like that — men rapping about getting pleasure but giving none (other than with their dicks, with which they promised to injure you). The  pervasive idea that eating pussy was emasculating was stronger than ever, and rap lyrics seemed to reflect this fear that if you went down on a girl, you wouldn’t be able to fuck her to completion (which is, you know, insane). For a long time, cunnilingus was also used as an insult to put down a rival, like “Oh, he eats pussy, so he’s pathetic.” It was very connected to this idea that men should be able to get a woman off with their dick, which is based on some very confused understandings about the physiology of women’s bodies and how they work.

Chavez: A lot of these misunderstandings come from poor sex education. We teach about reproduction, not pleasure. In many sex-ed programs, they don’t even mention the word “clitoris” (though they can talk about penises all day). Cunnilingus is almost exclusively about pleasure, so it’s no surprise that we leave a lot of students confused about female anatomy. Most men and women will report not knowing the anatomy of the clitoris and feel frustrated that they were never taught this in sex ed. If we don’t know the anatomy, how will someone know how and where to pleasure a female vulva?

Holden: Hopefully, most people know by now that about 75 percent of women don’t cum from penetration alone — they need some sort of clitoral stimulation to get off. Lil’ Wayne knows that, though. Lil’ Wayne is the King of Eating Pussy.

Despite most of his contemporaries hating on pussy and espousing these laughably chauvinistic, pathetic beliefs about female pleasure, Lil’ Wayne released a bounty of songs in the early 2000s that reference how much he loves going down on women and how great he is at it. In 2008, he dropped the total banger “Lollipop,” a song entirely dedicated to eating pussy and mutual pleasure. Though he was neither the first nor the only rapper to rap around giving head, other rappers like Drake, Danny Brown and The Game followed his example, and now it seems like every one of them has a lyric about how much they love doing it. That definitely had a big influence in shifting people’s attitudes from thinking cunnilingus was emasculating to believing it was a manly, cool thing to do.

When an artist with that much reach and influence gets behind something, it becomes popular quickly. At the same time, third-wave feminism, the rise of digital culture and the sex-positive movement gave women much more power to advocate for their own sexual agency and pleasure. They became very outspoken about what they wanted in bed, which trickled into TV and film (see: every Sex and the City episode ever).

Chavez: Though tides had already turned and cunnilingus was much more common at this point, there have still been some poignant, anti-pussy moments that permeated pop culture. A big one was Michael Douglas’ revelation that his Stage 4 throat cancer result was the of HPV infection he got from cunnilingus. After that, there was a big STD scare where many men thought going down on a woman was going to Michael Douglas their throats. Though the chances of that happening are rare, many of my male patients were concerned it could happen to them. I don’t think there’s any data on how that influenced rates of cunnilingus, but at the time, it seemed to give some men pause.

Me: Ironically, other people took it as a mainstream actor “breaking the last taboo of men.” As the Telegraph wrote, this was huge — it represented a “sea change” for men and signified that we were finally ready to talk about this stuff in public. Now that it was cool and manly, people started to defend cunnilingus, not reject it.

In 2015, a writer for The Tab wrote an op-ed about why he refuses to go down on women and how confused he was that some people didn’t understand this. He begins by saying, “I’m not going to turn your cherry out, sorry,” then goes on to tell some sob story about how a girl squirted a “hot, sticky, wet jet of piss” right in his face. Only, because he’s him — an idiot — he mistook her squirt for pee (it’s not pee), which is surprising because he spends the first third of the article bragging about how much cunnilingus preparation he undertook by reading Thought Catalog. Anyway, afterwards, he says his eyes were kinda red and itchy, so he never went down on a girl again (cue twitching forehead vein).

To say the internet tore him apart would be an understatement — nearly every major media outlet from Huffington Post to Jezebel published a story ridiculing him and propagating the freshly popular belief that head should be a two-way street (though plenty of people also recognized it’s okay to not want to do something… it just matters why).

In the long history of men not going down on women, the Lloyd incident was the penultimate vestige of cunnilingus negativity that appears in a mainstream social media moment.

Holden: And then there was DJ Khaled.

Me: DJ-fucking-Khaled. This guy.

In 2018, DJ Khaled told New York radio show The Breakfast Club he doesn’t go down on his wife because he is “king.” “I believe a woman should praise the man, you know, the king,” he said, presumably sometime between getting lost on a jet ski in the ocean and yelling “ANOTHER ONE.”

“If you holding it down for your woman I feel like the woman should praise. And a man should praise the queen. But you know, my way of praising is [like] ‘How was dinner?’ ‘You like the house you living in? ‘You like all them clothes you getting?’ I’m taking care of your family… You know, I’m putting in the work.” He then goes on to say that there are “different rules for men and women,” a statement which, well, didn’t go over great.

Again, the internet went off. But the absolute best reaction, in my opinion, is when Smash Mouth (Smash Mouth, you guys) slammed him on Twitter:

And with that, the nail in the coffin of cunnilingus refusal was hammered in. Now, the only places we see men refusing to give head to women are Quora and Reddit

Holden: So, here we are in 2019. It’s pretty uncommon for men to not be into eating pussy — it’s really like, one percent of guys. You’ll notice that when anyone comes out and says they don’t do it in public, they get railed. But, in the rare event that does happen now, it just gives men this excuse to flaunt their own sexual prowess. Remember how many guys were like, “Ayy, Khaled’s wife can come see me?” It just takes one guy to say he doesn’t like doing it for all these self-congratulatory men to come out of the woodwork offering to rescue women from their horrible, pussy phobic-men. But I guess that’s better than not doing it at all.

I’m happy to report eating pussy has become this super basic, vanilla thing, and that we’ve really moved on from the taboo it used to have. Finally, we can move on to the real topic at hand: eating ass.