From “Chasing Amy” to advice columns everywhere, straight guys who won’t go down on women are widely considered anti-feminist heathens. Since none of them would go on record, we asked some sex therapists about what’s behind their lack of generosity.
I thought it would be simple to find a young, straight man who does not eat pussy. He had to be out there, and moreover, he had to be willing to talk about it. I was offering full identity protection and a non-judgmental ear. I just wanted to know how he avoided the act while still managing to frog leap from girlfriend to girlfriend without the gossip about his unwillingness to eat out following him onto new sexual relationships. The anti-unicorn had to be out there, and I needed to know his tricks.
Years ago, a girlfriend of mine was dating a guy who refused to go down on her. It was not a subject she broached with him, but after months of blowjobs and nothing in return, she just figured it was something he could or would not do. Whether it was a lack of skill or utter disgust was beyond her; she felt it would be too awkward to have a sit-down conversation with a man she was casually banging about why he wouldn’t stick his head between her legs. Especially when their usual chats never got any deeper than, “My place or yours?”
In other words, I knew these anti-cunnilinguists were out there. Ignoring the countless advice columns about how you should probably kick your guy to the curb if he refuses to put your clit in his mouth, if writer Allison Stevenson could pen about her reluctance to give blowjobs, then she must have a counterpart in oral aversion, willing to proudly divulge his nuanced reasoning.
Remember thatin Chasing Amy when the hot lesbian graphic novelist Alyssa, played by Joey Lauren Adams, is talking to a bearded, quirky Banky, played by Jason Lee, about sex? “I bet it’s different with the [girls] you love, like I bet you go down on them longer?” she asks. He shakes his head and replies, “I don’t do that.” Alyssa is stunned. “What?” Banky says. “I lost my tolerance for the bullshit baggage that comes with eating girls out. What’s the big deal?”
This column was the only time in history any girl actually needed a Banky, and yet I could not find him.
When I put out a public research inquiry asking men to talk about cunnilingus, I received an overwhelming amount of enthusiastic responses. They all started the same way: “I would love to talk to you about my favorite activity.” Many men went so far as to detail their techniques, move by move. Others were more introspective about the reasons why another man (but certainly not they themselves!) might avoid oral sex. Some men told me they like to go down on a girl the first time things get heated (it ups the intimacy and comfort level for other acts), while others insisted that any guy who abstains because of the “smell” factor “needs a reality check.” The ramblings were varied, but one thing was clear: Not one of these guys was going admit to me that he had ever, in his entire life, had a disinterest in oral.
“Masculinity is such a fragile, fragile thing,” said Los Angeles-based sex therapist Dr. Chris Donaghue when I called him up for answers. “It is often tied into [a man’s] ability to please a woman, and since a lot of women orgasm from clitoral stimulation, and [a man’s] mouth can do that, I think most guys don’t want to admit that they don’t know how to please a woman fully. I think it’s about a fear of losing their masculinity.”
In the Chasing Amy scene, Banky says that the reason he doesn’t go down on women anymore is not his fault, but theirs. “I’m talking about not being able to do it properly,” he says. “And my mother brought me up to believe that if I can’t do something right, I shouldn’t do it at all.” Banky further claims that women are too timid about the “smell factor” that they act like shrinking violets instead of giving him the airport-traffic-signal-waving-directions he needs to do a good job.
If I can’t give my partner an orgasm during oral sex, then I won’t do it at all.
“I work with a lot of women who are uncomfortable with their own vaginas because they haven’t masturbated, touched, or even looked at them,” Donaghue said. “They might want to be interested, but their uncertainly can make their partner anxious, and he will lean away from doing it. [But] she wants him to want her vagina so she knows it is OK. It becomes a very complicated cycle.”
“I have a lot of questions about why you refuse to do something pleasurable for your partner that is [of] no harm to you,” Donaghue continued. “Because that leads to crappy sex. We call it ‘leftover sex,’ which means both parties rule out all the sex acts they both find uncomfortable and do what is left over. If you want to have a successful, long-lasting monogamous relationship, you have to learn to open up and try new things together, or you will get bored.”
Dr. Shannon Chavez, another sex therapist and educator, builds off Donaghue’s insights, which she says are problems compounded by a lack of sexual education. Chavez mentions that a lot of her younger clients are using porn as an unintentional form of sexual education, and this skews their vision of what they should be doing and the reaction they should receive. The young people she sees are often misinformed about STIs and health risks as well; they assume the worst without knowing any better. With her more mature clients, she has seen how psychological factors can weight on oral sex.
“There is this goal-oriented, performance-focused model of sex, especially for men,” Chavez says. “Many men [have] this attitude: ‘If I can’t give my partner an orgasm during oral sex, then I won’t do it at all.’ Most women can enjoy it without being orgasmic. It can be a great primer for intercourse or just to make her feel good, but he is hung up on achieving her orgasm. It’s this all-or-nothing way of thinking.” Chavez also confirms she has worked with many men who have the same code of conduct as Banky: one or two negative experiences ,and they throw in the towel. “I think that lack of skill and sexual awareness brings up a lot of shame,” she says.
“I had a good friend who liked to give it, but his wife refused it,” one man told me. “It’s not that she doesn’t like it, but apparently he was bad at it. She likened his abilities to a mule eating an apple. And I knew another guy who would not do it as a cultural thing. He was about 30 years old and for some reason was totally against it.”
“[Culture] comes into this for sure,” confirms Donaghue. “Some [cultures] are more comfortable going down on women than others, as are different generations of men. That has to be woven into the equation.”
“There are a lot of religious and cultural beliefs that can deter men from oral sex,” adds Chavez. “It is often looked at as dirty, and it’s even still illegal in some states.”
Indeed, anti-sodomy laws—sodomy, if you didn’t know, definitionally includes oral—are famously still on the books in 12 states.
Although sodomy laws were initially enforced to prevent homosexual acts, the prohibition of oral sex between two people, regardless of sexual orientation or gender, in 2013 Virginia’s GOP gubernatorial candidate tried to reinstate Virginia’s Crimes Against Nature Act, which would have made oral sex illegal regardless of who was engaging in it. Despite the definite existence of certain men who would not respond to my reporting requests, he did not succeed.