Dear How to Do It,
I have been with my long-distance girlfriend for almost two years, and our sex life is decent considering we are only in person every couple of months and have different sex drives. My partner has gotten very good at going down on me, and wants me to return the favor. That’s where I have a problem.
I’ve tried going down on her before. But I have constant obstacles, like my chronic stuffed-up nose, which means I run out of air quickly and can’t focus my attention for too long without stopping to take a breath. The other issue is that I have a sensitive mouth, and against all my wishes, I have trouble tolerating getting hair in my mouth. The last time I went down on her, I gagged involuntarily and hoped that she didn’t hear me because I don’t want to make her feel bad and don’t want to ask her to change her body because of my mouth. I have had similar involuntary reactions to eating foods like tomatoes and olives; maybe it’s a texture thing.
We joke that I’m just better at upper body rather than lower body, but she has expressed that she would like me to try again sometime. I’m considering trying a dental dam; she wasn’t super thrilled at the idea but is willing to try. Any advice on how to overcome these obstacles without insulting my partner?
Rich: It’s hard for me to tell if our writer is being particular or has actual diagnosable issues.
Stoya: I mean, we could dig into psychiatric diagnoses, and describe groups of human experiences that seem to be similar in measurable ways, but it took my fourth try eating oysters to be able to swallow them. It would hit my tongue and it would just involuntarily come right back out of my mouth.
Rich: I would’ve loved to see that.
Stoya: Oh my God, it was hilarious. And every time—it was this guy with too much money—he was like, “I’m going to feed you oysters.” And I’m like, “I’m not going to like it.” And we’re at this fancy restaurant and it hits my tongue and I’m just like blah. And then the waiter comes by and they’re like, “Is everything OK?” And I’m trying to hide it with the napkin. “Yeah, everything’s fine. Everything’s great. It’s not a commentary on your food. It’s just the texture.”
Rich: But wait, you got over it. You were able to swallow them?
Stoya: Only after getting very drunk. And it was my own version of those TV shows from the early 2000s where they do stunts. I was confronting my issues.
Rich: Fear Factor.
Stoya: Yeah. I’m like, “I’m doing this.” But all of that to say, I do have ADHD, which frequently correlates with different kind of sensory stuff. I don’t know much about the science in and around it, but I’m super inclined to be like, yeah, hair makes you gag. That is unfortunate and dental dams are your way forward, unless you want to gently go to your partner and say, “Hey, here is my deal and it is an atypical and inconvenient deal. For the purposes of solving this issue—where your desire for oral sex is something I can’t currently meet—how does buzzing or shaving sound? Is that something you’re willing to do just to navigate the situation?” And I think that is a fair ask.
Rich: I think that our writer could explain the situation and then see if the girlfriend says, “Oh, well, that’s OK. I’ll shave.” You know what I mean? If they’re that uncomfortable asking their girlfriend to modify her body, see if she offers. If not, do the ask but maybe just see if she wants to volunteer to modify once given the parameters of the difficulty.
Stoya: Yeah. And in sharing the difficulty, definitely don’t say gross or unhygienic. That’s not something that seems to be in the letter at all, but definitely stay away from that.
Rich, I’m wondering what you think about sharing the gag reaction?
Rich: I think sharing the gag reaction is getting very close to saying it was gross without saying it’s gross, so maybe don’t lead with that. Maybe if it gets to the point where you’re not being heard or you’re not being understood, I’d say, “Look, it’s kind of serious. I actually gagged. No offense to you at all. It’s just, this is my involuntary reaction to that. It would’ve happened with any pubic hair.”
Stoya: Yeah. It would’ve happened with anything with a texture that triggers that response, of which this person has many. And I think that’s maybe the thing to lead with: “I’ve had this issue however long, maybe their whole lives, with tomatoes and olives and other things, turns out pubic hair does the same thing. I can’t figure it out. Let’s problem-solve together.”
Rich: I do have a slight suggestion about the stuffed-up nose thing, because that doesn’t sound like something that should be an eternal condition. I do wonder if our writer is doing any kind of mindful breathing. What happens is a lot of people breathe through their mouths and that makes their nose kind of be like, well, since I’m not needed here, I’m not going to be as good as I could be. Breathing through your nose all the time can strengthen your nose. It can actually make your nostrils grow in diameter supposedly. It’s just a really good thing for you to do. It just kind of makes your respiratory system stronger and don’t take my word for it.
There’s a really good easy, easy, easy to read book called Breath: The New Science of a Lost Art by James Nestor. It’s very much about breath work, which is an ancient practice, and this is kind of a very simplistic Westernized version, yet very, very good. Kind of changed my life. I think that I breathe better now. I’m way more mindful of not breathing through my mouth. I tape my mouth at night so I don’t snore. It works. So that’s maybe just something to look into. At least talk to a doctor if you don’t want to read a book.
Stoya: Yeah. I think both is ideal—read the book, give it a shot, gather some more data. And then if it’s not changing, then talk to the doctor.
Rich: It seems like maybe a little bit could be done. But I think the biggest takeaway is don’t beat yourself up about this. It’s completely fine that you are the way that you are and you can accept yourself as such. And a conversation with your partner doesn’t have to be hurtful because you are who you are. Because it’s not a personal thing—it’s you and not them, and you’re just trying to manage.