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I don't want to give him a handjob back: what do I do?

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Anonymous asks:

I am in a bit of a pickle. I am ok with my boyfriend fingering me, but I never tell him to, or even elude to it. But I am uncomfortable with giving him hand jobs. I mean, we will be lying down on the couch, and he will just start sliding his hands down to unbutton my pants. I won't resist (unless I am on my period, or am not in a sexual mood) but feel awkward when he then wants me to give him a handjob. How do I tell him this, because even though I do enjoy him fingering me, and I think he likes it too, I don't want to give him hand jobs, and don't want our relationship to become one wayed...what do I do?

Heather Corinna replies:

Partnered sex doesn't have to be quid pro quo.

In other words, there's no need for there to somehow be some perfectly identical exchange of activities, and with opposite-sex partners, that's not really even all that possible, since you've got different parts!

What's important is that things are basically reciprocal overall, and since a lot of people have at least one sexual activity they don't always enjoy or always want to do -- and some folks have some they don't want to do at all -- and there are a lot of sexual activities, that's not usually that difficult. Too, so long as everyone is only doing what they enjoy and WANT to be doing, and enjoying their partner's pleasure as much as their own, things really will generally always be reciprocal.

So, if you don't feel so great about giving your boyfriend manual sex (hand jobs), then you can tell him you're just not comfortable with that, and the two of you can come up with something you ARE comfortable doing that's satisfying for him. That talk might start something like this, "I'm enjoying the manual sex you're giving me, and I know you want the same for me, but I just don't want to yet. I also, though, don't want this to be one-sided, so can we talk about how to work that out?" Maybe he's fine with that and still will want to give you manual sex, or maybe he'll feel that isn't so fair for him, but you've got to talk about it so he knows how you feel, you know how he feels, and to see if there's not somewhere you can't meet in the middle.

If right now you are not comfortable with ANY receptive (meaning, what he gets, for himself) sexual activity when it comes to him, however, I'd suggest that you make that clear. While we'd hope that he is ALSO enjoying giving you manual sex, rather than doing it to get you to do something for him, he may not feel so great about the sex you're having only being about receptive activity for you, which is perfectly valid. If that's the case, it's likely best for the two of you to step back from sex for a while until you do feel more ready and do want -- and not just to "earn" manual sex for you, or mollify him -- to engage his genitals as well.

I also want to add that I'm hearing you be very passive in all of this, that even fingering for you is something only he is initiating and something that you "let" him do, rather than something you're equally engaged with. If that's the case, then again, I'd advise stepping back from sex until you feel as ready to be an active, engaged partner as he does. Sex with someone should be about something two people really do together, not about something one partner lets the other do TO them or ON them. It also sounds like this keeps happening without any real discussion about it, and being able to talk about these things -- and ask a partner what they want, on both sides, before doing it -- is important for a healthy sex life.

Suffice it to say, the fact that you chose "afraid" for your handle says an awful lot. No one should feel afraid during consensual sex, or feel obligated or pressured. If you feel afraid with any of this, that's your brain trying to give you a hint that things are moving too fast for you. And even if your partner WAS giving you manual sex to try and "earn" some for himself, or he isn't okay with giving it to you and not getting it back, a sexual partner should still always treat any kind of sex as optional for their partner and themselves. So, you shouldn't be afraid to have this conversation, either: if he doesn't react well, or gets angry, then that's not anything wrong with what you're not okay doing sexually, it's something wrong with the way he's behaving, and should that happen, he's not going to be a good person to be dating, period, because it means that he ALSO isn't ready to have partnered sex yet.

Here is an excerpt from a chapter of my book which talks about issues like this one very directly:

With activities like oral or manual sex, people usually assume that one partner is giving, and the other getting, and the giver and the getter don’t get to be both giving and receiving unless the same activity is “performed upon” the other partner. Assuming that assumes a lot. It assumes that in some sexual activities, only one partner is sexually engaged or pleased, because of the (flawed) idea that our genitals are our only pleasure center: that if one person’s genitals aren’t involved in a sexual activity and someone else’s are, that only the person whose genitals are getting some action is “getting” sex which the other is giving.

If during any partnered sex activity, either partner feels they aren’t getting anything out of a given sexual activity, or pretty equal satisfaction, then something really isn’t okay. And I mean at the time: not social status later, or a partner liking you more because you did something for them they really wanted, and you really weren't that hot on doing or taking part in.

During partnered sex, not only are there two (or more) people present, there are two (or more) things going on for each person: both giving AND receiving pleasure. If we’re with someone who is a good partner for us, we’re not just getting off on being pleased, we’re getting off on our partner experiencing pleasure with us. Lots of people -- we can even safely say most people who really are interested in mutual pleasure -- get a real buzz and a real sexual turn-on from sexual activities in which are receptive for their partner: performing oral or manual sex to a partner, for instance. Lots of people enjoy a given sexual activity which may not do all that much for them physically, but deliver emotionally or intellectually.

It’s also worth making sure you or your partner isn’t just being a selfish dope. It happens, even to the best of us, every now and then. Even for otherwise good, caring partners, any of us can get so caught up in having so many sensations all about us or directed at us that we space out our partner’s experience, or their wants, needs or limits.

If both the "giving" or the "receiving" isn’t pretty freaking fantastic for all involved, no matter what role you’re in during a given activity, or at a given moment, that’s something to seriously consider. Check to make sure you’re sleeping with someone you really like and are really attracted to, for instance, and who you know likes you -- including outside the bedroom. Take stock of any messed-up messages about sex you might have internalized along the way, like the idea that partners or people of a certain gender are obligated to do certain things sexually or play certain roles. Be mindful for hidden trouble spots in the relationship -- like feeling constantly taken advantage of or only seen as having one use or value, that your needs are ignored, or like you always feel you have to be the leader or the instigator -- that lack of satisfaction could be symptoms of. Double-check with yourself to be sure that partnered sex, rather than masturbation, is even what you (and your partner) want and are ready for right then, and that you’re not engaging in any given sexual activity out of obligation, rather than the strong desire to do whatever it is you’re doing because it feels good for everyone, and because you're enjoying yourselves.

For more of that piece, you can read the rest here: Reciprocity, Reloaded, or find places to nab the book here: S.E.X.: The Scarleteen Book!.

Here are a couple more pieces which should give you some more food for thought on all of this before you have that talk:

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