Looking back, I can’t say exactly what gave me the impression that getting eaten out was going to be the best thing that ever happened to me.
Maybe it was Family Life class at my high school, where first I learned that female sexual pleasure doesn’t necessarily come from penetration. Maybe it was some article in Cosmo, or maybe it was that classic “I’m Coming!” scene in American Pie.
Whatever it was, I arrived at college convinced of two things: Ayn Rand’s genius and the transformative powers of cunnilingus. Neither was a belief I had tested in practice, but enough smart and enthusiastic people endorsed them that I took them both on faith.
Alas, neither one panned out for me. Within a week of freshman orientation, I discovered what has proven to be life’s key disappointments so far: When people go down on me, nothing happens. Nothing. No matter how skilled the practitioner, no matter how ardent my passion, I just don’t find it pleasurable.
For me, cunnilingus is sort of like the cherry tomatoes that appear in those house salads at pizza places: flavorless, with a texture that ranges from wilted and slippery to adamant and cold. Occasionally, I’m surprised by one that’s well-handled and in season, but even then…let’s face it, I’m only biding my time until the damn pizza arrives.
From my friends and the media, I get the impression that I’m in a minority. Most women do like cunnilingus, and yay for them. But how the hell was I ever tricked into believing that all women love it? And why were all of the men I slept with between ages 18 and 23 convinced of that as well?
In my single years, there were times when I honestly wanted to cry from the frustration of delivering the same lines over and over: No, I did not enjoy being eaten out. No, it was not because I’d never been with someone “good at it.” No, it was definitely not because I needed to “relax.”
Yes, we could absolutely go down on me if you found it pleasurable, but no, if you were just saying you found it pleasurable so you could get down there and prove it had all been a misunderstanding between me and my pussy, you were in for a disappointment.
It turns out that I’m not the only person I know who’s “meh” on oral sex. My friend Violet,* 27, has had similar experiences.
“Cunnilingus turned out to be a major letdown,” she wrote to me in an email. “Literature offered such tantalizing perspectives on the subject... I keep hoping I just haven't found a sufficiently adept partner, but I fear this may not be the case. At least I like cuddling (insert ironic, embittered smiley emoticon)!”
Twenty-seven-year old Mary also knew what I was talking about. “I never flat-out told partners that I didn’t enjoy oral sex, but the alacrity with which I suggested we switch positions must have been obvious, right?”
She continued, “When partners did catch on that I really just wasn’t into oral…there was definitely a lot of ‘But I have been really successful using this method with other women’ and ‘You just need to relax.’”
Unlike me and Violet, Mary has had an orgasm from oral sex…once. “I have been sexually active with about 30 partners over 8 years. In that entire span, I have only had an orgasm from oral sex…from one person, and on only one occasion during many sessions of oral sex with that one person. I am here to tell you that this how fetishes are born: it was fucking incredible.”
I’m jealous. I haven’t given up hope that someday, I’ll get to experience what Mary did. But I have my doubts.
Oral sex isn’t the only sexual letdown my friends and I have commiserated about over the years. Here are some other things we all thought Women Were Supposed To Like when we were teenagers: foreplay, candlelight, pillow talk, romance novels, vibrators. Some of us turned out to like those things. Many, however, find them about as interesting as low-sodium rice cakes.
And then there’s “porn for women,” the biggest crock of shit of them all. “Seriously, who likes ‘female’ porn?” Says my friend Olivia, 26.
I remember that when I was a freshman in college, my friend Lynn went to Toys in Babeland and bought a DVD called something like “The Magic Blanket.” Billed as girl-friendly porn, it told the story of a special blanket that -- if used in bed, or on a picnic -- held the power to “enhance intimacy” for anyone touching it.
When Lynn got back to the dorm, she invited me and a bunch of our friends to watch it together. Ninety of the most boring minutes of our lives later, it was finally over.
Lynn popped “The Magic Blanket” out of her computer. “Toys in Babeland doesn’t allow returns unless the merchandise is defective,” she said, frantically scratching at the back of the DVD with her fingernails. “Too -- bad -- this one -- was defective!”
To those of us who had the good fortune to grow up with comprehensive sexual education, you’d think the following would come as no surprise: Sexual preferences vary, and they can be vastly different. Yet I and so many of my peers, male and female, entered adulthood under a different impression, and found ourselves baffled when we didn’t like what we thought we were supposed to.
I for one didn’t always tell my partners that oral sex wasn’t my thing. I was embarrassed to have sexual preferences that I’d internalized as being male: boredom with lengthy communication; desire to go straight to the main event. I felt like a freak. And so I wasted a lot of time pretending to like what I didn’t.
Eventually, through experience and a lot of late-night drunken oversharing, I and all of my friends have managed to become comfortable in our skins. It turned out that some of us could only come from manual stimulation. Some of us could only come by touching ourselves in front of a partner; some of us couldn’t come at all.
Now that we’re in our late twenties, we all realize that these things are exceedingly normal. But it took us -- and our boyfriends -- almost a decade to know that for sure.
I wish I could go back and shout at my high school sex ed teacher, at all the teen movies I watched, and at all the women’s magazines I read -- even the progressive ones. (Hell, I even wish I could shout at that novel "The Time Traveler’s Wife," which cemented my certainty that I was somehow missing out on really, truly great oral sex.)
I’m so glad they gave me as much information as they did. I was never mistaken about how to avoid pregnancy or disease.
Nevertheless, I feel like my education came from too many well-meaning Baby Boomers who -- in their effort to give positive PR to certain once-taboo practices -- went way over the top in their praise.
Sure, cunnilingus might not have been as widespread a practice 50 years ago than it was today, and it’s great that more men are willing to give women’s pleasure the old college try.
But that doesn’t mean “women’s pleasure” is a unified thing that exists.
*Names have been changed