In a study commissioned by the Trojan Sexual Health Division of Church & Dwight Canada in collaboration with the Sex Information and Education Council of Canada, researchers found that young women are giving plenty of oral sex—but not receiving it in equal proportions.
For the study, researchers interviewed 899 men and women, ages 18 to 24. Some were in serious relationships, some were casually dating, and some were just hooking up. Each participant was asked a series of questions about his or her last sexual encounter, including questions about giving and receiving oral sex and how much pleasure they experienced from the act.
Turns out a lot of people are engaging in oral sex: 73.4% of men and 69.9% of women reported that their most recent sexual encounter involved giving or receiving oral sex or both.
However, an oral sex gap appears when analyzing who's doing the giving and who's doing the receiving. Notably, 63.3% of men reported receiving oral sex on their last sexual escapade, versus only 43.6% of women.
Not only that, researchers found that the men in the study who were receiving weren't reciprocating the deed. "Men were significantly more likely than women to report receiving but not giving oral sex," write the researchers. You can see the breakdown of the numbers in the chart below, which lays out who received oral sex and gave it back, who just received, and who just gave but did not receive.
Interestingly, men said they got more pleasure out of performing oral sex than women did—specifically, 52.3% of men said performing oral sex on a woman was “very pleasurable” versus only 28.1% of women who said the same about blow jobs. Which begs the question: Why are men less likely to reciprocate? It could be because of the messages they're receiving from female partners (more on that in a moment).
Here's the kicker, though—blow jobs appear to become more pleasurable for women when men reciprocate (hear that, guys?!). According to the researchers:
Women were more likely to report [that] giving oral sex was very pleasurable if they had both given and received oral sex, rather than only given it. Specifically, 36.3% of women who gave and received oral sex reported that giving oral sex was very pleasurable, compared to 17.9% of women who gave oral sex but did not receive it.
So what's going on here? Men seemingly enjoy giving oral sex but aren't doing it that much— whereas women don't find blow jobs all that fun but are often engaging in the act nonetheless—all of which contributes to the oral sex gap. What gives?
The researchers hypothesize that this "gap" is due to the way men and women view oral sex in our culture. Many women view giving oral sex as a sign of love and connection, which makes them more likely to give it. And on the flip side, many women also view receiving oral sex as highly intimate, according to the authors. In fact, studies have shown some women find it even more intimate than vaginal sex.
Of course, it may be considered so intimate because women are less comfortable with cunnilingus in general (they'll only allow certain men to do it), and according to the authors, this may be because of how our society makes women feel about their bodies.
"Scholars have proposed that women’s discomfort around receiving oral sex is related to the negative cultural representations of female genitals as smelly, dirty and/or shameful," the authors write.
Citing past research into women's views on oral sex the authors continue:
Women indicated that they would not be comfortable receiving oral sex from a partner unless they had just finished showering/bathing, due to feelings of self-consciousness about the way they smelled. This interfered with their ability to focus on their own pleasure and led to feelings of anxiety when receiving oral sex was a possibility. Taken together, these findings suggest that the gender discrepancy in giving/receiving oral sex between men and women could be attributed to several variables, including motivation to engage in oral sex, level of comfort with receiving oral sex, and the socio-cultural norms and assumptions regarding men’s and women’s sexual roles and bodies.
Indeed, while the penis is continually glorified, historically, vaginas have been a source of shame for women. So, one way to close the oral sex gap? As a society, begin to change how women are taught to feel about their vaginas as well as normalize female pleasure.
When it comes down to it, closing the oral sex gap will likely help to close the orgasm gap—and that's what you call two birds, one stone.
Taryn Hillin is Fusion's love and sex writer, with a large focus on the science of relationships. She also loves dogs, Bourbon barrel-aged beers and popcorn — not necessarily in that order.