How to Do It

My Partner Is Terrible at, Um, a Very Important Sex Act

How do I tell him?

The torso of an unclothes man in front of neon lips.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by SanneBerg/iStock/Getty Images Plus.

How to Do It is Slate’s sex advice column. Send your questions for Stoya and Rich to howtodoit@slate.com. Nothing’s too small (to ask).

Dear How to Do It,

I have a not-that-much-of-a-problem problem, but I’d like some advice. I have been dating my boyfriend for a little over a year, and we were a bit late to hit the sack, but things have been going pretty well in that regard. He’s hot and willing, and we hit it about twice a week. The one issue is that he is not very good at giving blow jobs. I don’t know if he’s excessively worried about teeth or what, but when he goes down on me, he sort of gums my dick and suppresses his tongue, giving little suction or sensation. I like oral sex, but I’ll admit I’m a tough mark to get off that way, and this just exacerbates the issue. That said, I’ve at least been able to come this way with patient, eager past partners. We’re not particularly young (30s) or inexperienced, so I’m not sure how to approach this—I’ve certainly gently taken his head to guide him, and told him I don’t mind a little bit of teeth so not to worry about it, but I’m not sure what to do short of say, “Actually, your technique is garbage and you need to relearn it entirely.” I’m guessing you will say, “Sure, say that!” but I don’t want to hurt his feelings! I just want this thing that he does to me twice a week to be better. I’m wondering if I could use a sexy pep talk about how I like it to make him come around naturally, but I’m not sure what to say. Any ideas?

—Open Mouth

Stoya: This is a serious question. Does the boyfriend do anything oral in a way that our writer enjoys?

Rich: I think that’s a great question because when I read this what leapt out to me, beyond any notions of technique, was one of connectivity. It just sounds like they’re having disconnected sex. I’ll raise you one: Does the boyfriend do anything at all in a way that our writer enjoys? Maybe it’s just disconnected oral, but maybe it’s a larger problem.

Stoya: He certainly could be more communicative, though it does seem like he’s trying to rectify the situation.

Rich: Right, so there’s a will. And we’re here to show the way. As much as I appreciate the fairly accurate prediction of our advice to just “say that,” said communication does not need to be some dramatic sit-down blow-job intervention with, like, family members gathered and crying and stuff. If he’s at all comfortable being verbal during sex, he can step up his guidance.

Stoya: And some penises respond well to gumming.

Rich: Right. Some men seek that out (I vaguely remember seeing Craigslist ads soliciting BJs from toothless men—just a data point!). And, to contrast, very few dudes that I’ve encountered are as laissez-faire about teeth on their dicks as our letter writer. Different mouth strokes for different folks.

Stoya: So it wouldn’t be fair to say that his partner’s technique is garbage, just not what he’s into.

Rich: Right. I wouldn’t tell someone to tell someone that in those words, either. “Garbage” is what you call trash, not blow-job technique! We’re trying to foster communication, not shut it down.

Stoya: He could say things like, “I like it rough” and “Act like you’re a vacuum.”

Rich: “Spit on it.” “Suck it harder.” I’m not so inclined to be verbal myself (sex is a wonderful respite from the words that fill my professional and leisure life), but if it means getting better head, I can muster some direction.

Stoya: “Up and down more with your head.” “Would you mind licking my balls a little?” (Now I’m just transcribing my last sexual interaction.)

Rich: Which brings up another point—none of that direction, I’m gathering, offended you, right?

Stoya: It was welcomed and encouraged.

Rich: I just can’t imagine being so precious about my oral praxis as to be married to it. If I’m giving head, I want the guy to feel good, and I’m happy for him to tell me how to make that happen. In fact, I love a communicative oral top! It’s crucial when you’re edging someone, for example. But just generally speaking, please take me back to a time when there was a right way and a wrong way and show me the path to the right way. The overachieving high school student inside of me is DYING to perform properly and be praised!

Stoya: Hahaha. Every single human has their own right way.

Rich: Yes. And it’s magical when you can make a dick come by looking at it, but as we are well aware, magic is rare.

Stoya: Our writer is lucky in a way. Anecdotally, it seems easier to get people to go harder than it does to get them to be gentler reliably. He just has to be clear about what he wants.

Rich: I’ve had harder conversations, I feel. I once told a partner that I was losing sensation topping him. And you know, it was scary because I didn’t want to shame him for being “loose,” but thought maybe he could manually tighten, and that it was worth a request. And without blinking he was like, “Oh yeah, I’ll just engage my Kegels.” And he did and it was great. Problem solved.

Stoya: Scary, and in the end, the only hard thing was your erection.

Rich: A utopian dilemma. But it goes to show that this kind of stuff just doesn’t have to be fraught. That can be avoided when discussed with patience and compassion, which our writer seems to have already.

Stoya: To circle back to the query I started with: He can also build on anything he does like about his partner’s current technique.

Rich: Yes, or if that’s too hard to come by, frame it by talking about how much he enjoys sex with his partner generally and how important their intimacy is.

Stoya: Great idea. And, maybe this goes without saying, not in the middle of sex.

Rich: Yeah, I think guiding/instructing is fine during sex, but bigger-picture stuff is best saved for clothed time. And that makes for its own sort of intimacy, anyway.

More How to Do It

I’m a woman in my early 30s. I sometimes enjoy not wearing a bra in public (never in work settings, and nothing completely see-through, and my breasts are relatively small). I like both the possibility of somebody seeing my nipples through my shirt and the constant but minimal stimulation whatever shirt I’m wearing provides. Recently, on a solo road trip, I had the desire to pull my shirt up and expose my breasts while driving on the highway. I liked that somebody might see me, but realized that the chances of that happening were pretty minimal. Even though it was thrilling, I feel conflicted because I know if someone saw it could make them feel uncomfortable or violated. I’ve only done it the one time, but is this something I need to retire?