Caitlain Flanagan Declares War on Cocksucking

Caitlin Flanagan jumps the shark. No really. This book review has to be read to be believed. Everything from teenage oral sex to Ms. Flangan herself tittering at the prospect of mass fellatio (which, interestingly enough, Flanagan equates to “the province of prostitutes,” leaving us to wonder if Flanagan has somehow existed this long without experiencing the joys of oral sex) to an amateurish investigative effort by Flangan to confirm the mass fellatio. (Yes, really.)

I haven’t read an essay this unintentionally hilarious in a long time. That sentences such as “Somehow these girls have developed the indifferent attitude toward performing oral sex that one would associate with bitter, long-married women or streetwalkers” would be seriously considered in a 21st century magazine of ideas (the essay originally appeared The Atlantic) is astonishing to me. Maybe I just ain’t vanilla, but oral sex is hardly BDSM or felching or bukkake, nor does engaging in it immediately turn you into a jezebel or a gigolo. And by what standard do jejune yentas such as Flanagan determine what’s normal and what’s incorrigible? The magical gremlin permanently affixed to Flanagan’s skull who decides what’s right and what’s wrong after a drunken round of darts?

The kind of willing denial that Flanagan expresses here in lieu of trying to understand the issue (teenagers are becoming more promiscuous, like it or not) and in trying to parse whether the novel in question (Paul Ruditis’ Rainbow Party) answers this societal development is beyond preposterous. It’s dangerous. It promulgates a kind of fashionable bllindness in which it’s perfectly acceptable to remain horrified without trying to understand why one is having an emotional reaction. It imputes a mentality whereby one can never step outside of one’s hermetic paradigm and the results or effects of an sociological development are not just unexamined, but are immediately demonized as “evil.” Never mind that there’s likely some constructive value in trying to figure out why these “forbidden” impulses appeal to certain people, particularly when one is in charge of setting the boundaries. But in taking the myopic road out, Flanagan is no different from a paranoid Caucasian who immediately assumes that an African-American saying hello is out to carjack her.

That Flanagan’s essays have been embraced by the New Yorker and the Atlantic, while fostering such an anti-thinking approach, is a telling indicator that the world of letters isn’t ready for a serious discussion of these issues. It isn’t ready to accept the fact that, yes, teenagers have oral sex. More all the time. It isn’t ready to start answering questions. What does this mean? Is this necessarily bad? How did this develop and will we see teenagers start to embrace more violent and hardcore fantasies? And are these in turn bad? Is any of this a reaction to the way in which sex is so undiscussed in American society, particularly in the classroom? Was Jocelyn Elders ahead of her time?

The continued publication of Caitlin Flanagan’s essays is a disgrace to any magazine interested in raising these questions (or less provocative ones). Thank goodness that at least one of the Holy Trinity (Harper’s) has had the good sense not to publish such a flagrantly anti-intellectual writer.

For a more thoughtful take on a similar subject, see Naomi Wolf’s essay on how porn affects sexual conduct.

(via Jenny D)


  1. Ed, have your heard Rilo Kiley’s “Portions For Foxes”? Basically, Namoi Wolf’s essay rendered as a gorgeous little pop song.

  2. “…sex is undiscussed in American society.” Um, really?

    As usual, you willfully misread the item in hand in order to take show-offy righteous offence.

  3. Walt: Yes, really. I meant “sex is so undiscussed,” meaning that it’s not discussed in the United States nearly as much as it needs to be. Or have you even been paying attention to the abstinence movement?

  4. Right, but she makes a good point about how unlikely a “rainbow party” can be, viz a viz a boy being able to stay hard long enough to get several blowjobs, and none of the lipstick colors smearing.

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