May 18, 2012

Oral Sex During Hookups? Unfortunately, Not So Much For Women

A new study highlights that the ambiguity of hookups means women usually do not receive cunnilingus, even if they have performed oral sex for their partner.

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One thing has been clearly established: college-aged adults are hooking up.  And, when they are using effective means to protect themselves from sexually transmitted infections and unintended pregnancy, there is little cause for concern.  But, some scholars have raised one concern: hooking up may not be equally enjoyed for women and men.

Gender Inequality And Hooking Up

Today’s young adults benefit from the greater acceptance of casual sex outside of marriage or even a committed relationship.  But, that freedom may not be afforded to women as much as it is for men.  For example, researchers have found that men are much more likely than women to achieve orgasm in heterosexual hookups, referring to this phenomenon as the “orgasm gap.”  Like other forms of gender inequality, women may be losing out in the bedroom, as well.  A new study suggests that women may also be missing out on receiving oral sex in hookups.

The Study

In study recently published in Journal of Sex Research, sociologists Laura Backstrom, Elizabeth A. Armstrong, and Jennifer Puentes interviewed 43 college women (including 15 from Indiana University) about their experiences hooking up with men.  In these interviews, most noted that they viewed cunnilingus (oral sex performed for a woman) as intimate and emotional, thus more desirable within a relationship  But, among those who desire it with men they hook up with, they are often frustrated to find that cunnilingus is not a regular part of the routine for hookups.  In fact, some noted the common disappointment they face when they performed oral sex for their partners that was not reciprocated with cunnilingus.

Drawing upon sexual scripting theory from sociological approaches of sex research, the authors conclude that part of these women’s frustration stems from the ambiguity of what is expected in hookups.  Their participants noted a clear sense that they could, and regularly receive, mutual oral sex within a relationship.  However, the sexual scripts for hooking up are less clear.

A Call For Consent

As the researchers of this study point out, women often lose out to enjoying cunnilingus in hookups because the hookup scripts are unclear.  As people engage in sexual activity, especially for the first time, they may be hesitant to do certain things (or not do certain things) as they are feeling each other out as sexual partners.  These problems are less common in long-term relationships because people learn what their partner likes and does not like.

At a minimum, it may be useful to communicate with a partner, whether new or regular, about your desires, limits, as well as your sexual health status (e.g., STIs, use of birth control).  In making the implicit explicit, it may be easier to navigate your and your partner’s expectations, needs, and desires.  This will be helpful to avoid ambiguity, and ensure that neither of you is simply complying or going along with what your partner does.  Most importantly, consent must be mutually given – not just before, but also throughout engaging in sexual activity.  Imagine how much more pleasurable things may be if you and your partner share with each other what you are into sexually!