Just because something is supposed to ~feel nice~ doesn't mean it always does.

By Amanda Chatel

There I was again: Naked, legs spread eagle, watching the top of a lover's head slowly make his way down my stomach toward my vulva. As he reached my clitoris, he began to lick, swirl his tongue, and do whatever technique he'd learned worked for a different partner. While he did this, I laid there, eyes shut, clenching the fitted sheet, hoping that everything "down there" was on the up and up.

Thoughts like, "Had a chunk of toilet paper from earlier in the evening taken refuge in the folds of my vulva?" and

"Was the broccoli from today's lunch adding a hint of something not-so-great to the taste and smell of my vagina?" whirled through my head while he got down to business.

To say that receiving oral makes me uncomfortable is an understatement. There have been times in my life when I've enjoyed it (even to the point of being able to climax), but I can count those instances on one hand—and they were all with the same long-term partner. Most of the time, I dread it. But like the stubborn person I am, I keep finding myself in this situation, in hopes of finally harnessing a love for it...or, at the very least, a like for it.

Because pleasure is a human right and the majority of people with vulvas need clitoral stimulation to orgasm, let's unpack this discomfort with receiving oral sex, shall we? Here, nine tips to put your mind and body at ease (from someone who understands that the struggle is super real).

1. Know you're not alone.

First thing's first: You are absolutely not alone in feeling this way! Take a deep breath and realize you're in a good company. That right there should offer up a bit of solace and relaxation.

Study after study have found that there's not only an oral sex gap when it comes to heterosexual partners—men tend to receive more than they give—but there's an enjoyment gap, too. Exact percentages tend to rely on what demographics are included in studies, but for the most part the research has confirmed that people with vulvas enjoy receiving oral sex less than people with penises do.

"There's a lot of messaging in our society that basically tells us 'vaginas are dirty,'" says feminist sex educator, Cassandra Corrado. "So, the chances are pretty high that if you have a vagina, you're going to go through life feeling self-conscious about how you smell, look, taste, or all of the above. That self-consciousness bleeds into your sex life, making it really hard to relax—you might feel so worried about those things that you don't even want to ask for (or permit) cunnilingus [oral sex]."

Fun and important fact: Vaginas aren't dirty. (More on that below.)

2. Become visually acquainted with your vulva.

When was the last time you took a hand mirror and checked out your vulva? Never? Then it's time.

"When it comes to receiving oral sex, a lot of uncomfortableness comes from fear of how the vulva looks," says clinical sexologist Megan Stubbs, Ed.D. "There's no right way to have a vulva—they're all different." It's also important to realize that porn isn't a benchmark when it comes to what a vulva "should" look like. Some people have long labia, some have short ones, some have really pronounced clitorises, while other clits hide under a hood before it can be found.

"Get comfortable with looking at it and make peace with it," says Stubbs. "The more comfortable you are with your vulva, the more comfortable you'll be sharing it with someone else." (Related: Why You Might Be Afraid to Finger Yourself)

3. Get to know how you smell.

That's right; give your crotch a big ol' whiff. Despite the large market for hygiene products that promise to clean and make your vulva and vagina smell like roses, the vagina is self-cleaning. Also, it's not supposed to smell like a floral bouquet; it's supposed to smell like—wait for it—a vagina. (Ahem...looking at you, Goop candle.)

"Vaginas naturally have a slightly acidic smell and taste to them — that's because of their pH," says Corrado.

The vagina is self-cleaning and not supposed to smell like an artificial product, Corrado suggests opting for warm water instead. If you really feel the need to take matters into your own hands, a gentle, unscented soap can be used externally. But be sure to keep it out of your vagina.

"It may take you a couple of weeks to get used to your natural smell, but know that it's just that—natural. You don't need to make your vagina smell like a key lime pie," says Corrado. "In fact, your vagina's natural scent can be a turn-on for many people, thanks to pheromones."

4. Give your vagina a taste.

While you're down there sniffing away, have a little taste test too. Before you cringe, remember: It's your body. Don't you want to have at least some idea of what your partner experiences when they're down there? A taste test is a really good way to admonish any fears about tasting "bad."

"It shouldn't taste like mountain spring, because pussy tastes like pussy," says Stubbs. "It's good to know how you normally smell and taste, so when things are off, you know." If things do smell or taste different than usual, be sure to schedule an appointment with your doctor.

Important fact: Vaginas shouldn't smell or taste fishy. If they do, it may be a sign that you have bacterial vaginosis or other infection. If you do experience this, make an appointment to see your doctor pronto.

5. Talk to your partner beforehand.

Whether it's a one-night stand or a long-term partner, sharing that receiving oral makes you uncomfortable can help address the elephant in the room. Try to be open about what causes you to feel squirmy. PSA: Even a casual partner should hear you out and make an effort to understand. (See: How to Tell Your Partner What You Want In Bed)

If you have specific things that you feel might help you feel more comfortable, share these with your partner, says Corrado. "Hopefully, they'll be there to banish your worries and reassure that yes, they would love to go down on you, just as you are."

6. Try different positions.

One of the most vulnerable parts about cunnilingus is the position in which it's usually performed. Laying flat on your back with your legs spread apart isn't just exposure in its fullest form, but also contradicts the archaic heteronormative concept of "good" girls keep their legs closed (vom). Depending on your upbringing this mentality can add to the discomfort. If that's the case, receiving oral in other positions (here are a bunch to try!) might be the key for relaxing and enjoying yourself.

"Find something that's comfortable for you mentally," says Stubbs. Ultimately, it comes down to what feels best physically so you can relax mentally, too.

7. Keep some of your clothes on.

Because vulnerability is such a key factor when it comes to cunnilingus, covering up might help ease you into feeling more comfortable. ICYDK, receiving oral with your undies still on causing your partner to pull them aside can be hot, too. You get to feel partially covered, while your partner gets to reveal a prize underneath.

"If you feel uncomfortable stripping down completely, you can also try wearing crotchless panties," says Corrado. "That way, you can feel hot about what's on your body—and not have to take it off."

8. Check in with your partner and be honest.

One of my major struggles when it comes to receiving oral sex is the time my partners put into it. When you're already not 100-percent comfortable with cunnilingus, no matter how gung-ho your partner is, your brain can wander: Are they bored? Should I fake an orgasm so they'll stop? Is their tongue tired? Instead of letting these thoughts consume you, Stubbs says a great way to relax is to engage your partner by actually asking these questions out loud.

"Communicate with your partner and check in," says Stubbs. "Ask how their jaw is feeling or if they need a break or want to switch positions. Moan if it feels good, or give direction if you need something else. Just don't put on a show or feel like you need to reach orgasm."

While oral that results in an orgasm is great, it's not necessary for cunnilingus to be enjoyable. As is the case with most sex acts, the journey can be just as pleasurable even if an orgasm isn't part of the equation. Besides, focusing on coming can create anxiety—which is the last thing you want when your goal is to relax. (Related: This One Conversation Radically Changed My Sex Life for the Better)

9. Practice measured breathing.

"Anxiety isn't just something that happens in your head, it's something that causes a chain reaction all through your body," says Corrado. "When you feel anxious, your heart rate speeds up and your brain starts to scan for any threats. To counteract the physical effects of anxiety, take some deep breaths."

The best way to do this is to breathe in for three counts, hold for three, and breathe out for six. Measured breathing will help your muscles let go and relax, while your brain starts to take a break, as opposed to being all worked up. (You can also try these breathing techniques for better sex.)

"Try focusing in on just the sensations of your partner going down on you," says Corrado. Really allow yourself to be present and recognize what feels good, the warmth of your partner's breath, and the movement of their tongue and lips. "Measured breathing can help you get out of your head and into your body in a very good way." (You can also practice this on your own with mindful masturbation.)

However, even if you still can't relax while receiving oral sex, don't sweat it! People derive pleasure from all different things. You're not under any obligation to enjoy it or engage it.

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Comments (1)

Anonymous
February 14, 2020
I would strongly advise adding another data point to your list. Sexuality should be, in a well-adjusted adult, simple, relaxed, and especially fun. All of it, not just the lights out, eyes shut, braille version. It should be exploratory and magical. If it isn't.... Therapy. You do give some good advise, though. However, if you're to that point, something is off the rails. You're not comfortable in your own skin.