How to Do It

My Partner Can’t Stand the Way I “Taste”

I need oral sex. What should I do?

Man and woman frowning, with neon X signs in the background.
Animation by Lisa Larson-Walker. Photos by Getty Images.

How to Do It is Slate’s sex advice column. Send your questions for Stoya and Rich to howtodoit@slate.com. Don’t worry, we won’t use names.

Dear How to Do it,

In the past six months, I’ve recently reconnected with a guy I knew in college. We’re not dating per se because we live a few states apart, but we talk every night and we’ve met up twice now for long weekends to spend time together. Intellectually and emotionally, it’s all great. But sexually? Not great. It’s hard to get me wet unless my partner goes down on me. But he doesn’t like my taste! Which is a him-problem—I’ve had plenty of partners who have enthusiastically eaten me out, so I know it’s not me. But I can’t help but feel terrible about it? Because when he doesn’t go down on me I don’t get turned on, so then I’m dry, and penetrative sex is uncomfortable. Eventually it gets good and I get turned on, but because of how it all starts, I’m seriously sore the next time we try to have another round.

The last time we were together we tried again in the shower, he couldn’t do it, and I started bawling. It just made me feel so frustrated and unwanted. Which is not how I like my sex to go! I don’t know what to do. We’re very open and talk to each other about it all, and I really like this guy in every other way, so this isn’t a deal-breaker for me. But I want to have great sex with him, not work-up-to-decent sex. Should I be straight eating pineapples in the weeks leading up to his visits? Why is my body chemistry not matching up with his? I don’t want him to force himself to go down on me, but I also don’t want to be too dry for sex when we both really want to have it and only have a limited amount of time.

—Palatable

Dear Palatable,

You seem defensive about the taste of your vagina. You call this guy’s dislike of the way your vulva tastes a “him-problem” when it’s an impediment to mutually enjoyable sex. This is a both-of-you problem. His taste buds’ response to your flavor is no different from his taste buds’ response to, say, wasabi—and you don’t need to take that response any more personally than the horseradish does.

I don’t know about pineapple, but there are some factors to consider: Do you keep yourself properly hydrated? Dehydration can make vaginal secretions more pungent. Medications—especially opiates—can affect the taste of sexual fluids, as can a meat-heavy diet, smoking, or excessive consumption of alcohol. If you want to be thorough, you might check in with your gynecologist to make sure you don’t have a case of bacterial vaginosis or another condition.
Something could have changed since your last partner.

The next time the two of you talk, you should probably bring up digital stimulation or incorporating a vibrator into your foreplay. If it absolutely has to be oral to get you going, consider a dental dam. And if all you’re after here is increased lubrication, there are countless varieties of lube to try. I think the outcomes will improve quickly when you approach this as an issue for you to resolve together.

Dear How to Do It,

I have the most classic of problems: Put simply, my wife and I are sexually incompatible. We’ve been together over 10 years, and after the two-year boning-like-rabbits period in our early 20s, our sex drives never really matched. Basically, I want sex more often than she does, and I’ve never really enjoyed our sex together: She’s done quickly and unable to do anything after she’s orgasmed, leaving me out in the cold after 10 minutes. She also doesn’t enjoy many of the aspects/acts of sex that I do. The cumulative effect of all these issues is that I essentially act as her once-a-month booty call, while I have been masturbating like a fiend for the last several years.

We’ve gone to see couples therapists and sex therapists, which has gotten us more comfortable talking about our sexual frustrations, but not actually paved a way to a more compatible sex life. We’ve tried touching therapy, sensate, scheduling, laying hints, and nothing’s worked. My wife went to counseling on her own to see if there was something holding her back (including the fact that she’d experienced a sexual assault from a boyfriend as a teenager), but it didn’t change her desire level. There doesn’t seem to be much left to do … within the bounds of monogamy. During our last couple’s therapy session about a year ago, we’d started broaching the topic of going poly or opening up the relationship, but she seemed genuinely terrified of that option for fear of losing me to someone else.

Lately when we’ve talked about it, she’s joked about being more open to the option. When she jokes, she’s assuming that I would start dating other women, but I really have no interest in that. All other parts of our relationship are amazing, and I love her more every day. I literally just want a sex life that isn’t reducing me to a glorified, rarely used vibrator. To that end, I’ve started talking about using sex workers to fulfill that desire. She’s not taken it well. Is this a viable solution? How should I (re)approach her on the topic? Is this something we should talk about with a therapist first? And if she does come around to the idea, what kind of rules could make an arrangement like this work?

—Not a Vibrator

Dear Not a Vibrator,

Due to SESTA-FOSTA, the new sex-trafficking laws, I can’t encourage you to see a sex worker. I can’t encourage you to travel to Nevada to patronize some of the brothels there, and I definitely can’t encourage you to see an escort in your hometown.

One question before I answer yours: Have you tried slowing down sex with your wife when it does happen? I assume you’re familiar with what causes her to orgasm, and I’m wondering if you can keep her on the non-orgasmic side of the line for long enough to have one yourself. Tease and denial might not be her thing, but it seems worth bringing up here as well—if her orgasm is what ends sex, delaying it could be useful.

As for opening up your relationship, choose your words carefully. Emphasize what you do want (casual additional sex without a significant relationship), and avoid concepts like polyamory (significant and sexual relationships with multiple people) that aren’t what you want and are likely to trigger your wife’s fear of losing you or being replaced. Go to your wife, and tell her how much you value your connection to each other and the relationship you’ve built. Say that jokes are one thing, but you want to seriously revisit the idea of sexual liaisons outside your marriage. Ask her what her concerns and reservations are. Share your own concerns. Have the important talks, and you’ll find where your boundaries as an individual and a couple are—which is where your rules and guidelines should come from.

Talking through this with a therapist in the room is definitely worth considering, but you should speak with your wife about your goals before making an appointment, and you definitely don’t want to surprise her once you’re already in the office. If you do decide to open up your marriage, remember that the people you’ll be dating are humans worthy of respect, and be clear about the limitations of what you want before hooking up. Having felt what sexual objectification is like, I’m sure you wouldn’t want to make anyone else feel like a glorified vibrator, either.

Dear How to Do It,

I have been in a relationship for more than two years with the first guy I ever slept with. I love him, and I’m generally very content with our relationship, but there’s one problem: I have never orgasmed through penetration, which is normal for a lot of women—but I’ve told him that I have every. Single. Time. It started the first time we slept together; he asked me if I had gotten off, and it was so painful that I didn’t want to go any longer, so I said yes. From then on, there was no more pain, just more lies on my part. Because of his size, his sexual confidence is on the lower side, and I don’t want him to feel worse. It isn’t like he is bad in bed; I have no issues with digital or oral stimulation with him, just penetrative. Not having slept with anyone else or explored the possibility on my own, I can’t say if I can or can’t achieve orgasm that way. I feel guilty that I have lied to him. I really wish there was a way I could enjoy penetrative sex more with him. I feel as though I can’t tell him about my deception, but I also want to enjoy sex, seeing as most of the time he is the only one getting off. Any advice would be greatly appreciated.

—Can’t Handle the Truth

Dear Can’t Handle the Truth,

Well, you aren’t the first woman to pretend she’s orgasmed because she wanted sex to end. I think you should tell your boyfriend you lied, and commit to being truthful about your orgasms in the future. You’re not doing him, yourself, or your relationship any favors by perpetuating this situation, and you’re unlikely to have many orgasms if your partner has no idea how to make them actually happen because he’s working with bad data.

Pick a time when the two of you have a few calm hours to have a serious discussion. Look your partner in the eyes and be direct about what’s happened. Apologize for misleading him. Be prepared for your partner to think you’re also lying about his dick being an acceptable size, and digital and oral stimulation being enough to get you off. You can try to explain that most women don’t orgasm from penile penetration alone, but you should be prepared to accept skepticism on his part because you’ve been less than forthcoming.

When your partner has recovered from this revelation, be as communicative and specific as you can about sex in the future. You both deserve that. When you’re ready to have sex again, either of you can stimulate your clitoris while penetration is happening and, if his penis is medium length but not particularly girthy, you can try squeezing your thighs together or even crossing your legs.

And please—no matter who you’re with—listen to your body when it gives you pain signals.

Dear How to Do It,

My husband and I are in our early 40s and have been together for more than 20 years. I come from a religious upbringing and, although I don’t recall receiving any direct messaging about sex being wrong or evil, maybe I absorbed these messages. I’ve always been somewhat prudish surrounding sex—I don’t like porn, I don’t masturbate, etc. I have only ever been able to have an orgasm from oral sex, which usually happens once or twice a month. That’s fine for me. When I do climax it is very satisfying, and I enjoy multiple orgasms.

Here’s the problem: I have what feels like a very long plateau. When my husband goes down on me, it feels good, and I feel close for a half-hour or more before the first orgasm actually happens. (After the first, subsequent orgasms happen within a matter of seconds; we eventually stop, but I feel like I could keep going on and on!) I have to contort my legs—lifted up, twisted around his head just the right way—for me to climax. I am usually ready to give up at least a couple of times, but my husband is very patient and insists we push through. It almost always succeeds, but actually getting there can be really frustrating. Lately I am aroused and on the verge for up to an hour—it just feels like I am ready to climax much earlier, but it takes so long to actually get to the finish. I sometimes doubt whether I’ll actually make it, and the more this happens, the more it gets in my head. I don’t know whether this is related to my prudishness—am I self-sabotaging because I think it’s “dirty” or I don’t deserve it?—if there’s an anatomical cause, or something else. What should I do?

—At the Finish

Dear At the Finish,

I consider prude to be a bit of a pejorative. It’s totally fine to not be into porn, or to prefer sex with your partner over masturbation. More things that are totally OK: taking a while to reach orgasm—yes, even an hour—only from oral sex, and having very specific requirements that must be met, like your legs needing to be at precisely a 59-degree angle with the left ankle on top of the right.

(You don’t say which religion you were raised in, but I have a hunch that it’s Christianity. I’ve already mentioned Nadia Bolz-Weber’s Shameless in a previous column, but it is hands-down the best resource I know for people who are trying to process the Christian establishment’s framing of sexuality and how being raised in the church may have informed their own views.)

You’re correct that getting in your head about an orgasm is one of the best ways to interfere with having one. Try to relax into your good feelings during the plateau phase, and enjoy them for what they are. If you find yourself having thoughts of unworthiness or shame during sex—or even a goal-oriented feeling of obligation to orgasm—consider practicing meditation outside of the bedroom to better enable you to focus on the present moment during sex. And if those thoughts keep returning, it might be worth some individual therapy to dig into where that’s coming from.

Mostly, though, bodies and sexualities change as we age. What worked in your 20s may take longer now. It might be worth experimenting with variations on what does work, or even something adventurous like incorporating a vibrator into sex. Be gentle with yourself, be grateful that you have a husband who is happy to eat you out for an hour, and remember that the Song of Solomon says precisely nothing about how long an orgasm should take.