Editor’s note: The following column contains material that is unsuitable for children.

It started the instant I bought the Altoids. I had a simple craving for mints. Then I went to a Woody Allen film. That was my friend Gary’s idea. Then I saw Monica’s face on a T-shirt. Then a roller-skater whizzed down my street, wearing kneepads. One association led to another, as associations will. It became something I could NOT not think about, not talk about. It wasn’t that I became obsessed about doing it. Not at all. But it became an intellectual interest of mine. I was curious. I wanted to know more. I wanted to know what’s the allure. It became like that novelty folksong, “Everything Reminds Me of My Dog.”

Except it wasn’t my dog, it was one of those unmentionable subjects you have to tiptoe around and whisper about, one of those dirty little secrets, something if you decide to write about it, you better not use the word too often in your story.

There’s a pivotal scene in “Celebrity,” Woody Allen’s latest meditation on the vagaries and vicissitudes of fame. Australian actress Judy Davis, portraying a nervous schoolteacher divorcee dumped by her writer hubby for being sexually boring, consults a soignee courtesan for some erotic techniques to prop up her sagging sexual self-esteem. While Joe Mantegna as her new guy adores her, she fears her love-making repertoire lacks a certain je-ne-sais-quoi, and she amply affirms that on an unpeeled banana, nearly biting it in half. Then the courtesan unpeels another banana and all but swallows it whole without leaving a mark, delicately but decisively demonstrating seductive deep-throating skills which might make a sword-swallower faint with envy.

Sure, on the surface, the notion of a “respectable” English teacher and Chaucer specialist-turned-TV star consulting a hooker for pornographic Love Secrets in that current Woody Allen film is ridiculous, but I think it’s indicative of a major change in our culture. It’s tricky to be a feminist in a pose of sexual subservience.

Long ago, before I, um, inadvertently noticed Linda Lovelace and Harry Reems disporting in Gerald Damiano’s early ’70s cult film “Deep Throat,” I thought oral sex meant talking! You know, one of those great conversations that leave you wanting more. Silly me!! Fascinatingly enough, the actual word blow-job, slang for fellatio or oral sex, didn’t even exist in dictionaries until — according to the Merriam-Webster folks — 1956, which makes it less than two decades older than presidential temptress Monica Lewinsky. Arguably, the movie “Deep Throat” popularized oral sex, propelling it into mass consciousness. But it is my contention that slang indicates the widespread societal prevalence of a practice. So now, if we are to accept Bill Clinton and Woody Allen as millennial avatars of a certain luridly unimaginative branch of the American male psyche, the blow job could be the Golden Fleece of Sex, the final solution to What Do Men Want?

‘Twasn’t always so. To Puritans settling the American colonies, the practice was not only sinful, but illegal, and therefore punishable even for married couples. Historically, not everyone was so disinclined. Legend has it that Josephine thusly indulged Napoleon between battles. Further back, in ancient Rome, commonly one partner barely moved while being serviced — which evokes the unfortunate image of Bill Clinton leaning against an Oval Office doorjamb, ostensibly to support his bad back, and most of the time withholding his orgasm, obviously another “But I didn’t inhale” ploy.

So what else is new? Monica’s Mints? Nah!! For centuries, the world’s most celebrated brothels have employed an extremely effective yet confidential method of intense arousal enhancing oral pleasure dating back to ancient Greece involving placing a secret mint mixture on the tongue for what recipients say is fellatio of incomparable ecstasy.

And yet, in all the recent brouhaha over Altoids — those “curiously strong (TM)” mints’ reputation as an enhancement to what seemed — until federal fellatrix Monica Lewinsky popularized it as a form of presidential entertainment, a variant sexual technique separating madonnas from whores, nice girls from sluts — no one, not even toe-sucking apostate Dick Morris, has bothered to mention Dan Anderson’s prescient guide to imaginative erotic practices, “Sex Tips for Straight Women from a Gay Man,” published long prior the scandal which has rocked the Clinton White House to its very foundations.

Naturally I wonder if Monica has read Dan Anderson’s book, which I really would quote from here copiously except three people in succession have stolen my copy to amp up their stale marriages. “You may be aware there’s a bit in my book about how some people don’t think of oral sex as real sex. So maybe I’ll be called in as an expert witness,” quips former Philadelphian Dan Anderson from his new West Coast digs. Does he think Monica has seen his book? “I wouldn’t be surprised. …”

Or was LaLewinsky just a naturally talented amateur like my friend Eloise, whose name I have changed to spare her needless notoriety. When I knew her, Eloise was a writer and an editor, mother of several children, wife of a successful medical specialist in a snooty Philadelphia suburb.

It was Eloise who explained to me the meaning of unconditional love. “No matter what my kids do, I love them anyway, totally and unquestioningly,” she declared, “and sometimes, even if they do something horrible or stupid, I love them even more.” That was a revelation to me on several fronts, having survived stern parents who sometimes let their hands do the talking. And then subsequently struggling with too many relationships sharing the anthem, “What’s Love Got to Do With It?”

One of Eloise’s most arresting revelations was why she thought her marriage was strong and had lasted despite so many of her husband’s colleagues choosing armpieces or trophies as second wives. “No, I’m not worried,” Eloise said, a half-smile playing across her strong face, “I’m not afraid of losing him.” Why not? I asked this somewhat plain and staid Main Line matron who used bobbypins in her hairdo. I was prepared for some mawkish homily, but her reply, simple and secure and succinct, shocked me: “I swallow.”

“Spit vs. Swallow: America’s Commitment Dilemma,” offers Captain Trash, jaunty biker journalist for Easyriders magazine whom I knew I could count on to put things in perspective. “We are,” he candidly philosophizes, “a nation of oral uncertainty.”

The conventional wisdom was that mistresses swallowed and wives spit or did not deign to descend from their lofty pedestals to give their husbands what the dudes in their atavistic dudeness wanted/needed most. Indeed, why else did grown men seek out hookers? To do dirty deeds that their wives didn’t have the time or inclination for … like listening.

Right now, as I write this, I’m listening to Cheryl Crowe’s plaintive but infectious ballad, “You Are My Favorite Mistake.” And pondering what Paula and Monica may have had in common. “They’re dogs,” says my friend Bruce. No, I mean, besides the obvious reaction, “What does he see in HER?” What? Well, their mouths. Big wide-mouth jar mouths, toothy smiles, relaxed lips, slack-jawed promise of the Big Event. Both these broads are built for it. They’re walking Billboards for a fantasy of oral sex.

“So what is the one thing most men seem willing to die for? The thing that can turn the most high-powered businessman into a sniveling idiot?” write Dan Anderson and Maggie Berman in Sex Tips. … You got it.

What woman would descend to crotch level to please a man this way? Apparently, enough so that some men seem to equate it with droit de seigneur or Divine Right of Kings. “I am much more interested in what Bill Clinton does as president — his economic and political decisions,” Futurist author Robert Anton Wilson states, “than what he does for relaxation. …”

Maintains Wilson, “A happy and relaxed President is less likely to bomb people than a tense and up-tight president. Never underestimate the importance of a blow-job.” Perhaps he’s something of a visionary. Wilson’s novel trilogy, “Schrodinger’s Cat,” written in 1979, contains this amazingly predictive passage: “… We were saved because a red-haired Tantric Engineer named Babs Lashtal gave the Prez a first-class Grade-A blow job in the Oval Office at 10 a.m., relaxed his tense muscles, pacified his glands, soothed his frustrations, and inspired him to act relatively sane for the rest of the day. He did not push the (nuclear) button, thereby preserving millions of species of living forms on Earth. …”

Now that’s a concept, isn’t it?

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