It's not just Bill. It's something of a national obsession, reports Genevieve Fox. Maybe it's the orthodontics...
ORAL SEX is the talk of America. It's the toast, too. From Milwaukee to Manhattan, men are raising glasses to the President's sexual appetite, grateful that he has reminded the lady folk quite how much they luurve a little lip-o-love.

With Bill dropping his Chinos all over the shop, you wouldn't think they needed reminding. But they do, at least according to Don Myrus, associate publisher of US Forum and Penthouse magazines. It is a supply and demand thing. "There are," he says, "a lot of complaints amongst the American male that he is not getting 'pleasure'." They get "it" before marriage, but once they have tied the knot, forget it. "It's a largely pre-marital or extra-marital practice. Women seem to seduce men by oral sex. When they get married or form a tight bond, the practice seems to fall off drastically. Man after man says, then I married her, and she never did that again." Girls, are you listening?

Like some rare gem, scarcity fuels the American male's apparent obsession with oral sex. Liz Caldwell, editor of another illustrious organ, British Forum magazine, explains: "One of the reasons American men are obsessed with it is because it is still illegal in some states."

Such inconsistency gets Americans in a right old pickle; it encapsulates the country's cultural schizophrenia. There's the Puritan tradition, on the one hand (Can you image hot sex in a Shaker kitchen? I don't think so) and Sixties sexual liberalism, spearheaded by writers like John Updike, Norman Mailer, Erica Jong and Philip Roth, on the other. Each voice competes to be heard above the other.

King of oral sex John Updike has never had any problem making his voice heard. Homing in on America's guilty obsession with sex, he provided one of the first naturalistic descriptions of oral sex in his novel Couples, published in 1968. He'd already treated the Land of Opportunity to a Peeping Tom's fantasy of multiple fellatio in a poem he wrote in 1964, which begins like this: "How beautiful to think/that each of these clean secretaries/at night, to please her lover, takes/a fountain in her mouth..." ("Fellatio", 1964). Beautiful for whom? Meanwhile, three decades and 18 novels later, Updike seems to see it as his mission to evangelise about OS.

In his latest novel, Toward the End Of Time, Ben, the novel's narrator, enjoys a little fellatio with a young prostitute while his wife is away. She is described as having "an obtuse muzzle". "The sight of her young lips obediently distended around my swollen member... afflicts me with a religious peace." (One wonders if the obeisant Monica Lewinsky enjoyed a similar sacred moment. There's been no suggestion that the balance of power shifted, that the services rendered were reciprocal.)

That "muzzle", it's crucial. Forget contradictory sex laws, forget the forbidden sex of movies from Fatal Attraction to Boogie Nights, or the enduring spirit of Salem. It's the American mania for orthodontics that's behind their preoccupation with you know what. All the President's women have "huge teeth, dentist office's teeth, the kind of choppers that can tear flesh from the bone," says Slate magazine.

Disregard Paula Jones's white trash looks, says Camille Paglia. It's her "big wide mouth" and the "slackness about her jaw" that makes Jones a "walking, talking advertisement for oral sex".

Which would explain why, as a nation indifferent to our teeth, the British are less hung up on oral sex. Women are positively blase about the issue. Ever since the Kinsey Report of 1948 and the Shere Hite Report on Female Sexuality of 1976, which announced to the world that women like "it" too, we've been taking or leaving it. And, as one British 34-year-old woman points out, we take it or leave it depending on "who is giving it to whom".

Not so for men, it seems. "I've never met a man on either side of the ocean who would turn down a blow job," says Don Guttenplan, 40, an American writer now living in London. Must be the law of supply and demand again.

As for his fellow males being more preoccupied with oral sex than their British counterparts, Guttenplan is not convinced. But he does think that "American men are more oral than Englishmen. It's something about access to pleasure, loss of control. Perhaps it can be explained by the fact that our upper classes don't get buggered at public school."

Whatever the explanations, Hugh Grant not withstanding, on Friday Bill Clinton achieved his highest opinion poll to date. Perhaps John Updike has achieved his mission to liberate the American psyche from the clutches of Salem after all.