This is an adapted excerpt from Tracy Clark-Flory’s Want Me: A Sex Writer’s Journey into the Heart of Desire, a memoir about coming of age under the illusion of sexual empowerment. It’s out today, February 16.
It was an unforgettable, instantly recognizable sound: glug-glug-glug. Gagging until tears, mascara smearing like that of horror movie heroines. There was saliva—so much of it—frothy and thick, desperately spit out amid gasping breaths, or else escaping from the sides of a mouth. A face held between palms or hanging over the arm of a couch. Men saying “take it” or “good girl” or “choke on it.” Here, I have to ask myself: Am I writing a love poem or a feminist polemic?
I’m writing about deep throating clips. Face-fucking videos. Scenarios involving women to various degrees passive or active during a blow job.
In my early twenties, I often navigated over to YouJizz, a tube site with a logo that dripped with ejaculate, as though some cartoon brute had just wandered by and busted a prolific nut. I poked around in that cum-covered terrain with the belief that I was investigating the desires of straight men. Those perverts, those weirdos, upon whom I felt dependent as a mostly-pretty-sure-I-was-hetero woman.
Never mind my own hand in between my legs while I navigated, clicking right over to the highest-trafficked videos, where I often found blow job videos with titles bearing the words “sloppy,” “rough,” or “extreme.” I opened tab after tab after tab. I took those images with me and made my own, projecting them in the theater of my mind.
There were plenty of other taboo scenarios, but none that felt in such tension with my feminism—and none that quite so effectively turned me on.
The popular wisdom is that deep throating was mainstreamed in the wake of the 1972 Deep Throat, a legendary porn film that imagined a woman with a clitoris in her throat. The woman, played by Linda Lovelace, was plagued by an unsatisfying sex life, until her doctor took a look at her throat.
This pornographic narrative emerged against the backdrop of growing feminist critique around women’s dissatisfaction in heterosexual sex, as well as the celebration of clitoral orgasm, contrary to Freud’s pathologizing of it as “immature.” Just a few years earlier, the radical feminist Anne Koedt had published “The Myth of the Vaginal Orgasm,” an essay arguing that “the clitoris is not necessarily stimulated sufficiently in the conventional sexual positions.”
Deep Throat remedied this problem not through a greater attention to genital realities, but rather a fantastical anatomical redesign. As Erica Jong later put it of the film’s premise, “I was appalled,” she said. “How patriarchal.” I felt similarly about my face-fucking fantasies: how appalling, how patriarchal. How arousing.
Some critics focused less on accusations of patriarchy than the significance of the act within film. In 1989, the porn scholar Linda Williams argued that Deep Throat’s narrative searched for “a visual equivalent for the invisible moments of clitoral orgasm.” The equivalent is necessary not just because such pleasures can be obscured, but also because they can be feigned. Porn, she theorized, is chiefly concerned with the “utopian project of offering visual proof of authentic and involuntary spasms of pleasure,” typically through the money shot, which “is a poor substitute for the knowledge of female wonders.”
More recently, in 2014, the feminist scholar Helen Hester, riffing on Williams, raised the question of how the spit, bubbles, and “facial slime” in “rough deep throat fellatio” videos might displace the “male cum shot” with “an alternative set of abject bodily fluids” and the “corporeal paroxysms” of a woman gagging. “Via the exchange of orgasm and vaginal wetness for retching and facial discharges, the authentic experiences of the female body are rendered cinematically legible,” she wrote.
With partners, I relentlessly faked orgasms. I performed a simulacrum of losing myself. Privately, I fantasized about an act that would authentically induce spasms and fluids, one that would make my pleasure legible.
In the beginning, those clips sometimes made me queasy, and yet I kept watching. These videos were the truth about what straight men wanted from women, I thought. I took that truth in, again and again. It was, maybe, a feat of empathy: trying to get off on men’s pleasure. Or maybe I was hoping to catch a form of Stockholm syndrome, to inculcate myself with the contours of men’s fantasy. I massaged it in, literally. I made it feel okay—and then I made it feel kind of good, actually.
That is what I told myself. It’s one version of the truth.
Eventually, I arrived at another version: those videos turned me on from the start. My stomach had occasionally turned at the implications of my own arousal, my own desire. Viewing most-watched face-fucking clips and insisting it was what men wanted was a creatively engineered way to feel comfortable with being sexual, to abdicate my drive. I had the deeply baked belief that my sexual drive is excessive—which, because I am a woman, is to say that it exists at all. Here was a doubly useful form of erotic subterfuge: while being overpowered by men’s need, it’s impossible for my own wanting to be too much.
The psychotherapist Michael J. Bader argues that fantasies are unconsciously designed to make us feel safe enough to experience our desire, often by removing feelings of shame, guilt, inhibition, and worry. My own wanting couldn’t be too much while imagining someone else’s desire being shoved down my throat. Maybe this was my erotic feint: men’s wants were being done to me, and what better representation than gagging on a hard dick?
It also felt like an all-too-literal metaphor for being a heterosexual woman in this world. In these fantasies I was not only privileging a man’s pleasure, but being smothered by it. Since before puberty, I had encountered straight boy’s and men’s desires, as they were presented in the culture at large, and choked them down like bitter pills. I channeled my emergent wanting into being wanted, because what other valid or recognizable option was there? The feminist psychoanalyst Jessica Benjamin wrote of masochism as “a search for recognition through an other who... has the power for which the self longs, and through his recognition she gains it, though vicariously.”
In this light, face-fucking seemed a giddy, adaptive, grief-filled turn-on. I was wary, though, of all of these explanations because of the potential for pathologizing non-vanilla sex, and yet I longed for explanation. But the light kept shifting, bringing new interpretations. This fantasy was a slippery fish I could only ever briefly hold in my hands—and maybe that was part of its appeal.
In those early tube-site wandering days, I read journalist Sallie Tisdale’s phenomenal Talk Dirty to Me: An Intimate Philosophy of Sex, in which she argues that “fantasies are waking dreams” where images and scenarios— the archetypes of “one’s psychological environment”—sprout “from the soil of the subconscious.” To what extent were these my own images, though? Were these my desires or men’s desires? Were they nature or nurture? Authentic or inauthentic? These things felt impossibly intertwined. It was hard to tell where one ended and the other began.
I didn’t fully appreciate that I was stumbling upon some of the same dilemmas endlessly debated during the second wave. Amid the feminist “sex wars,” some activists suggested that women who enjoyed pornography had been brainwashed under patriarchy. But there also emerged feminist thinking—much of it from the landmark 1982 Barnard Conference on Sexuality—that sought to examine the politics of everything from porn to BDSM to butch/femme relationships, while also acknowledging, even celebrating, that the realm of sexual fantasy rarely capitulated to such critical analysis.
Surely, many feminist thinkers argued, women’s sexuality was influenced by our culture, but these things could not be easily disentangled. As feminist anthropologist Carole S. Vance rhetorically asked in the 1984 anthology Pleasure and Danger: Exploring Female Sexuality: “Do we distrust out passion, thinking it perhaps not our own but the construction of patriarchal culture? … Must our passion await expression for a safer time? When will the time come? Will any of us remember what her passion was?”
I admired how the legendary sex-positive feminist Susie Bright in 1999 exclaimed at an interviewer’s question about politically incorrect desires: “I don’t have to ‘reconcile feminism,’ how ridiculous—I challenged feminism and demanded that it get a grip and come to terms with human sexuality,” she said. “I don’t sit in bed with my dildo trying to rationalize anything!” Politically, I agreed with this sentiment. Personally, I sat in bed with my dildo trying to rationalize everything.
Only in the act itself could I escape my own mind—the constant analysis and argument and interrogation.
It is the adrenaline rush of throwing up. A tingling in the nasal passages, because there is a dick in my throat and my body is trying to sneeze it out. Tears sitting in the corner of my eyes, threatening to hop down my cheeks. It grounds me in the primally physical, like food poisoning or childbirth. Miserable and transcendent. An act of consumption and conquering, but also succumbing and surrendering, merging and becoming, suffocation and annihilation.
A few years after getting married, I suggested to my husband that we play out this enduring fantasy. I’d told him about it, but never asked for it, in part because the act itself had rarely been as pleasurable as the fantasy.
It was also the case that his desire didn’t fit the expected mold of “straight men’s desire.” While I had been watching face-fucking and gang bang compilations, he had leaned more toward black-and-white nude Tumblr photography. In college, he had read The Whole Lesbian Sex Book in what he described as a “misguided attempt to learn how to be non-heteronormative lover.” He wanted to avoid being a “stereotypical tin-eared, jackhammering brute.”
I’m not sure how misguided it was: he was the first man with whom I’d never faked an orgasm. But now here I was telling him to just fuck me in the face— pretend to be that heteronormative lover, that jackhammering brute.
I tried to rationalize, as much to him as to myself, just what it was that I wanted.
“It’s like I want you to do the patriarchy to me,” I told him irreverently. “Make me choke on your desire.”
“Okay,” he said, amused.
“But I want you to not want to do the patriarchy to me,” I added.
“Okay,” he said more cautiously.
“But I want you to be good at doing the patriarchy to me.”
“But not too good.”
From WANT ME by Tracy Clark-Flory, published by Penguin Books, an imprint of Penguin Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House, LLC. Copyright © 2021 by Tracy Clark-Flory.