(sex)uality: on your knees
There is a ranking that occurs when you’re a feminist thinking of sexual acts – those that are ‘empowering’ and those that could be considered ‘demeaning’.
Within the confines of heterosexual sex, there has been a long held notion of dominance and submission as being gendered, usually as male and female respectively. This is somewhat related to the idea of sexual pleasure as being primarily the domain of men, something I think we can all agree is bullshit, and is a result of centuries of thinking of sex as something men want and women begrudgingly permit.
Since we’re all hip, modern women (and men) who exist in the real world, let’s just agree that sex can be fun for both genders, that sexual choice is incredibly important, that consent is paramount, and that everyone has a right to engage in consensual sex in whatever way is pleasurable to them, be it ‘feminist’ or not.
That said, there are some issues that never cease to be debated in feminist circles, and the act of oral sex is one of them. When I talk about ‘oral sex’ here, I’ll be specifically referring to oral sex performed by a woman, on a man.
A lot has been written about whether or not blow jobs can be considered ‘feminist’, if they’re ultimately ‘demeaning’ and whether they can be enjoyable for women. Most contemporary feminists will take the liberal feminist line of ‘whatever makes you comfortable, so long as it’s within a consensual, respectful environment’.
Ultimately, I agree with this, but I also don’t think that we should be so quick to jump to the ‘it’s your choice’ argument without even examining why blow jobs could be considered demeaning in the first place. There are some obvious aspects of oral sex as an act that could be considered submissive, or unequal in terms of power – the fact that often blow jobs are administered by a woman on her knees in front of a man, or that they can trigger the gag reflex and cause discomfort, or that in a purely physical sense, the person administering the blow job is often not being pleasured during, can all be considered as potentially unequal aspects of the act.
To deny that there are elements of blow jobs that create a potential power structure within the act would be to fall into the trap of ‘90s grrl power feminism – admitting that something could be sexist doesn’t mean that it is sexist for everyone.
Whilst I can acknowledge the potentially problematic aspects of blow jobs, personally I really enjoy giving them. That’s right – I enjoy giving blow jobs. Me, a woman. Are you shocked? Confused? Surprised? I’m going to guess ‘no’, because in today’s culture of sexual freedom and expression, it’s hardly surprising to learn that many women enjoy the act of giving head, for any number of reasons.
I’ve spoken to a range of women about this, most of whom consider themselves strong feminists. The responses I have gotten are varied, but for the most part positive – a lot of the girls I know also enjoy giving blow jobs, but within the confines of certain conditions.
Most of them are concerned about maintaining safe sex boundaries when giving head, and all of them agreed that depending on who it is with and what the circumstance is, blow jobs can be more or less fun.
A couple truly hate giving head, and cite any number of reasons, including not liking the taste, not liking the way it makes them feel generally, having sensitive gag reflexes, and more. Some just find the concept kind of gross, and others feel it places them in a vulnerable position. One girlfriend told me she feels objectified when she gives head, as though she is only important as an orifice, as a way of delivering pleasure.
I maintain that whilst I can enjoy giving head, whether or not the act is demeaning is very dependent on the circumstances. The nature of oral sex is inherently invasive to an extent. You’re taking a large, foreign object into your mouth – it’s big (or not, whatever..), it can cause you to gag, it tastes different, and it hinders your ability to say ‘no’. Giving head places you in a vulnerable position in one sense.
At the same time though, it can be incredibly empowering – you’re in charge of someone else’s pleasure in a really tangible way. You can alter the way they feel with the movements of your mouth, you can guide them in a way that is less possible during intercourse, you can run the show how you like.
Whether it is empowering or demeaning is entirely dependent on the situation, the relationship between you and your sexual partner, and how it plays out as an act. I have been in situations where giving head is demeaning, insulting, and really upsetting. I’ve also been in situations where it’s fun, empowering, really sexy and a lot of fun.
I know it’s easy to come back to the ‘whatever makes you happy’ argument, but I doubt that the problematic aspects of oral sex will ever truly be ironed out. I believe all aspects of sex are incredibly complex, and it is impossible to generalise about sexuality without missing out on huge chunks of human experience.
But ultimately, I think blow jobs are only sexist if we make them so.
Image Credit : epSos.de