Sex & Relationships

My Partner Is Hesitant To Go Down On Me — What Do I Do?

A sex educator explains how to get to bed happy.

Westend61/Westend61/Getty Images

In this week's Sex IDK column, Emma McGowan, certified sex educator and writer, answers your questions about why some men won't go down on women.

Q: Why are some men hesitant to go down on women?

Some people say that everyone should be down to go down, but I’m not part of that camp. While I’m very much of the belief that no one should ever have to do any sex act, the reasons behind why some men are reluctant to go down on women can extend beyond “preference.” In fact, one 2016 study published in the Journal of Sex Research 71 people in three different parts of the UK found that both male and female British high school students thought that going down on a woman was “distasteful” and a “bigger deal” than going down on a man. And a 2017 study of 806 participants from the same journal found that women were twice as likely to go down on their male partners than they were to receive oral sex from said partners.

But, before we deep dive into muff diving, a quick note about language: When studies use the terms “male” and “female,” I use them as well. And I also use those terms when I’m talking about cultural norms that are directly related to the gender binary. But not all men have penises; not all people with penises are men, not all women have vaginas, and not all people with vaginas are women.

OK, back to the question! Because of centuries of vulva and vagina-shaming, some people believe that vaginas and vulvas to be “gross” or “smelly” or “ugly.” People of any gender who have absorbed those messages might be reluctant to go down on a person with a vulva. And it just so happens that the majority of people having sex with people with vulvas are men. Hence: some men are hesitant to go down on women.

But here’s the thing: Vulvas and vaginas are not objectively “smellier” or “grosser” or “uglier” than penises and balls. All genitals have some kind of odor, and, as long you’re healthy and clean, that odor is not unpleasant. If there is an actually unpleasant odor — I’m talking about a strong, abnormal odor — then something might be wrong, and that person needs to go to the doctor’s office.

Let's be honest — all genitals can look kinda funny. They’re hilarious! Penises inflate and deflate and get bulgy veins all over them. Vulvas puff up and get red and clitorises poke out from behind their little hoods. Both squirt out liquids at different times. It really is an evolutionary joke that our genitals look the way they do and still turn us on so much. That's one mystery I can't solve for you, Reader.

A related but slightly different concern for some people might be sexually transmitted infections (STIs). If a person is very concerned about the possibility of catching an STI, they might be reluctant to eat you out. That’s especially true because there really aren’t great barrier methods for oral sex on a vulva. (And, yes, I know dental dams exist. And no, I don’t think they’re a great option for most people.) The only thing I’d say to those people is that if they let people give them oral sex without protection but refuse to reciprocate, then their reasoning is BS. But if it’s a condom-only blowjob or no blowjobs at all? Cool, man. Do you.

Speaking of doing you, some people don’t like receiving oral sex themselves and therefore don’t really feel the need to give it, either. (Despite what movies and TV tell you, there are cisgender men who don’t like blowjobs.) That’s fine, as long as the partners of those people are fine with that setup too. If they’re not — like, say they’re a woman who really likes to receive oral — then it’s time to have a conversation about expectations and sexual needs.

And, finally, some people just don’t like performing oral sex for completely not sexist reasons. But because this particular sex act is so loaded with misogynistic history, I’d encourage anyone who says they “just don’t like” it to really sit with their “why.” I’d also encourage anyone with a vagina who claims they just don’t like it to dig in a little bit. What messages were you/they told about vulvas? What experiences with oral sex have you/they had in the past? Do you/they expect to receive oral sex?

Do a little digging and questioning, be honest with yourself and your partner, and if at the end it’s still just like, “Yeah, I’m just not into it,” then cool! Sometimes people just don’t like some sex acts. But it might be a good time to invest in an air pulse sex toy, like the Womanizer or the Baci, because many people say the sensation is similar to receiving oral sex. You could even ask your partner to use the toy on you or with you, to simulate the act without them actually doing it. With a little creativity, everyone can get what they want.