We’re always hearing that we could be having better sex, a better orgasm, or a better relationship. But how often do we hear the nitty-gritty of how we can actually better understand our deepest desires and most embarrassing questions? Bustle has enlisted Vanessa Marin, a licensed sex psychotherapist based in San Francisco, to help us out with the details. No gender, sexual orientation, or question is off limits, and all questions will remain anonymous. Please send your sex and relationship inquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Now, on to this week’s question:
Q: I have a hard time orgasming during oral sex. I do enjoy it, but I feel sort of clueless about it. My boyfriend is always asking me what he could do to make it better for me. The problem is, since I can't go down on myself or anything, it's hard to know what to suggest. How do I give him feedback when I have no idea what to say, I don't want to hurt his feelings, and I'm not even sure what would work?
A: Oral sex is an incredibly personal experience. It’s one of the few chances we get in life to lay back and receive. When we’re getting oral, there’s nothing for us to do other than pay attention to the stimulation. This aspect of oral sex is part of the reason why most women are very particular about what they like and don’t like. What works for one woman almost never works for another. And when you’re not getting the type of oral you like, it isn’t just unpleasurable — it can actually be downright unpleasant.
Putting it all on your partner to magically decipher the exact way to stimulate you creates a lot of pressure and oftentimes doesn’t work out in your favor. In order to avoid the stomach-churning, full-body cringe that frequently accompanies bad oral sex, you have to be good at giving feedback.
As a sex therapist, I know that giving feedback can feel awkward for a lot of women. My clients tell me that they don’t always know what they like. Of course, it’s hard to imagine telling a partner what to do if you’re not quite sure yourself. Even my clients who do know what type of stimulation works for them sometimes feel confused about how to explain what they want. Questions about when to give feedback and how to deliver it come up frequently too.
Not helping matters is the fact that most sex advice stops at "give him feedback about what you like," without getting into any specifics. So let’s buck that frustrating trend and go over some details.
When & How to Give Feedback
First, let’s discuss when and how to give your feedback. I’m going to give you four different techniques, ranked in order of easiest to bravest:
Communicate non-verbally. This is the least challenging way to give feedback. You can use loud moaning, writhing, or heavy breathing to convey what you like during oral sex. Move your hips towards your partner when they’re doing something you like, and away when the stimulation is a bit too much. Run your hands through their hair or squeeze their hand to show them they're doing a good job. This method is a bit limiting because your feedback can be misinterpreted. You may think you’re being perfectly clear, but your partner may be oblivious. I don’t recommend relying exclusively on non-verbal feedback, but it can be a good place to start.
Talk to your partner afterwards. Some of the women I work with report that giving direct feedback in the moment feels too intimidating or distracting. If that’s the case for you, you can try talking to your partner when you both have your clothes back on. You can do a post-sex rundown of all of your favorite moments. The other beneficial aspect of this method is that it gives you a specific experience to refer back to. For example, you can tell your partner, “What was that thing you were doing with your hand? It felt so good to have your fingers inside of me while your mouth was on my clit.”
Tell your partner in the moment what you like or want. The benefit to giving feedback as you’re receiving oral sex is that you’re more likely to turn that particular experience into an enjoyable one. Giving feedback about what feels good at that very second is fun because it naturally requires you to pay even more attention to the stimulation you’re receiving. Examples of feedback you can give in the moment include, “yes, keep doing that!” or “a little faster.”
Tell your partner beforehand what you want them to do to you. This option is the gutsiest, but can also be a lot of fun. You can get as detailed or graphic as you’d like. For example, “I want you to run your tongue in circles around my clit until I’ve had at least two orgasms.” (Hey, might as well be ambitious!)
OK, But What Do You Actually Say?
Next, let me explain what your feedback should entail. In giving feedback, your goal is to help your sexual partner bring you more pleasure. There are four distinct types of feedback that you may find useful:
What has worked for you historically. You may already know that you love having your clitoris sucked very gently. Or perhaps you like extra attention paid to your inner labia. You can give your partner this feedback before you guys get started, for example, “I love being teased, so don’t go for my clitoris right away.” Or you can use that information to inform your instructions in the moment.
What you’re liking in the moment. If you haven’t had great oral sex experiences, you probably haven’t had the chance to figure out what you actually like. In those instances, you’re going to have to rely on what the stimulation feels like in the moment to give feedback. For example, “oh yes, keep doing that!” Even if you think you’re already crystal-clear on what you want, a new partner may surprise you with a technique you’ve never experienced before.
What you want to try. As a sex therapist, I’m a huge proponent of experimenting when it comes to sex. There’s always something new to try! You can suggest reading a sexual technique book together, watching an instructional video, or even taking a class.
What's working better One of my favorite suggestions is to utilize A/B testing. This can be particularly useful if you don’t really know what you like yet. Tell your partner two different techniques to try, then compare them and report back on what you liked best. For example, have him flick his tongue back and forth, then up and down over your clit. Your job is to figure out which one feels better.
Some Things To Avoid
It’s also good to know what kind of feedback isn’t helpful. Some things to avoid:
Criticism. No one likes to hear that they’re doing a bad job. Try finding ways to frame your feedback in positive terms. For example, “go back to that thing you were just doing a second ago. That was so good.” If your partner is doing something you don’t like, gently redirect him — “slow down for a second so I can really enjoy that.”
Demands. Asking for what you want is good. Acting entitled to it is not. (Unless you’re role-playing with power dynamics, of course!)
Contempt. No eye rolls or exasperated sighs. Be respectful of the person between your legs.
Vague or overly complicated feedback. “I don’t know, maybe just like, be more passionate or something” isn’t going to make sense to anyone. Try to be clear and keep it simple.
Hopefully you now have a better sense of the ins and outs of sexual feedback. It will probably still feel uncomfortable at times, but keep in mind that getting better at giving feedback is a skill well worth developing. The more confident you feel dispensing instructions and input, the better your sex life and relationship is going to be. And that's worth communicating for.