Gender equality may be making strides for women in politics and business, but a new study suggests there is still room for growth in the bedroom. According to the research, men and women both view cunnilingus as a “bigger deal” than fellatio — a finding reflective of the widespread negative attitudes both genders have towards female genitalia.

For a recent study, now published online in the Journal of Sex Research, University of the Pacific sociologist Ruth Lewis and Cicely Marston of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine interviewed 71 heterosexual men and women (37 women and 34 men) aged 16-18 on their attitudes and approach towards oral sex. The teenagers were chosen from three geographical locations: London; a medium-sized northern English city; and a rural area in southwest England. The interviews consisted of an initial talk and a follow-up interview a year later, and the teens were recruited through schools and youth organizations.

Results from the interviews revealed British teens had conflicting ideas about oral sex performed on men and women. Not only did the majority of interviewees consider the act of performing oral sex on a woman to be a “bigger deal” than when oral sex is performed on a man, both genders described it as more “distasteful” for a man to perform cunnilingus than for a women to perform fellatio. In addition, both men and women interviewed believed that it is physically easier to go down on a man than it is to go down on a woman.

There’s no saying for sure if these perceptions towards oral sex are shared throughout the world, seeing as this work has not been done elsewhere, but Marston told Medical Daily that she’s not ruling out the possibility.

“It seems likely that similar views might be held in some other settings in different countries,” said Marston. “But highly unlikely that the same perceptions about oral sex are universally held in all settings.”

While social norms prioritizing a man’s pleasure over a woman’s may explain some of these discrepancies, the study revealed that this is only part of the problem. Many of the men involved in the study held negative attitudes not only about the act of cunnilingus, but also of the vagina itself. For example, some of the young men involved in the study used highly negative words when referring to a woman’s genitals, such as “nasty” and “stinking.” In addition, going down on a woman seemed to carry a social stigma for some of these young men, especially those living in the capital city of London.

“They call you a bocat [a negative term used to describe men that give oral sex to women],” a 16-year old London boy told the researchers. “It’s an insult basically, but if you were to get [oral sex] from a girl just the complete opposite [i.e., you would be congratulated].

The belief that men naturally did not enjoy giving oral sex to women was so widespread among the British teens that many of the women described men who enjoyed cunnilingus as “weird” or “different.”

The young women in the study weren’t immune to this negative feedback about their bodies, the study found. Many of the female study participants had unfavorable impressions of their own bodies and expressed anxiety about having their vulvas near a partner’s face during cunnilingus.

The study also revealed that young men were far more likely to say that they decline performing oral sex if they were not in the mood. Unfortunately, this confidence was not shared by the female respondents, many of whom explained that even when they did not want to do so they still performed oral sex on their partners when asked. Some of the girls even described strategies they used to make the experience more tolerable, such as having a drink next to them to mask an unpleasant taste.

This ability to openly express when they do and don’t want to perform oral sex may also reflect different gender’s likelihood to enjoy orally pleasing a partner.  A 2015 study found that although women are more than twice as like to go down on their male partners they are less likely to enjoy doing so. More than half of the men involved in the study reported enjoying performing cunnilingus compared to only 28 percent of women who reported enjoying fellatio.

In the meantime, Marston explained that her findings suggest it may be time to adjust our approach to sexual education for young adults.

“It is vital to ensure that young people receive comprehensive sexuality education that addresses the importance of mutuality — discussing and agreeing to sexual activities that both participants want to do.”

Source: Lewis R, Marston C. Oral Sex, Young People, and Gendered Narratives of Reciprocity. The Journal of Sex Research . 2016