The great oral sex debate: am I alone in thinking oral sex is not proper sex?
The State of Virginia plans to make oral sex illegal for teens, but those same teens can still legally have vaginal sex. Rebecca Holman asks if that’s the right way around
Have you heard? They’re planning to ban oral sex in America. OK, slight exaggeration; what’s actually happening is some lawmakers in the State of Virginia want to make oral sex illegal for teens aged 15-17, although it’s still legal for two teens aged between 15-17 to have vaginal sex with each other.
This means that if the law is passed, it will be a criminal act for an adult to give or receive oral sex with someone aged 15-17, yet it’s only a misdemeanour to have vaginal sex with a 15-17 year old. So, essentially, blowjobs will become more illegal than sex. But that’s not the right way round is it?
I find this confusing because as a teenager, ‘sex sex’ was much worse than oral sex in the ‘bad things you shouldn’t do but probably will’ stakes. A blow job was the thing you did before sex – the middle ground between a lengthy snog with someone you slightly hate and actual, proper sex with someone you love so much your 16-year-old heart feels like it will explode.
I’ve always looked back quite fondly on me and my friends’ teenage obsession with oral sex (75 per cent of which was talking about it in great depth).
Somehow, it’s become a nostalgia thing, like that red hair paint you used to be able to buy from Miss Selfridge and those tiny backpacks we coveted.
So, two questions: If you ban oral sex, what else will these teenagers do with their time? Set fire to bins? Do poppers? Shoot things with air rifles? HAVE ‘ACTUAL’ SEX? All of the above?
Second question: I just referred to vaginal sex as ‘actual’ sex, because I don’t view blowjobs as ‘actual’ sex, they’re just something you do before you have proper sex, or a sex consolation prize if you don’t get that far. Not that special, and NBD (no big deal).
Am I alone here? Am I wrong? Probably, but bear with me…
An unofficial straw poll of 10 female friends, all British, revealed a fairly similar attitude. Almost everyone saw oral sex as a second-best alternative to sex, but not as good. And with a couple of exceptions, our teenage obsession with them had waned. Not that important, and certainly NBD.
British Sex Therapist Tracey Cox agrees that this is quite a British view: “Americans appear to be more squeamish about it. The French attitude is healthier. Brits tend to think of oral sex as second prize. It’s not seen as ‘real sex’ but something you do before intercourse or as a consolation prize. Eighteen to 25 year-olds see it as something casual, often what they’ll offer up if they don’t want to have full sex with a guy.”
Cox thinks this attitude to oral sex is ‘silly’ and she could well be onto something here. The French, in contrast, tend to view oral sex as just as important and intimate as full sex, if not more so, which sounds like a far more evolved and mature an attitude than ours (man, I wish I was French).
But what I find most interesting is the American attitude, which seems to sit in a fraught place somewhere between the British ‘consolation prize’ position and the French point of view. For one thing, it’s big business. According to sex therapist Ava Cadell, American women take oral sex seriously.
“American women view blowjobs as a form of male dominance, which makes them feel sexually empowered,” she says. “That’s why so many American women take courses on oral sex and buy instructional videos to give them the edge.”
As someone who attended an oral sex class in London last year, I can confirm that British women I was with didn’t take their skills in the oral sex department all that seriously. Apart from one Scandinavian woman who was studiously taking notes, most of the class was more interested in tucking into the free champagne than improving their techniques – it was definitely a ‘fun thing to do after work’ rather than a serious attempt on anyone’s part to ‘get an edge’ in the sack.
So, on one hand, oral sex is seen as a way of exerting female dominance, something you should work on, and become good at. On the other hand, parts of America are hugely religious and conservative, with a booming abstinence-only sex education programme – which counter intuitively, seems to encourage a rather erm…British attitude to oral sex.
Leah Jones is 28 and lives in Florida. She was raised a Mormon in Wyoming, and was part of the abstinence-only movement as a teenager. For her, oral sex presented a tantalising loophole in the rules. “Those who promised to save themselves were often the first to do anything but. Blowjobs are a way around those [abstinence] rules because, technically, you’re still a virgin.”
But where do you stand if you weren’t bought up a Mormon? Molly, 32, grew up in New York, where she still lives with her husband and admits that even as a teenager, oral sex seemed far more intimate than vaginal sex.
“Some girls did it at school with a few different guys, but it always seemed like a really skanky thing to do,” she says. “If you gave a guy head before you slept with him, you were that sort of girl. That attitude to it has never really gone away, and I’m certainly no prude. I had sex with my now-husband after a couple of weeks, but the thought of having oral sex with him before we’d slept together would have been strange – it’s way more intimate.”