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A Complete History of Cunnilingus

“Everybody fresses today, man.” -Lenny Bruce

“Fressing” means the same thing that growl-biting means. And Going Fish, and Going Down South in Dixie, Scarfing, Catlapping, Bush Dining, Box Lunching, Punching in the Mouth, Eating a Fuzzburger, Lip Reading, Copping, Face-Sitting, Lapping Up, Giving Some Cap, Eating at the Y, and, of course, Pussy-Licking, Muff-Diving, and Cunnilingus. There are so many slang terms for cunnilingus because humans have been referring to it for almost as long as humans have existed: cunnilingus is nothing new.

The origin of the official word is easy to put together: it’s from the Neo-Latin words cunnus (vulva) and lingua (tongue). Neo-Latin words were used for things like peach-eating and giving head during the Renaissance, during the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, so maybe that’s what the Mona Lisa is smiling about.

There’s plenty of evidence of animals, especially primates, engaging in cunnilingus, although it may be for hygiene, so we can call the practice as old at least as the beasts. Humans, however, have left a less obvious trail. The earliest known reference to cunnilingus–and it’s arguable how early, how known, and how down the reference is–comes from the holy bible, of all places. In the Song of Songs, 4:16, there’s this passage to make D.H. Lawrence and Anais Nin jealous:

“Awake, o north wind, and come, wind of the south; make my garden breathe out fragrance, let its spices be wafted abroad. May my beloved come into his garden and eat its choice fruits.”

Yeah. Probably not horticulture being referred to there. Another biblical reference to hailing Mary is a little more indirect. You can draw your own conclusions about this passage found also in the Song of Songs, 7:1-2:

“How beautiful your sandaled feet, O, prince’s daughter. Your graceful legs are like jewels, the work of craftsman’s hands. Your navel is a rounded goblet that never lacks blended wine. Your waist is a mound of wheat encircled by lilies.”

Not sure what kind of a biblical “navel” would never lack wine. Even body-shots run out eventually. And a “waist” like a mound of wheat encircled by lilies? We see what they did there. And we can safely assume that humans had an awareness of and interest in cunnilingus up to 3500 years ago.

We find the thread of cunnilingus again a little farther east and at least a millennium later, in the Kama Sutra, probably composed around the second century, AD. The ancient super Sanskrit sex manual gives good guidance on both sucking cock and eating pussy. It uses nicer words, though.

And since no self-respecting Italian is going to let anyone be better at lip-reading than he (or she!) is, the people of Pompeii were sure to put pictures of their favored foreplay all over the walls before the city was destroyed by the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 AD. Frescoes unearthed by archeologists make it clear that Vesuvius wasn’t the only hole erupting that week.

Taoism, which originated roughly around the same time as the Kama Sutra and the destruction of Pompeii, revered cunnilingus as a spiritually fulfilling practice believed to contribute to longevity. It contributes to the longevity of something, that’s for sure. And according to hot local religious historians, Hindus practicing Tantric yoga held similar beliefs about the rejuvenating, prolonging effects of oral sex, especially cunnilingus, as far back as 600 AD. They believed, as other faiths have, that the emission or waste of semen weakened the holy and enlightened, who were apparently nineteen years old at birth. So eating out was a good alternative.

It was around the medieval period–second and third centuries, basically–that we started to get grouchy about oral sex in general. Oral sex was forbidden, as well as most sexual positions, chat rooms, and anything that was fun. Even theatre was banned, which made it a particularly hard time for gay dating. But medieval cunnilingus, like gay dating, was happening anyway. Otherwise they wouldn’t have banned it. The evidence is in early penitential literature–lists of rules and consequences for monks. According to one such source from Ireland, medieval muff munching would get you four years of penance. And nobody wants that.

Things started to loosen up with the Renaissance and the Enlightenment, although we probably took a break from habitual carpet munching during the Bubonic plague. After that, sexual progress remained on a good roll and by the time of Alfred Kinsey’s landmark report, we didn’t need Lenny Bruce to tell us everybody was fressing. Today, cunnilingus is a standard part of foreplay and partners who don’t do it are much more exceptional than partners who do. Strides taken by the LGBT community toward the mainstream, as well as the tide of feminism, have helped to normalize cunnilingus. Millennials consider oral sex an alternative to penetrative sex that “doesn’t count,” and maintain an almost casual attitude about it. Rumor has it that the practice also features prominently in the forthcoming Wonder Woman movie.

So fress on: almost everybody else is!

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