Heather Corinna replies:
My girlfriend and I have been dating for about 8 months. I am 18, she is 17. I've been consistently fingering her/going down on her for several months now. Yet she has never taken the initiative as to go down on me, not even so much as with her hand. The only contact she seems able to handle with my penis is in sex, which we've tried to no avail (can't get it in). The fact that we can't have sex wouldn't bother me whatsoever if she went down on me every once and a while. What bothers me most is that she doesn't seem like she wants to get me off whatsoever. She seems literally terrified of my penis, though strangely OK with sex (I suspect this is because sex is pleasurable for her, too). Meanwhile, I am completely opposed to the idea of suggesting she go down on me, because I feel like she ought to want to anyway. Long story short, she seems perfectly attuned to receiving pleasure but not to giving it. What can I do?
Sounds like you're in a difficult spot, but it also sounds like you're in a really good headspace to work it out, so let's see what we can do.
Some of why your partner is okay with intercourse may indeed be because it's enjoyable for her, though it sounds like so far it hasn't been very enjoyable for either one of you. She may also be okay with it -- and not other things -- because she can be more passive, or doesn't have to take the driver's seat, as well as/or because she isn't getting visually up close and personal with your penis. There's an awful lot of reasons why this could be, but if we're not talking about a real fear on her part, or any sort of past trauma, my best guess would be that it's the former rather than the latter.
Ultimately, the only way to find out more accurately is to talk to her about this, and see if, in fact, she does feel afraid of your penis, or isn't earnestly interested in your pleasure when it comes to engaging in activities that, genitally, are just about your pleasure the way you do with her. Her feedback on that -- and what the real issue is -- is going to matter a whole lot when it comes to how you approach this. How you'd approach this issue with someone who is earnestly fearful due to, say, sexual shame or trauma, is going to be a lot different than how you'd respond to someone who is interested but just feels clueless, or who just doesn't realize that they should play a more active role.
One thing to consider is the fact that one common reason partners are reticent to perform oral or manual sex on their partners is because they don't feel like they know what they're doing, are afraid or embarrassed to ask what feels good and what doesn't, or how to do something. So many people are reared with the bizarre notion that they're supposed to "just know" how or when to do something sexually, so when they don't feel like they do, worry something is wrong with them, or just wait around for a partner to take the wheel. You may need to reassure your partner that there is no one right way to do a given sexual activity, that you don't expect her to be an expert, and that it's exciting for you just for her to want to explore activities for you, as is the process of any partnership when it comes to learning, over time, what feels best for a given partner. You might want to bring up that you've been in that spot yourself with learning her body, and have opened yourself up to not doing something just right and it's worked out just fine.
I also get that it can feel like a drag to ask a partner to do something when you feel like they should just take the initiative and want to. But realistically, partners often DO need to be asked -- whether it's about oral sex or about taking a turn paying for dinner or about asking how you day was at day's end -- and do need to have us let them in on what we'd like, what we want and what we need. Sometimes, a partner may even be waiting for the other to express that desire because they're afraid that if they just go for it, they'll be rejected in some way. When it comes to real-life sex, the good stuff usually involves plenty of talking, and a lot less silent waiting or acquiescing like we see in the movies.
Obviously, too, sometimes people come to partnered sex without really thinking of both partners involved. We often hear and see more men doing this than women, but women are hardly immune to it, either. Too, a lot of the time the system set up for male-female sex can give the message that female sexual availability -- in others words, "letting" men touch women in any sexual way -- is either all that men want, or is give and take, when of course, it's really not. You might just need to voice that you're interested in more than just "having" her, and that you want a sexual partnership where both partners are active partners. I know that might seem like a silly thing to have to say, but the truth is that a lot of people often need to hear it, because that's not the overall message they've gotten about sex.
What I'd suggest is opening a conversation about this -- and not when you're naked or about to have some sort of sex, just because that can feel an awful lot like pressure -- by telling her that things feel imbalanced to you when it comes to sexual activities together.
I'd express that you have a real interest in receptive activities for you, and then ask how she feels about that and what her interests are. If she is, in fact, afraid, I'd ask what it is she is afraid of, and then work together to find out how you can help her to work through and manage those fears. I'd also make sure that if you haven't talked about things like safer sex when it comes to those activities, that you do so: it'd hardly be unusual for her to have some worries because of infections or disease.
If she doesn't seem to be hearing you, I'd also be clear that this is making you feel -- whether that's the case on her end or not -- as if she's not invested in your pleasure as much as hers (and you can say that in a way where you're talking about your feelings, not laying on a guilt trip or pressure). If all of that goes well, and she does have an interest in this, and not a strong fear or a feeling like she just isn't ready, one thing that might work is for you two to start taking turns. In other words, with each date, it's the turn of one of you to focus solely on the other, and then next date, it's the other one's turn.
In addition to all of that, I'd suggest you have a read through this: Reciprocity, Reloaded. It might be helpful to take a slightly different look at this -- for both of you. ANY sexual activity we're engaging in with a partner should be for, and be pleasurable for, both partners. That isn't to say that there is a single thing wrong with you feeling like this is imbalanced, or in you wanting receptive genital sexual activities for yourself. Rather, I'd think (and hope) that you're engaging in the sexual activities you're doing "to" her because they also please you -- both in pleasing your hands and mouth as well as the pleasure of giving HER pleasure. Obviously, that's also the goal for a partner, too, so if you can talk about how what you have been doing for her is enjoyable for you, it might help flick a switch for her if this is a matter of her just not getting it, rather than being fearful.
Lastly, I want to be sure you know that if you feel like you don't really want to engage in any sort of sex with her until things are more reciprocal and active on both of your parts, that that is completely valid: you get to do that if this just isn't feeling right or balanced for you. Stating that you want to wait until that time doesn't have to be an ultimatum, as in "I won't please you anymore if you don't do X for me." Instead, it can be voiced in a way like, "This just doesn't feel right to me when it feels like it's only about one of us, or like you aren't comfortable with my body the way I am with yours yet, so I'd rather wait until you are more comfortable to get back into this again."
So, get started on opening the floor to talking about all of this: that's the first step to take, and will likely illuminate the situation a lot, and make it more clear for you as to what is your next best step.