According to Egyptologists, women wore red lipstick to show that they were willing to give oral sex and that they were good at it.
At this point in my life, I’ve lost count of how many men I’ve heard complaining about how women are so hard to read, and that they wish they were more direct. They usually follow it up with something about how they’re simple creatures who couldn’t possibly understand everything that goes on in our minds, and that if they explicitly told them that they were interested in them, or wanted to hang out, or have sex with them, it would make things a million times easier.
Well, apparently, ancient Egyptian women made things extremely easy for men. According to historians, women would wear bright red lipstick as a symbol of their willingness to perform oral sex as well as to show that they were good at it. It isn’t clear whether it was a general trend that all women could wear, or if it was only for prostitutes, but what we do know is that Cleopatra herself loved wearing it. (There was no drugstore she could’ve gone to back then, so she had to make it from scratch using crushed beetles and ants.) Now, the fact that a woman wore red lipstick didn’t mean that she would give a blow job to the first person who approached her, but it was a pretty clear signal that she wouldn’t have a problem with giving one if she was interested in the guy.
Egyptian Dancer (ca. 1300 BC)
Red lipstick was part of a larger phenomenon in ancient Egyptian culture that celebrated sex and sexuality in all its forms. In contrast to other ancient cultures from around the world, Egyptians weren’t embarrassed to express their sexuality openly, and there was a particular fascination with fellatio. The origin of their fascination and, probably, the best example of it, is found in the myth of Osiris and Isis. As the story goes, Osiris, the god of the afterlife and the dead, was killed by his brother Set, the god of storms, disorder, and violence. Not only did he kill him, but he also chopped him up into pieces and scattered them in different parts of the world. Then, Osiris’s wife, Isis (who was also his sister), went all over the world collecting the pieces and putting them back together, so she could bring her lover back to life. However, when she was done, she realized that there was one piece missing: his penis. So, she fashioned a new one out of clay and literally blew life into him, gifting us all with the most beautiful blow job story ever told.
Osiris and Isis
According to Egyptologists, ancient Egyptian women were the first to ever use makeup and, by extension, red lipstick. Clearly, they were onto something: 5,000 years later we’re still wearing it. All this time, from one corner of the globe to the next, red lipstick has been a staple of beauty and a symbol of sexuality. On one hand, red is the color of blood, health, and fertility, so when we see a bright red lip, we automatically see that person as young, vibrant, and full of vitality, in other words, the ideal sexual partner. On the other hand, because red is the color of blood, it also brings to mind images of death and danger, which is why this color is associated to strong and confident women, while pink and white are more associated with young girls. So, when a woman wears red lipstick, she’s not just wearing a plain, old color. No, she’s wearing five millennia worth of cultural baggage, feminine ideals, and beauty standards.
Going back to ancient Egyptian women, though, I have to say that they were much bolder than we are nowadays with our makeup. Back then, wearing red lipstick was the equivalent of wearing a big sign on your forehead that read, “I give blow jobs.” As far as I know, there’s nothing we can wear in this century that has the same effect. Moreover, to this day, there’s still a certain level of stigma attached to fellatio and to the women who openly admit that they like performing it. Some cultures, like the Inuit, for example, accept sex as a normal part of life that people shouldn’t be afraid of, but they are completely against oral sex, and will not tolerate it in their communities. Why do they forbid it? It might have something to do with the fact that this act has nothing to do with procreation, and that it puts a “dirty” body part in the other person’s mouth. So, when you think about it, it was kind of a feminist act to wear red lipstick in ancient Egypt. It meant that you weren’t ashamed to be sexual, and that you were actually pretty proud of your oral skills.
Five thousand years later, things have changed, and while red lipstick (and the color red, in general) still carries sexual connotations, it doesn’t mean that you like giving blow jobs anymore. These days, it means whatever you want it to mean. People of all genders and sexual orientations wear it to feel bolder, stronger, and more confident, and that is the beauty of this ancient symbol.