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Archives o f Sexual Behavior, Vol. 16, No.

1, 1987

The Sexual Scripting of Oral Genital Contacts

J o h n H . G a g n o n , Ph.D., 1 and W i l l i a m S i m o n , Ph.D. 1

There is evidence from a number o f sources that contemporary cultural

scenarios for sexual conduct are offen very approving of oral genital sex.
Two surveys of sexual conduct are analyzed to examine the ehanges in in-
terpersonal sexual scripts for oral genital sex for eohorts of white and
eollege-edueated young people who en teredyoung adulthood between 1928
and 1943 and 1963 to 1967. Males in the earlier cohort had an excess of
fellatio during the premarital period from erotic contacts with prostitutes
and transient partners. In eontacts with potential marital partners and in
marriage men and women had equivalent rates o f oral sex indicating a
greater sexual reciprocity in these affectional relationships. In the latter
cohort male and female rates of oral sex before marriage are substantially
greater than for the earlier period but are equivalent for the two genders. In
both periods oral sex is most common among the coitally experieneed and is
initiated by males. Evidence is found for an inereased amount o f sexual ac-
tivity unlinked to marriage, what might be labeled pre-premarital sex. Male
partieipation in oral sex seems responsive to opportunity, lowered moral in-
hibition, and emotional eommitment while females" participation seems
more linked to features of the ongoing relationship. In a review of studies in
the 1970s and 1980s a further major increase in the incidence o f oral sex in
the period before marriage can be found. From these data it appears that
oral sex has become, over the last 50 years, part of the sexual scripts o f
many young people and is a common, though not necessarily a frequent,
component o f sexual relations in eontemporary marriage.
KEY WORDS: oral sex; sexual scripts; premarital sex; marital sex, socio hi8torical change,
gender differences.

The College Youth Study data used in this paper were gathered as part of a research project co-
ordinated by the authors when they were Senior Research Sociologists and Trustees of the In-
stitute for Sex Researeh, Indiana University. The research was supported by U.S. Public
Health Service NICHD grants HD02257 and HD04156. More recent research support has been
frorn the Biomedical Research Grants of the State University of New York, Stony Brook.
IDepartment of Sociology, The State University of New York, Stony Brook, New-
York 11794, and Department of Sociology, University of Houston.

0004-0002/87/0200-0001505.00/0 © 1987PlenumPublishingCorporation
2 Gagnon and Simon


Kissing, tongue kissing, manual and oral caressing of the body, par-
ticularly the female breasts, manual and oral contacts with both the fernale
and male genitalia, usually in this sequence, followed by intercourse in a
number of positions, are part of the repertoire of intrapsychic and interper-
sonal sexual scripts of the heterosexual majority in Western cultural
regions. The majority of the physical activities that constitute this scenario
for heterosexual conduct seem so "natural" to well-enculturated members of
these societies that their capacity to evoke desire appears to need no ex-
Despite this sense of naturalness among the tutored, the acquisition of
the interpersonal and intrapsychic scripts for these activities-with whom
they are appropriate, under what circumstances, in what order, what effects
they are presumed to have as weil as how one is to feel about oneself while
doing t h e m - i s often quite problematic for the untrained. These difficulties
are somewhat eased for many persons by a socially patterned, though
covert, sequence of sexual practice sessions that begin at a relatively low
level of physical intimacy (e.g., hugging and kissing) and escalate over
adolescence and young adulthood (Gagnon and Greenblat, 1978, 1988). In
addition to opportunifies of varying regularity for interpersonal practice there
are media depictions available (i.e., scfipts at the cultural level or cultural
scenarios) for sexual conduct that both elicit and order the interpersonal and
intrapsychic sexual scripts of individuals in the culture. However, even
among those who are sexually accomplished and weil practiced there may be
some anxiety about what is appropriate in each new relaionship, especially
those that involve new script elements (e.g., what to do with whom may vary
by partner type: lover, spouse, prostitute, or context: family bedroom, hotel
room, or orgy room).
This is particularly true of oral contacts, even tongue kissing, which
may offer to many individuals a sense of greater emotional and erotic in-
timacy in the relationship. Having "gone further" provides evidence for a
more significant level of desire to an individual and his or her partners. Part
of this sense of greater arousal derives from the thrill of violated taboos,
particularly in the case of oral genital contacts. Except among the most
ideologically erotic, such contacts require a sharpened consideration of who
one is, who ones partner is, what ones motives are, and how they are con-
strued by the partner, as weil as consideration of other issues about the
order of the events (e.g., is it before or after coitus) and the social context of
the relationship.
Clearly what produces sexual response is not merely the manipulation
of a sequence of concentrated touch-sensitive nerve endings located on
Sexual Scripting of Orai Genital Contacts

various parts o f the body but rather the specific cultural historical situation
of the individual. It is in this context that sexual conduct is named, ac-
quired, maintained, and extinguished. The ability to find other cultures or
historical moments in which one or another o f the elements in this physical
and interactional template for sexual activity is missing, down-played or
reordered should o f fer cues to the local character (in fime and place) o f the
givens o f modern sexual advice to the sexually uninformed, dysfunctional,
or adventurous.
Additional evidence o f the cultural basis for erotic technique is the
recency of the relatively taken-for-granted status or oral genital contacts as
part of "that which it is possible to do" or "that which should be done" in a
competent heterosexual interaction. In the late 1940s Kinsey and his
associates argued that "personal conflicts" over h u m a n sexual acfivity "most
often develop over masturbation, oral contacts, and the homosexual. These
are the three that need especial h e l p - - n o t because they are rare, but because
they are widespread, and because nearly every male in the population is at
one time or other involved in one or more o f them." (Kinsey, Pomeroy, and
Martin, 1948, p. 578). Although Kinsey e t al. observed that all three of these
forms o f conduct were faifly common, they argued that the intensity o f the
taboos against them as expressed in private aversions and legal statutes was
a measure of the culture's "attempt to eliminate them from the history of the
human animal" (p. 578) 2
In the interim between these arguments and the present, there has been
a substantial increase in the approbafion for oral genital sexuality from
respectable sources in the popular and academic sex educafion literature in-
tended for both youth and adults. Support for oral sex has been relafively
continuous in sexually liberated marriage manuals since the 1920s, however,
it was usually described chastely as the genital kiss (van de Velde,
1926/1965) and was included in the sexual repertoire of marriage as a
special gesture o f intimacy and emotional mutuality. The transforma-
tion of oral sex from an expression o f infimacy acceptable to a minority to
being a craft for the majority may be noted in the textbooks intended for

2Kinsey's position that there exists a normal rnamrnalian "sexual script" that is distorted
by the repressive forces of culture is faulty on a number of grounds. FirsL it is based on
an analogy from infrahumans to humans based solely on appearances (mouths are touching
genitals) without any examination of speeies-specific mechanisms or functions at the
biological or social levels. Second, Kinseyassumes that sexual conduct in the absence of repres-
sion will be correctlyreleased without moral or psychologicalconflict;the necessityof cultural
learning or the social elicitation of sexual conduct is never considered. This view is similar to
Freud's vision of civilization as opposed to natural sexuality but treats sexuality as a rnore
beneficient force when unrestrained. Third, Kinsey's treats erogenous zones as if they were
natural locales for sexual excitement rather than learned "places to be touched" that are part
of culturally appropriate sexual scripts (Gagnon, 1977).
4 Gagnon and $imoa

college level sexuality courses. Discussions o f oral sex n o w occur exclusively

in the sections on techniques o f arousal ( K a t c h a d o u r i a n and Lunde, 1976;
Delora a n d W a r r e n , 1977; M c C a r y , 1978; H y d e , 1979; Rosen and Rosen,
1981). 3 There is general agreement in these texts that individual resistänce to
oral sex results f r o m a culturally induced negativism a b o u t the genitals as
well as specific worries a b o u t their cleanliness or the existence o f
psychological blocks ( M c C a r y , 1978, p. 160). All authors agree there is no
health h a z a r d and if the activity is mutually desired it can enhance sexual
arousal, particularly if c o m b i n e d with o p e n c o m m u n i c a t i o n . 4
The i m p o r t a n c e o f Alex C o m f o r t ' s technique b o o k The Joy of Sex
c a n n o t be overestimated in its influence on the content and style o f these
t e x t b o o k discussions o f oral sexuality.5 The illustrations used and the sup-
porting rhetoric are b o t h part o f the legitimation o f the technique o f oral
sex as an i m p o r t a n t part o f the skills o f the sexually c o m p e t e n t person. Less
legitimate sources o f knowledge and approval, but perhaps m o r e influential
at earlier ages a m o n g males, are the cartoons depicting persons in the
postures o f oral genital sex (without the display o f genitalia in m o s t cases) as
well as jokes a b o u t "going d o w n " or "giving h e a d " which are extensions o f
the traditional sexual content o f adolescent male culture in such magazines
as Playboy or Penthouse. C o m p a r a t i v e materials for y o u t h f u l w o m e n m a y
be f o u n d in m o r e legitimate scientific f o r m s in the publication o f "sex
survey" results in the sex advice columns o f various w o m e n ' s magazines or
with greater dramatic effect in the pages o f the m o r e explicit r o m a n c e
novels. The writings o f Shere Hite (1976) and her praise o f oral sex as a par-
ticularly "female-centered" technique has h a d wide influence as well (pp.
232 ff.).
A l t h o u g h the cultural scenarios a b o u t oral sexuality in the United
States (as represented in textbooks, sex instruction manuals, magazines,
and the cinema) have changed, these should not be read as immediately
transplanting into changes in interpersonal c o n d u c t or intraspsychic scripts.

3Hyde (1979) is especially positive about cunnilingus reporting that "Many women today
are enthusiastic about cunnilingus" (p. 197) and only has some reservations about concurrent
mutual oral sex "because the woman may be distracted from the marvelous clitoral stimula-
tion that she is receiving" (p. 198).
4An of these works were writteu before the AIDS epidemic. I am sure that all of these
authors would have taken cognizance of these new conditions and offered advice about the
necessity for various types of "safe sex" required in different types of relationships.
5The decision by Alex Comfort to entitle his sexual technique book, The Joy
of Sex, highlighting its parallels to the cooking technique book The Joy of Cookingis a sign of
an important shift in the cultural scenarios provided for sexual conduct during the early
1970s. In the Comfort book the problems of sexuality are "what" and "how"
questions rather than "why" questions. Gourmet cooking and gourmet sex are both escapes
from everyday routine and both are cultural scenarios that emphasize planning, skill, and
reflection rather than sincerity, passion, and spontenaity.
Sexual Scripting of Oral Genitai Contacts

To make this assumption is to treat the conduct of individuals as if it were

immediately responsive to and reflective of the social order, a view that
Wrong (1961) has characterized as "an oversocialized view o f man." Indeed,
it is this complex relation between cultural scenarios and the conduct of in-
dividuals that needs to be addressed. However, data on the connections be-
tween social norms and values (what we call the level of cultural scenarios),
the concrete action of individuals (interpersonal scripts), and what in-
dividuals think about their conduct (intrapsychic scripts) are scarce in sex
research (as weil as in other areas of social research) (Simon and Gagnon,
1986). O f particular rarity are data on the acquisition and maintenance of
intrapsychic scripts that are central to the judgments of persons about
whether conduct is clean or unclean, gpecial or routine, appropriate or inap-
There do exist two sets of data on oral sexuality which are primarily
relevant to the interpersonal aspects of these questions. First, there are the
data gatherëd by Kinsey and his colleagues on the college educated as part
of their general sexual surveys. These data, for a variety of reasons, are the
least biased of the cases interviewed by this group. The data from these in-
terviews which were conducted primarily during the 1940s can be contrasted
with a probability sample-survey of college students conducted in 1967
which focused in greater detail on the questions asked by Kinsey (see the
Addendum to this article for a consideration of later studies). It is possible
to compare these two cross-sectional studies for evidence of changes over
time and to analyze more closely the second study for the ways in which oral
sexuality fits into more contemporary sociosexual development.


Regardless of the problems that Kinsey's theoretical formulations

pose, the data reported in his studies represent the first moderately
systematic information about oral genital sex in the United Stares.
However, the data from those interviewed as part of Kinsey studies need to
be seen as a representation of a culturally and historically specific popula-
tion rather than as a sample of "human sexual behavior." The Kinsey data
represent a collection o f white, youthful, volunteer respondents from the
better educated segment o f the population who shared certain specific
cohort experiences relevant to their sexuality. Thus, more than 95% of the
Kinsey study cases were white. The median age of the men and women that
the Kinsey group intervi-ewed was slightly over 23, indeed, somewhat more
than 70% of those interviewed were 30 years of age and younger. Those in-
terviewed who were not specifically chosen because they were delinquents,
criminals, or sex offenders, were, in the tradition of nearly all sex research,
6 Gagnon and Simon

college educated. About 83~/0 of the men and women interviewed had had
some college education and many were in college at the time of interview.
Perhaps more striking is the fact that 2507o of the college-educated women
had been to graduate school, as had 4707o of the college-educated men.
Finally, more than 7007o of the men and the women were born in period
from 1915 to 1929, with almost all of the remainder born in the period prior
to 1915.
The historical population segment represented by the Kinsey inter-
views is perhaps best described as a youthful chunk of the college-educated
portion of the U.S. population whose adolescence and young adulthoods
(say ages 15-25) occurred primarily during the late 1920s, the Great Depres-
sion, and the years of the Second World War. The relevant forces that
shaped their sexual lives would then have to be located in the familial,
religious, social class, economic, and political events of those times.
Similarly, the meaning of their reports not only about oral genital sexuality
but about the remainder of their sexual lives need to be interpreted not as
human universals but as specific responses to the cultural-historical context
in which they learned and enacted their sexual conduct.

Premarital Oral Genitai Contacts

ùThe male, single, college-educated respondents in the Kinsey studies

reported that about twice as many had experienced fellatio as had performed
cunnilingus (Kinsey et al., 1948) during their premarital sexual life (see Table 1).
The difference between the male reports of performing cunnilingus and receiv-
ing fellation before marriage requires some interpretation. Part of the dif
ference could be a blas toward underreporting cunnilingus by males in this
time period; oral genital contact might have been easier to report when
it was received rather than when provided. A more substantive explanation
for this difference is that in this historical period many males might have
received a substantial portion of their premarital fellation experiences from
prostitute contacts. Sex with prostitutes during young adulthood in this
period was fairly common, and fellatio was then, as now, a significant ele-
ment in the prostitute script. In addition sexual encounters with women defin-
ed as "bad girls" were often the occasion for experimentation with f•rbidden
When these male reports of both providing and receiving oral genital
contacts are contrasted with the reports of the women who were interviewed
by Kinsey, some useful comparisons emerge. Among single women who at-
tended either college or graduate school the proportion who report either
cunnilingus or fellatio is quite similar, though women with graduate school
educations were more likely to have experienced either cunnilingus or
fellatio (see Table II). The proportion of never-married women who had
Sexual Seripting of Oral Genital Contacts

Table I. Oral Genital Contacts of Men with 13 or More Years of

Educafion by Marital Status a n d Age a
PremaritaI Marital
Men's Adolescent
experience _< 25 All ages All ages
% n o70 n % n
fellatio 34.5 438 38.6 564 42.7 1070
cunnilingus 15.5 438 18.4 564 45.3 1070
"The data cited are restricted to college level maies since this
population is less distorted by delinquent populations and is
dominated by college attending males making it similar to other
college based studies. All o f the problems of a volunteer study
remain, m o s t likely inflating somewhat the rates. Data are taken
from p. 368, Table 93, Kinsey et al., 1948. In the text describ-
ing this table Kinsey et aL report that as m a n y as 70% of the
maies in the society had oral genital contacts. This figure is
actually referential only to the incidence figure for the college-
educated maies between the ages of 30 and 45 a n d includes h o m o -
sexual as weil as paid heterosexual contacts and combines fel-
latio and cunninlingus. A n u m b e r of recent citations of these data
suggest that this figure is being treated as the true incidence of oral
genital contacts a m o n g heterosexual males during this time
p e r i o d - Kinsey's presentation makes such an interpretation easier
than necessary (Kinsey et al., 1948, p. 371).

Table II. Incidence o f Premarital Oral Genital Contacts A m o n g Never-

Married W o m e n and Marital Oral Genital Contacts A m o n g Ever-Married
W o m e n with College and Graduate School Educational Levels by Decade o f
Birth «
Premarital contacts MaHtal contacts
Decades of birth All decades
W o m e n ' s experience
by educational level 1900-1909 1910-1935
% n % n % n
13-16 15.4 280 10.8 2713 52.0 1058
17 + 22.2 310 21.9 634 52.0 618
. cunnilingus
13-16 17.8 280 12.0 2713 58.0 1058
17+ 27.4 310 23.4 634 57.0 618
"The final year on the 1910 cohort is an estimate based on the fact that the
closing date for interviews to be included in Sexual Behavior in the H u m a n
Female was 1950 for most tables included in the book. The data on pre-
marital contacts are recalculafions from Table 73, p. 281, and those on
marital contacts are from Table 10Ö, p. 399 (Kinsey et al., 1953).
8 Gagnon and Simon

only college level educations (indeed many of these women were in college
when interviewed) who report erer experiencing cunnilingus or fellatio is
quite similar to the proportion of men who report providing cunnilingus.
Indeed the women in the study are slightly more likely to report that they
have experienced cunnilingus than that they have performed fellatio. This
finding lends support to the view that some males were receiving fellatio
from paid contacts. In addition some of these experiences might have
resulted from contacts with a minority of women at this time who were
somewhat more sexually active and experimental than the äverage and who
might have provided oral genital contacts for a larger number of male part-
ners. There is evidence within the body of the Kinsey studies of a small pool
of relatively sexually active females (approximately 10 to 12~/0, see Kinsey et
aL, 1953, p. 336) whose premarital sexual pattern included a variety of part-
ners and techniques. This minority of the minority of sexually active
educated women represents the "bad girls" produced by the double standard
of premarital sexual morality that prevailed during the period for which the
Kinsey studies provide data. The active sexual pattern of this group of
women contrast with the relatively inactive majority." thus about one-half of
the ever-married w0men interviewed by the Kinsey group were virgins at
first marriage and half of the number who reported premarital coitus said it
occurred with only one male, predominantly the fiancee. These data pro-
vide further support for the view that the premarital sexual lives of the ma-
jority of men and women were quite different during this period
(1929-1948) and that among women, far more than among men, sexual
lives were often truly "premarital," that this, organized by the process of get-
ting married.
Data from the Kinsey studies also supply further information in terms
of the sequencing of oral genital contacts in the premarital heterosexual
script in during this historical period. A number of commentators on the
sexual practices of the time suggested that an increase in oral genital con-
tacts might have occurred as a source of orgasm before marriage among
those coitally inexperienced, in part because of birth control considerations
and in part because of the increased salience of petting and orgasm in
premarital life. However attractive this hypothesis of the "techinical virgin"
might have been, the evidence from Kinsey is that, for this period, it was the
coitally experienced who had the highest incidence of oral genital experience
and the more frequent the coitus, the greater the incidence. In addition
these data also suggest that a major portion of the differences in oral genital
contacts between the never-married women with only college educations
and those with graduate school educations is a result of higher levels of
premarital coital experience among the latter (Table III).
About one-half of women who were most coitally experienced
reported oral-genital contacts in contrast to the 1 in 20 who had never had
Sexual Scripting of Oral Genital Contacts

Table III. Incidence of Oral Genital Contacts Among Never-Married Women

with College and Graduate Educational Levels by Decade of Birth and Fre-
quency of Coitus
Educational level
13-16 17 +
1900-1909 1910-1935 1900-1909 1910-1935
Women'e experience % % % %
Ever fellatio
Frëquency of coitus
Never 4 132 2 1939 3 129 5 313
<24 times 3 59 17 386 7 59 23 134
>24 times 40 89 45 391 47 124 49 187
Ever cunnilingus
Never 4 132 3 1938 5 129 7 313
<24 times 8 59 21 386 14 59 26 134
>24 times 45 89 48 391 57 124 52 187

coitus who report oral genital contacts. The tipping point for participation
in either fellatio or cunnilingus for women appears to have been the point at
which coitus became more frequent in the individual's sexual repertoire. At
the same time, however, it should be pointed out that oral genital contacts
occurred only among half of those women who were more experienced in
coitus. The previously observed differences in the incidence of oral genital
contacts between the subjects who had only college educafions and those
with graduate educations appear enfirely due to a higher incidence of
premarital coitus among the latter.

Marital Oral Genital C o n t a c t s

There is a greater consonance between oral genital sex reported in

marriage for both the men and the women whose conduct was reported in
the Kinsey et aL (1948; 1953) studies (see Tables I and II). The proporfions
of men and women reporting oral genital sex was relatively equal between
cunnilingus and fellatio and a m o n g the women there was little difference
between those with college and those with graduate school educations.
What this suggests is that oral genital contacts became normalized in the
marital bed by the 1930s at least among the better educated. The compa-
nionate marriage based on reciprocity seems to have taken hold at least in
the domain of the sexual if nowhere else in marriage.
However it is somewhat anomalous that the proportion of women
reporting oral genital contacts is higher than that for men. This may mean
that the men in the original Kinsey et al. volume of 1948 were somewhat less
forthcoming about their experience in oral-genital sex than the women
~0 Gagnon and Siman

whose responses were reported in the later volume. However, it may weil be
that two other forces were at work. The first is the educational selection of
husbands on the part of these well-educated women. These women were
more likely to have husbands with educations that equaled or surpassed
their own, increasing the likelihood of sexual experimentation in their mar-
riages. This would contrast with college-educated men who selected their
wives from a wider educational spectrum and hence offen had less sexually
liberal spouses. Second, it may weil be that the educated women who
volunteered for the Kinsey studies differed sexually from other educated
women in the society far more than the men who were interviewed differed
from their peers. There is evidence from other studies that "outliers" in
social groups (e.g., tiny well-educated minorities in groups with poorly
educated majorities) behave differently than those with similar statuses in
groups where these statuses are more widely held (Gagnon, 1985). Thus
education may impact the sexual liberalism of women more than equivalent
levels of education impacts that of men.
There is also evidence for a historical increase in the incidence of oraJ
genital contacts in the reports of these married women. Thus in Table IV
there is a steady increase in the proportion of women who reported oral
genital sex of any kind when the cohort born before 1900 is contrasted with
the cohort born between 1920 and 1929 for both college and graduate school
educated women. The increment appears to be about 6 to 10% per decade.
Based on more recent changes in cultural scenarios we would expect that such
cohort increases in the incidence of oral genital contacts in marriage to have

Frequencies of Oral Genital Contacts

More recently the marginal tabulations of the entire file of interviews

gathered using the Kinsey format were published and the data on oral

Table IV. Incidence of Oral Genital Contacts Among Married Women with Col-
lege and Graduate School Educational Levels by Decade of Birth
Decade of birth
Women's experience
by educational level Pre-1900 1900-1909 1910-1919 1920-1929
% h % n % n % n

13-16 24 109 47 241 54 378 62 330
17 + 35 113 50 208 62 206 52 91
Ever cunnilingus
13-16 44 109 54 241 60 378 64 330
17 + 44 113 56 208 67 206 51 91
Sexual Scripting of Oral Genltal Contacts 11

genital sex in three different sociosexual contexts was included (see Gebhard
and Johnson, 1979, pp. 296-297 and 371-372). The data for oral genital con-
tact in premarital petting included in these tables are uninterpretable because
they include persons of a wide varietY of ages and sexual and marital
histories, all of which influence the frequency of oral genital contact. As a
consequence these data have been excluded from consideration here.
It is, however, profitable to examine the responses of those subjects
who were unmarried and coitally experienced when interviewe& When these
respondents were asked how offen they had engaged in either fellatio or
cunnilingus as part of the foreplay for premarital coitus the differences be-
tween the men and women are similar to the differences reported between
the data in Table I and that reported in Tables II and III. A larger propor-
tion of women reported providing fellatio than men reported receiving it
and more women reported receiving cunnilingus than men reported per-
forming it (Table V). The differences are dramatic and if the differences are
taken to be real rather than reporting errors on the part of the men, then it

Table V. Frequency of Fellatio and Cunnilingus in Premarital and

Marital Coital Foreplay Among Women and Men with One or More
Years of College"
n Never Rare Little Some Much
In premarital
Women 569 52.4 6.2 12.8 6.3 22.3
Men 1479 85.5 2.7 4.6 1.8 5.4
In Marital
foreplay c
Women 1594 46.0 4.4 17.0 12.5 20.1
Men 1832 51.1 6.8 i8.0 9.5 14.6
In premarital
foreplay b
Women 569 58.3 4.0 10.7 4.4 22.7
Men 1464 72.3 6.4 7.9 4.2 8.9
In marital
foreplay c
Women 1591 51.3 5.1 16.4 10.3 16.9
Men 1829 54.4 7.9 17.8 7.7 12.1
"All data from Gebhard and Johnson, The Kinsey Data, Saunders,
Philadelphia; 1979.
blncludes only those coitally experienced, but never married; the
question treated oral genital contacts as foreplay to coltus. From
Gebhard and Johnson, Tables 247 and 248, pp. 296-297.
Clncludes data only from first marriages; the question treated oral
genital contacts as foreplay to marital coitus. From Gebhard and
Johnson, Tables 322 and 323, pp. 371-372.
12 Gagnon and Simon

supports the argument that the pool of coitally active women in this period
were more sexually experimental than the much larger pooI o f coitally active
men. Further, the differences in the proportion reporting that oral genital
sex was frequent is far greater among the women than the men. Eren if we
hypothesized that men use weaker verbal terms to estimate numerical fre-
quencies in the sexual area, i.e., that they are more likely to label a fre-
quency "sometimes" which women would label "frequent," the differences
seem greater than would be accounted for by this explanation. The dif-
ferences also support the view that there existed at this time a sexually active
subset of women whose movement into coitus was often accompanied by
other forms o f sexual e×perimentation.
The substantial convergence of frequencies of oral genital contacts
reported by both men and women in marriage suggest that about half of the
married persons interviewed by Kinsey and his associates had such contacts,
that the contacts were reciprocated, and that in something like 15 to 20% of
cases subjects reported that oral contacts were a frequent precursor of
marital intercourse. The convergence between the reports of men and
women also suggest that the movement into marriage and legitimate coitus
facilitated the inclusion o f oral sex in the precoital script for those who were
either virginal or inexperienced in oral genital sex at the moment of mar-
The data then for those persons with college educations whose sexual
lives began largely between 1930 and 1945 suggest the following patterns:
1. Among the unmarried oral genital contacts were largely reserved to
those already coitally experienced and that oral sex either accompanied or
followed the movement into a sexual script that included coitus.
2. While more unmarried men were coitally experienced than women,
the minority of women who w e r e coitally experienced were more likely than
men to have had oral genital contacts. Further, the more frequent the coital
experience for women the more likely there were oral genital contacts.
3. Unmarried women reported equal amounts of fellation and cun-
ninlingus, while unmarried men reported more fellation than cunnilingus.
This may result from men in this era having more prostitute contacts
(fellatio is standard part of the prostitute script) and from transient sexual
encounters with women defined as erotic and hence nonmarriageable on the
part of many men.
4. In premarital life only one half of the coitally experienced women
and a smaller proportion of coitally experienced men reported oral genital
5. In marriage both men and women reported a similar incidence and
frequency of oral genital contacts. This characterizes slightly less than half
of the married subjects.
6. The reports from women indicate that there was a steady increase in
the proportion with oral genital contacts in more recent birth cohorts. In the
Sexual Seriptlng of Orat Genitai Contacts 13

marital relations of the most recent cohorts, the incidence approached 70%,
and it is likely that the frequency rose as well.
Oral genital sex in this period, as reflected in conduct of the Kinsey
subjects, was a minority phenomenon before marriage, was more salient in
marriage, and from what evidence we have, oral sex was frequent in only a
small number of those marriages. There is a division between the interper-
sonal scripts for men and women before marriage, with male experiences
with fellation probably deriving from paid and perhaps transitory nonpaid
relations and cunnilingus occuring in more intimate consensual relations. A
majority of female experiences with fellation and cunnilingus were more
likely to have occurred in relations that had already been defined as ap-
propriate for coitus (commonly involving love and intimacy). Although
there is little evidence, it is likely that the male partner may have initiated
oral sex eitlier by requesting fellation or attempting cunnilingus. In mar-
riage, oral sex becomes more reciprocal, however it is frequent for only one
in four married couples.
Given the generally negative cultural climate for valuing, learning,
and sustaining such conduct, these rates could be considered substantial.
Evidence we have about volunteer effects and other biases in the Kinsey
data base suggëst that these are the maximum figures for the United States
~s a whole in this historical period.

The "Children" of the Kinsey Cohorts

Using a data set from the late 1960s it is possible to examine whatever
changes might have occurred in premarital oral genital practices in the two
decades since the Kinsey studies. In addition we can add to our knowledge
about the social processes involved in the acquisition and maintenance of oral
genital contacts in a more recent period. In the Spring of 1967 a stratified pro-
bability sample of college students was interviewed about a wide range of sex-
ual and nonsexual matters in order to examine the role of sexual conduct in
the general processes of social and psychological development (see Footnote 5
for more details of this study).

JA sample of 12 colleges was chosen from the N O R C list of 4-year accredited coeduca-
tional and nonsectarian colleges. Three sample lists of 100 students, half male and half
female, stratified equally by year in school and age-restricted by year in school (first year
students could be 17-19, second year 18-20, etc.) were chosen from available student lists at
each school. A final sample of 100 students per school was interviewed from these lists. W h e n
replacements were needed they were chosen from the second list. The completion rate was
75070. Interviewing was done by a specially trained staff of NORC-supervised interviewers.
14 Gagnon and Simon

In many ways this sample of young people could be considered

roughly as the historical and cultural "children" of the Kinsey generation of
interviewees. The median age of this college sample was 20, with a median
year of birth in 1947, representing births in the first few years of the baby
boom. By 1947 the majority of the college-educated segments of the Kinsey
studies were in their child-bearing years, particularly the cohorts born bet-
ween 1910 and 1925. The cohort born between 1925 and 1930 would be
underrepresented, but differences between this last 5-year cohort and those
born earlier are small. The point is not that these are actual children but that
this new sample represents a generafional slice which offers a measure of the
potential changes in the scripts for oral genital sex in premarital life.
In Table VI we can observe the relative simflarity between the reports
of young women and young men in the 1967 study in terms of their reports
of oral sex, particularly of cunnilingus. There are some differences, with a
larger proportion of men reporting fellation than women reporting

Table Vl. Frequency o f Oral Genital Contacts by Year in School

and Gender ~
W o m e n ' s RePort
Year in
school n Frequent Sometimes Rarely Never
First 136 0.0 2.2 15.4 82.4
Second 149 2.0 7.4 15.4 75.2
Third 147 0.7 9.5 17.7 72.1
Fourth 145 0.0 13.1 20.7 66.2
Total 577 0.7 8.1 17.3 73.8
First 136 0.7 1.5 5.9 91.9
Second 149 1.3 8.7 10.7 79.2
Third 147 0.7 7.5 16.3 75.5
Fourth 145 1.4 9.7 19.7 69.7
Total 577 1.0 6.9 13.2 78.9
Men's Report
First 148 0.0 2.7 7.4 89.9
Second 140 0.7 7.1 18.6 73.6
Third 149 0.7 9.4 22.8 67.1
Fourth 147 1.4 15.0 29.9 53.7
Total 584 0.7 8.6 19.7 71.1
First 148 0.0 4.1 6.8 89.1
Second 140 0.7 9.3 19.3 70.7
Third 147 1.3 9.4 25.3 65.6
Fourth 147 1.4 19.7 21.8 57.1
Total 584 0.9 10.6 17.8 70.7
Sexual Scripting of Oral Genita| Contacts 15

fellating in comparable school years; however even here the overall dif-
ferences is only about 8%. There are differences of somewhat over 10°70
between women and men seniors which we suspect results from a differen-
tial outmigration from the sample of the more sexually active women in the
first few years of college, largely through marriage. This suspicion cannot
be confirmed in what is a cross-sectional sample, but other differences be-
tween first year and fourth year women in other forms of sexual activ]ty
support this view as well.
About 30070 of the men and about 25070 of the women in the study had
ever experienced oral genital contacts. These figures represent a substantial
change from the reports of premarital oral genital contacts by the youngest
birth cohorts (1920-1929) in the Kinsey populations. For the men there is
twice the proportion reporting cunnilingus and a somewhat smaller pro-
portion reporting fellation, and for the women about twice the incidence for
both fellatio and cunnilingus. The similarities of the rates reported by males
and females and the decline in the male reports of fellatio suggest a reduc-
tion in "excess" experience of fellatio by males from commerical contacts.
It is apparent from the data in the study that, as in the past, these oral
genital contacts were most likely to develop in the context of frequent
genital petting and coitus. In this case we have restricted our analysis to
male reports of cunnilingus and female reports of fellation since the dif-
ferences between these reports and comparable reports of fellation by males
and cunnilingus by females are small. As the frequency of coitus increases
there is a steady increase in the incidence and frequency of oral sex (see
Table VII). Nearly all persons, both male and female, who reported fre-
quent oral sex, reported frequent coitus (but not vice versa). Eighty-five
pereent of women with frequent coitus reported fellation, whereas only
70% of the men with similar coital patterns reported cunnilingus. Once

Table VII. Frequency o f Oral Genital Contacts by Frequency of

Coitus and Gender
Frequency Frequent Sometimes Rarely Never
of coitus n o7o °70 °70 o70
W o m e n report fellatio
Frequent 40 12.5 35.6 37.5 15:0
Sometimes 78 1.3 23.1 34.6 41.0
Rarely 57 0.0 3.5 29.8 66.7
Never 400 0.0 1.5 3.8 94.7
Men report cunnilingus
Frequent 54 5.6 37.0 27.8 29.6
Sometimes 123 0.8 19.5 41.5 41.5
Rarely 119 0.0 0.8 30.2 69.0
Never 282 0.0 1.8 3.5 94.7
16 Gagnon and $imon

again it appears as if the relatively smaller proportion of women who were

most sexually active were somewhat more experimental than equivalently
sexually active males.
Equally significant is the relatively small proportion of the coitally in-
experienced persons who reported oral genital sex. A b o u t 5 %0 of the males
without coitus in college reported cunnilingus; as did a similar proportion
of females without coitus who reported fellation. When these figures are
compared with reports of cunnilingus by females without coitusl a slightly
larger proportion reported males performing it on them (9.0%0), but a
smaller proportion of males without coitus reported having been fellated
(3.2%). Contact either in petting or coitus (note that most of those with fre-
quent heavy petting had coitus) as well as a definition of the relationship as
intimate seems to have been required for oral genital contacts to be per-
missible. Indeed when we examine the joint influence of manual-genital
contacts and coitus on the incidence of oral genital contacts, it is apparent
that even a m o n g those with frequent manual genitaI contacts and coitus,
oral genital contacts were not universal (Table VIII), The importance of
coitus in increasing the incidence of oral genital contacts a m o n g those with
differing rates of manual genital contacts should be apparent. While the lat-
ter does produce a small independent effect on the likelihood o f oral genital
contact, it is coitus that is most influential. Further, it needs to be pointed
out that even though coitus and manual genital contacts are nearly universal
in marriage, they are not sufficient to produce universal oral genital con-
tacts. It is quite clear f r o m these data that frequent oral genital contact
a n d / o r oral genital contact for its own sake (not as a prelude to coitus) was
probably not c o m m o n before or even during marriage during this period.

Table VHI. Incidenceof Oral Genital Contacts by Incidence

of Coitus Controlling for Frequency of Genital Petting and
Women report Men report
fellatio cunnilingus
Genital Coital
petting experience % n % n
m _ _ _

Frequent Yes 87.1 31 82.5 63

No -- 3 -- 9
Sometimes Yes 65.1 83 49.7 159
No 18.2 44 12.9 31
Rarely Yes 30.9 55 25.7 70
No 11.8 93 10:2 59
Nevera No -- 259 -- 185
"Number of cases with who never engaged in genital
petting and never had coitus.
Sexual Seripting of Oral Genital Contacts 17

Even among those coitally experienced in this cohort there appears to

be no automatic transfer of these erotic techniques from one relationship to
another within the college years. Thus those who have had more coital part-
ners do have a greater likelihood of having oral genital sex, however even
among those with three or more partners, a third of both women and men
report not having oral genital contacts. There is a small hut interesting dif-
ference between women and men reporting a single partner, with women
more likely than men to report oral genital contacts. Given that women
more of ten than men have their first intercourse in a relationship that is
defined as caring and intimate it might be expected that oral genital sex
would be more probable. Among those with two or more relationships these
differences disappear (Table IX).
In previous studies of premarital coitus, intense love e×periences and
religious devoutness (as measured by church attendance) have commonly
had opposing effects on sexual experience (Kinsey et aL, 1948, 1953;
Chilman, 1979; Reiss, 1967; Gagnon, 1977). Love experiences have usually
increased sexual activity and more frequent church attendance has usually
decreased it.
Thus it is somewhat unexpected that increased numbers of love e×-
periences had no direct effect on the incidence of oral genital contact among
women given the importance o f emotional commitment to their decision to
have coitus. What may be operative here is that the relative universality of
affection in these relationships actually reduces the impact that love "as a
variable" has on oral sex. The usual pattern is that affectional relationships
increase the likelihood of coitus, but that it is the quality and continuity of

Table IX. Frequency o f Oral Genital Contacts by N u m b e r o f

Coital Partners and Gender
No. of
coital Frequent Sometimes Rarely Never
partners n °B °B OB OB
W o m e n report fellatio
None 399 0.0 1.5 3.8 94.7
1 104 3.8 15.4 37.5 43.3
2 30 6.7 13.3 27.7 53.3
3+ 44 0.0 31.8 31.8 36.4
M e n report cunnilingus
None 282 0.0 2.8 3.9 94.3
1 99 1.0 9.1 27.3 62.6
2 61 1.6 8.2 32.8 57.4
3+ 142 1.4 21.8 40.1 36.6
18 Gagnon anä Simon

that relationship (perhaps as indexed by coita~ frequency) that influences

the likelihood of oral sex. In contrast to the experience of the women in the
sample, the more often men have been in love, whether they have had coitus
or not, the more likely they are to have oral genital contacts (Table X).
Although there is some reduction in the incidence of oral genital con-
tact among the more religious men who have had coital experience, the ef-
fects are not as powerful among women. Indeed among the most frequently
church-attending women there is a reversal, with those with coitus having
had the highest incidence of oral genital contacts (nearly 64% in contrast to
59% among those attended on holidays or not at all and 47% who attended
from once a month to twice a month). This small finding should not be
overinterpreted, however it suggests the continuing complexity of oral sex
among these young women. A m o n g those still attending church and coitally
experienced the experience of oral sex may be an expression o f conflict be-
tween the claims of virtue and a sexual status that seems to signify vice.
A m o n g the men, the church attendance variable behaves more conven-
tionally with a small monotonic increase in those with oral genital contacts
as church attendance declines.
What these findings suggest is that the impact of these variables was
more linear in the case of men than women. The more partners these men
had, the less religious they were, and the more orten they had been in love,
the more likely they were to have oral genital sex. The conditions for men to
have begun oral genital contacts seems to be dependent on more oppor-
tunities, less moral inhibition, and more affectional facilitation. For women
each variable involves a more complex relationship. The practice of
oral genital contacts among these women seems to have been more speci-
fic to each relationship and involved tapping both nurturant and erotic
motives that were only partially measured, in part this difference may rest

Table X. Incidence of Oral Genital Contact by Incidence of

Coitus Controlling for Love Experience and Gender
Women report Men report
fellatio cunnilingus
Love Coital
experience experience % n % n
Never Yes - 7 40.4 47
No 3.0 99 0.9 109
One time Yes 58.8 80 50.0 138
No 5.6 180 8.5 106
Two or Yes 51.9 79 63.1 84
more times No 6.4 94 9.5 42
Sexua| Scripting of Oral Genital Contacts 19

upon the different role that ech gender plays in the introdu¢tion of oral
genital sex into an erotic relationship. The proa¢tive role o f men in in-
itiating oral sex through cunnilingus may be seen as shaping a more "order-
ly" and perhaps less conflicted process of role acquisition than hat for
women who remain more reactive and hence less in control of the sexual
What we may be observing hefe is the emergence of a historically new
set of decisions about various forms of sexual ¢onduct that needed to
be made by cohorts of young people in the middle to late 1960s. Young
people in that period were beginning to parti¢ipate in what might be
described as pre-premarital sex. Beginning perhaps at the turn o f the ¢en-
tury, inter¢ourse before marriage, particularly for women, but not uncom-
monly among men, was enacted as part of the rituals of intimacy and
escalating ¢ommitment leading up to marriage. As indicated eaflier in this
paper large numbers of the women reported in the Kinsey studies having in-
tercourse solely with their fiancee before marriage (Kinsey et al, 1953).
Even among men, intercourse before marriage involved making a distinc-
tion between bad girls and good girls with intercourse with the latter
restri¢ted to a premarital relationship. For the rast majority of women and
for many men such intercourse was truly premarital in the sense that it was
directly part of the process of getting married.
The evidence of this study completed in 1967 as well more recent
research (DeLamater and MacCorquodale, 1979; Kantner and Zelnik, 1972;
Chilman, 1979) indicates that in recent decades the proportion of young
people engaging in inter¢ourse has grown, that intercourse is o¢curring at
earlier ages, and that the number of coital partners has increased in the
period that predates marriage. As a result of young people having more
emotional-erotic relafions that do not lead (and which are increasingly not
expected to lead) to marriage, they are required to make more comple×
distinctions between sexual partners and what the appropriate sexual techni-
ques might be in differing relationships.
Thus the crifical factors that predispose young people to oral genital
contact is not simply the number of coital partners, level o f religious com-
mitment, having been in love, or even the frequency of intercourse, though
these may be influential. The research problem is moving from essentially
statistical bookkeeping measures to those unmeasured decisions that are
made by young people within the context of ongoing social and erotic rela-
tionships that no longer serve eren covertly tradifional institutional goa~_s.
The motivation for oral genita| sex may shift from the nurturant and affec-
tionate (he/she wanted it), to the expresssion of love (I wanted to do it
because she/he is special), or to a matter of erotic technique (I wanted to
20 Gagnon and Simon

turn him/her on) in differing relationships or even within the same relation-
A measure of this complexity can be observed by examining the
answers to the question of why those in the sample who had had at least
manual genital contacts had not gone on to oral genital experience. This is
clearly a special subset o f the young people in the sample; it excludes, for in-
stance, the reasons that might have been given by those with little sexual ex-
perience. It does, however, offer some information about reasons for not
participating in oral genital contacts among the more sexually experienced.
In Table XI the reasons "why not" are presented in relation to whether the
respondents had coitus or not.
The differing cultural meaning to oral sex for women and men is quite
apparent as is the complexity of the transition from being the kind of per-
sons who "does" from the kind of person who "doesn't." Both women and
men who were inexperienced in coitus and oral sex clearly saw the latter as
something that was inconsistent with their self-concept by selecting such
responses as immoral, self not want, embarassed, loss of reputation, or
shyness. When the coitally experienced are contrasted with the inexperi-
enced these nonsexual self-concept inconsistencies remain more common
among the women, indeed shyness and embarassment were the two most
frequent reasons given by the coitaUy experienced women. Similarly the
lack of fit of oral sex with conventional gender identities is suggested by the

Table XI. Reasons for Not Engaging in Oral

Genital Contacts by Coital Experience and
Coital experience
Women Men
Reasons given Yes No Yes No
Immoral 29.6 45.7 22.3 53.6
not want 37.0 46.3 46.4 36.1
not want 29.6 31.7 49.1 48.5
disapprove 13.0 26.0 7.1 20.6
Fear lose
control 20.5 13.0 8.0 18.6
Fear partner
lose control 32.3 24.1 8.9 11.3
Embarrassed 39.4 39.2 19.6 34.0
Loss of
reputation 25.9 40.9 19.6 36.1
Fear VD 3.7 15.7 25.8 25.0
Too shy 57.4 46.5 24.1 34.0
n (54) (127) (112) (97)
Sexual Scriptlng of Oral Genital Contacts 21

increase in women who worried about their partner losing control ("What
else will he want?," a continuafion of fears about the sexual beast in men).
The men's concern that their partner "does not want to do it" is partially a
disp~acement of their anxiety of being required to initiate the conduct. What
is significant is that the inclusion of oral contacts in the sexual script even
after coitus remains a more risky or emotion-laden experience for women,
at least as indicated by the resilience of these reasons for not engaging in
oral contacts. As one might expect, the distribution of reasons not to have
oral sex among men and women who are coitally experienced tends to
change. The coitally experienced are less likely to report external constraints
(parents, reputation, morals), but continue to offer reasons having to do
with personal choice or desire.


The data from these two studies that were undertaken approximately a
generation apart suggest both continuities and transformations in the role
of oral genital sex in the period from the early 1930s to the late 1960s. At the
behavioral level the incidence of oral sex in nonpaid relationships during the
period before marriage appears to have nearly doubled. This increase in
oral sex among those who were relatively sexually inexperienced or who
were just beginning their heterosexual lives was lodged inside what
was the predominant script for premarital coitus. In both cohorts as the in-
cidence of intercourse increased the proportion who had oral sex increased
as weU. In addition increase in the frequency of coitus was predictive of an
increased likelihood of oral sex. Thus in the 1967 cohort about 800/0 of both
men and women with frequent coitus had oral sex, a substantial increase
from the 45% among comparably coitally experienced women in the Kinsey
et al. studies.
It is important to view these changes between the two periods not as
the mechanical result of increases in coitus but rather to see the decision to
have oral sex as taking place within the changing contexts of premarital
coitus. Most important was the emergence of the middle-class compa-
nionate form of premarital sex as preparation for marriage which became
the dominant form of mate selection the United Stares in the period between
the 1920s and the 1960s. It was in the context of these relationships that oral
sex became legitimated, first as the activity of a vanguard minority within
the educated middle-class of the pre-World War II period and then as the
more conventional conduct of a larger middle-class that emerged in the two
decades after that war. Within this companionate form certain confinuities
can be observed, particularly the rough equality between cunnilingus and
fellatio, indicating that there was reciprocity in the relationship. Further
there is some evidence that men introduced these sexual techinques in these
relationships defined as having the potential for turning into marriage.
22 Gagnon and Simon

What has not continued is the excess in fellatio reported by men from
the Kinsey et al. studies. This is in part the resuk of a decline in the impor-
tance of prostitute contacts and other transient relationships as a source o f
youthful sexual experience particularly among middle-class males. A parallel
though not necessarily i nteractive change is that as young men have become
more accepting of an affectional basis for premarital sex (Miller and Simon,
1974) oral sex has become a more acceptable technique with "good girls,"
not only to the young men but also to young women. This affectional basis
should not blind us to the strongly erotic tone of oral sex or to the orten pro-
blematic nature of its practice among young people.
This paper provides data only on the incidence of oral sex in marriage
for the early cohorts, but it is probably safe to assume that oral sex is more
common in marriage today than it was in the period just before and after
World War II. There are two bases for this conclusion. The first is that oral
sex was more c o m m o n in marriage than prior to marriage in the earlier
period, indicating that many persons began oral sex as part of their marital
rather than their premarital sexual life. The second is that the larger
numbers of young people who were having oral sex before marriage in the
more recent period were unlikely to stop when they married. The history of
the introduction of oral sex to the educated middle-class is unwritten (and
may be unwritable), but preliminary evidence suggests that oral sex first
became part of domestic eroticism through the marital bed rather than
from more ërotic contexts. Given what we know about the obsessive in-
terest in oral sex in pornography for the middle-class in the late 19th cen-
tury and the confused views of cunnilingus and fellation as indicators o f la-
tent or symbolic homosexuality well into the middle of the 20th century this
may be the most substantial oddity of all.


It is important to note that the 1967 study was completed just at the
moment when a much larger shift in character of the sexual life o f young
people was taking place. In terms of the rising rate of premarital coitus, the
year 1967 was just at the point of inflection of that curve. Studies conducted
on comparable populations in the early to middle 1970s reported a sharp
rise in the incidence of coitus among young people in their mid and late
teens, a consequent decline in the age o f first intercourse, and an increase in
the numbers of coital partners. It is this new period in the life course that we
have rather clumsily named: the pre-premarital period.
One study undertaken in 1973 (DeLamater and MacCorquodale,
1979) on a population quite similar to that in the 1967 study suggests that
Sexual Scripting of Oral Genital Contacts 23

there was a sharp increase in both coitus and oral sex in the intervening 6
years. In a sample of 985 students and 663 nonstudents ranging in age from
18 to 23 the proportion of coitally experienced young people was about 75 070
(for all males and non-student females) and 60°70 for student females which
represents increases of about 50% among males (from 48070) and 100070
among females (from 3007o) from the 1967 study. Oral sex was also substan-
tially more common in this population which was on the average about age
20 at the time. Thus about 6007o of the student males and 57070 of student
females had had oral sex (again note the equality of the percentages) with
the average age at first oral sex about 18.1 for both genders. Once again in
this study oral sex occurred largely in the context of a coital but not
necessarily premarital script. A further important point is that both males
and females in the student samples report oral sex beginning at earlier ages
than among the nonstudents suggesting the continued significance of these
techniques among more educated groups even during the teen-age period.
A more recent study of high school students (Newcomer and Udry,
1985) reporting on data collected in 1982 suggested, on the basis of age of
the subjects at interview (16.3), that oral sex may have become very com-
mon in what we have described as the pre-premarital period. Thus 53% of
the 256 boys and 4207o of the 289 girls interviewed had had orat sex. This
contrasts with retrospective reports of young people in the DeLamater and
MacCorquodale study who reported that of those experienced with oral sex
in the four groups that 8-13% had had it by age 16 and 21-33°/0 by age 17.
While a larger proportion of the coitally experienced in the Newcomer and
Udry (1985) study have had oral sex (8107o of the males and 8607o of the
females) a sizable number of those who were not coitally experienced had
had oral sex as well (2407o of the males and 1607o of the femalës). Indeed, a
slightly larger proportion of the sample had had oral sex than had had
coitus. This is the first carefully done study in which the "technical virgin"
represents a substantial portion of the sample.
Whfle the numbers of individuals who are engaged in oral sex appears
to have increased substantially in the period from the late 1960s to the early
1970s, other reports indicate that oral sex during the pre-premarital period
is not an unalloyed pleasure. From less systematic interview studies it ap-
pears that young males often engage in oral sex without great enjoyment
and young females do it because they believe their partner wants it (Haas,
1979, cited in Newcomer and Udry, 1985; Shostak, 1981; Waterman and
Chiuzzi, 1982). The interactional pattern appears to be for the boy to in-
itiate oral sex in order to induce the girl either into fellatio or coitus, the girl
may then engage in fellatio to avoid coitus.
What is apparent from these data is that at the level of both the in-
terpersonal and the intrapsychic, particularly in the early stages of becom-
24 Gagnon and $imon

ing the kind of person who engages in oral sex, there still remain substantial
ambivalences and difficulties. The strong p r o oral sex literature which
emerged in the 1 9 7 0 s - w h a t we have called a rhetoric of t e c h n i q u e - h a s not
penetrated into the interpersonal and mental worlds of young people just
beginning their sexual lives. Where such literature might have its effects is
among those sexually more experienced in either nonmarital or marital rela-
tionships. Such older popnlations might be more vulnerable to such rhetoric
since issues of sexual competence and sexual technique may loom larger in
their lives than among the young.
While the findings reported here suggest some of the changes
that have occurred in the role o f oral sexuality in sexual conduct over
the last 50 years, a cautionary final note is necessary. There is a tendency to
treat the latest findings as if they were the last findings, however the place of
oral sex in sexual conduct in the future will not be the same as it is in the pre-
Jsent. Sexual conduct is a historical phenomenon changing in time as weil in
cultural place. In addition, the bookkeeping measures that we have used cap-
ture only a portion of the picture. We taust keep in mind the multiple m e a n i n g s
of oral sex which are less weil measured or often may only be inferred on the
basis of inadequate evidence. At different times in the same relationship or in dif-
fering relationships the same physical movements may be performed as an
avoidance of coitus, an expression of intimacy, a sign of erotic competence,
a measure of degradation of the self or the partner. It is at this level that we
need to begin to explore the meaning of sexual techniques.


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