Subverting the Oral-Sex Double Standard: Have We Gone (Down) Too Far?

Subverting the Oral-Sex Double Standard: Have We Gone (Down) Too Far?

Prompted by (what else?) a recent “Cosmo” article correlating boyfriend quality and cunnilingus ability, an exploration of the rhetoric surrounding sex-positivity.

Culture x
Subverting the Oral-Sex Double Standard: Have We Gone (Down) Too Far?

Prompted by (what else?) a recent “Cosmo” article correlating boyfriend quality and cunnilingus ability, an exploration of the rhetoric surrounding sex-positivity.

In a recent article, “Cosmopolitan” outlined “15 Ways to Be a Good Boyfriend in 2017.”

A similarly-titled article from a simpler time would’ve promised a standard “Cosmo” listicle of “hot new sex positions” and “fun date ideas.”  In the lazy, hazy early aughts, the mention of a specific year would have been relatively unimportant, as the only difference between being a good boyfriend in 2010 and 2015 would have been some mention of the phrase “Netflix and chill,” hopefully a caution against it.

The second half of the decade is a different time, however, and 2016 was quick to pass along its infamy to its successor. In the wake of a year that epitomized cataclysmic political controversy, a titular mention of “2017” in any publication today promises to be politically charged, even if you’re talking about blowjobs.

In 2017, “Cosmo” readers want their sex tips with a side of politics, and the magazine’s latest boyfriend how-to guide was quick to deliver. Touching on everything from birth control to Trump’s Twitter, the article made sure to cover the real issues, or at least the ones that lent themselves best to the magazine’s signature brand of pop-feminism.

As someone who likes to keep politics out of the bedroom, or, at least out of my guilty-pleasure reading, I tend to find the increased devotion of “Cosmo” to political awareness an unnecessary addition to my hair salon’s magazine subscriptions. This time, however, it wasn’t the article’s critique of rape culture in professional sports, or the heavy-handed suggestion that men “read and watch more things by women and POC,” or even the snide attack on boat shoes (I happen to love a man in boat shoes, “Cosmo”) that caused me to raise an eyebrow. Rather, it was number 9’s comparatively apolitical suggestion that men “get better at oral sex.”

While seemingly a return to a simpler time when the magazine’s relationship advice was less about politics and more about good old-fashioned sex, the article’s approach to the timeless oral-sex double standard carried heavy feminist undertones, in all the wrong ways. In trying to subvert one gender-biased double standard, “Cosmo” ends up simply swapping it for another. Point in case: If a men’s lifestyle magazine were to issue a list of “Ways to Be a Good Girlfriend” that included the suggestion that women “get better at sucking dick,” it would no doubt be met with a fierce, and well-deserved feminist backlash.

In the age of the sex-positivity movement, empowerment between the sheets is all about agency, communication and consent. In 2017, the very suggestion that any woman be judged by her performance of a particular sex act would be condemned as sexist, violating and offensive. Feminist rhetoric, however, does not prioritize extending this same judgment-free spirit of sexual agency and empowerment to men.

This tendency within “Cosmo” and similar publications to fall into paradox and reverse-discrimination not only exposes the all-too-frequent inconsistencies lurking within modern feminist rhetoric, but also highlights the danger this kind of pop-feminism poses to the feminist movement as a whole. While many readers may applaud these publications for integrating feminist activism into everyday culture, this kind of casual feminism has the tendency to result in inconsistent and problematic material that risks undermining the very movement it seeks to promote.

Doubling the Double Standard

“Cosmo” isn’t the first to mishandle the oral-sex double standard, of course. A stereotype almost as well known as the orgasm gap, research suggests that most girls do seem to come into the world, or at least into sexual maturity, with some preconceived notion that they will be giving more often than receiving when it comes to oral.

Responses to the issue, however, are inclined to feminist overreach, which only further complicates the problem and pushes feminism into many of the rhetorical pitfalls its critics often accuse it of promoting at the outset. Tackling the oral-sex double standard often leads to a slippery slope that pits feminism against the sex-positive movement, inadvertently establishing a narrative that praises women for taking control and setting boundaries within their sex lives, but criticizes men for taking the same initiative.

With articles like “18 Reasons Not to Give Him a Blowjob” subtitled simply, “because you’re not obligated” published alongside the same pieces that equate a “good boyfriend” with virtuoso cunnilingus, it’s hard not to notice a double standard growing out of the very attempts to combat the original one.

Taking an even less subtle approach, a 2015 “Mic” article titled “Men, Get Over Yourselves and Go Down on Your Girlfriends Already, Geez,” suggests that—you guessed it—men who choose not to perform oral sex on their partners need to get over themselves, geez. Time and again, feminist responses to the oral-sex double standard overreach into hypocritical territory, ultimately reinforcing a new problematic narrative in which women who decline to perform oral sex are empowered, while men who do the same are selfish at best, and sexist at worst.

Fuckboy Shaming

The feminist tendency to trend hypocritical isn’t just about blowjobs.

The same double standards creep up around issues like slut-shaming as well. While feminism seeks to combat the historical double standard of rewarding male promiscuity while shaming the same behavior in women, disparaging terms like “fuckboy” are getting tossed around nearly as often as dreaded slurs like “whore” and “slut.”

While calling someone a fuckboy may seem like it’s all in good social-media-slang fun, the bottom line is, if disparaging terms for promiscuity aimed at one gender are offensive, then that mentality has to be extended both ways for feminism to truly maintain a platform of equality.

Inconsistencies like these exemplify precisely the kind of poorly executed feminism that leads many individuals, including women, to find the movement alienating.

One of the most common critiques of feminism, the one infamously raised by a 2012 Taylor Swift, is the concern that the movement pits men and women against each other, to which polished feminist rhetoric readily responds, “Feminism is about equality.” In fact, “15 Ways to Be a Good Boyfriend” itself parrots the same practiced feminist mantra:

“Feminism is the belief that women should be equal, feminism is the belief that women should be equal, feminism is the belief that women sh— OK, but for real, how hard is this concept to grasp?”

Sounds simple. But the equality platform is indeed a harder concept to grasp when the same publications responsible for promoting it are doing so alongside articles like “Do You Date Fuckboys or Softboys?” that unabashedly reduce men to their own archaic Madonna-whore binary.

In its ideal form, feminism is a flawless system. However, perfectly executed feminism is hard to come by, and the recent emphasis on feminist activism in all forms of media often does more harm than good. This kind of pop-feminism has the tendency to overreach and fall prey to rhetorical fallacies that only serve to undermine the true feminist message.

The bottom line here is, feminism has bigger fish to fry these days, so if you want to give your boyfriend head, do it. If you want him to give you head, ask him to. If someone isn’t getting something they need sexually from a relationship, that’s probably something they can work out without pointing fingers at society. But, you should absolutely buy your man some boat shoes.

Writer Profile

Kayla Kibbe

Connecticut College

Leave a Reply