Oral sex today is part of a broad sexual menu enjoyed by many men and women. But when one partner wants oral sex and the other does not, conflicts can threaten even long-term relationships.
What can couples do to solve such a dilemma?
The first step is to talk about it — not in bed but at a time when you are both alone, calm, undisturbed and have time for a real discussion.
“Talk about why it’s uncomfortable for you,” suggests Sherry Lehman, MA, a marriage, family and sex therapist in private practice in Cleveland, OH. “Everybody has sexual comfort zones, and you need to explain why oral sex goes beyond your sexual comfort zone.”
William Stayton, ThD, dean of the Institute for Advanced Study of Human Sexuality in Wayne, PA, agrees. “Does the person who does not want oral sex want to like it or not want to like it?” he asks. Stayton points out that many people have never tried oral sex and may have wrong ideas about it. (Please refer to the December 1998 article for reasons people do not want to participate in oral sex.)
The key issue is whether the man or woman has the desire to try to like it: If the desire is there, a solution becomes possible.
Norman Fertel, MD, an obstetrician/gynecologist and marital and sex therapist in private practice in Brooklyn, NY, said that conflicts over oral sex are not that different from other conflicts in a relationship.
“First, you have to ask if this is something you would call a ‘core issue,’ meaning that the one who doesn’t want to do it will not do it under any conditions,” he said. “Or is it because they really haven’t tried or experimented with it?”
In other words, said Fertel, determine if the issue is negotiable.
If you find that discussions about oral sex have failed and your partner is still unwilling to try it or does so only reluctantly and without enthusiasm, you may want to get some help from a sex therapist to work out the dispute.
“Two people have to learn to deal with conflicts and learn what it really means to talk to one another,” said Fertel. “By that I mean developing communication skills, learning to listen and reflect back and be certain that what you hear is what the other person actually intended.”
A therapist also can help you to go slowly, step-by-step to overcome reluctance and fear. “You don’t have to do everything at once,” said Lehman. “Maybe it’s just licking the tip of his penis for a second to start, or maybe it’s just kissing her around her thighs or around the bottom of her stomach.” Couples need to give it time to find out if they can gradually learn to enjoy oral sex together.
In cases where one partner absolutely does not want to have oral sex and cannot be convinced otherwise, therapists suggest finding an alternative. “If she does not want to have oral sex, he might say, ‘I would like stimulation with you using your finger in my anus. That would be exciting to me.’ In other words, you try to find an alternative that might be as much a turn-on to him and not as much a turn-off to her,” said Stayton.
Lehman suggests another solution. Compromise and do the oral sex with a bit of acting and do it gracefully, even if it’s not a favorite activity. “It’s not do unto others as you would have them do unto you,” she said. “It’s do unto others the way they would want it to be done.”
She Used To, But Now She Won’t
One tricky situation occurs when a couple has had regular oral sex for a while and then one partner suddenly refuses to continue. This sometimes happens when a long courtship leads to marriage.
“I had a couple who had been together for eight years and when he wanted to have oral sex on their wedding night, she said, ‘You know, I really don’t like to do that’,” said Lehman. “And he said, ‘But you’ve done it for eight years.’ And she said, ‘I know, I knew that you wanted it but I really haven’t enjoyed it. And you wouldn’t want me to do something I don’t enjoy, would you?’
Lehman said that dating is a sales job for many people, with both partners on their best behavior, doing everything they think their partner wants to maintain the relationship. “And women, maybe even more than men, do things sexually that they’re not particularly keen about in order to win his favor,” she said.
If you’ve been having oral sex with your partner for quite some time, believing that you both enjoyed it, and you suddenly find out you’ve been deceived, your relationship can easily go into crisis. This is not a good situation: Open discussion and resolution, perhaps with the help of therapy, is important for the long-term health of the relationship.
Why Is Oral Sex So Important?
Not everyone cares that much about oral sex, and many couples do quite nicely without it. But for some people, more often men, life is not the same without it.
“Some people don’t feel their love life is complete if you can’t ‘take all of me’,” said Lehman. “To them the lack of oral sex sets boundaries on a relationship, and there are some people who really do not want those kinds of limits and will always feel they are missing something important.”
In rare situations, the refusal of one partner to perform oral sex can even end a marriage. Again, it’s more often the man who decides that it’s a make-or-break issue. He may be going through a mid-life crisis or just sensing his age, feeling that this is his last chance for complete happiness.
“I have a lot of people leaving marriages, and oral sex is definitely one of the issues,” said Lehman. “They really want it all or at least the chance to get it all.” But with a little work, compromise and understanding, most disputes over oral sex can eventually be happily resolved.