Remember when DJ Khaled announced that he does not, as a rule, go down on women? No? Maybe your mind has safeguarded your memory by blocking out this disturbing statement.
Tragically, DJ Khaled is not an anomaly; statistically, women are twice as likely as men not to receive oral sex. In a huge US study in 2016, over a quarter of women surveyed said they had given but not received oral sex. This was compared to 10% of men in the same situation. A UK study by the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine conducted a similar investigation, with similar results: young men and women both agreed that oral sex is important – but men were simply more likely to receive it.
There is clearly an insidious double standard at play when it comes to oral sex. The blow job is ubiquitous, sprawled all over pop culture and porn. Oral sex for women, meanwhile, is barely seen or spoken about and thus shrouded in mystery, so becomes rarefied. So what happens when this important aspect of female pleasure is taken off the table in heterosexual relationships? If you are a straight woman, how do you get yours when your partner won’t get down?
Femi, 25, was in a four-year relationship with a man who did not perform oral sex on her.
"I remember us having a conversation once where we were talking about oral sex, and he asked me if I enjoyed giving him head, and I said that I did. And then I asked him if he liked going down on me, and he said, 'I like it if you like it'," she explains. "The obvious implication was, of course, that he didn't actually like it at all."
Femi felt too insecure to ask for what she wanted, so sidelined her pleasure. It put an unforeseen pressure on the relationship. "One thing that really made me angry at the time was that he really liked blow jobs, and used to delay coming for as long as possible when I was giving them," she remembers. "Obviously if you're doing that for someone and they're not reciprocating, the relationship can feel very uneven, and that spills out into other aspects of the relationship."
Lack of oral sex came alongside a general lack of commitment to my sexual pleasure, unless it was easy and complemented what he wanted to do anyway.
As Femi explains: "Lack of oral sex came alongside a general lack of commitment to my sexual pleasure, unless it was easy and complemented what he wanted to do anyway."
No wonder there is an orgasm gap between genders: one study found that 91% of men climax from sex, compared to just 64% of women.
Sex therapist Ammanda Major finds male resistance to female oral sex fairly common in her line of work.
"I think it is sometimes because they are not sure what to do, or how to go about it – or even if a partner wants it," she explains. "There is a nervousness about putting their mouth near that area. Many men express fears there is a smell, or they are concerned about discharge. I think it is also how honest they feel they can be with a partner. Some people genuinely prefer an area that is fully waxed, and are maybe not sure how to suggest that without in any way giving rise to the idea that the woman doesn’t have the right to have her genitals exactly the way she wants them. It is an area filled with confusion."
Major believes that truly balanced and nuanced sex education is the answer to addressing misconceptions or worries that men have about female pleasure. She’s clear that this is important, and she’s also clear about where not to get this information: porn.
"The majority of porn is just women giving head for hours," she says. "It never takes on board the playful experimentation that should be there for both partners. There is nothing wrong with watching porn – so long as you don’t take it seriously."
There can, of course, be a darker side to this sexual imbalance.
Amelia, 31, recalls a two-year relationship in her late teens where the lack of attention to her pleasure was a symptom of a controlling partner.
"In that relationship, sex was a complete power battle with only one winner, so generating feelings of shame around oral sex was one more weapon in the battle," she says. "As an innocent 18/19-year-old, I obviously internalised all the guilt around it."
The long-term impact of that relationship was Amelia's assumption that the problem lay with her, leading her to shy away from oral sex for years afterwards.
When it came to oral sex he would recoil as if disgusted ... I guess I just thought there was something wrong with my vagina.
"When it came to oral sex he would recoil as if deeply disgusted for no apparent reason," she explains. "At the time, I guess I just thought there was something wrong with my vagina."
Like Amelia, Femi did not assume the issue lay with her boyfriend but rather with her: "I think that, sadly, most women seem to learn a kind of instinctive self-consciousness about their bodies, and stuff like that sticks. I don't think I thought it was a mean or bad thing for him to say, I think I probably accepted that, yes, going down on me probably wasn't that great."
Major says this is a common thread among women of all ages. "Men can say things to their partners that can be damaging – about hair and shape of vulva. That can make you vulnerable next time around. It can have a real lasting impact."
Again, Major points to a firmer grasp of sexual knowledge as key, but also the importance of the #MeToo movement. While she admits it has made boys growing up in this era somewhat wary, the idea of consent and dialogue with sexual partners is now, thankfully, more widely recognised as a vital conversation.
Crucially, she hopes it has emboldened women to ask for what they want.
"If you want oral sex, you have to ask for it. It really is as simple as that," she declares. "You don’t want him to feel pressurised – the same way you would not want to feel pressurised to give a blow job. It is about opening a healthy and honest dialogue about it."
Like anything, oral sex – female or male – should be a conversation, and may ultimately involve some compromise on both sides in order to understand and accommodate one another’s sexual desires.
"I think it is all about making sure you are with someone you can be comfortable talking about this with, and making sure that if you feel you can’t have those conversations, you need to seriously consider if you are with the right person for you," Major explains. "If you are with someone who is unwilling to listen or ignores you saying what you want, that’s also an indication you are with the wrong person."
However, for Bonnie, 27, living without oral sex in her relationship is a reality she has accepted.
"We’ve been together such a long time now and it has just become the norm," she says of her otherwise happy relationship. "I just find it all too awkward now. I don't think he has much experience in the art nor does he enjoy one second of it so I've resigned myself to the fact it's off the cards forever now."
"People are always really shocked when I tell them and I've considered giving him a taste of his own medicine and refraining from returning the favour, but honestly I'm just a selfless girl and what he lacks in sexual prowess, he makes up for in plenty of other ways. I guess that's true love for you!"
Award-winning sex educator, writer and broadcaster Alix Fox sheds light on another side of this question. "Not every woman loves oral," she explains. "I know some who find being softly lapped and licked so insufficiently stimulating as to be annoying."
What would she recommend for someone in Bonnie’s situation?
"A German sex toy brand I work with named Womanizer originally developed their patented 'air pleasure technology' – which uses pulses of air to create a unique suction sensation on the clitoris, and which has widely been hailed as a game-changer by both critics and orgasmic users alike – partially in response to the demand from women for a device that could imitate the feeling of 'kisses, sucking and oral sex' without the need for anyone’s mouth." She also points to another toy, the Sqweel, by Love Honey, which consists of rotating tongues. "In several sex tech research and development studies I’ve been involved in, oral has frequently been cited as a feeling women adore and want a means of independently recreating for themselves – either because they don’t currently have a partner they can ask to go down on them, or because their current partner is reluctant or refuses."
So have that conversation with your guy and don’t be afraid to ask for what you want. But should the idea make you uncomfortable, or if dialogue fails, tech is on hand to plug the oral sex deficit.