Advice

The History of Sixty-Nine

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Aaron and Josh are two guy friends who have a podcast in which they try to answer questions about dating, romance, relationships, sex, and the vagueries of human interaction. (“If you’re not a straight cismale, then we (may) have the answers you’re searching for.”) They’ll be writing a weekly post on The Date Report expanding on some of the topics covered in their weekly podcast.  

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I’ve been snickering whenever someone mentioned the number 69 since approximately 1995. Long before I knew what it meant, I knew that it was dirty and hilarious. This lack of context may be just fine for a third grader, but I’m an adult, and if I’m going to continue to snicker whenever someone says 69, I figured at least I (and, by extension, you) should know a little bit of history of the term.

Maybe most importantly, it’s the rare word that carries it’s meaning visually– we pull meaning out of the shape of the numbers as opposed to the sound of the word.

Mutual oral sex has been around for about as long as oral sex, and oral sex has been around for about as long as sex, but the earliest attribution of the term “sixty-nine” I could find dates back to the 1790s in (you guessed it) France. Theroigne de Mericourt, an influential speaker and courtesan during the French Revolution, was said to have sprinkled the term soixante-neuf liberally throughout her series of Whore’s Catechisms. She’s also said to have started down the revolutionary path after being spurned by an aristocratic lover; showed up to meetings of parliament for the sole purpose of heckling people; and worn a riding crop, gun, and sword in public at all times during the highest point of the revolution. She ended up being flogged in the streets, refusing to wear clothes, and dying insane in 1817. And after all that, her most important contribution was, yeah, okay, an independent France, but her second most important contribution was definitely a sex act named after a number.

It’s not clear how the term found widespread use in English, but if it came from a French courtesan then the smart money is on Benjamin Franklin having something to do with it. All the same, it’s easy to see why the term spread so quickly– it’s instantly evocative, and every language already has a easily-translated equivalent to use. Nowadays, saying “sixty-nine” in dozens of language will get someone’s mind in the gutter, even in some written languages that don’t even use arabic numerals (Mandarin, Korean).

I started writing this article dead set on finding a better term than 69 for the act of mutual oral sex, but, honestly? 69 is pretty great on it’s own. I can’t think of a more perfect euphemism. It’s easy to say, instantly understandable once explained (but not before), and is just innocuous enough for you to sneak it into conversation without arousing suspicion. Maybe most importantly, it’s the rare word that carries it’s meaning visually– we pull meaning out of the shape of the numbers as opposed to the sound of the word. This fact alone catapults it to the top of my list of favorite sex terms. I like it even more than “spooning,” or, as I call it, 99ing.

I owe a good portion of this article to references found in the book Oragenitalism: Oral Techniques in Genital Excitation, by Gershon Legman, published in, um, 1969 *snicker*.

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