Let’s talk about cunnilingus!

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(Thanks to ©JessieKrish for excellent drawings)

Amy HF

A few disclaimers

  • A very helpful (or perhaps pedantic?) man left a comment on my survey that I should stop using the word ‘vagina’ as a synonym for ‘vulva’. Thank you kind survey taker! You may be surprised to know that I am aware of this! I am choosing to use the term vagina because, as a woman, that is what my friends and I commonly use when discussing them (however scientifically incorrect this may be!) Therefore, throughout this article I will use the term vagina when I actually mean vulva.
  • I posted both surveys on Facebook and so for this reason, the people that answered are probably mainly people I know from London and some people from University. Some friends of friends have taken part and obviously I have no idea who actually answered, due to the survey being anonymous, but thought it would be good to clarify this is just information collected from 100 straight boys and 100 straight women most probably that I know in some way from London or university.
  • An issue I can already see with my research is that I didn’t put an explanation box next to the ‘it depends on the girl/boy ’ box. This leaves this option open to interpretation and makes it not especially useful.
  • There was a lot more information in the answers that didn’t apply to this article (which was entirely a fault of my questions) but which was really interesting so I’m hoping to use the survey to write something else at a later date.
  • I’ve also broken it down into sections, so if you aren’t interested in reading all of it, you can scroll to different sections.

Anxiety about what men think about women’s vaginas and pubic hair is common amongst young women. I only have to think about my own personal experiences and the conversations I’ve had with friends to confirm this (and that’s just the tip of the iceberg).

I was talking to a female friend about her recent sexual experiences and she was puzzled as to why men had not been going down on her recently. We wondered whether this was linked to the fact that, recently, she had not been getting rid of her pubic hair entirely. From my experience, this is nearly always the conclusion that a girl will jump to. Even if they don’t have any pubic hair, they will often become anxious about whether there is something ‘wrong’ with their genitals. This made me wonder why girls automatically assume that their vagina/pubes are the issue if a man has not gone down on them.

We speculated for a while and some other reasons for men not performing oral sex came up: what if they just didn’t like going down on women? Or, what if they didn’t know what to do? We then wondered if men were maybe scared of vaginas, and the list goes on…The only way to go about answering any of these questions was to create a survey and ask young men (18-25) to tell us what they think. I then created a mirror survey for women to answer to see if the two correlated. One of the main reasons for doing this was to try and bust some myths and hopefully make everyone feel more comfortable talking about the subject in the future.

I wanted to find out if there was a link between men wanting/not wanting to perform cunnilingus and pubic hair, but also, to try to find out if sexual experience has anything to do with the way that men think about vaginas, oral sex and pubes and whether people think porn has had an effect on any of this.

Number of partners – does it affect likelihood of cunnilingus?

Interestingly, the initial question of ‘how many people have you slept with?’ suggested that men had slept with more partners than women had, however, there is a common consensus among gatherers of such data that men are prone to exaggerate and women to say fewer than in reality. Out of these women, lower numbers reported men performing oral sex on them than the men reported they had.

Here are the results of the women surveyed:

MEN PERFORMING ORAL SEX OVER HALF THE TIME

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From the women’s perspective, they received the most cunnilingus in the 1-5 partner category – this is probably to do with the fact that most of these partners were boyfriends. It’s pretty near half and half for 10+ partners. However, 6-10 partners shows a striking difference in reported cunnilingus by women. Does this correlate with the male response?

MEN PERFORMING ORAL SEX OVER HALF THE TIME

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In terms of the fact that, again, the men who had had 1-5 partners performed cunnilingus more: yes.

This could then explain why the men surveyed answered they were more likely to give oral sex to their girlfriend. 76% of men responded that they would be more likely to go down on their girlfriend. The opinion of the women asked essentially agreed with this: 69% said a boyfriend was more likely to. Interestingly, this shows that a lot of women have a tiny bit less confidence in thinking men will go down on them than the men surveyed stated.

However, it is in the 6-10 partners category there is the biggest contrast. How could men and women’s experiences be so different? Perhaps these women are only counting oral sex if they had an orgasm, for example, or maybe these men are exaggerating. It could also be a freak group where the numbers do not match.

In every category over half of these men say they have gone down on over 50% of the girls they’ve slept with. There is not an obvious correlation between more partners and more cunnilingus occurring but perhaps the higher levels of cunnilingus in the 1-5 partners category suggests that this is where men feel most comfortable – with their girlfriends.

So to draw a rough conclusion from this – most people are reporting that more than 50% of partners are performing cunnilingus, but is this enough? I think a lot of women would probably say no… Both sexes agreed being in a relationship would increase the likelihood of cunnilingus – but should a relationship be the only safe bet for women to receive oral sex?

Perhaps a way to tackle this would be to respond to the fact that ‘they think they’re not good at it’ was the second most selected answer to the question ‘why do some men shy away from performing oral sex?’ Is this one of the reasons men are more comfortable performing oral sex on their girlfriends?

‘Men think they’re not good at it’

Not knowing what to do or being worried about how ‘good you are’ is actually almost completely understandable. Sex education about female sexual pleasure is almost next to none in schools and porn (as will be discussed later) does not give men much of an idea of how to pleasure a woman.

One massive factor that I think applies to this is women being afraid to tell a man what to do, or at least give some kind of encouragement. Communication is key and this problem will persist without it. However, due to aforementioned lack of sex education, lots of women equally don’t feel equipped to ‘help’ men or to know what they want.

A key statistic to mention here is that most women find it easier to orgasm through oral sex/direct clitoral stimulation. A vast amount of women cannot reach orgasm through penetrative sex alone. Elizabeth Lloyd’s book ‘The case of the female orgasm’ cites that only 25% of women consistently orgasm through vaginal intercourse. Her research was done through a comprehensive analysis of 33 studies on the subject, over the last 80 years. This research fits in with the experience of most women I speak to, so a lot of women are often quite perplexed when a man does not go down on them. How are they supposed to reach orgasm? Are women expected to do it themselves (through clitoral stimulation) during intercourse? Is it fine for women just to not reach orgasm full stop, even if their male partner does? It is often much easier for a man to reach orgasm through penetrative sex. This means that female sexual pleasure often seems to be secondary to a man’s.

Lloyd goes on to further explain that about half of women sometimes orgasm during intercourse. About 20% seldom or ever have orgasms during intercourse. And about 5% never have orgasms, ever. Put plainly, penetrative sex is not key to female orgasm and pleasure.

Essentially, the way this is all linked is clear – there is a lack of communication and, yes, perhaps men are a little bit worried about it. Men don’t know what to do, women often don’t know how to tell them what to do and both could feel awkward or embarrassed. It’s really important for men to consider the fact that only a quarter of the women they have slept with (statistically) have continually reached orgasm through penetration. A lot of the women surveyed said that they essentially thought men were a bit scared of anything other than penetrative sex and that they weren’t confident men knew how to make them reach orgasm (30% of women surveyed said ‘no’ to the question ‘do you feel confident men know how to make women orgasm?’) With more communication and understanding this could change.

Pubic hair + vaginas are disgusting

 The key thing I wanted to find out was whether there is a correlation between women having pubic hair and men not wanting to go down on them.

So, the most likely reasons for some men to shy away from performing oral sex were:

  1. They think it’s disgusting (sorry ladies…)
  2. They think they’re not good at it
  3. The girl has too much pubic hair

So, from this survey, it does look like a lot of men may have issues when considering going down on a woman or not because they think our fannies are disgusting! (Yay…) However, men’s own insecurities (as discussed above) actually came before a girl having too much pubic hair, so that’s something a lot of women may not have considered (and many men may not want to publicly admit).

So, let’s try and unpack this. Firstly, why do many men seem to think that vaginas are disgusting? Perhaps some other answers I received would be a good place to start.

Quite a few of the men and women in the survey linked vaginas with personal hygiene.

This guy has linked a girl’s general personal hygiene to her vagina, which doesn’t seem so unreasonable.

Even if I’m not down with it, I think I can appreciate if they’ve made the effort of whatever. However, if the state of your puss seems related to general personal hygiene attitudes: I ain’t down.

However, quite a few responses linked personal hygiene with pubic hair. Here is one example:

 Personally I prefer if it’s kept reasonably neat and hygienic just like my own pubic hair (and my own hair for that matter). But that’s just a preference not exactly a deal breaker for me.

Including many women:

Personally I prefer a landing strip anyway (nothing to do with male preference/porn) as I believe it is cleaner and easier to manage

I used to be someone who removed my pubic hair and told myself and everyone else it was because I felt sexier/cleaner/happier that way. It was only once I took time to realise how and why I had come to feel like that (i.e. boys at young age saying girls with pubes were wrong/dirty etc that I realised I wasn’t doing it for me at all.

To this, I say: the purpose of pubic hair IS for hygiene (particularly where women are concerned). Preferring pubes to be kept neat and hygienic is pretty much an oxymoron as having pubic hair, if anything, makes your vagina more hygienic. There seems to be a trend in both men and women thinking that removing pubic hair is more hygienic. This is a myth. Pubes are there to stop you getting infections etc

So boys and girls, first point to make when discussing pubes and vaginas being disgusting is that pubes are not unhygienic!

On the subject of pubic hair, another reason some boys reported not wanting to go down on women was linked to how much pubic hair they had. This may or may not be one of the reasons that ‘vaginas are disgusting’ was the top reason for some men shying away from oral sex, but it is most probably linked.

23% said they would reconsider going down on a girl who had pubes – this speaks for itself (almost a quarter).

However, surprisingly, 38% of men said flat out no. One even went so far as to say:

I will consider all cunts.

Thanks anonymous straight man! All cunts should be considered!

This result is more encouraging than I thought it would be and at least should say to women that, even if not most men, really quite a lot of them actually want to go down on you, regardless of anything.

34% said it depends on the girl – this could mean many things: might not fancy her that much, the girl may not want oral sex etc but equally it could also be linked to pubic hair i.e.depends on how much the girl has. I’m also inclined to believe it may again be linked to girlfriend/being more intimate. It seems less likely cunnilingus will be performed on a one-night stand from this research.

Let’s be honest, this is fair. I can completely understand that it may be more pleasant to go down on a girl with less pubes so you can see what you’re doing, easy access etc. It’s just a preference. Or maybe not…?

Some female survey respondents pointed out:

I’ve been made so self conscious in the past by men telling me their ‘pube preference’ because regardless of what I think, at that point I instantly feel unattractive and spiral into feeling deeply insecure. It is so hard to NOT get rid of all your hair because almost every boy I’ve spoken to ‘prefers’ less hair.

Women feel they need to have no pubic hair as this makes them feel more sexy, as men see this as more sexy

As far as this survey is concerned, it’s clear that there are some men and women who think pubes are unattractive, some who think they’re rank, one man (I was actually shocked there weren’t a few more!) who chose ‘I like a bush’ and many other preferences/don’t cares in between. So maybe ‘men thinking vaginas are disgusting’ is just a myth or at the very least an exaggeration? Maybe men sort of assume that’s what other men think? Maybe men think that pubes are kind of gross? FRANKLY, who cares! It’s your vagina ladies and it shouldn’t matter what any man says about it. You do what you want and (to paraphrase various female survey takers) if he cares that much about your pubes he’s a waste of time.

However, there is another side to this. There were a lot of women who reported feeling insecure about having pubic hair, especially outside of a relationship. Some women explained:

I always struggle to know what I really think, because thinking all women shouldn’t remove their hair is kind of self righteous…but that said, I used to be someone who removed my pubic hair and told myself and everyone else it was because I felt sexier/cleaner/happier that way. It was only once I took time to realise how and why I had come to feel like that (i.e. boys at a young age saying girls with pubes were wrong/dirty etc that I realised I wasn’t doing it for me at all. And now I can’t imagine having a little bald fanny…

I don’t care at all within a relationship; it’s different when single…

 I used to be quite self-conscious about hair in general. I used to tell myself it was because I preferred having Brazilian/Hollywood but now my boyfriend doesn’t care and I’ve been more surrounded by Feminism and I’ve realised I don’t mind as much as I used to.

It is easy enough to say to women that they shouldn’t care what men think or that their insecurities are the issue, not men, but when society seems to dictate to you that you should not have pubic hair (and when a lot of male respondents cited ‘preferences’ for less/no hair,) how easy is it to just ignore what’s ‘expected’ of you?

Some men were keen to highlight that they didn’t like the way I phrased the question about pubic hair as: what SHOULD women’s pubic hair be like? – that was the whole point. 35% of men selected an option containing the word SHOULD and only a few wrote in the ‘other’ box with things like: ‘I disagree with the phrasing of the question’. This was exactly my point. 35% of men expressed that they felt a woman’s pubes SHOULD be a certain way. Luckily a few men picked up on my phrasing of the question and said they have no right to dictate how women’s pubes are, even if they have a preference.

Only one male respondent on the survey claimed that they like a full bush. This clearly shows that lots of men go along with the current pubic hair fashion for women. Everyone knows that pubes have changed throughout the ages. It was much more common for women to sport the bush in the 70s, for example, and gradually, through each recent decade, the hair was removed more and more. It is therefore near impossible to distinguish between whether you really have a preference, or whether the ‘norm’ has been so culturally engrained that you cannot possibly say. A number of women (around 30%) said that they liked to remove their pubes but, as a woman, if you were not going to have sex for a year would you still remove your pubic hair?

I don’t mean for this to sound so deterministic, but I think it is worth commenting on after the vast numbers of correspondents who said things like: ‘it’s her choice BUT… I prefer this…’ – how are women supposed to feel comfortable with THEIR choice after you, who is sleeping with them, have stated yours? Which may be the opposite of what they want.

Porn

The final link I was trying to find was with porn.

Overwhelmingly, both men and women agreed that porn has had a mostly negative effect on the way men view vaginas (mainly mentioning pubes).

Both sexes said things like this:

Yes, most men expect clean-shaven

 Pubic hair is non-existent in porn 

Almost all vaginas in porn completely shaved 

I think the homogenised vulva we see in porn changes the perceptions on what is ‘normal’ e.g. pubic hair, labial lengths/shapes, clit appearance

 

This is not big news to anyone really and, to be honest, it is hard to draw any comprehensive conclusions about how porn really has affected the way men view vaginas because every mans response is essentially different, the only hands down majority response from both men and women was that men expected there to be little or no pubic hair.

Despite this, one man offered what I think is a more realistic idea of what men think of women’s vaginas despite porn:

Ultimately, I don’t think men are too particular about the ‘type’ of vagina they come across. I haven’t come across a man who hasn’t had sex or returned for sex due to a girl’s vagina being deemed unacceptable.

However, women pointed out some more serious consequences of (they thought) porn:

I’ve slept with someone and just been thinking, is there something wrong with me? Should this be feeling nice? Then realised they’ve probably learnt it from something they’ve seen. I’ve also had experiences of being made to feel ashamed about the fact that they haven’t made me feel good, again something I believe is caused by them expecting a certain reaction and being angry at not getting it.

They don’t realise that things done in porn aren’t actually nice for a vagina.

 I think porn gives an unrealistic view on how the vagina should be handled. Thus, giving some men the opinion that a vagina isn’t as fragile as it actually is.

This is actually really terrifying and should not be taken lightly. The conversation about pubes is an important one, but NO woman should be feeling like this after sexual experiences with men…The word ‘fragile’ here is key, and should be remembered.

Conclusion

In conclusion, after all of this (it has been unbelievably long, I’m sorry…), even though most people are in agreement that there is an expectation for women to have little pubic hair, this does not affect whether a man is willing to perform oral sex in the majority of cases when all the factors are put together. What is important to consider, however, is how much the general consensus on women’s pubes actually affects women’s decision to remove or leave pubic hair.

It seems to be true that a lot of men are worried about performing oral sex and that everyone needs to talk more openly about the subject to stop all the women (me and my friends included) worrying about what men think about their vaginas and also to make sure that men feel as confident as possible in the bedroom.

I must also point out that not every woman will want oral sex. Although the women surveyed did not say this, it is important to make the point that any sex is all about consent. This survey has pointed to the fact that a lot of people did it, wanted to do it or received it but that does not speak for all. Women may withdraw their consent at any time or not want oral sex in the first place. In line with this, consent should always be given for rougher sex and anything else in between and there should not be an expectation that women like to be ‘pounded’ or anger from the man if he is not able to make a woman reach orgasm (as it was cited by a female survey taker, I felt like I had to state the obvious).

One final point to consider: my friends and I have often discussed whether it is wrong for us to expect oral sex. If the roles were reversed and men were outraged at not receiving oral sex, women would be furious. Any girl I know would despise oral sex being an expectation. However, in light of the comprehensive research that has been carried out about female pleasure, is it different for women? It’s proven that women have spent the majority of their sex lives not being pleasured through intercourse, unlike the majority of men. To quote sex educator Betty Dodson “Intercourse is okay, but I much prefer a talented tongue on my clitoris.” This is definitely something to take away from the research – it’s probable that women’s sex lives would be a whole lot better if cunnilingus became more normalised and more education and discussion about female sexual pleasure took place.

Amy HF

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