An Oral History: Blowjobs Through the Ages
Through the ages sex, sexuality and sexual practises has wavered in and out of favor, moving from one side of the moral scale of acceptability to the other. When at one time there would be near complete freedom, at other points in history, anything other than strict procreation was considered deviant.
So, knowing fully that sex has and probably always will be boom and bust (literally AM I RIGHT FOLKS) over the eons, today we’re looking at the role of blowjobs in human history.
Blowjobs: An Oral History
Divine Beginnings. The written mention of oral sex appears in an Egyptian burial chamber. Extracts from wall inscriptions tell the myth of Osiris. After being murdered and cut into pieces, the goddess Isis tried to put the pieces together but could not find his manhood. Resourcefully, she fashioned one out of clay and used her mouth to ‘breathe life into him’ through it.
Original Eruptions. The frescoes dotting the ancient city of Pompeii — known for the huge natural disaster of the Mount Vesuvius eruption in AD 79 — could be described as downright pornographic. On everything from graffiti to bathhouse murals was covered in pictures of sexual acts — with pictures, names and terms drawn on brothel doors as a menu of services to be enjoyed within. Now, thousands of years later, these inscriptions can be read to describe someone named ‘Myrtis’ who was apparently very gifted with their mouth…
As the Romans Do. Sex between men was common in ancient Roman culture and carried with it its own dynamics, including a double-standard regarding oral sex. It was a humiliation for the person who performs oral sex, which is why calling someone a ‘sucker’ was a common insult even then.
Going Greek. Fellatio didn’t fare much better with Rome’s neighbors: the Greeks considered a blowjob to be a ‘waste’ of seed. It was seen as one’s duty to make every sperm count, as famously sung about in a well-known Monty Python ditty.
Truly Dark Ages. The severity of medieval churches made the Dark Ages into an era that very few would describe as ‘fun’. Going down on someone went against the biblical instruction to ‘be fruitful and multiply’ and carried with it a sentence of 15 years of penance — the same sentence you’d get for committing murder.
Quite the Mouthful. It was 1894 when the term ‘Fellatio’ was coined — sexual researcher Havelock Ellis used it in a clinical piece on sexuality and also described the performers of oral sex as “fellator; if female, a fellatrice or fellatrix.”. As for the term ‘blow job’, we don’t know where it got its start; it appeared in pulp fiction paperbacks in the 40s.
A French Affair. Everything from kissing to condoms to syphilis has been attributed to the French at one time or another; they even lay claim to the biggest political sex scandal of the 19th century when, in 1899, French President Felix Faure died while enjoying a blowjob from his mistress. The joke afterwards was that he ‘wanted to live like Caesar, not die like Pompey’, which is a HILARIOUS bit of punning. In French, the verb ‘pomper’ means ‘to suck’. Get it?
The Good Ol’ Red, White and Blowjob. The effects of America’s puritanical beginnings echo to this day, and help to explain why oral sex didn’t make the leap from brothels to bedrooms until the 20th century. In the time leading up to that, blowjobs were considered a taboo, homosexual act and was actually illegal in every state until 1950. One big reason for the blow job’s introduction into the popular culture and peoples’ bedrooms is the novel The Godfather by Mario Puzo.
Two Thumbs Up — for Oral Sex! A landmark film in terms of blockbuster box office and standing trial for Obscenity, the pornographic film Deep Throat is still one of the most easily named and recognized films in the category despite coming out way back in 1972.
Deep Throat was the name used famously by the informant in the Watergate scandal –named for the film as well as for the ‘deep’ involvement of the informant in the FBI. This has most certainly led to some confusing (or eye-opening) Google searches results for history students!
Colin Hanna is a Volonté contributor and freelance writer who lives in Shanghai, China with his wife. He’s written extensively about sex and human sexuality for LELO since 2010.