Hold the cucumber like so ...

Courses in sex skills are a growing trend. Is this the new sexual empowerment?

Published August 17, 2006 3:50PM (EDT)

Women's eNews reports on the growing popularity of "sex skill" courses for North American women, which eNews attributes to "either a sign of greater sexual freedom or a new emphasis on service." We're no longer talking about wholesome pole-dancing or aerobic striptease classes but more along the lines of seminars in oral sex. Unsurprisingly, these classes teach fellatio-specific skills, and at least anecdotally, all seem to be populated by women.

Ian Christiansen has 12 women in their 20s to 50s enrolled in his oral sex class. He charges $40, which should cover the cost of the chilled cucumbers used as models. At the end of the class, writes eNews, he reminds the participants that they "are in control. It's pretty much in your hands, literally." The article does not offer any real figures on this "growing trend," such as how many women nationally enroll in courses like Christiansen's, but Metro Event Planners in New York, which offers oral sex courses, has signed up more than 500 women since it began offering such classes a few years ago.

Explaining the logic behind the course, Blaire Allison, who owns Metro Event, says, "there is some fear with being unskilled in sex. This fear has always been there, but now women are like, 'Let's team up and help each other out.'" Allison believes that the participants come away from these courses with more sexual confidence than before. But Hilda Hutcherson, a sex columnist for Glamour and Essence magazines, does not think that courses in oral sex can necessarily be couched in the language of empowerment. "Women are seeking more to please than to be pleased," she told eNews, and "we are in many ways returning to the environment before the women's movement."

Ted McIlvenna, founder and president of the San Francisco-based Institute for the Advanced Study of Human Sexuality, thinks it is more complicated than that. His feeling is that attendance in sexual technique courses is rising because women want to have more control over what they do in bed. Yet, he acknowledged that when interviewing female teens, most wanted to know "how to be a better lay."

As much fun as it can be to debate fellatio and feminism across the blogosphere, the politics of sexual pleasure are enmeshed with our specific cultural values and personal experiences. Wanting to improve one's skills in bed seems an understandable enough desire, but we hope the next article is about courses for men in cunnilingus and finding the damn clit already.

By Sarah Goldstein

Sarah Goldstein is an editorial fellow at Salon.

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