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Heather Corinna replies:
I'm 19 and have been with my boyfriend (also 19) for a little over two years. In the last year, our relationship has progressed sexually (but both of us have decided not to have intercourse). A few months ago, he performed oral sex on me. I'd given him blowjobs before and he asked if he could reciprocate. Afterward, though, he was really quiet. I got the nerve to him about it. He admitted he didn't like it. A few months passed, and we decided to try it again, to see if his opinion changed at all. Again, he said it wasn't his cup of tea. We decided it was best not to discuss it anymore because it wasn't working out.
I appreciate he at least tried to make an effort to reciprocate, because he said he felt bad for taking more than he gave, and I know he feels really bad he doesn't like it. But at the same time, he still won't do it. It's frustrating for me because I loved the feeling of it and I haven't been fully satisfied with him just fingering me. How do I bring this up after like months without making it sound like I'm upset with him or guilting him into giving me oral sex again? Other than this, we have a very healthy relationship. I love him a lot and he loves me too.
If cunnilingus isn't an activity he enjoys, and he's made clear he doesn't enjoy it and doesn't want to do it, in my book you don't bring it up again as something you want. He's made clear it's just not for him right now, and he tried it twice to see. He knows you're interested in it, so he's already aware that if he wanted to try it again, he could approach it with you. So, what I'd say you need to do is accept that you're with a partner who doesn't want to do it, and that's just the way it is for now, and potentially for always. Then, you make your own decisions and adjustments from that place of acceptance.
We're always going to have some areas or things with partners that aren't what we'd want or find most ideal. Some of those things might be dealbreakers; others are no big whoop. But when any of those things aren't things partners can change, want to change, or it's fair to ask them to try and change, it's up to us to accept those things as they are, sort out if something is a dealbreaker or not, and if it's not a dealbreaker, to adapt to that reality.
Let's put this shoe on another foot. Say your partner changed his mind about intercourse. He decided it was something he really wanted, and wanted with you, but you still wanted it left off the table, for whatever set of reasons, whether it's about your values, risks or because you didn't enjoy it. If he was asking me what you are, I'd tell him the same things I'm telling you, and I think you'd probably agree with me that they're sound things to say and advise. I also think if he kept bringing it up, you'd feel pressured, because that would be pressuring.
Sexually speaking, it's unusual to find a sexual partner who wants to do and enjoys everything we do. There's so many different ways of being sexual, and we're all such different people, that it's not a shocker that's a bit of a holy grail. What's more common is to find partners who tick off many or even most of our sexual boxes, but not all. It's also unusual to find very compatible sexual partnerships right at the gate, when sex with others is new to us. What's more common is to discover better and better sexual fits in partnerships, and to get better and better at seeking them out, when we have more experience in finding out what we want in a sexual partner and in our sex lives, and what we like and what we don't. And just because someone is a good fit for us otherwise, or because we love each other, doesn't mean they'll be a good fit for us sexually. Love can absolutely enhance sex, but love alone cannot great sex make. Just because we love someone doesn't mean we're going to like everything sexually, feel comfortable with everything, or want what a partner does.
So, your first big think about this is going to be to sort out if a lack of cunnilingus is a dealbreaker for you or not. To do that, you'll probably want to look at the big picture of your whole relationship and your sex life. Are you getting most of what you want? Are you mostly really enjoying this relationship, including the kinds of sex you have together? Does the relationship feel of real benefit to you? If your answers to those questions were all yes, chances are you'll want to stick with it and figure out how to deal with a lack of oral sex and how to find some other things that you enjoy just as much and feel as satisfied by. Since it sounds like you two are just starting to explore sex and may not have much on the menu right now, that might be a lot easier than it seems.
If you feel on the fence with those questions, either about your whole relationship or your sexual relationship, you might want to think about not being in a sexual relationship together: just because you both want one and love each other doesn't mean a sexual relationship is the right one for you two, or what's right at this time in your lives. Or, if it's something you think both of you might be comfortable considering, you could talk about having a relationship that's not sexually exclusive. Some people find that they can solve the problem of sexual divides like this by having other sexual partners that fit their bills.
I'd say you also might want to check in and make sure this isn't a variation on a theme. It's one thing for a partner not to like or feel comfortable with a couple sexual things you like, but it's something else when the only things they like are what they want to do, and never what you do. Same goes for if you're willing to step a little outside your comfort zone to try new things, but they really won't, or if a partner just can't get comfortable with your body or its parts, especially after years of being together. If things like that are the case, then we're talking about more than just not enjoying giving you oral sex: we could be talking about a sexual relationship which might be a real dead-end for you.
If you do feel like you want to continue this relationship as one that includes sex, you can invest more time and energy together in discovering and exploring different things that work for both of you; that you both enjoy and that feel satisfying to you both. In your case, for instance, you say that you love the feeling of oral sex, but your partner isn't into it. So, where can you go from there?
First of all, you can talk about this without exerting pressure or guilt-tripping. What you'll need to do is first make sure you really do accept that this is off the table for him for now, and will only be back on the table if and when he decides, on his own, it's something he wants to try again, as much for his enjoyment as yours. If you're not there yet, get yourself to that acceptance first. Once you're there, you can let him know you fully accept he isn't interested in cunnilingus, and don't want him to do that or anything else he doesn't want to, but would like to talk about what you like about it and what he didn't in the hopes of arriving at some kinds of sexual activity, or some ways of going about them, that feel as satisfying as that did for you and which he also likes engaging in. Making very clear no one "owes" anyone any kind of sex, or should do anything they don't feel great about, will also really help to assure he doesn't stay feeling bad about not liking what you do, and won't do anything just because you want it, so you can let go of your worries about that.
Can you put your finger on what you liked about it, specifically? I know that might not be so easy if you only experienced it a couple times, but think about it: is it, for example, the moisture, the heat, targeted stimulus to your clitoral glans, hood or labia, is it the softness of touch? Is it about having that focus on the body parts it stimulates in a very dedicated way from a partner? Is it about focusing on your genitals, but not only -- or at all -- your vagina? Is it about something emotional? Is it about feeling like he fully accepts and appreciates your genitals? Whatever thing or group of things it is, if you can get specific, you two can probably find some other activities, or ways of going about them, that either fit this bill or come mighty close. You might even wind up finding some things you like even more, finding ways of doing things you already do and both like that can wind up being even better than they are already, or even finding out that what he didn't like about oral sex is something you can easily change or adapt so he can enjoy it.
For instance, if during manual sex (fingering) your partner used his fingers more on the areas you had stimulated during oral sex, might that do the trick for you? Or having fingertips while doing so that are kept very moist with lubricant? If it's about him doing something sexual where you feel like he is super-focused on your body, your genitals specifically or your pleasure, you could make clear that's what you want, and see if he can't do more things that provide that or change how he's doing some other things so that those dynamics are a bigger part of the picture. There are also some sex toys which replicate the sensations of oral sex: you could look into those. If for him, he felt lost and intimidated, and that's what he didn't like about oral sex, he may have just needed more communication, reassurance and direction from you. Or maybe the taste wasn't working out for him: what about flavored lubes? Or maybe there was some kind of emotional vibe that made him uncomfortable. Who knows, but talking about it all this way, both being as clear and specific as you can, is a best bet, no matter what the outcome.
I also want to suggest you both reevaluate the idea of sexual reciprocity. Being reciprocal in a sexual relationship in ways that are healthy and won't make anyone feel they have to do things they don't want to, aren't comfortable with or don't get their own pleasure from doesn't mean that one partner does X kind of sex, so the other person has to do the same or whatever their version is of X kind of sex. In fact, if one partner really loves doing that thing, but the other really doesn't but does it out of a feeling of obligation, it's not reciprocal at all, because one person is doing something they enjoy from a place of feeling good while the other is doing something they aren't into from a place of feeling bad. I also don't think that any kind of sex whether both of you are doing something you both want to do and enjoy doing involves anyone "taking" anything. Sex with a partner is about making and sharing things together willingly and freely.
Sometimes we'll each like doing the same things, and will want to do those things, both for your partner's pleasure (and what we get out of that) and for our own. But human sexuality and sexual likes and dislikes, sexual comfort zones and where we're all at with our sexuality and sexual relationships are all so diverse, that sometimes it's just not going to work that way. But things can still be reciprocal, even with those differences.
I'm also not really on board with the idea that genitals trump other body parts, which, I think, is some of what framing oral sex as something that requires oral sex for reciprocity kind of presumes. For instance, the idea (not saying you or he have it, but plenty of people do) that because fellatio involves his genitals and your mouth, only he "got" oral sex is a problem. Not only do plenty of people feel intensely sexual, turned on and fulfilled sexually when engaging a partner's genitals with their mouths, it's also not like only their partner is having a physical experience.
Our mouths and lips have SO MANY nerve endings, just like genitals. When we're the ones stimulating someone's genitals with our mouths, our noses are also directly involved, so even more of our senses are engaged than they are for a person for whom only genitals are involved, but not their mouth or nose (not so directly, anyway). Genitals can't taste or smell things. Just like genitals, your mouth and lips are a big source of sexual or sensual pleasure: if they weren't, so many people wouldn't engage in oral sex, licking or sucking other body parts, or even in kissing. Many people do enjoy and seek all of those things for their own pleasure, because it feels good to their mouths and their whole bodies, because it is part of sex for them, even though their own genitals aren't engaged.
As well, framing oral sex as getting/giving -- which is hardly something only you're doing, most people do it -- is also problematic for me. Again, sex isn't just about genitals: it's about our whole bodies and our minds. Sex with a partner, of any kind, is something we're both taking part in, both actively doing and experiencing in some way or another, both getting and both giving. Lastly, some people experience or set up a dynamic with oral sex or other kinds of sex that's about one person being dominant and the other submissive; one in control, one out of control. If you want to do it that way, and everyone involved enjoys doing it that way, you totally can do it that way. But if you're not a fan of those dynamics, or just don't want them to be part of oral sex at a given time, they don't have to be part of what's going on, or you can flip the script entirely, and have who is "in charge" or "in power" be the opposite person. No kind of sex is automatically submissive or dominant: that's about what people bring to it intellectually and interpersonally. So, if to either of you, oral sex feels like submission when you don't want that, you don't have to have that be part of the picture.
To think and talk about reciprocity in ways that make the most sense, and that are most likely to really leave room for everyone's sexual diversity and assure that no one is ever engaging in any kind of sex out of obligation, we need to think about it in a much more big picture kind of way. What reciprocity is really about is both of you feeling like you're investing similar levels of time, energy and intention in each other's satisfaction and fulfillment. No one kind of sex is required for that, and no one kind of sex can automatically do that, either.
You didn't talk about how you feel when it comes to engaging in oral sex on/to his genitals. I'm assuming you've been doing that because not only does it feel good to him but also because it feels good to you, both in terms of you enjoying the pleasure he's experiencing, but also because you like how it feels to your own body, to your lips, mouth, tongue, hands and whatever other parts you get involved. I'm assuming you're not doing it just because he wants and likes it (but you don't), because you think you should, or to try and "earn" the kind of sex you like.
If I'm wrong in my assumption, and you don't earnestly enjoy being on the mouth-end of oral sex yourself, then you, too, should nix it if you want sex to be about mutual pleasure and enjoyment. Or, if there are times you really like that and want to do it, but then times you don't and don't really want to, then you only do it -- or any other sexual activity -- when you want to, when it feels good to you, and when you are enjoying yourself. And if there are things you like about doing it, but other things you don't, then you talk about those things and change up how oral sex goes between the two of you so you're only doing what you like, and not doing what you don't.
If you aren't enjoying fellatio yourself, but are only doing it because he wants it, no doubt it's going to be tough for you to understand and accept why he's declining oral sex: after all, you do it when you're not that into it, so why can't he do the same, right? Thing is, ideally, neither of you should be doing anything you don't really, really want to and don't enjoy. Rather than doing anything that puts that dynamic in more of your sex life, you want to make sure you're both doing all you can to get that dynamic outta there and keep it out. A truly healthy and happy sexual partnership doesn't involve anyone doing things they don't want to or don't enjoy.
The other thing to know is that human sexuality tends to be fluid, especially when people aren't pushed or pressured. While it's totally possible your partner won't ever change his tune on this, it's just as possible he might. Just like we can dislike one food, but love it years or decades later, or when prepared differently, the same goes here. His tastes might simply change or -- including in these talks -- you two might hit up on a reason why he didn't like it that, when changed, changes everything for him. So, while it's important to accept that this is how he feels right now, he may not always feel that way, and acceptance of him now makes a change for him later way more likely. Being or feeling pressured makes it more likely he'll just feel even more negatively about it. Just bear in mind that you don't want to count on that fluidity or take it for granted: you want to accept where your partner is right now, not press to change that and make your own choices with the assumption that this might not change.
I think something that might help you both in talking all of this through is each printing and filling out this worksheet. Once you do, sit down and talk about it. As you go through the things on it, you can also talk about the hows with some of these things, as in, how do each of you like them most or think you might, not just physically, but emotionally, too. It can also give you a clearer picture of how sexually compatible or incompatible you might be overall, to help you make decisions with this. Since there are clearly some kinds of sex you two haven't experienced or engaged in yet, you might just add "later" to your answers around those things.
Lastly, I also always want to remind people in this kind of situation that if you feel like going without oral sex just isn't going to work for you, and is a dealbreaker, that's okay. We all get to want what we want, and if you very much want this in your sexual relationships and it feels integral to you, it gets to be integral for you. It just won't always be to a partner, and for some of them, like maybe this boyfriend, it'll be a no-go. But if this feels like something where you just don't feel like without it, a sexual relationship for you is going to work, you have the right to move away from this one and pursue others with people who like it, too. Some people feel like it's somehow shallow to split over sexual incompatibilities, but that all other kinds of incompatibility are valid. In my book, all the ways we do and don't fit, or may and may not fit together matter and are equally valid. After all, these are elective relationships; relationships we choose. We get to have our own criteria for them. And all relationships aren't always going to be a good fit for all sets of people. We can find out sometimes that someone we wanted as lover is a better fit as a best friend, someone we wanted as a serious romantic partner is better as an occasional lover, or that someone we thought would be great to create a family with is a terrible fit for our family. Just because we want a given kind of relationship with someone and they with us doesn't mean that'll be the best one for us both. I know it can be a real bummer when that happens, but it's part of the deal with dating and relationships, whether it's about sex, ethical values, or wanting a partner to like to spend their downtime the way we do.
Good luck working this out. Here are a few extra links which might come in handy: