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What is the Oral Sex Gap, and why do we care?

rival week




What is the Oral Sex Gap, and why do we care?

First, there was the wage gap…


The year is 2018, and the era of #wokeness is upon us. There are a lot of issues on our plates - a lot of important social movements changing the way we think about our society for men and women.

So, I asked, how can I contribute to our wokeness as a Duke community? How can I make my parents proud?
Well, isn’t it obvious? Talking about sex, of course!

I’m talking about one sexual disparity in particular: the “oral sex gap.” As the name suggests, women are less likely to receive oral sex than men. Literature online confirmed that this is, unfortunately, a common hookup phenomenon for women, citing a noticeable gender difference and double standard for the act.

This may seem like a niche issue on the laundry list of other inequalities women experience through life. While sexual pleasure can often take a backseat to other more pressing everyday issues, it’s something worth talking about since sex is something we’re typically averse to or told not to openly discuss.

Most articles online point to a significant study from The Canadian Journal of Human Sexuality. Out of 899 heterosexual adults, ages 18 to 24, 70 percent reported engaging in oral sex during a sexual encounter. The frequency did not differ with hookups and relationships. However, the key finding was that more than twice as many women versus men, 26 percent versus 10 percent, had given, but not received oral sex.

The study also found that enjoyment of giving oral sex with casual partners differed for men and women:
“The largest disparity found in the results of the survey came from the enjoyment of giving oral sex. The study found that more than half of men enjoyed it a lot, 41 percent enjoyed it somewhat, and 7 percent didn’t enjoy it much at all. Compare this to women, in which only 28 percent of women reported enjoying going down on guys. These trends were most significant for casual hookups.”

If this is true, then a casual hookup for girls is like, the worst trade deal in the history of trade deals.

Put these two findings together, and it seems that straight men enjoy performing oral sex more than straight women, but are returning the favor less than their female counterparts. So, there we have it people: the “oral sex gap.”

What about at Duke?

Even though I am the least bit surprised at this study’s findings *sips tea* - what about the Duke population itself? Should we be skeptical and instead call this the Canadian oral sex gap? We can’t just make generalizations, can’t extrapolate findings to a whole population, lest we send the Statistics department into a table-flipping frenzy.

To find out, I took matters into my own hands and conducted an informal, anonymous survey of thirty-something Duke students’ experiences regarding oral sex. Their responses showed the same kind of results found in the Canadian study; many heterosexual women reported typically giving oral sex more than receiving it. For example:

“More by far. I think part of it is that I feel like guys have zero clue what they’re doing when they give it, so it’s not even worth it. Also sometimes I’m a little self-conscious so it’s just easier to give it.” – Female, senior, single
“Give it more regularly than I receive it.” – Female, senior, single
“I give much more head.” – Female, freshman, single

However, male and female Duke students tended to report enjoying giving oral sex fairly equally. Some examples:

“Yes, I like to see her moan and scream.” - Male, sophomore, in a relationship

“Yeeeee.” - Male, sophomore, in a relationship

“Absolutely enjoy. Mostly because I know the favor will be returned.” - Male, senior, single

“I enjoy performing oral sex. In a way, I actually find it more intimate than sex. Casual sex can feel pretty selfish (each of you trying to climax) but oral is definitely a giving gesture.” - Male, senior, single

Most female students who said they enjoyed going down on their partners said so because they “enjoy knowing the other person is getting pleasure out of it.” - Female, senior, single

So if there are really guys out there who are happy to go downtown, why the disconnect with reciprocation?

We can’t assume that this trends applies to all female students. There are undoubtedly those who have happy, mutually satisfying sex lives. It turns out that relationship status is an important factor in the difference. Many female respondents noted that reciprocation was more equal when in a relationship: “I give it more when it’s a casual hookup, but in my current relationship, I get it more or maybe equally” (Female, senior, in a relationship). Multiple men and women in relationships echoed this sentiment. Although some males actually reported giving their female partners more oral than the other way around, the majority of these cases existed for those in relationships. One male student who reported giving more oral than receiving acknowledged that it “differs in casual hookups” (Junior, in a relationship).

This suggests that the gap exists mainly in casual hookups. Unfortunately for us, relationships are generally less common than casual sex at Duke, so women are more likely to fall into this gap while in college. “Hookup culture” is essentially Duke’s second, lesser known school motto after “Erudito et Religio.”

Why is this happening?

So it seems the oral sex gap indeed exists. There must be a reason, right? Perhaps some sort of cultural norm or communication gap between male and female casual sex partners? Several respondents gave their take on why men aren’t going down on women:

One student pointed out that anatomical differences could be at play for why women don’t enjoy oral sex as much as men: “Oral sex can be more uncomfortable for girls.” - Male, sophomore, single

Well, duh. Most people can remember their first BJ, and unfortunately there was no sign that said “ATTENTION: Hazards include choking and oxygen deprivation.”

“College hookup culture.” - Male, sophomore, single

Multiple women cited hookup culture as a reason girls sometimes feel obligated to go down on guys, as there is “social pressure of that just being what you do.” - Female, junior, in a relationship

“I think there is often a focus on oral sex for men because there is a tangible 'result' for a guy: he comes. It’s obvious when you're done. Men are more clueless on how to get a women to orgasm from oral sex, and there also isn't necessarily a load of ‘cum’ after a woman orgasms. I also feel as though some guys feel ‘emasculated’ by going down on girls, maybe that’s why there’s a disparity in more casual relationships.” - Female, senior, in a relationship

Some female students felt obligated to perform oral sex:
“...especially when I say I do not want to have sex. I think a lot of the times women feel bad saying no to sex, so they want to ‘make up for it’ in other ways.” - Female, senior, single
“I feel obligated if I don’t want to have sex, but feel like they want to have sex. Obligatory consolation prize type deal.” - Female, senior, in a relationship

So if sex is the gold, oral sex seems to be that little, plush stuffed animal that the skiers get on the podium at Pyeongchang. In the Sex Olympics, no one wants to go home in the morning empty handed.

Communication is also likely a key determinant in the reciprocity of oral sex. In a casual hookup, you probably don’t know each other as well, and so, don’t know each other’s preferences or expectations. After all, these are rarely discussed in the 5-10 minute Uber ride back from Shooters. In life (and probably in the bedroom too), women typically don’t want to seem needy or demanding. Asking a guy you don’t really know to go down on you is sometimes just awkward when you don’t know what kind of reaction you’ll get. So we go with the “norm,” an understanding that the end game is the male orgasm. If that’s not from sex, it’ll be from oral sex.

“Girls usually don’t bring a guy home and have the expectation that they’ll hook up. So definitely guys feel like they’re entitled to, at the very least, receiving oral sex. Also, I think girls are better at giving than guys. So it just feels better for them. Most girls I know agree that guys have no idea what they’re doing, so I feel like fewer girls ask for it. Also, I think hookups are generally centered around making the guy feel good. It’s an afterthought to pleasure the girl. Or some guys try and pleasure a girl just to pad their ego and feel good about themselves. Like hookups stop when the guy cums. That says it all.” – Female, senior, single

Why should you care?

This is something many people of both genders acknowledge exists, but haven’t seriously questioned; it’s just been accepted for so long. It’s as if guys are taking the class pass/fail, where decently average effort gets them an “S” for exactly that: a “satisfactory” hookup experience for girls, which may not be very satisfying at all. Blowjobs are often seen as expected or typical, whereas a guy going down on a girl is something special and rare. Up until recently, we’ve been rather OK with that, at least publicly.

Not to mention that women have a harder time reaching an orgasm than men. In fact, only 40% of women reported climaxing during casual sex compared to 85.1% of men. Penetrative sex alone is rarely enough to help women orgasm, so when women are deprived of oral sex, they’re likely also going to orgasm less often as a result.

Now, some men and women might be reading this thinking that this doesn’t apply to them because in their personal experiences, sexual acts have always been reciprocated. But, no need to get defensive – of course there are exceptions to every rule, outliers in every scenario. I applaud you for having a healthy and fulfilling sex life. I’m not pointing fingers. If you think my takeaway is that all men are trash and that people should feel pressured to do things they don’t want to do, you’re sorely mistaken. Only some men are trash. The real point here is that women, as they have for much of society’s sexual narrative, are getting the short end of the stick. This could be completely avoided with some communication and awareness that this gap does exist.

If a girl wants to make you feel good by giving a BJ or making you orgasm, think about how you can reciprocate that for her. Maybe that means going down on her, and maybe it doesn’t. Regardless, women’s desires and sexual satisfaction need to be accounted for in all sexual activities.

If nothing else, I hope you’re enlightened and feeling more open to your partner's needs and desires than before. Besides, Pharrell Williams said it best:

“The truth will set you free, but first it'll piss you off.”