Why are women going to oral sex lessons?
‘Sex salons’ are growing in popularity but it’s mainly women in attendance.
Rebecca Holman gamely signs up to one to find out what all the fuss is about
and why it’s become an expressly female pursuit.
These oral sex lessons are £70 a class and everyone who attended seemed fairly affluent.
2:19PM BST 21 Jun 2013
A few years ago, I tried to learn Russian. I joined a beginner’s class with eight to 10 other people, none of whom had ever spoken the language before either. After about six weeks I dropped out, the first person to do so.
Apart from a rudimentary understanding of the Cyrillic alphabet, what this experience taught me is that I don’t like any sort of group classroom situation where I have to talk in front of other people. I get monstrous social embarrassment.
So how, one evening last month, did I find myself in a classroom with eight to 10 other women (not the same lot as the Russian group I hasten to add), practicing fellatio on an ice lolly?
The really stupid thing is, I’m not sure how I feel about sex salons, or sex schools, or sex adult education centres or whatever you want to call them.
For one thing, how many straight men do you ever see going to a sex class? Very few, I imagine. The Coco de Mer class I attended was entirely made up of women (and sold out a few weeks in advance), apart from one middle-aged chap who was there with his partner. Middle aged chap who came to a sex salon with his partner: I salute you.
Women becoming better at sex to please a man is a thing, but it doesn’t seem to work both ways – and obviously that’s not fair.
Do men go to these types of sex lessons?
When I asked the team at Coco de Mer if men ever attend sex classes, here’s what their spokesman said: “At the moment, the content of Coco de Mer’s salons are more geared towards women than men, which means that a larger percentage of women tend to attend the salons. However, we have noticed a marked interest in men in the salons over the past six months, so we will be introducing more classes targeted at men and it will be interesting to see if they do attend.” Watch this space then.
I’ve also never felt great about the commoditisation of female sex appeal (or in this case, lack thereof). You don’t have to look too far to see that the pressure on women to not just be better in bed, but a burlesque goddess of mythical proportions is a modern one, indicative of the world we live in, where you’re nothing if you’re not sexy.
You can be the CEO of a large multinational, raising six orphans and running marathons every other weekend, but if you’re bad in bed, you’re not passionate, cool, fun or sexy enough. It’s certainly no bad thing to be sexually confident, and to see yourself as sexy. But if you don’t, or you just don’t care either way, can’t that be OK too?
Who sets the bar?
And who’s setting the bar for what’s bad in bed, what’s normal and what’s positively filthy anyway? A little light S&M is de rigueur nowadays, whereas if you started waving a pair of handcuffs at an unsuspecting one-night stand 20 years ago, you’d have been considered a kink-meister of epic proportions. So who’s deciding all of this?
Before I went off to learn how to give blow jobs, I kept picturing young women paying a fortune to learn how to be better or kinkier or whatever in bed because their horrid boyfriends told them they were a boring lay. Or really bright, beautiful, brilliant women getting all their validation from their ability to give really excellent head as oppose to, say, their ability to split the atom or rewire a plug. And it left a nasty taste in my mouth (oh go on, pun intended).
Why did I go?
So why was I there then? Hmmm? HMMMMM?
Well, because I am a complex lady, it was part holier-than-thou curiosity, and part the fear that I’m going to die alone because I don’t know how to give a competent blow job. Which is probably one of the bad reasons for going I mentioned earlier.
FYI, I’ve never been dumped specifically because I can’t give a blow job, I’ve never even been told I’m actually bad at it, it’s just that no-one’s ever…oh look NEVER MIND, I don’t want to talk about it.
The only thing I will say is that I’ve always held the attitude that if a man is lucky enough to be in bed with me, he should be happy just to be there. Sometimes I even try and convince myself that what is fundamentally laziness on my part is some sort of feminist stance. Which is obviously rubbish.
But as I get older, it occurs to me that my refusal to make any effort in bed probably isn’t going to cut it. Especially when everyone else out there is going to these bleeding classes. You need a BTEC in knot tying and basic whip work just to get a second date these days. Probably.
And yes, before you ask, I’d definitely chuck someone if they refused to go down on me. Like I said, I’m a complex lady.
So, to summarise: I went because I was curious, but also secretly thought there was an outside chance I might indirectly get a boyfriend off the back of it.
Who attends these classes?
I attended ‘Playing the Flute With Master Dominic’, one of several sex salons Coco de Mer runs. And you know what? Despite my aforementioned reservations, I actually really enjoyed it.
Master Dominic is, as his name suggests, a dominant, who by his own admission is apparently well placed to teach the class.
The first half of the class involved Dominic talking through his key blowjob tips (essentially: build up slowly to the main event and at least pretend you’re having a good time. There were a few others, but these seemed to be the most important points).
This was followed by a champagne break, before we all paired up to practice our techniques on the aforementioned ice lollies, and ended the class with a Q&A (which some of my more studious classmates produced notebooks for).
It occurred to me when I sat down, second glass of champagne firmly clamped in my hand, that what I was really expecting was a room of hard-faced hyper-ambitious twenty-somethings, frantically taking notes and asking questions about methods for opening your mouth really, really wide without dislocating something.
Instead, everyone was a little older than I expected, my age (30) and up. At £70 a class it’s not cheap, and everyone who attended seemed fairly affluent. Some people were there with friends, but plenty, like me, had come on their own. Everyone seemed a little nervous and shy, but no-one seemed terrified or like they weren’t sure why they were there.
All the women I spoke to were in long-term relationships and looking for an opportunity to mix it up a bit, including one married mother who was certain her husband would have come along had he not had to babysit the kids.
The attitude of most of the women there seemed to be:“If you wanted to get really good at a language you’d take a class, so why not take a class to get really good at sex?”
But the thing is, people weren’t attending sex classes 20 years ago, in between their Spanish conversation classes and their salsa lessons.
Why has the ‘sex salon’ taken off as a concept?
The ‘sex salon’, in its mainstream, populist form is very much a modern phenomenon, which salon coordinator Lauren Newman puts down to the rise in Mummy Porn, amongst other things: “The Salons are definitely growing in popularity. Part of this can probably be attributed to the success of Fifty Shades of Grey, Belle du Jour and writers like Caitlin Moran and the result is that people are talking more openly about sex than they were before. Women, in particular, are feeling more empowered to be sexy and also to dominate.”
The reality of the class I attended was pretty close to this ideal, my classmates seemed like intelligent, mature women, who were there because they thought it would be fun, interesting, and might just put an extra spark in their relationship. The atmosphere was friendly, warm and as un-scary as you can get. I’m glad I went – not because I’m now a master (and I wouldn’t tell you if I was, my mum sometimes reads my articles) – but because actually I came away feeling a bit more enlightened.
Aside from anything else, I realised how fundamentally unhelpful my po-faced, holier-than-thou attitude to the whole thing is. If you’re in a loving, equal, healthy relationship, making an effort in order to please your partner doesn’t make you a rubbish feminist, or a less of a brilliant woman.
And even if you’re not in a loving, equal, healthy relationship, and you want to make an extra effort to make please any interesting men or women who you may cross paths with, by learning how to do exciting things with some Tie Rack silk scarves; then go for it, the choice is yours.
It all comes back to decent sex education
But what would you say if every schoolgirl was made to attend a class aged 16, where they learnt how to perform oral sex, for which they got extra credit on their Duke of Edinburgh?
OK, so I’m being a tad troll-baity and hysterical there, but there’s still an assumption that everyone needs to reach a certain level of sexual competence by a certain age, and if you don’t, you’re like the only kid in the class who didn’t to get their 100 metre backstroke certificate.
And with it, there’s an assumption that sex appeal, sexiness, kink, or indeed competence in bed is one homogenous entity, that sits somewhere between a 15 and an 18 Certificate film (for example: light bondage: good, dungeons: bad).
I’m banging on a very tired drum by pointing out that if we had better sex education in schools, and did more to boost young women’s self confidence and self esteem at a young age, then none of these things would matter – people could just chose their own paths based on their own, very personal preferences when the time was right. But that’s not really where we are right now.
And to be honest, I don’t know what the alternative or the answer is. All I know is that my foray into the world of sex salons was a positive experience – much more than I was anticipating. I’m just not sure I want it to become a rite of passage for young women everywhere.
Rebecca Holman has a decade’s experience in women’s consumer publishing. Starting her career on the award-winning asos.com magazine, Rebecca then went on to edit handbag.com and launch xoJane.co.uk with American media legend Jane Pratt. She is a freelance writer and editor who writes about women’s issues, current affairs, sex and dating