cn: Non-graphic references to oral sex
Many asexuals don’t want sex of any sort. However, if you listen to asexual and ace-adjacent experiences, you find a pretty wide range of stories, from people who don’t like to even think about sex, to people who are basically okay with it. You also have stories of people who like certain aspects of sex and dislike others. For instance, some people only like to “give” oral sex, and other people only like to “receive” it.
This is not just an ace thing. Historically, “stone butch” has been used to describe masculine lesbians who don’t want to receive sexual touch. Of course, this leaves out people who want to receive (sexual) touch but not give (sexual) touch. I know of two terms that have been coined to fill the void: “stone femme“, and “paper“. In this post, I will use “paper” because it doesn’t say anything about the gender, orientation, or gender expression of the person.
In sex-positive feminism, people who don’t like to give oral sex are frequently the object of derision, and moral approbation. Recently, fellow FTBlogger Giliell provided an excellent example of both.
Giliell begins by quoting a pair of tweets, illustrating a supposedly common twitter interaction.
Dude: “eating pussy too submissive for me it feel gay”
Woman: “I’m fascinated at this trend of dudes admitting on social media how bad they are at sex.”
Giliell goes on to speculate about the dude being sexually abusive.
I think we all need to take a moment to laugh at the dude before we move on. He’s basically saying “Isn’t it gay to have sex with women?” It’s a homophobic non sequitur. I have no intention of defending the guy.
But let me ask, why are we always looking at examples like these? That is, homophobic or misogynistic straight dudes who don’t like giving oral sex? Where are the sympathetic narratives of non-homophobic non-mysognistic “paper” folks? Or for that matter, the folks who actively prefer partners who will not give oral sex? By only highlighting the unsympathetic narratives, people come to believe that sympathetic narratives are impossible. Giliell states this belief explicitly:
usually the Venn diagram of straight dudes not giving oral sex and dudes seeing it as her duty to perform oral sex is a circle.
Granted, homophobic and misogynistic dudes are pretty vocal. Dudes with greater social awareness probably keep silent because they realize they will be shamed for saying out loud that they don’t like giving oral sex. So it’s only natural that most feminists are only aware of the former dudes, and not aware of the latter dudes. That’s the power of selection bias.
If you were previously unaware of sympathetic paper narratives, then hooray, you have learned something today! Your worldview is no longer at the mercy of Twitter’s algorithm. Go forth, and end your complicity in the silencing of certain sexual desires.
For those reading on, let’s dig deeper, because this shit has layers.
cn: Discussion of consent and rape in next two paragraphs
There’s something genuinely disturbing in the way people think about “giving” and “receiving” in sex. People who only want to “receive” are thought of as selfish, people who only want to “give” are not thought of at all. The underlying narrative, it seems, is that (two-person) sex consists of two parts: a part that the first partner enjoys and second partner tolerates, and a part that the second partner enjoys and the first partner tolerates. This clashes with the common understanding of enthusiastic consent.* If a person must be enthusiastic about sex to consent, and if consent can be withdrawn at any time during sex, then doesn’t this whole sexual narrative imply non-consent?
More to the point, if a dude says he doesn’t like giving oral sex, shouldn’t we give allowance to that preference, regardless of where it comes from? To do otherwise is to participate in rape culture. If a dude doesn’t like the kind of sex you like, then don’t pressure the dude into sex he doesn’t want, just… don’t have sex with him.
An alternative narrative that I advocate, is the idea of mirroring one’s partner’s pleasure. Many people experience pleasure at the thought that their partner is experiencing pleasure. One possible consequence is that giving oral sex is in itself pleasurable. Other people do not mirror their partner’s pleasure. They may like that their partner is experiencing pleasure, but it doesn’t always produce a pleasurable emotional response. To state the obvious, some people have different emotional responses to sex, and that is okay.
And how about the idea that a dude who doesn’t give oral sex is necessarily bad at sex? You know, some people want that. They don’t like receiving oral sex. “Stone butch” is a term that has been extant for decades, and I see no reason why such desires would be confined to lesbians. One friend said about their experience:
If I happened to question that and say hey, not all women want [to receive oral], I certainly don’t like it… then the usual response would be “then your partner must have been bad at it.” I hate when people do that.
So when we say that people who don’t like giving oral sex are bad at sex, not only is that demeaning to people’s partners, it’s also expressing disbelief that anybody could genuinely not want to receive oral sex.
Even granting that the dude is bad at sex… The way I see it, being bad at sex is like being bad a drawing. Yes it would be nice to be better at drawing but it’s hardly a moral requirement. You know what makes fun of men for being bad at sex? Toxic masculinity! Toxic masculinity is all about boasting of one’s own sexual prowess, and mocking the sexual prowess of other men. Frankly, toxic masculinity deserves no place in the feminist response to sexist dudes on Twitter.
*I am on record as opposing the enthusiastic consent model, and this very subject illustrates one of the reasons why. People who say consensual sex must be enthusiastic are suffering from a failure of imagination. Not only are we forgetting people with always-unenthusiastic personalities (like myself), we’re also forgetting the ways people can be less enthusiastic about individual sex acts but enjoy them as part of a package. (return)