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How to Do It is Slate’s sex advice column. Have a question? Send it to Stoya and Rich here. It’s anonymous!
Dear How to Do It,
I am a bisexual woman in my late-20s. All of my serious relationships have been long-distance and I am new to the in-person dating and hookup scene. I’ve been having a lot of success and fun, but I still have one problem.
I don’t like kissing mouth-to-mouth. Mouth on the body is fine. It just grosses me out and turns me off. People seem really bothered and insulted by this. I have been lucky to find sexual partners who are great intimate communicators and I have no doubt that they would never want me or anyone to engage in an intimate act they don’t enjoy. But they seem to treat kissing as an exception and take not wanting to kiss as a sign of emotional disconnection. It’s not, I am absolutely willing to and do engage in conversation and foreplay with the people I sleep with, including hookups, not just relationship partners.
I feel like I am giving every sign that I want emotional connections and I don’t understand why not wanting to put my mouth on someone else’s changes how people view me and my relationship with them. I’ve kissed plenty of people who have a variety of techniques, but nothing seems good. I don’t like it and I don’t want to do it. How can I convince my partners that that’s really all there is to it? Why is it so hard to opt-out of this particular act?
Rich: Not every culture does kissing the way that Western culture does. I think that in our culture, this is just the way that people get turned on. It’s what we understand by and large to be the way that you start things and obviously, there’s going to be some deviation from that. I’ve met people who don’t like to kiss and that’s fine. But it’s just really, really common cultural practice. It’s like shaking hands. It is imbued with all of this meaning for people and it’s so connected to sexual response for so many people because that is how we understand the narrative to be. I think it’s really hard for people to even contend with this idea of not doing that thing that we’ve always learned is what you do. To answer the second question.
Stoya: Yes, as I tend to, I’m going to do some personal sharing.
Rich: I love it.
Stoya: I was reading your half of the How To Do It column and there was this question where the writer’s partner said they’d had gonorrhea in their throat. You referenced this study that indicated that the oral-to-oral spread of gonorrhea may be a thing. So, I went digging and I saw more studies that indicated that this may be a pretty big thing. Then I talked with my nesting partner and he was like, “I’m freaked out.” And I was like, “I’m also freaked out. I’m glad we’re on the same page about being freaked out.” So, we decided until we can figure out how to access gonorrhea throat swabs, we’re just not kissing other people. We’re also not sharing cigarettes or drinks with other people. We have no idea what the boundaries of transmission potential are. We’re playing it very safe. Even in New York City in the 21st century, it is actually hard to get a throat swab for gonorrhea and chlamydia if you are not a homosexual man.
Rich: I didn’t know that. I mean, I get swabs all the time. Whenever I want one, I can get one.
Stoya: I went into my health insurance’s clinic one time and I was like, “Hey, I just need a STI panel that covers these things.” And they were like, “When was your last test?” I’m like, “Three months ago?” And they’re like, “Why do you need a new one? And I was like, “I’m just going to Gordian knot this. I am a professional sex worker and I sleep around for fun.” And they were like, “Oh,” literal quote, “We’ll give you the gay man special.” And I was like, “What?”
Stoya: “What is the gay man special?” And it turned out it was getting swabbed everywhere. They also take your blood, and you pee in the cup.
Rich: Right, as it should be.
Stoya: The usual things. And also they swab orally and rectally. But it very much seems that if you are not a homosexual man in a progressive major city, accessing that level of screening is more difficult.
Stoya: All of that beautiful adventure to say, I’ve now had the opportunity to approach hookups with “happy to do all sorts of things that do not put me at risk of gonorrhea in my throat,” which means I could theoretically blow them with a condom or eat them out using a dental dam. We can put our hands on each other, and we can put our mouths anywhere but mucous membranes touching. Most people react to that in ways that are not an enthusiastic yes. But some are like, “Yeah, of course, let’s get creative.” You may experience more rejection along the way, but you will absolutely find people who are like, “Yeah, screw it.”
Stoya: I’m hoping the LW has ideas for how to convince partners. But failing that, they can just keep efficiently dating through whatever methods they use, and eventually everyone who has some specific, and we all do, they will find the people who are like, “I am totally here for that.” Or, “I don’t like kissing either.”
Rich: Exactly. It’s like kink shopping or just trying to do the match thing, where it’s like, “I’m into this thing, it is kind of rare.” Or, “I’m not into this thing that so many people are.” It just makes you more of a niche consumer and makes it so that it’s going to be more difficult to connect but not impossible. I totally agree.
In my own anecdotal experience, if I’m in the mood to do something specific, then I can advertise for that online in a very specific way. Sometimes that’ll be like, “Oh, I want to suck a dick.” And it’s a completely socially acceptable experience to suck a dick and not do anything else that often comes with it. I think that one way to do this is just to be very specific about what kind of acts you’re looking for.
There are glory hole-esque or just oral service scenarios where it’s like, kissing might even seem out of place depending on the attitudes in the room. I think you should be specific and say, “Not really into kissing.” I have no idea how explicit this person has been upfront. I’m coming from a gay, male perspective where in an app environment, it’s very common to just be like, “I want this, this, and this. And if you don’t like that, then pass me by, block me.” But I do think that there is a benefit to really tailoring your ask to cut out anything that you don’t want.
Stoya: I am using apps that skew more communicative than Tinder. I’ve had great success with, “I want this particular thing.” I’ll update my bio and go on a swiping mission until I find the person who’s like, “Yes, I’m here for that.” So, I think if you’re in a conducive environment, that’s just as effective for people who aren’t gay men.
Rich: Good. I’m glad to hear that. It’s a very specific experience that doesn’t necessarily apply always to women.
Stoya: Yeah. There’s something, depending on how our writer feels about light kink, power exchange, and tease and denial. There are ways to make this a feature.
Stoya: This one thing that is expected, you’re not going to get that. We’re going to do this, and I might get my mouth pretty close to your mouth, but you’re not going to touch my mouth with your mouth.
Rich: Just in a moment-to-moment situation, that can be extremely hot, even if it’s somebody that you have been making out with, but then one person goes to make out and the tease and denial thing that you mentioned doesn’t actually happen, that’s even sexier sometimes than the actual kissing. So I love that, to turn this into a positive, a feature. I think that’s brilliant.
Stoya: If she’s comfortable in that role, of course…
Rich: Yes. Not everybody’s going to be down, but that’s how it goes for everybody. The better you know somebody that you have sex with, the easier it is to accept these idiosyncrasies. I mean, you go into it with an open mind, hopefully with compassion, with the understanding that everybody’s different. But I think it’s a lot easier to accept things when the interaction isn’t 100 percent transactional and it’s like, “Oh, right. You are a human being and you do have reasons and things that you want.” It just brings home the lack of that entitlement, where you think, “I like to kiss, but I like you, and I’m not entitled to kiss you. I can completely accept that, because there are so many other things that we can do and because I want to make you feel good as a person.” It’s about building connections sometimes, too.
Stoya: Hold out for people who are happy to see you as you are, take you in good faith, and focus on all of the other ways that you do express emotional connection and intimacy. Just like a leaf on a stream, move along when this isn’t the case.
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