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The History and Culture of Red Wings

Even though we have evolved far beyond our hunter-gatherer roots, we as humans still retain a primal response to the sight, taste and smell of blood. It is literally the essence of life. That’s perhaps why oral sex with a menstruating woman, a.k.a. earning your red wings, tends to bring forth such visceral reactions. We associate blood with violence and trauma, but sex is pleasurable. In some part of our minds, these ideas clash. This uncomfortable dichotomy has set the stage for red wings to become a modern-day male initiation ritual.

The Origin of "Red Wings"

Although “getting your red wings” appears to have been ritualized in the military for a number of years, it was first publicized in 1966 in Hunter S. Thompson’s book “Hells Angels, A Strange and Terrible Saga.” Thompson reported on the various adornments the Hells Angels used to differentiate themselves from society. He writes that red wings symbolized “the wearer has committed cunnilingus on a menstruating woman.” He goes on to clarify: “Black wings for the same act on a Negress, and brown wings for buggery.” (Political correctness was certainly not an issue back then.)

Thompson chronicles the Angels’ tendency in those days to wreak havoc wherever they went, offending as many people as possible. However, he notes that the meanings behind symbols like the red wings were not publicly known until the Angels started talking to reporters in the mid-sixties. It’s likely that red wings pins, patches and tattoos were worn with a sense of pride within a secretive group, as in many male initiation rituals. It seems to have originated as simply a rite of passage, rather than a conscious attempt to disgust the “squares.”

Besides the brief references in Thompson’s book, there is little written documentation on red wings. Spiritualized forms of sexuality like Tantra do touch on it, but menstruation is generally seen as so holy that sex is to be avoided. In Karezza (a Westernized form of Tantra), however, it is an opportunity for increased intimacy. Karezza recognizes the biological fact that during a woman’s period, her hormone levels go up, increasing sexual desire. The theory is that if women are more aroused and their partners can sense it, why not take advantage of that? Today, this is one of the few cases in which sex with a menstruating woman is socially advocated. However, the goal is intimacy (as opposed to conquest), and the question of whether or not to engage in oral sex is left up to the individual.

Male Initiation Rites

Red wings as a male ritual remains relatively informal outside of the military and certain subcultures. It is most often a private act that signifies a man’s understanding and acceptance of female sexuality. If he is sexually active with women, he will eventually have to decide if he wants to earn his red wings, but this decision is rarely based on the dictates of a group.

There is folklore, likely voodoo in origin, about red wings – if you do it, you will be tied to that woman for life. Whether or not this is true, it certainly reflects an emphasis on the intense energy associated with menstrual blood.

This shift in attitudes towards menstruation has turned red wings into a modern-day rite of passage. The key aspects of male initiation ritual – the combination of pain, sacrifice or disgust with a sense of accomplishment – are perfectly played out in the act of performing oral sex on a menstruating female.

The fact that women bleed for five days every month without dying is a concept that is wholly foreign to men. There is nothing like having oral sex with a bleeding woman to remind a man where he comes from. Discovering this connection to his animalistic, primal side is also part of what marks the transition from boy to man. Whether it is ritualized or informal, the issue of red wings – whether to earn them or not – will surely continue to be a cornerstone of sexual development for the modern male.

 

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