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Thinking pop culture

Oral sex and the butching-up of Michael Douglas

In an episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm, protagonist Larry David is asked by his new friend - rapper Krazee-Eyez Killa - whether he likes oral sex: “You know, it’s … I’m a little … I like it … I like it … But I’m a little too lazy to do it. It’s a whole to-do. It hurts my neck.”

Coma (1978)

While Curb offers up whiplash - alongside the disastrous pitfalls of an errant pubic hair in the throat - as evidence of the whole cunnilingus to-do, even neurotic Larry didn’t go so far as to suggest it might kill him.

Michael Douglas may have played a doctor in the thriller Coma back in the 70s, but surprise, surprise, he’s not one. So rather than reading his recent musings about cunnilingus-giving-him-throat-cancer as interesting or informative, I’m a tad more suspicious.

Cunnilingus is a rarity in popular culture. There are examples of it, of course – I have a chapter in a soon-to-be-released book that explores its presence in film and television – but it’s rare. Rare and inevitably controversial: cue the censorship brouhaha centred on Blue Valentine in 2010 and the instant solidification of star Ryan Gosling as a feminist icon after his opposition to the classification.

Blue Valentine (2010)

So, in a world where sex that prioritises female pleasure and demotes the necessity of the penis predictably plays second fiddle, when it does appear in popular culture it’s both curious and inevitably serving a very specific function.

The comedy The Sweetest Thing (2002) is completely forgettable except for one scene where Christina (Cameron Diaz) dreams up her fantasy boyfriend.

This bloke orally pleasures her to orgasm and then says, “If you don’t mind I’d like to do that every hour on the hour for the rest of our lives. And don’t worry about returning the favour. Men don’t really like oral sex.”

The scene is funny because every aspect of it – from Fantasy Man’s eagerness to participate through to his denial of the quid pro quo - seems preposterous. Equally preposterous is the idea of Michael Douglas as some kind of cunnilingus junkie who has thrown caution to the wind and dined out on women with such gay abandon that his health has been dramatically compromised.

The Sweetest Thing (2002)

So why is he making these claims? What is the point of Douglas ostensibly issuing a press release to let the world know that it was all that crazy cunnilingus that led to his downfall?

In late May, the HBO movie Behind the Candelabra first aired. Douglas played bedazzled-to-an-inch-of-his-life entertainer Liberace; Matt Damon played his much younger lover.

Perhaps it’s the professional cynic in me overanalysing the situation, but why now would Douglas choose to offer his curious theories about his throat cancer?

I often think of Hollywood as a kind of pendulum. If a female actor gets really ugly for a role for example, she is guaranteed to simultaneously glam-up for a multitude of magazine covers to remind us that in fact, she’s thoroughly gorgeous. And if a male actor is going to sing and dance and act in any way vaguely poncy, then we can be damn sure we’ll see him playing an action hero in his next flick. To neutralise all that razzle dazzle, of course.

And I think this gets to the crux of the Douglas declaration: sure, he played Liberace, but good God man, I’ve spend so much time with vulvas that it nearly killed me!

On one hand, the feminist cunnilingus proponent in me really likes that we’re having this conversation, likes that the spectrum of sex outside of intercourse is getting an airing. I’m dramatically less enamoured however, when the dialogue is a) connected to both thoroughly strange medical advice that I daresay would never ever make headlines if centered on the pitfalls of fellatio, and b) is less-than cleverly used to hetero-up the reputation of an actor in the twilight of his sex appeal.

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