You’d be surprised at the topics that pop up around my grandmother’s dinner table sometimes.

I honestly don’t know how the topic of blowjobs came about – actually, wait, I do. We were discussing my cousin – a man slut if there ever was one – and his new girlfriend, who, being a good Catholic girl, refuses to have sex before marriage. A bizarre choice of romantic involvement for my cousin, who is infamous for his sex drive, until my aunt mentioned that this girlfriend loved oral sex. Giving head was, for her, perfectly in line with keeping her virginity.

Now, in my parents’ generation, oral sex was sex. Period. It was something a girl did after she’d lost her virginity, or perhaps a part of losing it, and afterward one couldn’t really consider herself pure.

Today, on the other hand, oral sex has moved from a part of the “big event” to being a precursor – being “third base,” to use the ol’ baseball terminology. Giving head no longer means giving up your cherry – which, actually, is a strange concept. If virginity is based upon the penetration of a male organ into the female body, isn’t the penis penetrating the lips – and thus isn’t the woman technically a non-virgin? There’s no reason why sucking cock should be any less promiscuous an action than having vaginal sex. Both are among the most intimate of interactions that two human beings can have.

In an age where the sexual revolution is more or less defunct, where sex can kill instead of just impregnate, the vestiges of a sexually liberated society need an outlet for their frustrations. In this way oral sex is a more socially acceptable way to vent one’s hormonal urges without officially losing one’s virginity. It is basically a way around the guilt that the sexual act itself carries with it.

How is oral any safer or less intimate than vaginal? You can’t get pregnant from it, yes, but the risk of catching sexually transmitted diseases is still there, if reduced.

But in a culture where sex is defined as an act performed solely for the purpose of procreation, and there are many who believe intercourse should be solely directed at this purpose, any act that can’t get you pregnant could, technically, therefore not be counted as sex.

This is not to say that the religious right still doesn’t stigmatize this act. Any sort of sexual release not intended for procreation should also carry with it an intense load of guilt. But as a part of our generation’s attempt at sexual liberation, we’ve more or less pushed these social mores aside as conservatism, yet still hold up virginity on a pedestal as something special and virtuous and precious, a line of thought that is rather conservative. I think we have a contradiction here. Where it stems from, I’ve no idea, but I have a feeling that moral shame, and wanting to avoid it, could be the culprit.

If we don’t have to feel guilty about oral sex, why do we still feel guilty about engaging in vaginal sex, or even anal sex (which, actually, I’ve heard is also used as an alternative to losing one’s virginity, even though it is just as intimate as vaginal intercourse)?

And if we’re so sexually liberated, why do we feel the need to work around the virginity issue? What makes virginity so special, so precious? Nothing, really, except our own perceptions of intimacy and male-female interactions. The idea of a virgin comes from the ideal of a woman who has never been touched by or intimate with a man, a female that is preserved in purest form. Is a woman who opens up everything except her flower to a man still pure in this ideal?

I’m not trying to say that any intimacy before marriage is wrong, nor am I saying that oral sex is a bad thing. I’m just saying that we’re working around guilt that, really, we shouldn’t be having. The sexual revolution was meant to free us from this sort of stigma, but we continue to cling to it like a baby-blanket protection against the world.

For those who want to save intimacy until marriage, go right ahead. It is a choice that is yours to make, and yours to be respected. But don’t let guilt control your actions and enjoyment of what truly is a magical, intimate experience.

Daily Nexus features editor Sarah Kent cries every time she and her boyfriend have sex. Send her your sex ideas, comments and questions to <>