Oral sex is like the cream cheese icing on a red velvet cake. For many, licking it off before indulging in the rest is irresistible. For others, the frosting can be overwhelming or unenjoyable.
""When a partner won't perform oral sex, it can feel like your sexual needs don't matter, reinforcing negative beliefs about whether you deserve pleasure and orgasms," says Sarah Melancon, a sociologist, clinical sexologist, and the sexuality and relationships expert for The Sex Toy Collective.
But rest assured that the reason why your partner won't go down on you may actually have nothing to do with you and, rather, everything to do with them. Here, relationship therapists and sexperts alike talk about why your partner may skirt around mouth-motivated foreplay, how their negligence in the cunnilingus department may affect you and your relationship, and how to navigate the situation with your partner in a productive, healthy way.
5 Reasons Your Partner Isn't Going Down On You
1. It likely has nothing to do with your body and everything to do with insecurities about their body.
It's possible that your partner doesn't want to go down on you because they're anxious about receiving oral sex in return. Or because they're just nervous about how their own body will react while giving pleasure — if they don't get hard or wet in the act, it can feel embarrassing. (See: How Your Body Image Affects Your Libido)
Society has instilled deep-seated shame in many of us surrounding our bodies and the ways in which we express sexuality. For too long, we've been predisposed to unfounded notions of "normal" — vaginas and penises should look this way, and they should function that way.
Folks often worry about the appearance of their vaginas and vulvas, according to a survey of more than 3,600 people by Refinery29. Too many people feel self-conscious about the way the lips of their labia look. Many others dwell on how tight or, rather, how "loose" their vaginas are. Too many concern themselves with the colour of their vulvas, fret over every fold or hair or razor burn bump and worry about totally healthy, natural odours that don't necessarily smell like flowers. (Ahem: Stop Telling Me I Need to Buy Things for My Vagina)
In the same vein, many men are reluctant to admit that they're "growers" not "show-ers," because society says only certain sizes are sexy. They're expected to become erect and make those erections last, and they can feel emasculated when they inevitably sometimes don't. Studies show that men Google more questions about their penises than they do about how to tune a guitar or change a tire.
And, ironically, when your partner won't go down on you because they're insecure about their own body, it can make you feel insecure, too.
"It's not uncommon for women to start doubting their own bodies, feeling insecure about their intimate parts and thinking there is 'something wrong with them,'" says Margarida Rafael, a licensed psychologist, and the resident relationship and sex expert at Adore Passion, a Canadian adult store. ""This can contribute to lowered self-esteem that's reflected in other areas of the relationship — the way women may seek validation from partners, feel insecure in their bodies during sex and, eventually, [repress their] sexual needs."
2. Their past experiences may have coloured their attitude toward oral sex.
Perhaps your partner had less-than-satisfactory experiences with previous partners that have caused them to steer clear of oral sex altogether.
"Your partner could be really self-conscious about going down on you — unsure if they are doing it 'right' or if you're enjoying it," says Alyssa Pressman, a licensed clinical therapist, and certified sex and relationship coach. "There can be a lot of pressure on sexual performance and prowess, which can leave people feeling scared to mess up and with little room to make mistakes. This could be especially true if your partner is a perfectionist or if they've had an experience in the past where they were ridiculed or told they were bad at it."
Because of previous experiences, your partner may not feel confident initiating oral sex, adds Jill McDevitt, resident sexologist for sex toy retailer CalExotics. On the contrary, they may fear being slut-shamed for showing interest or being sexually assertive, perhaps because of negative reactions they've had when initiating oral sex in the past. (See: How to Give Amazing Oral Sex to Any Body)
Your partner might also feel "used" or "subservient" if they're always the giver and rarely on the receiving end of oral sex, adds McDevitt. While some people may find pleasure in giving pleasure — and that alone could suffice — others may feel uncomfortable with the lack of reciprocation they've historically experienced.
3. Oral sex may be a deeply entrenched trigger for your partner.
Your partner may also have had a more deeply-rooted traumatic experience with oral sex. Child sexual abuse affects one in nine girls and one in 53 boys, and those who have experienced sexual abuse are more likely to battle mental health challenges like post-traumatic stress disorder. Oral sex can, therefore, be triggering for some who have been sexually abused. In the same vein, McDevitt explains that some people could worry that, if they give oral sex, they'll be expected to engage in other sex acts with which they aren't comfortable.
The long-term effects of childhood sexual abuse are various and complex. Research suggests that survivors of child sexual abuse may struggle with distrust, depression, distorted self-perception, and intrusive thoughts that may or may not be accompanied by substance abuse and behavioural dysfunctions.
Some research purports that male survivors may feel "dehumanised or inadequate" and that "there is something inherently wrong with them" because they should have been "strong enough to stop the abuse," which can feel emasculating. Other research finds that they may even grapple with their sexual identity well into their adult lives. And more research says they may withdraw from intimate partnerships and isolate themselves from others.
Studies suggest that female survivors of child sexual abuse may feel similarly riddled with guilt and shame surrounding their sexuality, and they may develop mental health issues, including dissociative disorders. Internalising negative messaging about themselves and their bodies is not uncommon — nor is somatisation in the form of physical health complications.
All of these mental and physical manifestations of trauma can influence a person's partnered sex life (and general relationships) in adulthood, potentially steering them away from engaging in oral sex with others.
The same goes for all sexual assault — whether as a child, as a teenager, or as an adult. Perhaps an ex-partner of their's broke their trust, forcing them to engage in oral sex without consent. In fact, 33 percent of sexual violence cases are committed by a current or former spouse or partner. Trauma from any kind of sexual abuse can play a key role in your partner's aversion to oral sex. And, even if you feel like your partner can and should trust you, they may struggle to because of their past. (Here's some guidance on how to talk to your partner about your sexual past.)
4. Your partner might be selfish or, yup, sexist.
It might be as simple as this: your partner is downright selfish. "They could also be a selfish person and/or lover, which is important to discern," Pressman puts simply. "Often, what plays out in real life shows up in the bedroom and vice versa. If you are with someone who is regularly selfish and self-centred, this could translate to not being giving sexually."
If your partner is male, there's a chance that they're just more concerned with their own pleasure than yours — whether that misogynist behaviour is conscious or subconscious.
"There is a widely accepted (silent) message society passes that sex is about pleasing men — that sex ends when men orgasm, not women," says Rafael. ""Considering a man's pleasure as a higher priority than a woman's pleasure has been a long-standing issue throughout centuries of women's sexual repression.""
And, because oral sex is the top sex act for getting vulva owners to orgasm, a partner's reluctance to perform oral can certainly contribute to the pleasure gap. Again, this kind of potentially misogynistic or selfish behaviour probably plays out in other aspects of your relationship and intimate moments beyond oral sex.
5. Maybe your partner just doesn't enjoy giving oral sex. Period.
There might not be any underlying reason as to why your partner isn't going down on you beyond the fact that they just don't feel like it. Everyone has different sexual preferences, and some people just aren't into it — and that has nothing to do with you.
To be fair, it's also possible that some people aren't into it because vaginas have been cloaked in shame and wrongly regarded as dirty in some aspects of pop culture. (Ugh.) These kinds of attitudes can unconsciously seep in and influence someone's view of a particular sex act.
Or, it could be as simple as "a personal preference and something they just do not enjoy doing," says Pressman. "Our sexual partners are not always going to want to do the things we sexually desire."
Just like you have sexual turn-ons and turn-offs, your partner has turn-ons and turn-offs. Oral sex may not be one of their turn-ons, or it may be one of their turn-offs. Whether or not they're willing to compromise for your pleasure is a different story.
How to Communicate About Your Desire for Oral Sex
Communication is key in order to have the sex life you desire. (See: How I Learned to Ask for What I Want In Bed)
"It goes without saying how imperative communication is, especially in a sexual relationship," says McDevitt. "It's normal for it to feel awkward or uncomfortable because none of us were really taught how to talk about these things. But lean into the awkwardness because avoiding it — or using passive or non-verbal hints and hoping your partner gets the clue — is only going to make things worse."
In other words: If you don't talk about it, it'll probably bubble up inside you, which can lead to tension in your relationship. Plus, not having the conversation means definitely not having oral sex.
Just remember that conversation is a two-way street (i.e. listen): "If your partner opens up about why they don't perform oral sex, listen with curiosity, give them space to complete their thoughts before responding, and try not to take their perspective personally," says Melancon, emphasising that you should never judge or shame your partner.
Instead of telling them what you don't like (which may exacerbate any already-self-deprecating concerns or amplify their insecurities), practice positive reinforcement (i.e. expressing positive feelings when they do something you like), share your sexual desires, and approach them with questions instead of pointing fingers. (Writing it down ahead of time — perhaps in a sex journal — can help you gather your thoughts going into the conversation.)
"Offer praise and recognition of the things you love about your sex life, telling them how it makes you feel when they don't go down on you and asking what their thoughts and feelings are," says Pressman. You may choose to end the conversation with a loving and affirming statement, to make sure you both come away from the experience in a secure head-space, she says. For example: "I love being intimate with you, and talking about these things honestly makes me feel even closer to you." (Related: This One Conversation Radically Changed My Sex Life for the Better)
Your partner may not realise that their actions (or, rather, inaction's) are making you feel insecure or dissatisfied. And reassuring them of how much pleasure you get from being intimate with them can go a long way in mitigating any of their own anxieties.
If it's as simple as your partner just isn't willing to go down on you, well, it's up to you to decide whether or not you're okay with not receiving oral sex in your relationship.
"It's okay if it ultimately does not bother you, and it's okay if this is a deal-breaker for you," explains Pressman. "You get to decide."