How Pleasurable is Oral Sex With Hookup Partners?
New study examines giving v. receiving oral sex in casual v. romantic encounters
Posted Feb 22, 2016
Oral sex is standard practice in sexual encounters among young people today, but how much do people really love giving versus getting head, does this differ between hookups and romantic encounters, and does it differ between men and women? Thus far, we’ve had a lot of stereotypes but very little research to answer these questions.
A new study led by Jessica Wood at the University of Guelph and her colleagues finally gives us some actual data – at least as far as Canadian undergrads are concerned. The researchers teamed up with two professional marketing / research companies to recruit a national sample of 1,500 Canadian undergrads (ages 18-24) and survey them online about their sexual behaviors.
Of the 900 students (57% female) who were heterosexual and had at least one sexual experience in the past, about 70% of both sexes reported their most recent sexual encounter involved oral sex, and there were no significant differences in giving or receiving oral sex between casual, dating, and cohabiting relationships for either gender. In other words, oral sex was no more or less likely to happen in hookups versus more committed types of sexual encounters.
Unfortunately, as you might expect, women were somewhat more likely to have given oral than were men (59% v. 52%) and significantly less likely to have received oral than were men (44% v. 63%), and this was true across all relationship types. Overall, there were over twice as many more women than men who had given but not received oral (26% vs. 10%), and half as many women than men who had received but not given oral (11% vs. 22%).
The Pleasure of Oral Sex
Those who had done oral during their last sexual encounter were asked how pleasurable this experience was on a scale of from 1 (“not at all pleasurable”) to 4 (“very pleasurable”). Results are presented in the graph below, and there were a couple of patterns worth noting.
First, oral sex was less pleasurable with casual partners than with dating or cohabiting partners. Contrary to popular stereotypes, this pattern was true of men as well as women: Like women, men enjoyed giving and receiving oral in committed scenarios more so than in casual ones.
That said, oral sex with casual partners was still quite pleasurable. Across both sexes and both types of oral, the amount of pleasure experienced was always rated above the mid-point of the scale on average, and, receiving head in particular was approaching the far end of the pleasure scale.
As is obvious from the graph, the two types of oral sex are not created equal. Perhaps not surprising, both sexes enjoyed receiving oral more than giving oral, regardless of partner type.
However, contrary to stereotypes that all men love getting head but many women do not, there was no significant sex difference in this regard: About 70% of both sexes reported getting head was “very pleasurable;” and additional 25% said it was “somewhat pleasurable. Only 3% of men and 5% of women said it was “not very pleasurable” or “not at all pleasurable”. And women enjoyed getting head from hookup partners just as much as men did.
Where a major sex difference did emerge was in the enjoyment of giving oral. Young men are often blamed they don’t like going down on women, but it was young women who weren’t as crazy about blowjobs. To break it down into percentages, 52% of the men who had given oral reported enjoying it very much, and additional 41% enjoyed it somewhat; only 7% didn’t enjoy it much or at all. In contrast, only 28% of the women who gave head found it “very pleasurable,” for 55% it was somewhat pleasurable, and a full 17% didn’t actually enjoy doing it. This gender difference seemed particularly pronounced with less committed partners.
Overall, this study brings some good news and bad news. It’s reassuring to know that oral sex, even in more casual scenarios, is fairly pleasurable for both sexes, that young men are not so scared of the vulva, and that young women are not so incapable of relaxing and receiving pleasure as popular stereotypes would have us believe.
On the other hand, however, it’s disheartening to see many young women not enjoying giving oral sex despite doing it more often than men do, while not getting head as often as men do despite enjoying it just as much. Whether by partners, peers, traditional gender roles, or inadequate sex education, women are being pressured—subtly or not so subtly—to engage in sexual acts they don’t particularly love and discouraged from demanding the sexual acts they do love.
There is still work to be done in teaching young women how to say “yes” to the things they want and “no” to the things they don’t want. And we all have a part to play.
Have a casual sex story to share with the world? That's what the Casual Sex Project is for.
Want more sex education and sex research news? Follow me on Twitter, Instagram, or Facebook as @DrZhana, or watch my daily sex educational live video streaming broadcasts on Periscope. You can also check out my website: drzhana.com.
Wood, J. R., McKay, A., Komarnicky, T., & Milhausen, R. R. (2016). Was it good for you too? An analysis of gender differences in oral sex practices and pleasure ratings among heterosexual Canadian university students. Canadian Journal of Human Sexuality, online ahead of print. doi: 10.3138/cjhs.251-A2