Why Are People So Eager to Lose Their Gag Reflex?
The gag reflex looms large in conversations around oral sex, particularly fellatio. It doesn’t take too deep a dive into porn viewing to find adult actresses performing what’s commonly known as “deep-throating,” taking a penis into the mouth all the way down to its base.
This act was basically the entire premise of the 1972 movie “Deep Throat”—an endeavor that led to a film style dubbed “porno chic” for its lucrative profits and relatively high production values—in which Linda Lovelace’s character discovers, with questionable help from a psychiatrist, that her clitoris is located in her throat (yes). This physical abnormality allows her to not just bypass sexual pain but achieve orgasm from fellatio.
It became clear later that “Deep Throat” was never so chic. Lovelace has alleged she was raped during its making, in a move engineered by her abusive husband. In part because of this film’s legacy, many people now recognize that the act of deep-throating is fraught with cultural baggage, not to mention physical sensitivity and medical consequences.
On the other hand, there are plenty more people who see deep-throating as desirable and the gag reflex as an annoying physiological interference with blow-job pleasure—or with day-to-day life more generally (more on that later). Hence the proliferation of “hack” tutorials on TikTok with such titles as “How to Lose Your Gag Reflex.” One 2020 video from a young British-accented man named Harry has 2.5 million views and inspired rave reviews and encouraged other users to chime in with their own tips.
Losing your gag reflex is not at all necessary for ideal sex.
What is a gag reflex exactly? Known medically as the pharyngeal reflex, “it’s a contraction of the back of the throat that occurs when certain areas of the inside of the mouth are touched, including the roof of the mouth, back of the tongue or throat, and the area around the tonsils,” according to a medical explainer from gastroenterologist Teodor C. Pitea for the healthcare provider Banner.
“This is designed to keep us from choking,” added Gigi Engle, author of "All The F*cking Mistakes: A Guide to Sex, Love, and Life" and a certified clinical sexologist. “It's a natural bodily reaction and it isn't weird if it happens to you. It would actually be weird if this didn't happen.”
So why lose it at all? As suggested, for some people the key motivation will be impressing a male sex partner with deep-throating that comes without the natural retching noises. But there are other less sexy reasons to want to lose, or at least dampen, your gag reflex: If you find it impossible to thoroughly clean your tongue without spluttering when your toothbrush approaches your throat, you know the struggle all too well.
“A severe gag reflex can be a big obstacle in certain dental procedures,” according to a 2018 paper in the International Journal of Recent Surgical and Medical Sciences. “Many dental patients avoid going to the dentist because of an abnormally severe gag reflex.”
It’s common for patients to worry about this issue, Pitea said. The sensitivity, generally a conditioned response “after a previous problematic experience,” can make it difficult to swallow pills and undergo endoscopic examinations. But, he added, the discomfort “can be avoided, particularly by numbing the back of the throat and using sedatives." He advised talking to your doctor to ease anxiety.
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Not everyone visits their doctor about these particular concerns, though, and some of them turn to videos such as Harry’s instead. There, they’ll be greeted with the following instructions: Press your left thumb inside a fist, squeezing hard. After five seconds, press your right index finger to your chin for five seconds while still squeezing your left thumb. Release, then take your right thumb and index finger and use them to squeeze the skin between your left thumb and index finger for five seconds.
It might sound far-fetched, but there is scientific evidence backing this approach: A 2008 study in the Journal of the American Dental Association found that “applying pressure to a specific point on the palm” decreased the likelihood of gagging for those with a hypersensitive reflex. According to a 2018 literature review in the International Journal of Recent Surgical and Medical Sciences, various other methods help lessen gagging, including distracting breathing exercises, desensitization based on exposure to stimuli and acupuncture on the forearm and chin.
The question, then, is whether this is all worth it, if your sole motivation is giving better blow jobs. Not every man gets off on the depth of oral penetration, and even those who enjoy a vast array of deep-throating videos on porn tube sites probably don’t expect their own sexual partners to defy basic physiology. If your partner does, you could politely request they consider your comfort—and also, you know, reality—before you embark on a journey full of TikTok hacks and acupuncture of the chin.
Still, if you really do want to desensitize this reflex for sexual reasons, Engle warily offered advice. “You can train your throat to be less receptive to the gag reflex by using oblong objects such as bananas or dildos,” she said. “It takes practice and patience.”
But Engle warned against the idea that losing your gag reflex is at all necessary for ideal sex. “If this is something you want to do for yourself because you think it's really hot, good on you, do your thing,” she continued. “But if you think it's a skill you need to learn in order to ‘please’ a partner, I'd ask you to reconsider why putting yourself through such discomfort is important to you.”