How to Do It is Slate’s sex advice column. Send your questions for Stoya and Rich to email@example.com.
Every Thursday night, Stoya and Rich will answer one bonus question in chat form. This week, going down.
Dear How to Do It,
I am a 29-year-old straight guy. I’ve been sexually active since I was 18. I’ve had a couple longer relationships, but I’m still not ready to settle down, so I’ve been dating casually and do pretty well for myself. But I am running into a problem I’ve had since I first had sex, and it feels like it’s getting worse. I really, really hate going down on women. I just don’t like to be that up close and personal with vaginas—even very clean vaginas. Something about staring the anatomy that close in the face just puts me off. I’ve often pushed past my dislike of this with new partners because I want them to enjoy themselves too. In my two relationships, I eventually told the truth and we worked around it. I also love receiving oral sex and I’m not sure I’d be OK with a partner taking that off the table. But no matter how many women I’m with, I still hate giving oral sex, and my aversion is only getting stronger.
What can I do? This can be a literal boner killer at times, and I just don’t want to keep doing it. I feel most women would not even want me to do it if I told them the truth about how much it grosses me out, and I wouldn’t want a woman to give me a blow job if she hated it. I’ve found myself avoiding it and using my fingers while kissing her neck, etc., and that has been OK, but one woman asked for oral recently and I didn’t know how to tell her without sounding like a jerk, so I did it. When I’ve searched this, I’ve mostly seen how most guys love giving oral sex, or how I’m afraid of vaginas (I’m not), or even how I don’t deserve to be with women if I don’t want to pleasure them this way. I don’t think I can ever make myself like it. I’ve been trying for a decade. What do you think?
Rich: I don’t want to clown on this guy, but—
Stoya: I feel bad for him. It must be incredibly difficult to be a heterosexual man with an aversion to looking at vulvas up close, especially knowing that giving oral sex is probably the best way to help his partner orgasm. If oral wasn’t so basically necessary for so many women to reach climax, I’d tell the writer preferences are preferences and not to worry about it, but … it is.
Rich: You take him at his word? You think nothing else is going on here, that this aversion doesn’t bespeak any sort of unconscious issues with women and/or sex with them?
Stoya: I do take him at his word. At least to start with. He should try closing his eyes, or turning the lights off before he removes his partner’s underwear. If he’s tried both of those, or tries them and they don’t work, then it might be time to question more deeply.
Rich: Yeah, I don’t really understand how much he is actually “trying.” He says he’s trying, but he also says he avoids it. I kind of feel like this is something where enough exposure would make him eventually give up and get used to it?
Stoya: I think so, though he says he’s had at least some exposure.
Rich: I don’t know, this idea is just so foreign to me. I like vaginas more than this guy does.
Stoya: A small part of me wonders if something like OCD might be going on, but that’s out of the scope of what we can determine here.
Rich: Right, but I agree with your line of thinking. It seems there’s a missing piece here. He doesn’t like vaginas up close but can’t put his finger on why really? “Something about staring the anatomy that close in the face just puts me off.” That vagueness there makes me suspicious.
Stoya: It’s as though he doesn’t want to think about it too hard.
Rich: I did do a little research.
Stoya: Oooh, fancy.
Rich: Broadly did a piece on this rare but not]ed occurrence. They talked to some therapists who suggested that it might stem from a sort of pleasure anxiety, like, “If I can’t make you come, I am a failure, so I’d rather not try.”
Stoya: But our writer didn’t report being uncomfortable giving digital stimulation.
Rich: That’s a good point: “I’ve found myself avoiding it and using my fingers while kissing her neck, etc.” I’ve definitely encountered guys who don’t like giving head, although all that’s always presumably wrapped up in gay shame/masculinity ideas. Honestly, though, I can’t say it’s bothered me that much, but I’m just flexible like that.
So what now? Do you think he should just will himself to get over it?
Stoya: I think he needs to make some decisions for himself. He’ll have a much harder time finding a partner who doesn’t mind digital and penile stimulation only. And even then, he still might want to have a few vibrators laying around. But if he’s fine with that, he may as well devote the energy he’d otherwise expend exposing himself to vulvas to finding a partner who can be happy with what he has to offer.
Rich: I do think he needs to be really upfront with this.
Stoya: Oh, for sure.
Rich: No “I’ll give you head to start with and then withhold it when you’re used to it.” That’s false advertising.
Stoya: If not on his dating profile, certainly before they have sex.
Rich: Yes. And look, the world is vast and time is long and everyone’s so different that it is conceivable that yes, there is a man with no pathology, no animosity toward women, no self-loathing, no greater issues at all, who simply does not like vaginas up close the matter-of-factly mysterious way that some people just don’t like chocolate. But I don’t know, part of being a good lover is getting over yourself to please your partner. I think about the fetish stuff I’ve participated in with zero interest because my partner loved it. You just do it sometimes? You get through it? I can’t imagine any version of sexual generosity allowing for “I am really into you and want to bond with you … but keep your vagina away from my face.”
Stoya: So what would this guy ask himself if he wanted to double-check whether he’s afraid of or angry toward or ambivalent about vaginas?
Rich: That’s a great question.
Stoya: I suppose it’d make more sense to talk about the need to sexually get off on stimulating one’s partner. I think women (and men!) do sexual things for their partners pretty regularly that don’t directly, immediately increase their own arousal. And sometimes we all ignore things that work against our arousal.
Rich: So it has to be extreme distaste for it to be justifiable as opposed to selfish?
Stoya: As long as they’re upfront about it, I think it’s totally OK for someone not to do whatever thing they hate doing. Even the extreme upfront-ness is only necessary because the particular act is so crucial to most women.
Rich: Also, he does have a point—I don’t know if I’d even want head from someone who hated giving.
Stoya: Yeah … it’s unpleasant to be on the receiving end of reluctant oral.
Rich: Reluctant anything really. I’m really empathetic about desire—if it’s not coming at me, mine evaporates.
Stoya: If he really wanted, he could do some self-exposure with close-up images of vulvas, lifelike stroker toys, maybe an incredibly close and understanding friend. But I don’t know if the first two would cause the same revulsion. And friends that close don’t come along very often.
Rich: It’s true. He’s a special case really. If he’s going to sort of rest on “I hate putting my face near vaginas,” he’s just narrowing the dating pool, basically, like anyone with very intense special interests (or disinterests). Oh well, that’s life.
Stoya: I do want to circle back to the introspection thing. I think it’s worth trying to get a better picture of exactly what puts him off, and what his feelings around that are.
Rich: Yes, it really does seem like there’s some more work to do here.
Stoya: I’m imagining someone I’m dating having a similar issue, and I feel like I’d have an easier time with it if I had a cause and a specific line.
Rich: Right, because then you’d know it wasn’t him being lazy or selfish.
Stoya: Maybe a cause isn’t there, but it seems worth looking for, and knowing at what point he becomes uncomfortable is pretty crucial to respecting that boundary. So it’s worth doing more thinking about in a couple of directions.