It is better to give than receive, but where did the giving begin? Let’s take a shallow dive into the dripping history of oral sex. This article contains material unsuitable for readers under the age of eighteen.
Oral sex, the act of ‘oral stimulation of the genitals’, sometimes known by people who rarely have it as ‘fellatio’ or ‘cunnilingus’, seems to have been around for as long as humans have inhabited earth. That’s not too surprising. It appears intuitive, in some way, right? This goes here.
Anyway, although it’s at least probable that our cave-dwelling ancestors used nookie to while away the hours between hunting bison and painting them on cave walls, the first true depiction of oral sex is said to come from ancient Egypt.
resurrection of Osiris
A few sources, Salon among them, have noted that the Osiris resurrection myth involves a kind of reanimation via oral, where Osiris’ wife, sister, and fellow deity, Isis, ‘blew’ life back into the god. Isis did so by fashioning a penis out of clay to replace the one Osiris had lost when his brother, Seth, cut him into forty-two pieces. Complicated family dynamics, there. Other - more formal - sources, leave out the specifics, using words like ‘arouse’ to describe Isis’ work on Osiris, or gloss over it altogether. I mean, it probably was told that way; the woman married her brother, so I’m sure a life-saving blowjob wasn’t entirely off the table. But I’m being facetious.
Power STRUGGLE in Ancient Greece
Greeks most certainly indulged in oral, but theirs was a sexual exploration embroiled in a complex relationship with power. For men, receiving oral sex was an act of prowess, while giving was actively discouraged.
Social pressures were such that men rarely indulged in the performance of oral sex on women because the perceived passivity of the act was considered improper, if not vulgar.
The same was true for male-male interactions; getting head was good, but returning the favour wasn’t. None of this is super different to how things are today, right? Case and point, recall DJ Khaled’s recent, much-ridiculed comments on performing oral sex on women.
“It’s different rules for men," he explains. "You gotta understand, we the king. There’s some things that y’all [women] might not wanna do, but it got to get done. I just can’t do what you want me to do. I just can’t.
Maybe we’re not as liberal a society as we think. Neither were the Greeks. Historian, Nikos Vrissimtzis, author of Love, Sex and Marriage: A Guide to the Private Life of the Ancient Greeks, claims ancient Greeks were relatively restrictive in their sexual habits; of the thousands of Greek artifacts we’ve uncovered that depict fellatio, there has only been one depicting a couple engaged cunnilingus - and they were heterosexual at that. Who knows? Maybe one day we’ll unearth a frillion artifacts that prove all of this wrong? I mean, we won’t, but maybe. Likely not, though.
she-wolves in pompeii
In 2009, an adults-only exhibit was opened on the former site of a luxury brothel in Pompeii. The building was discovered to have frescoes portraying all manner of sex acts, and was called ‘Lupanar’ from ‘lupa’ or ‘she-wolf’ in Latin. One such fresco, dated to the 1st Century AD (Pompeii fell in the year 79 AD) showed a man engaging in oral sex with a woman. Progress!
It’s custom to gift couples with paper, glass, silver, or gold depending on how long they’ve tolerated one another, but in future, can we all give sex pots instead? They’re amazing, and so agree ancient South Americans on the Northern Coast of Peru. The ‘Moche’ people lived between 150-800 AD, and so far, around five-hundred of their erotic ceramic pots have been discovered. Some of these show Moche engaging in oral sex (go team!), but many more - in fact, the majority - depict anal sex, with vaginal penetration showing up least often. Ooh, the intrigue. While the pots themselves are functional (able to hold and pour liquids), their true use to the Moche is up for debate.
do it like they do on the karma sutra
The Karma Sutra (still in circulation today, with a bazillion spin-offs), are widely-known ancient Sanskrit texts on sexuality and relationships. Sexual celebration seems to have reached its recorded peak here, in stark relation to all surviving written texts before this point in history (400 BC - 300 CE). In it, oral sex is depicted across genders, sexual orientations, and number of partners.
the long dark
The middle ages (500 AD-1000 AD) are known for their lack of inhibitions and wide-spread celebration of sex in all its forms. Jk. In reality, sex outside of the strict purpose of producing offspring was frowned upon, to say the least. Because children involved the passing along of property, sexual relations were regarded the interest of the larger community, and privacy therefore unheard of. The church and state had a heavy influence on the sexual rites of the population, using notions of ‘sin’ to keep people in line.
The idea of sin was absolutely fundamental to any understanding of sexuality and sexual behaviour during the Middle Ages. Sexual actions outside those prescribed by the Church (virginity, monogamous marriage for the purposes of procreation, chastity following marriage) were viewed primarily in terms of sinfulness and a flouting of God’s holy ordinances for humanity.
Disobedience was met with swift, iron punishment - often death. DEATH. For consensual sex between adults? Despite this harsh reward, medieval people still seemed to get it off, or so say judicial records from this time. Oral sex was almost definitely a thing; evidence drawn from penitential documents shows monks could be punished for up to four years for cunnilingus, and up to five for fellatio.
and now, for more repression! or?
The Victorian era, some popularly argue, was influenced by the medieval church’s restrictions, leading to the image that Victorians were a prudish bunch, indeed. Without question, sex had rules of respectability, and had a great influence on how someone was perceived in their social sphere. The ‘domestic goddess’ or sexually ‘pure’ woman was born in this period, and few very loud and readily-annoying male philosophers questioned whether women had any sexual desire of their own at all.
But recent probes into the past show that Victorians weren’t all as uppity as we may have been led to believe. Clelia Duel Mosher, MD, a women’s health advocate practicing in 19th Century United States, led a study of forty-five women aiming to understand the sexual inclinations of women - something Kinsey, Masters, and Johnson, would only do a long while after.
The paper, although not released during Mosher’s lifetime, was discovered in the 1970s and published then. The findings are astounding. While no mention of oral sex was made explicit, considering the candid talk around menstrual sex, it may well have been happening.
the new normal
The 20th Century made oral sex ubiquitous through rendering it as a run-up act to penetrative sex. Women are to be thanked here, as it’s the recognition of them as sexual beings that spurred on the need for foreplay.
Today, sociologists and anthropologists have become increasingly interested in the way youth cultures have adopted oral sex as a replacement for penetrative sex, often in a response to religious concepts of ‘virginity.’ Oral sex is then, to my mind even in older groups, a sort of patchwork substitute for ‘the real thing’ when penetrative sex is for whatever reason undesired by one or more parties.
Pop culture has also impacted on modern practices of oral sex, with shows like Girls and Insecure projecting models of best, averaging, and worst physical manifestations of it that viewers accept or reject against their own experience.
Where are we going?
Who knows, really? Looking at its history, only one thing’s almost certain; where people go, oral sex will follow. What shape and form, I can’t say. Want to take a guess? Do so in the comments below.