Sex & Relationships

It’s Time to End Oral Sex Inequality: Why Women Should Get Head, Too

Most women have about one-third the number of orgasms men enjoy. Something’s not adding up—or rather, certain someones aren’t going down.

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If you are a lesbian with a sexually satisfied partner, thank you for the visit, but you are free to go elsewhere. There’s probably not much you can gain from this article that you don’t already know. As one woman explains, “When two women bump junk, the chance of oral sex being involved is high.” A study published by the Journal of Sexual Medicine found that lesbian women are significantly more likely to experience orgasm than their heterosexual counterparts.

That can be teased out in a few different ways. Lesbian women are members of a lucky minority that get to ditch gender expectations of pleasure and performance often associated with traditional intercourse. They’re also incredibly well-versed in the female body and its orgasmic intricacies. My guess is that most of them are unsurprised by the fact that nearly 70 percent of women require direct clitoral stimulation to orgasm, and it seems likely that many look to the tongue as a useful means of delivering it.  

Back in 2014, vlogger Arielle Scarcella decided to ask 500 of her straight-identifying female viewers and 500 lesbian viewers whether they preferred oral sex to penetration. Fifty-five percent of straight women preferred penetration. Just 25 percent of lesbian viewers agreed. In her analysis, Scarcella says, “Straight women are very uncomfortable with the idea of receiving sexual pleasure without giving it at the same time.”

According to the Kinsey Institute, heterosexual women are more likely to be nearly always or always orgasmic when alone than with a partner. When in a partnered environment, women seem much more likely to orgasm when they engage in a variety of sex acts, like oral sex. Men, on the other hand, don’t typically have a problem achieving orgasm through penetrative sex alone. When we apply that information to the fact that the average American woman has about one orgasm for every three a man experiences, it seems like something’s not adding up. Or rather, that certain someones aren’t going down.

Like most terrible trends, we might trace this one back to our formative years. In a study of 71 young adults aged 16-18, researchers found that women were more likely than men to perform oral sex on their partners, even if they didn’t want to. Both male and female subjects said it was a “bigger deal” for men to perform oral sex than it was for women. They said it was “easier” for men to receive oral sex than women. They also noted that cunnilingus was more “distasteful” than fellatio. Given the fact that most sex education focuses on pregnancy and periods in place of pleasure, that doesn’t seem totally surprising. 

In Peggy Orenstein’s book Girls & Sex: Navigating the Complicated New Landscape, she cites a study of high schoolers that claims the number one reason girls partake in oral sex is to improve their relationships. The research team found that “girls thought of fellatio kind of like homework: a chore to get done, a skill to master, one on which they expected to be evaluated, possibly publicly... Although they took satisfaction in a task well done, the pleasure they described was never physical and never located in their own bodies.” She notes that the girls seemed socialized to see themselves as “learners not yearners” in the context of sexual encounters.

But why?

Orenstein discusses the rise of the word vagina as a sort of punchline. “Snarky references to women’s nethers are the new fag,” she writes. “A way to denigrate masculinity, to ridicule or dominate an opponent… The implication is that everyone shares a secret distaste toward a lady’s parts, or at least a sense that the word vagina itself is a goof.”

She’s right to assert that society hasn’t always held a soft spot for vaginas. While little boys are free to roam around pointing to their “pee-pees,” no such word exists for the prepubescent vagina. As Orenstein once told AlterNet, “There’s nothing between the navel and the knees.” In her book she writes, “Leaving something unnamed makes it quite literally unspeakable.” Maybe one day, we’ll follow in the footsteps of the Swedes, who introduced the word “snippa” to the official dictionary of the Swedish language back in 2006. But for now, baby girls born stateside will have to do without. 

Growing up, the conversation doesn’t seem to get any easier. Tween heartthrob Robert Pattinson didn’t think twice about throwing the snatch under the bus when he told Details magazine, “I really hate vaginas. I’m allergic to vagina.” And the web is a welcome home to more vaginal hostilities. Just take a look at a Vice article in which the author describes the vulva as “a wound in an otherwise perfect whole.” It’s hard for those on the cusp of sexual maturity not to take that to heart. Hell, it’s hard for those of us well into our sexual maturity not to get a little down about that. It never feels good to be identified as the source of someone else’s disgust. Even worse is when that attitude is internalized and self-applied.

Of course, no one should be coerced into performing a sexual act they aren’t comfortable with. Those who find the vulva so nightmarish (a word borrowed from the Vice article), are free to stay away from them. But we need to remind girls that reciprocity is a big part of sex. If guys aren’t willing to deliver the orgasms they deserve through one of the most reliable means possible, maybe it’s time to examine the blind impulse to do the same for them.

Talk of oral equality won’t find its way to the tip of every tongue, but those who feel compelled to sweep it under the rug might think about the significance of the female sexual experience, and how overlooking it can play into the dangerous tendency to treat womankind as a symptom of man.  

Carrie Weisman is a writer focusing on sex, relationships and culture.