Give and take: Preferences in sex

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)


  1. sonofrojblake says

    “toxic masculinity deserves no place in the feminist response to sexist dudes on Twitter.”

    But… how are they meant to police the behaviour of others if they can’t ridicule and shame them?

  2. lumipuna says

    My comment on that Affinity post tried to address the possibility that women might not always be interested in cunnilingus. Then again, I agreed that it’s a bit beside the point of Giliell’s post.

  3. says

    This is only personal observation of experience, not all-encompassing, but generally speaking the ones who are bad at sex are those only interested in their own pleasure, not the other person’s or people’s. When people put the focus on the other’s (s’) enjoyment, it becomes biofeedback, a viruous circle.

    The term “stone butch” is new to me, but I have met a few gay men over the years who were front only – they had zero interest in back door play, regardless of who was “giver” or “receiver” (to quote go@t$e).

  4. says

    1. It’s Giliell. It’s a common courtesy to spell people’s names correctly.
    2. It’s also thought to be polite to let fellow bloggers know if you want to write some sort of rebuttal of something they wrote.
    If I hadn’t clicked on the post out of interest, I wouldn’t have noticed that you’re accusing me, a fellow blogger on your network of supporting rape culture.
    Now, since you have decided to forego those common courtesies, I’ll have to question your good faith in the whole discussion.
    I know we disagreed on matters before, but this is a low one.
    I do have a lot of things to say, but I’ll save them for some honest discussion.

  5. says

    @Giliell, #3,
    Thank you for the spelling correction.

    I typically don’t feel it is necessary to inform everyone I ever talk about—for example, my previous post included brief commentary on three articles, none of whose authors I felt necessary to inform, even though two were ftbloggers. I will keep in mind your preference though.

    I have not said that you supported rape culture, although the reader may draw that conclusion and you are within your rights to take issue with that. From my perspective, it’s not about you. Some of my criticism may be construed as criticism of the anonymous tweeter you quoted, whom you were also disagreeing with.

  6. coyote says

    Good post, Siggy. I’m also in camp “there’s no sex act that anybody needs to consent to in order to prove their good morality,” and with the way these particular conversations about tend to go, it’s good that someone’s intervening to affirm that oral sex is no exception. Criticizing silly antigay rhetoric like that twitter post doesn’t need to call for throwing other people under the bus in the process. Thank you for writing all this out so that I have something handy to link if/when it comes up again.

  7. belowdesire says

    I do think there’s something worth criticizing in the attitude Giliell thinks she’s identified. I think what ought to be understood about criticisms like Giliell’s, though, is that they attempt to point out a hypocritical double standard, where the other standard is what the critics perceive as a prevalent expectation among men (who sleep with women) that their own sexual enjoyment is a mandatory (and the only mandatory) consideration in a sexual encounter, and that their female partners ought to be willing to engage in a wide range of sexual acts (including oral sex) that the men desire, even when those acts are undesired, unpleasant, or uncomfortable/painful to the women. Which I do think is a bad thing.

    Of course, it’s really only an assumption that these attitudes are (strongly) held by any specific man who announces his disinterest in eating pussy. But it does seem like a lot of women have encountered men who hold these attitudes, and I think that’s the context in which these criticisms are being made. Given that you’re using these criticisms as an entry point for discussing sexual preferences, I do wish you would’ve spared a sentence to explicitly affirm that women don’t have to give oral sex to men either.

    I’m not like 100% sure that the tweet being quoted isn’t a troll, but I think I’ve heard people cite similar claims among men (that going down on a woman is submissive or unmanly–which I think is part of the negative value being expressed through “gay”–and therefore something they won’t do), so I’ll believe such sentiments exist. This clearly reflects some patriarchal ideology, and I think functions to assert a superior patriarchal status over both women (for whom, I think we can assume, although it’s not mentioned in the tweet, it is natural and proper to be submissive) and other men deemed submissive, unmanly, and/or gay, including actual gay and bi men. I could certainly see how the sentiment–and the aversion it stokes to going down on women–could function to affirm & maintain the dynamic I describe above, although of course I don’t know the actual details of this guy’s relationships. If it were coupled with an insistence that she go down on him, it could reinforce the message that: it’s good/ok for women to be “submissive” to men, but men shouldn’t be “submissive” to women; only men get to be choosy about what sexual acts they perform; seeing an act as gross/unpleasant (which I’ve also heard as a reason men give for not going down on women) is an acceptable reason to pass on an act for him, but not for her; etc.

    The problem in this hypothetical scenario wouldn’t specifically be that he’s not performing this one particular act and “should” be–or that he’s failing to provide good sex, which doesn’t look one certain way and doesn’t always include any set combination of acts. (And yeah, the jab about the guy being bad at sex gets its sting in part from another patriarchal standard that men’s status vis-a-vis other men in measured through sexual prowess.) The problem would be the asymmetrical, sexist dynamic and attitude. (I’m not talking about the hypothetical guy who doesn’t like certain sexual acts, but also doesn’t act like he’s the only one allowed to have preferences, cause I don’t have a problem with that guy!) I also agree that nobody is responsible for performing unwanted sex acts in order to combat sexism or any other oppressive dynamic, but I don’t think that dynamic/attitude should be left unaddressed, or that addressing it is antithetical to promoting respect for people’s sexual boundaries.

    Anyway, that’s my shot at a better criticism, cause I know people don’t always make it well. (I will say that this is not coming from a sex positive perspective, though.)

  8. says

    Thank you (again) for commenting. I agree that I should have mentioned women, including straight women who don’t want to “give” oral sex. I also think I was overly dismissive of the concerns as being based twitter, failing to acknowledge that they may also derive from personal experiences with men.

  9. says

    Thanks for your thoughts. I am also on the record resisting the “enthusiastic consent” model outside of specific contexts where it’s useful as an educational tool.

    I note that Giliell was also a participant in that thread constructing the Crystal Clear Consent guidelines, reviewed the suggestions for the CCC document, and made her own suggestion (which was incorporated).

    Also, while I think that there has to be freedom for anyone to decline consent for any reason, if we move beyond our points of agreement, I must say that I think it was perfectly reasonable of Giliell to mock the fuck out of that commenter. People who say fucked up shit should receive pushback. That was some fucked up shit, and no one, certainly not Giliell, was saying that the commenter should be forced to perform oral sex.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *