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Heather Corinna replies:
I was wondering exactly what "blue-balls" meant for guys. My boyfriend mentioned it recently when he was complaining that I didn't go all the way when we were messing around. (I was touching him inside of his pants, but didn't give him a full-out hand job or oral, so he didn't "get off.") Although I understand the basic concept of painful internal pressure building up because of no outlet, what I was wondering was just how much of a problem this is: is it very likely to happen to him or not? There wouldn't be any more than an hour between arousal and an opportunity for him to jack off, and, to me, it doesn't seem like it would be much of an issue since he does so regularly, which, as for my understanding of the matter, would keep the pressure relatively low. I know it didn't happen to him that day, because I asked him a couple of days later, but now it's sort-of in the back of my mind when we're hanging out. Now I'm nervous about getting him turned on, because I feel pressured to do more than that. Its not like I have problems with giving him a hand/blow job, but I don't always want to, for various reasons, and now I feel awkward about doing anything at all if I'm not in the mood for doing something that would get him off. Thank you for your help!
The technical term for "blue balls" is vasocongestion. It really isn't about balls at all, and it happens to both men and women.
Here's the deal: when any of us gets very sexually aroused, one thing that happens is that our whole pelvic area tends to fill with blood. That's how men get erections, and how in women, the clitoris enlarges and becomes more obvious and the vulva gets puffier or fuller-feeling and looking. So, we get all amped up, that vasocongestion starts to happen, and if and when we orgasm, we'll usually feel a release of that pressure pretty shortly thereafter. When it does not, it can be uncomfortable: men will usually feel that discomfort in the testes, and women in the whole pelvic area or localized in the vulva. From everything we know about male and female physiology and genitals, it's not that men feel it that much more acutely (sorry to show your hand, guys) than women do, but that they just tend to complain about it more.
Even if we do not orgasm, most of the time, after a pretty minor amount of time -- around 20-30 minutes -- that pressure will subside on its own. We don't have to reach orgasm or "get off" for that to happen, but you're absolutely right: if we want to, and our partner has since left the building or is just not feeling it anymore with sex, we always have our own two hands. We also don't even have to wait for a partner to leave to use them: mutual masturbation is a very common practice plenty of people enjoy together. It also can happen all by itself, and if our discomfort is profound, just taking an aspirin, Tylenol or Advil will do the trick. Given how many people have trouble reaching orgasm, can you imagine how miserable so many folks would be if that didn't pass on its own? Yowza! There's be an awful lot of people walking around all the time who weren't walking upright.
No matter what, vasocongestion doesn't oblige you or anyone else to bring a partner to orgasm. It doesn't mean your partner is obligated to always bring you to orgasm, or that it'd be okay for you to pressure or guilt-trip him if you were feeling physically uncomfortable because you didn't reach orgasm; and it doesn't mean you're obligated to always bring him to orgasm or that it's okay for him to pressure or guilt-trip you.
But it is certainly okay for either of you to kvetch about it just because it hurts when it's just sharing some misery, rather than either of your putting pressure on the other to fix it. After all, part of being close to someone is being able to whinge a little when we're not happy.
It's hard for me to tell if you are feeling pressured because he exerted any pressure, or if you feel awkward about this just because he said something, and you have the idea that it's somehow a partner's job to always guarantee an orgasm for the other. If it's the latter, rather than the former, just know that that's an idea well worth abandoning (and chances are, it's coming from a place of old-school sexism you probably wouldn't be so jazzed about: the notion that a man's orgasm is somehow a woman's duty. Gross). Partners should by all means be mutually invested in each other's pleasure, enjoyment and in making one another feel good, but that doesn't mean we're obligated into some kind of sexual service. Plus, with men and women alike, we just aren't always going to orgasm, no matter what we're doing. Even in situations where everyone does want to do anything and everything the other does, for as long as the other partner does, we still can't guarantee either or both partners are going to get off.
My partner was just walking by as I was answering this, and so, out of curiousity, I asked him what on earth I could possibly do to really get the message across to guys that this is hardly just a guy issue, nor the worst thing on earth that could ever happen to someone.
Like I said, I can't tell if your partner was trying to use this to pressure you, but lord knows using it to pressure a female partner is something that does happen frequently among men and women -- particularly with younger folks -- and really has just got to go. It's particularly ironic, too, given the fact that women with male sexual partners tend to orgasm even less frequently than those partners do, and thus will often feel this even more frequently than men. My partner suggested that perhaps the issue is that we need slang for this when women experience it, too, so that this whole thing can get seriously unpacked when it comes to how gender-imbalanced it tends to be. Like, some guy says, "But you're leaving me with blue balls," and you can just as easily say, "Well, you're leaving me with -- whatever we're going to call it -- too, so we can just mope together if you want, or stop being big silly whiners and go get lunch." I don't know if I agree that a good girl-term or two could somehow fix a long history of imbalance with this issue, but just in case, I suggest the following for your consideration as slang terms for the girl-version (and forgive my french if any of my terms cause you to inwardly cringe).
Obviously, you're more than welcome to come up with your own if mine don't appeal.
The point is that filling a good guy in on the fact that this isn't just something that happens to him, nor something that just happens to guys, combined with a firm and clear statement that there's never a good reason to pressure a partner about sex -- and that he's totally welcome to finish himself off at those times, just as you'd hope you would be when it happens to you -- will likely put a swift, comfortable end to all of this.