While walking a red carpet last month at the premiere of The Many Saints of Newark, the new film prequel to The Sopranos, actor Cory Stoll told the New York Post that it was “sad” the character he portrayed, the irascible Junior Soprano, could never admit to being “a generous lover.” In season one of the show, it’s revealed that 70-year-old “Uncle Jun” not only went “down there” for his female partners, but “was like a great artist” when he did. Word gets around to boss Tony, and Junior is ridiculed, an outcome he’d expected upon such a leak. According to Junior, the men in his circle viewed cunnilingus as “a sign of weakness,” which was why he swore his girlfriend at the time to secrecy, and later rages upon her after his embarrassment.
Stoll said that although Junior’s willingness to perform the sex act led to “his greatest shame,” it was “the best thing about him,” a remark that further supports research indicating the stigma against oral sex is finally burning out. Still, it hasn’t quite been extinguished.
“Why on earth would you not kiss something that smells and tastes like dessert?” writes one female Redditor, u/Juicy_Peach420, in response to my call for interview subjects of people who’ve encountered oral sex stigma in others. She blames “the patriarchy” for guys being so “selfish,” a thought that she adds “makes me want to sit on a mans [sic] face and not return the favor.”
Contrary to common gender stereotypes, however, it’s not just men who balk at the idea of performing oral sex on women.
“I’m married to a woman largely opposed to oral,” writes a man called “Mark” in a Reddit message to me. “When it comes to fellatio, she might perform it for a minute or so on me, but only to get me hard for intercourse.”
Mark says his wife doesn’t want oral sex performed on her, either, because “she can’t get past the ‘gross’ factor of my face getting buried in her pussy.”
“I usually can’t get her aroused when I try,” Mark continues. “Which is a shame, because getting a woman off through cunnilingus is one of the things I find most pleasurable.”
There’s an app for that
For people like Mark and Juicy_Peach420 who happen to live in New York City, there is a new hookup app designed to assuage their oral sex frustration. On Headero, “the connection app for people who love oral pleasure,” users can browse eager givers and wanting receivers based on age range and gender identity. Free profiles also display “Energies I’m into” on a sliding scale between “masculine” and “feminine,” while the premium upgrade — “Bliss” mode — publishes more details on what each user is looking for, from meeting arrangements to kinks to body types.
Headero founder Stephen Quaderer tells InsideHook that his technology helps fight the still-pervasive cultural stigma against oral sex — and sex in general. With the focus on pleasure as opposed to categorized partners, he says user interactions are also able to “transcend sexuality boxes.”
Quaderer, who’s 38 and identifies as both gay and pansexual, observes that, when it comes to oral sex, “people of all sexualities and clearly all gender identities” enjoy it “and very actively seek [it] out.” On apps like Grindr — which he admits “set the stage” for Headero, though it filters matches by relatively rigid identifiers like “twink” or “bear” — he’s seen straight males who seek blowjobs from other men because they just want an on-demand oral sex experience.
“It was clear that something was happening here,” Quaderer says of the unlikely Grindr trend. “I saw it as a really good avenue to create a space that was actually for everyone.”
The origins of the oral sex problem
Some of the lingering oral sex stigma that fuels demand for a platform like Headero may have its origins in religious beliefs that prohibit sex outside of marriage and for purposes other than conception. Redditor Mark says his wife is “a very Catholic woman who follows [such] church teachings.” Those very teachings, however, have been challenged of late even by officials of the cloth, including San Diego pastor Brandan Robertson. In a post about the Church’s views on oral sex for sexual wellness education platform O School, Robertson states that because the Bible declares the body “the temple of your spirit … as long as you are being respectful to yourself and others, you absolutely have the freedom to explore and enjoy pleasure,” adding, “There is nothing shameful about it.”
Dori Bagi, a sexual intimacy coach based in Sydney, Australia, who connects with American clients through the Growing Self counseling center, says she’s worked with individuals who oppose oral sex for religious reasons. But more broadly, Bagi says some other clients have refused to go down on their partners due to upbringings that featured sex-negative discourse or no sex education at all. Many young people, she says, are still taught about sexually transmitted infections and how to avoid pregnancy, with little to no instruction on the pleasures of sex acts like oral.
“Recently, I have experienced an uptick in my couples or individuals referring to pornography, and that’s their only exposure to what oral sex looks like,” Bagi says. “As we know, that’s not reality.”
A lack of education combined with sexual media consumption can also lead people with vaginas to feel self conscious about their intimate area’s appearance.
“All pictures available are kind of the same — no labia is showing, essentially — so if their parts look slightly different or have bigger labia or different coloring, what have you, then it can feel like, ‘Oh, this isn’t what my partner wants to see,’” Bagi says. They might also think, “I’m embarrassed; I don’t want him or her to be all up there.”
Despite u/Juicy_Peach420’s stance that all vulvas smell and taste like “dessert,” hygiene and taste may also be a hindrance to oral sex, on both sides of the sex-organ coin. While some of the oral-sex averse may still be clinging to harmful, middle-school misconceptions about the “bad” smell or taste of genitals — especially vaginas — others may have had an unfortunate early encounter with an unhealthy set of genitalia that spoiled their taste for oral sex. Men may also worry about contracting HPV through the act, which in rare cases can lead to throat cancer.
Then, of course, there are still some men don’t perform oral sex on women due to performance anxiety, as well as “toxic masculinity” and worries over being emasculated — the Unle Jun’s of our time.
Daniel Saynt, who’s bisexual and runs the sex-friendly members only club the New Society For Wellness (NSFW), says oral sex stigma is virtually non-existent in the gay men’s community, but he has met men who refuse to go down on women. He says that on many occasions, it’s just a case of the man prioritizing his own satisfaction over a partner’s. Other times, it’s out of what Saynt believes to be a fear of intimacy.
“There’s this weird feeling of like, ‘If I’m too nice or too giving to this female partner, then she’s going to get attached,’” Saynt says. “It just makes things less satisfying and that much more difficult to find someone.”
The internet’s oral sex crusade
With the Headero app, Quaderer is hoping to combat this lingering oral sex stigma, as are the intrepid Reddit founders behind r/RandomActsOfBlowJob and r/RandomActsOfMuffDive. The former is for “Matching mouths and members,” the latter for “Pairing people with pussies.”
“The community members of RAOBJ/MD are some of the most sex-positive, thoughtful, and helpful people I know,” says Olivia Sheppard, a 32-year-old woman who works in marketing and moderates RAOBJ, in an email. “I would definitely say that group works towards fighting the social stigma against oral sex; and, in my opinion, the subreddit exists to help grow that community (in addition to its stated purpose of helping mouths and genitals make a connection).”
Mark, the oral-sex deprived husband from Reddit, has hooked up with one woman outside of his marriage through r/RandomActsOfMuffDive — at least one success story for the group, depending on your feelings about the sanctity of marriage.
To be clear, as InsideHook’s Kayla Kibbe argued earlier this year, no one should feel obligated to perform any sex act, including oral, that they are not truly comfortable with. But if there’s some social stigma or ignorance behind such a stance, as appears to be the case with Mark’s wife, there should at least be room for conversation.
“If you’re creating a safe setting for your partner, you can find out reasons why they might not enjoy oral as much, and then there might be things you can do to help make that better for them,” says Saynt.
“Oral sex is something that can enhance the couple’s sexual experience. It can enhance the way they talk about their sexuality, it can definitely [help] them be more vulnerable, sexually, with each other,” Bagi says. She adds that through communication and finding out what’s pleasurable and what isn’t in bed, it becomes “a lot easier to find a happy medium — or happy ending.”
The happy ending Quaderer is seeking is for Headero to become available nationwide. He says growth has been strong since the platform’s New York launch in July, with more than 5,000 users signed up to date. He hopes to break into the San Francisco market soon.
Standing in his way, however, is that lingering cultural stigma against sex, in the form of social media platforms’ banishment of advertising for sex-based goods and services. Quaderer says he can’t promote Headero on major platforms including Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, Tumblr and others.
Getting the word out on his mission of pleasure-inclusion is proving to be an uphill battle, which somehow has to be waged against the likes of Mark Zuckerberg.
“I have to go and fight that crusade,” Quaderer says. “And I am confident we’ll win.”