I've always liked the way writer John Barth described good sexual technique. "Heartfelt ineptitude has its appeal," he wrote, "and so does heartless skill, but what you want is passionate virtuosity."
Virtuosity usually takes practice. But for aspiring fellatio virtuosos, that's not a surefire option. After all, having a long sexual history doesn't mean much if you haven't learned anything along the way. Finding a teacher could be the way to go.
On a stormy Thursday night, I join 15 enthusiastic young women at the Harbord Street sex toy store Good for Her to check out Giving Head. Almost none of their partners know they're here, so if the workshop's a success, some men are in for a little surprise over the next few days.
The room is comfortable, with lots of plants and a few strategically placed ceiling hooks. (Workshops are also offered on BDSM.) At the front is a large white board on which workshop leader Carlyle Jansen will eventually draw a nice image of male genitals for the "anatomy lesson."
After the introductory once-around-the-circle (made-up names are OK, but nobody seems to give one), some printed Tips On Giving Great Head are handed out, and we're off.
Enthusiasm, Jansen says, gets you 90 per cent of the way there. Add eye contact and the use of a wide variety of body parts and you'll be fine.
Well, sure, enthusiasm. Easy enough at the beginning, but how do you keep it up when nothing's working, he's still limp, you're getting bored and your back hurts? That's where keeping it interesting and staying comfortable come in. Move around, move him around, bring in some Altoids. Rumour has it they were one of Monica Lewinsky's secret weapons, we learn.
Ever wanted to do something about the sort of sharp taste sperm has? Feed the guy pineapple (or strawberries, an apple or a pear) a few hours ahead of time. And keep him away from asparagus, coffee, garlic and beets. Beets?
As for that story we've all heard about vegetarians tasting better, apparently the jury's still out.
Don't like to swallow? We get tips on spitting gracefully.
Never been able to Deep Throat with flair and without gagging? Houdini learned to control his gag reflex (so he could hide keys and things), and you can, too. Problem is, it may keep you from gagging when you really need to, and you could find yourself dead from a chicken bone just because you wanted to give someone a better time in bed.
Another approach: be realistic. Jansen does the math for the group: average erect cock, 51/2 inches and straight; average mouth, 31/2 inches and curved. Still, if it's something you want in your repertoire, there are things you can practise, and she teaches them. Notes get scribbled.
Halfway through the night, Jansen asks, "Anyone want to strap on the harness?" Time to see what all the talk and paperwork look like on a real penis - actually, a realistic-looking latex penis on a leather harness.
Natasha volunteers with great energy and humour. Standing there with her quite nice hard-on, she interrupts Jansen's description of what will be demonstrated, asking, "Don't you think I should take you out to dinner first?"
Then everyone chooses a practice penis and gets comfortable with a variety of oral techniques (tea-bagging, corn on the cob, dolphin, fish mouth).
Glancing around the room at 15 women performing ice cream cone licks, someone says, "Add this to the list of things you never thought you'd see your friends do."
You won't be able to observe the street around Ben and Jerry's next summer the same way again either.
Want a condom on that penis, but he's not so sure? In two minutes the class learns learn how to put one on with your mouth, a hell of a good trick and to some worth the price of admission alone.
Where the evening goes off track is the teaching video, a 1980s-era tape featuring a voice-over out of a Harlequin Romance and a porn-star-ish woman with too big hair, too much makeup and too perfect nails. The sad truth is that nothing better has been made since. Something for the indie filmmakers out there to think about.
There's probably something new for everyone at the workshop, even if it's just the name of that hot little spot under the head of the penis (the frenulum).
Is it news you can use? A week later, I e-mail one of the women and ask. The results, she says, are "great. I've enjoyed it even more since the class. I'm sure my boyfriend is enjoying it, too!"
For men trying for a passionate virtuoso rating, Good for Her also offers Muff Diving workshops.
Maxine Gordon is a pseudonym.