Education-Minded Teen Girls Say Blow Jobs Are Like Homework

There's been a ton of hysteria about all the blowjobs teenagers are allegedly giving and getting these days, but relatively little talk about how teen girls actually feel about giving head. Now a group of researchers has decided to ask them, and the results are kind of disturbing — turns out that for some girls, oral sex is "like homework."

In a study published last year in Sexuality Research and Social Policy, April Burns and her co-authors interviewed 98 teen girls from the San Francisco area about their oral sex experiences. Here's one girl's story:

We were outside my house in his car, and like I was saying goodbye to [my boy friend], he's like, and I'm like, and he's like, "just like kiss it" or something "please" and I was like, and I knew he was like joking cause like he didn't even have his like pants off, and then I was like, I dunno, I was actually kinda thinking about it cause I was like maybe I'll just like, I like, so my friends said, if you do it, just get through with it, like, it'll be over and then whatever. Then you're done. Not whatever, like, then you've gotten over like the first hump, like when you're doing homework, you know, just do it. Um, like, you'll get over like the first hump, and then you're just like done, then you can do, you can finish it. So like, that's kinda how I thought about a lot of things, like taking tests. I'm like, just do it, just do it, just keep going, just like don't like hold back, or like, when I'm like about to like jump off a cliff into the water. Like, I'm just like, just jump, just go and it'll be done. So that's kinda how I thought about it. I was like, "Okay, well, if I just do this now, I'll be okay with it later" which I guess I am now

The same girl said she'd been worried about being "horrible at giving head" because her boyfriend might think she was "a loser like person or something." Another girl said she was really scared before her first time giving oral sex — "what if I'm not gonna do it right?" She said she got over her fear after "practicing" with her boyfriend. A third said her boyfriend "taught" her how to give him head ("he's like 'see, you just do this'). And a fourth said that her first time was "like an instructional like video, I swear."

Burns et al note that the girls rarely talked about enjoying blowjobs or getting turned on — even when asked specifically what was going on in their bodies during the experience, they mention things like stiff necks. Rather, they discussed oral sex in the language of "academic achievement" — homework, tests, practice, learning, doing well, doing badly. The study authors argue that the academic values exemplified by No Child Left Behind, in which "young people's 'numbers' are understood to reflect their personal worth and value" have bled over into the way they think about sex. Burns et al write,

Young women's sexuality has always come with significant physical, social and material consequences attached (safety, health, social standing, relationships, pregnancy and child rearing, livelihood). The adolescent women in this project narrated yet another set of consequences attached to their sexual behaviors. Now there are contingencies of their performance level, consequences not attached to whether they have simply engaged in sexual activity at all — consensually or under duress, with a boyfriend or casual acquaintance, at 3 months or 3 hours, liking it or hating it — but if their participation was good enough, met certain normative standards and benchmarks. The looming possibility of not being good enough, and in fact, being bad at something, perhaps even the loss of an idealized and seemingly feminist can-do, can-be-all identity [...] hangs in the balance of male evaluation of girls' oral sex performances. The achievement concerns invoked by these girls in their descriptions of their oral sex experiences were troubling in that the performance "standards" they try to attain are inherently and explicitly "other" person based — originating outside of their own urgings, deliberations, priorities, values, desires or pleasure.

Obviously Burns and her colleagues couldn't talk to every teen girl in America, so there may well be girls out there who are having joyous and mutually satisfying oral sex. And to be clear, there's nothing wrong with doing something to get your partner off. What's sad here is how common it seems to be for girls to think of blowjobs as something they'd better be good at, or else they'll be losers, rather than something they can enjoy. The authors are right that girls are already encouraged to think of their sexuality as something for other people to judge — are they having sex with the right people, at the right time, in the right kind of relationship? Now they also feel judged on how well they do on the oral sex "test." The consequences of this judgment are potentially pretty serious: if all you're thinking about is doing a good job, it can be hard to have a good time.

"It's like doing homework": Academic achievement discourse in adolescent women's fellatio narratives [Academia.edu]

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