Paying Lip Service

An oral history

As with almost any sexual act imaginable, there are strong elements of power and domination caught up with fellatio. Think of the stereotypical setup: the donor is on his or her knees, invoking a position of worship. Madonna picked up on this ambiguity--"Down on my knees/I want to take you there"--in "Like A Prayer."

Perhaps it is this detachment from intimacy, the presumed one-sidedness of the blowjob, that makes fellatio the power-tripper's sex act of choice. Certainly there is a pervasive sense that oral sex isn't quite sex. In a broad-based survey of teenage virgins by the RAND institute issued in November 1996, nine per cent reported engaging in fellatio with ejaculation, and 10 per cent in cunnilingus. (That is approximately one-third the percentage who report engaging in masturbatory activity with a partner.)

One Maryland child psychiatrist has said: "I've heard from teenagers, but not adults, stuff like, 'I only [performed oral sex on] him,' like that really wasn't having sex."

Legal analysts have focused on whether or not Clinton could be nailed for lying about having sex with Lewinsky. It has been widely suggested that if, in his mind, Clinton believed that oral sex did not constitute adultery or "an improper relationship," then he did not legally perjure himself.

At that point, however, the important question is less about attitudes concerning oral sex, and more about rationalization. Dr. Anna Salter, a Madison, Wisconsin--based psychologist, specializes in identifying the evasions given by sex offenders. "These people have a lot of cognitive distortions," Salter says. "You have to be very careful with language, because they will say 'I never did anything to hurt her,' even though they abused someone. I am not saying that Clinton is a sex offender. But I don't think the principles [of evasion] change at all between the two behaviors."

Research: Harold Schechter, Kaelen Wilson-Goldie

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