Blow jobs: the conclusion

UPDATE: we can all argue this with even greater authority now that the article [“has appeared online”:]

David Weman said in comments that he was sure “the article”: was silly because “Matt Yglesias”: had said so. Here is actual conclusion that Yglesias thought “Wrong and also almost silly”. I wouldn’t describe it as any form of silly. Whether it’s wrong or not rather depends on how American teenagers are actually behaving these days, -which Flanagan makes clear that no one knows- and Flanagan cites one reputable study suggesting that half of all 17-year-olds and a quarter of all 15-year-olds have been doing the bonobo.

bq.. The modern girl’s casual willingness to perform oral sex may—as some cool-headed observers of the phenomenon like to propose—be her way of maintaining a post-feminist power in her sexual dealings, by being fully in control of the sexual act and of the pleasure a boy receives from it. Or it may be her desperate attempt to do something that the culture refuses to encourage: to keep her own sexuality—the emotions and the desires, as well as the anatomical real estate itself—private, secret, unviolated. It may not be her technical virginity that she is trying to preserve; it may be her own sexual awakening—which is all she really has left to protect anymore.

We’ve made a world for our girls in which the pornography industry has become increasingly mainstream, in which Planned Parenthood’s response to the oral-sex craze has been to set up a help line, in which the forces of feminism have worked relentlessly to erode the patriarchy—which, despite its manifold evils, held that providing for the sexual safety of young girls was among its primary reasons for existence. And here are America’s girls: experienced beyond their years, lacking any clear message from the adult community about the importance of protecting their modesty, adrift in one of the most explicitly sexualized cultures in the history of the world. Here are America’s girls: on their knees.

p. But I can’t see how anyone could dismisss that last paragraph so fliply — any parent, at least.

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14 Responses to Blow jobs: the conclusion

  1. David Weman says:

    “Whether it’s wrong or not rather depends on how American teenagers are actually behaving these days, which Flanagan makes clear that no one knows.”

    In that case, how is her last paragraph defensible?

  2. David Weman says:

    Obviously, I haven’t read the thing. I’m open to the possibility it really is brilliant.

    I don’t know if we can have a sensible debate over an article I haven’t read.

  3. acb says:

    Fair enough. Two more quotes from her about the statistics, and then I’ll shut up. You might try the library — I think the big on ein Sergels Torg has the _Atlantic_ if you’re close to that.

    bq.. In talking with people, I found only one verifiable account of a girl servicing more than one boy at a party. But the army of school administrators and teachers and parents and girls I spoke with convincingly reported an astonishing change in the sexual behavior of middle- and upper-middle-class girls. Fellatio, which was once a part of the sexual repertoire only of experienced women, is now commonly performed by very young girls outside of romantic relationships, casually and without any expectation of reciprocation.

    the axe came down in September. A huge report was issued by the National Center for Health Statistics. It covered the topic of teenage oral sex more extensively than any previous study, and the news was devastating: A quarter of girls aged fifteen had engaged in it, and more than half aged seventeen. Obviously, there was no previous data to compare this with, but millions of suburban dads were quite adamant that they had been born too soon.

    p. So she knows more than I said she did. A quarter of all fifteen-year-olds seems to me an astonishing statistic.

  4. Doormat says:

    Hi, came via Crooked Timber to here. Nice site. However, I have a little point to make:

    …Flanagan cites one reputable study suggesting that half of all 17-year-olds and a quarter of all 15-year-olds have been doing the bonobo.

    Compared to this, from the first post:

    It seems to be widely reported, and may even be true, that they offer blowjobs as we used to offer cigarettes…

    Now the study actually has little to say about the 2nd quote. It could be that 1/4 of 15-year olds are having full-blown sex, and engaging in oral sex as part of that (similar stats from the UK would suggest that this is quite possible). I’ll leave others to decide if this is good or not, bit I disagree with acb that it’s an “astonishing statistic”. Or it could be that the 2nd quote is true. But the study doesn’t say, as it doesn’t seem to quantify how much oral sex is happening, or under what circumstances.

    Similar to those studies showing half of 15 year olds have tried drugs (I make up the exact number). That could be having a single toke, once, or it could be kids getting stoned every lunchtime. The surveys, at least as reported in the media, never seem to say…

  5. jim says:

    I’m sort of late to this, but doormat is quite right. Flanagan is equivocating. There are two things going on here. One is that oral practices, cunnilingus and fellatio, have become mainstream over the last couple of decades or so. Couples having sex will commonly and as a matter of course engage in these practices. The other is a set of anecdotes and urban legends about very young girls performing random acts of fellatio. Flanagan conflates these.

    I have no doubt that there have been instances of thirteen-year-olds performing gratuitous fellatio (there are instances of thirteen-year-olds giving birth, after all). I have severe doubts whether such behaviour is widespread.

    It is quite believable that a quarter of fifteen-year-olds have had a sexual relationship. In the course of that relationship, they may well have had oral sex.

    I suspect that a pure oral phase has been inserted in the canonical progression. It begins with manual mutual stimulation (petting) possibly to orgasm (heavy petting) and in my day progressed from there to intercourse. Today, it may well progress to orality and thence to intercourse. This is likely because of the stress in American sex education courses both on safe sex and the undesirability of intercourse.

  6. paul says:

    Yglesias has quite a comment thread on this (mostly jealous adult men, it seems) but one comment stood out, that oral sex photographs well (I paraphrase).

    I remember learning some time ago that the slap shot in hockey is a product of television: it’s dramatic and easy to follow in such a fast moving game, but purists insisted it was never an effective shot.

    I’m getting the vibe that this is similar: the needs of spectators are re-shaping an act, in a way.

  7. Mrs Tilton says:

    Ah, here I was stopping by to pass along that URL, and I see that you have already added it. Never mind, then.

    I must have a word with you about that Dead concert download site you mentioned, but that word I shall have by email.

  8. quinn says:

    I find it telling that the author equates this very homophobically with gay male sex, and finds blowjobs “debasing,” and believes girls should be treated like “fragile glass,” an idea I find more repugnant than casual sex. Eventually we have nods at steamy interracial teen sex, little white girls singing rap, the need to protect America from smut, and so on. It all raises red flags to me.

    The author thinks oral sex emotionally brutalizes teenagers. No wait, it only brutalizes teenage girls. I doubt that, and franky find it offensive. Where is the evidence? How likely is it all the young girls will grow up to be subservient streetwalkers?

    It isn’t just that she wants everyone to have her sexual morals, is that she wants things to be terrible and shocking and damaging when they don’t. No, that is not a voice I can trust.

    …And finally, consider this: if teenage girls are offering blowjobs in place of cigarettes, a lot fewer people will actually die of the friendly gesture.

  9. Andrew Conway says:

    My first introduction to Caitlin Flanagan was her now-famous Atlantic article on feminism and childcare, where she argued that feminism benefited the middle classes at the expense of the working classes. That article provoked such howls of rage that it was obvious Flanagan was on to something. (She also writes wonderfully well — every sentence is a pleasure to read.) I think she has put her finger on something very important: not just the dark side of liberalism, but the refusal of many liberals even to entertain the possibility that there might be a dark side.

  10. acb says:

    Quinn: you’re just trying to make me feel bad. Not only am I too old, but I’m going to die young because of it.

    paul: who are the spectators? I remember a horrible case of a young affluent hindu couple, and he filmed her on his mobile. The video got out. Something about that seems horribly unfair: the shame and ostracism so disproportionate to the offence.

    jim: more information would bring clarity, yes. I think what Flanagan is arguing, in general, is that there is a growth in depersonalised sex among teenagers, caused partly by the sexualisation of teen culture, partly (though this is not spelled out) by the number of mothers dragged into the workforce. Note I say dragged. I think that feminism is just an ideological top-dressing on capitalism in this process. Mothers don’t have any more choice about working than they did in the fifties. Tt’s just that the choice they don’t have is different. I wouldn’t, as Andrew Conway does, call this process liberalism.

    Is depersonalised sex good for teenage girls?

  11. quinn says:

    Turns out girls are about as likely to get as well as give:

    also, a quick glance at
    suggests that sexual activity on the whole may be on the decline. Are kid adapting with oral and anal? I don’t know, and I can’t imagine it’s that important. Either way, it’s teenage sex, same as it ever was. Make sure they do it safely, so it hopefully doesn’t have long term consequences. Next to sex stats on cdc are stats for youth diabetes and suicide… suicide is still up there with car accidents for the main way parents are *actually* going to lose their children. And diabetes is for life.

    As a former (sexually active) teenage girl raising another girl… here’s the thing about depersonalized sex. It’s not good for anyone. It’s just not particularly bad either. When it feels bad, you stop. Or, in my case, when it gets boring, you stop.

    Something like a third of women get sexually assulted or raped. That’s definitely bad for them. I wish society would give up guarding our modesty and actually guard us.

  12. qB says:

    Well I may not be in the best position to comment because I haven’t read the article either. I got (judging by the position of the scroll-bar thingy) about half-way down before deciding to stop rather than risk suffering some kind of embolism. But of course that isn’t going to stop me!

    Where to begin with the deconstruction of this extraordinary alarmist unsubstantiated illogical self-contradictary piece of hyperbolic moral outrage posing as analysis?

    The central rhetorical not very sleight of hand is to assess “Rainbow Party” as being in any way comparable to a continuum of excellent writing for young adults. Placing a meritless wank book alongside well-written literature exploring the complexity of sexual experience is to give the former an entirely spurious importance and a platform from which to bounce into the kind of hysterical scare-mongering which, just for the sake of balance, variety or some kind of outre post-modern joke the author criticises the media for indulging in.

    I particularly liked this customer review on Amazon:

    The first few pages had me laughing. Not only is this book devoid of any literary merit, it is an extremely unrealistic look at the adolescent world. I realize that oral sex is rampant among young teens, but to have an “issue that needs to be confronted,” as some reviewers have referred to it, presented in such a substandard way is doing a disservice to our teens.

    If this book is indeed aimed at the young adult age group (as it says), why isn’t it written in a more mature style? Compare this novel to the style of To Kill a Mockingbird, a book included in a standard ninth-grade English curriculum-or A Separate Piece, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, Great Expectations. At fourteen years old, one’s intellectual capacity is much deeper than the shallow writing of Rainbow Party pervades.

    Yes, parents, you DO have to worry about issues of sex with your children. But please, do them a favor and confront them yourself with the reality of it-don’t let them read about oral sex in a book that glamorizes it, letting them think that it guarantees you popularity, unless you MIGHT get an STD. Let them learn from a more reliable source than a feeble semi-pornographic teen novel.

    And I’d wonder about the “insight” that allows a male author to write from a modern teenage girl’s perspective. I’m sure he enjoyed putting his perverted fantasy on paper and making a profit off of it, too.

    Sorry, annoyance may have made me more incoherent than usual. But really!

  13. qB says:

    sorry.. the italics should have extended down to the end of the quote at …profit off of it too

  14. acb says:

    And the comment should have ben all textile reformattted. forgive me. I’ll fix that. But it’s pretty obvious that Caitlin Flanagan thought that _Rainbow Party_ was tripe, too.

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