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Oral History

Image by Isabella Jusková via Unsplash

We humans have always licked each other's genitals. It's our attitude about oral sex which has changed over the centuries.

The first time I saw an illustration of a man’s face between the legs of a naked woman I was eleven years old and had just discovered The Joy of Sex in my parent’s bedroom closet. My shock and horror were so great, I considered, briefly, that adulthood was an abomination and corruption of the species. I was loathe to become one. What goes on in our brains over time and experience to render fellatio and cunnilingus from disgusting to delightful is a mystery to me. What I do know is that oral sex continues to grow in my estimation and I’d now rather wrap my lips around a man than indulge in the world’s best chocolate. Combine the two and I completely lose the notion that life is anything less than extraordinary.

Humans really have been licking each other forever. One of the first graphic examples of oral sex, which you can find (through persistence) depicted on papyrus inside the British Museum in London, is the myth of Egyptian gods Osiris and Isis, incestuous siblings though they were. After the politically successful Osiris was hacked and scattered by his jealous brother, distraught Isis reassembled his parts minus his missing penis (which had been thrown into the Nile and eaten by the oxyrhynchus fish, which is why this fish was forbidden food in ancient Egypt.). She made a new cock for him out of clay. (Which begs the question, if you could reconstruct your lover’s penis what would that look like? Did she make it bigger? I might add a dorsal fin-like G-spot stimulator.) Then, for some unexplained reason, Isis ‘blew’ his penis in order to bring Osiris back to life. Why, I ask, was life restored through the penis? The mouth seems more logical. Makes me suspicious that cock blowing was something the myth-makers thought up as they sat around scratching their balls wondering how to incorporate fellatio into the aspirational lives of common women.

Both fellatio (from the Latin fellare ‘to suck’) and cunnilingus (from cunna ‘vulva’ + lingere ‘lick’) are prolifically depicted in art and literature across cultures. The baths in Pompeii were bedecked with couples in erotic positions, including the ‘69’, and prostitutes specializing in oral pleasure were advertised there. The Kama Sutra, oldest surviving Hindu text on erotic love, devoted an entire chapter to Auparishtaka, otherwise known as “mouth/oral congress” Thank goodness that text made its way around the world.

Sadly, when Rome collapsed, and the early Christian church began coming up with their own code of conduct, oral sex was deemed “the worst evil”, punishable by seven years of penance and fasting. Murder (murder!) only got you one year. This church-imposed distaste for tasting of the flesh lasted for what can only be considered a god-awful amount of time. By the 19th Century, however, the practice began emerging from the underground of subversive activities and our sexual lexicon saw the advent of ‘hornsmoking’ and ‘pearl diving’ among the many terms to emerge describing oral sex. (Visit here to engage with the astounding interactive timeline of intercourse and oral sex descriptors through the millennia.)

But is oral sex a proclivity only of humans? While a lot of animals lick their own genitals (wouldn’t you if you could?) there are few that lick the genitals of another. One exception is the female short-nosed fruit bat, observed licking the male penis during intercourse. Scientists have deduced that lickers increase the time of copulation compared to non-lickers. Meaning she likes it? Of course she likes it. Keep going, darling. Here’s the video footage.

A few male bears in captivity have been seen engaging in fellatio from a young age, though this hasn’t been observed in the wild. Researchers speculate it’s because the bears became bored locked up in a cage. I speculate it’s because no one ever told them it was bad. But really, do we go down on each other because we’re bored? It does mix things up.  But more importantly, our relative safety within organized society, and the fact that most of us aren’t constantly on guard for predators or foraging for enough food to survive, has resulted in prolonged and varied lovemaking not available to other species . And surely, once it got around the village that licking a woman’s clit (or sucking his dick) made everyone really, really happy (for awhile at least), that, in a sense, sealed the deal.

A few men have told me of lovers who felt too self conscious to enjoy oral sex. I can only assume this means a fear she might not taste good, smell good, or want a man to get a visual close up of her decidedly not-porn star labia. I once felt self-conscious of the appearance of my genitals – until I started giving pelvic exams as a medical practitioner and realised no one normal looks like a porn star. I also Googled ‘large labia porn’ and discovered, hey, I could be a porn star. Most men I’ve come across (and with) lovelovelove licking pussy and prefer an oyster to a clam. I let them have all they want. And if I’m not receiving the oral adoration I desire, I talk about it with my partner (and how he might agree to being equally neglected). One man told me that his partner’s distaste of oral sex was hugely disappointing to him and contributed to an eventual withering of their relationship. I’m not suggesting anyone do something they don’t want to do sexually, I’m just saying, a mismatch of this proportion could mean relationship ruin.

Some of my favorite books on oral sex are by the adorable Ian Kerner, PhD, who has written, She Comes First, Passionista, and He Comes Next. After I read 'Passionista' I experienced a verifiable uptick in the apparent pleasure a man experienced when his dick was in congress with my mouth. My unexpected discovery was that the more he was turned on the more I got turned on. I have no doubt that’s what most men feel as well when they are between our legs.

At our worst, humans are nothing but glorified animals, motivated by our single minded will to survive, procreate, and outdo the competition. But at our best, we are constantly tweaking the experience of existence and the pleasure therein. We create glorious food, soul searing art and literature, and seek new vistas of bodily experience. The brain’s connection to our mouths is what produces language and communication. Brain to mouth to genitals is an extension of that very human act of intimacy that may, on occasion, be replicated in the wild by other mammals. But to me it’s a uniquely human act of worship. We are prostrate, focused and, perhaps, allowing the spirit of Eros to possess us. You may never feel as though oral sex is an opportunity for transcendence, as either the giver or receiver. But then, you may be missing out.

Love, Karin

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